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i can't take you anywhere

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By morning, Hinata had seriously started to question his ability to not fuck it up.

He’d woken up first, because the universe devoutly refused to let anything go right for him, and shit, even his internal monologue sounded like Komaeda now. Komaeda was stuck in his head, like a song he couldn’t get out. His voice. His words. His face.

It was a sunk cost anyways. Once Hinata had woken up, he was too anxious to get back to sleep. He just kept looking between himself and Komaeda, still asleep next to him on the bed. Hinata tried his best to soak it in, take a picture in his memory. Memorize the details before they went away. The way the early morning sunlight caught on Komaeda's hair. The shadows his eyelashes cast on his cheeks. The soft, dreamy look on his face that he never wore when he was awake.

Hinata had to remember it now, because he knew that this might be the last time he ever got to see Komaeda looking like that.

After all, this was the last day of the trip. There was no getting around that anymore. No more desperate attempts to snatch up more time. No more possible ways to stall the inevitable.

Hinata buried his face in his hands, a physical reminder that it was weird to keep staring. Resolutely looking away, he forced himself out of bed and away from Komaeda. To distract himself, he threw on some clothes and splashed some water on his face in the bathroom before heading down to the lobby to grab coffee.

It was the typical cheap hotel set-up, a couple pots of lukewarm coffee next to a stack of paper cups. The taste wasn't what mattered, though. Hinata just needed to scrape together enough caffeine to to get through the day.

And, well. While he was here, he might as well get a cup for Komaeda, too.

As he walked back to the room, Hinata cursed himself in his head. He was bringing Komaeda coffee in the morning. He had asked Komaeda to stay in his bed last night. He had never felt more desperate.

Hinata awkwardly pushed open the door to their room, attempting to keep both coffee cups balanced in his hands. He'd hoped he wouldn't be disruptive enough to wake up Komaeda so early, but it seemed that problem had already been solved for him. Komaeda was sitting on Hinata's bed, his knees tucked into his chest, arms wrapped around himself, head bowed down.

"Oh. You're already awake," Hinata said, closing the door behind him. "Good morning, then."

Komaeda's head whipped towards him, as if he was somehow surprised at Hinata's presence in the room. He blinked quickly, then looked down at the bed, clearly avoiding eye contact. "...You're still here?" His voice was oddly tentative, hesitating on every word.

"Where else would I be?" Hinata asked, confused. He didn't quite get it until he saw Komaeda 'covertly' wipe his eyes with the back of his hand, and, oh.

Komaeda had thought he'd left.

"Sorry," he started, carefully stepping closer to the bed. "I didn't mean for you to think-"

Komaeda looked up at him, eyes wide and a little shiny. "Don't be sorry, please, I shouldn't have assumed-"

"No, I shouldn't have left without saying-"

Komaeda shook his head. "Please, really, it's-"

“I got you coffee,” Hinata said abruptly, holding out the cup.

“You…” Komaeda blinked, a glimpse of realization coming over his face. “You got me coffee?”

Hinata nodded. Komaeda still hadn't taken the cup. “Cream and no sugar. I hope that’s okay.”

"Perfect, actually," Komaeda said. He reached up to accept the cup, but he still looked like he was on edge. “...It's just. You, um, went to the lobby like that?”

Hinata frowned immediately. "Like what?"

Komaeda very pointedly glanced away. "You, ah. You haven't looked in a mirror today, have you?"


"...Maybe you should?"

A slight sense of dread in his stomach, Hinata turned around to face the mirror like a man walking towards his own execution. It took him a moment to realize what Komaeda had been talking about, but when he saw it, he understood why Komaeda had been so... scandalized.

His neck was mottled with black-and-red hickeys, from his chest all the way up to his ear. It was a stark contrast against his tan skin, a clear reminder of everything that had happened between him and Komaeda. Hinata's jaw dropped a bit at the sight. He leaned closer to the mirror and tilted up his head. Softly, he poked at one of the bruises, a slight rush of something that wasn't quite pain shooting through his body.

Behind him, Hinata heard the sheets rustle. “Sorry," Komaeda said, quiet. "That’s- ah, that’s embarrassing.” The sound he made was a bit too empty to call it a laugh. “I obviously shouldn’t have- I mean, I should have realized-”

Hinata turned his back to the mirror, looking back at the bed. “I have other shirts, Komaeda,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “It… won’t be that hard to hide.”

Komaeda looked up nervously. “But still, I mean- not only is it improper, and a complete inconvenience, but also a physical reminder that you slept with me."

"I dunno." Hinata idly touched his neck. "I think they're kinda cool."

Komaeda's cheeks went pink, though he still refused to look up. "But what if someone at school sees?"

Hinata shrugged. "I'll borrow concealer from Sonia, I guess." He rocked back and forth on his heels. "You... really don't want people to know, huh?" he asked, trying to keep the hurt out of his voice. He already knew the answer to that question, anyways, so it was stupid to have asked. It was like Hinata was purposefully setting himself up to get hurt. Of course Komaeda didn't want people to know. It was the same reason Komaeda wanted them to just stay friends.

"Trust me," Komaeda said, "I'm not the one who needs to be worried about people finding out."

Cryptic as always, Hinata thought joylessly. "Listen, I'm sure they'll fade by the time classes start, alright?"

Komaeda squinted at him. "...Tomorrow?"

Hinata's eyes went wide. "Shit, really?"

Komaeda offered him a small, amused smile, like he couldn't help it. Hinata's heart unwound just a bit. "You don't have to worry. Reserve classes aren't until later, correct?"

"...Yeah. Three more days of freedom, I guess,” Hinata said lightly. “Take that, Main Course.”

“Stop, you’ll make me jealous.” Komaeda rolled his eyes.

Hinata scuffed at the carpet with his shoe. “...I didn’t mean to keep you on this trip for so long,” he admitted. “Sorry.”

“Please,” Komaeda said, his voice sounding just a bit tight, “don’t be.”

It was still early in the morning when they left the hotel. The sky was gloomy and overcast, which felt strangely fitting. Fog crept in over the ocean, casting a dim light over the car and the road around them. It was perfect weather for the end. After all, this was the home stretch of the trip. Their last drive alone together. Maybe their last time alone, ever.

Though, Hinata thought, maybe that didn't have to be true. It almost seemed like they were both doing these strange little things to prolong the trip. He’d been driving in the slow lane for miles. Komaeda was giving him even worse directions than normal, so ridiculously incorrect that it was starting to feel intentional. They’d both suggested stopping for gas and snacks far more times than necessary.

It was like they both wanted to spend more time with each other, but neither of them was willing to admit it.

Stop projecting, he reminded himself, resisting the urge to slam his head into the steering wheel. Thinking like that would just hurt him more in the long run. Komaeda didn't want to spend more time with him. He knew that. And besides, only a maniac would give someone bad directions on purpose just to spend more time with them.

They eventually did actually have to stop for gas. Hinata pulled in next to the machine, careful not to scratch Kuzuryu’s car. Who knows what that guy would do if Hinata brought it back damaged.

When the tank was full, he slid back into the driver's seat and turned on the car. Just as he was about to pull out of the spot, though, Komaeda cleared his throat. “Would you mind parking around back? I need to run into the store for a moment.”

Hinata shrugged and nodded, watching as Komaeda darted out of the car towards the building. Just like Komaeda had said, he pulled into the parking lot and moved the gearshift to park.

There were no other cars around, he noticed. Not that there would be at such an out-of-the-way gas station. Hinata leaned back, turning up the radio and resigning himself to wait.

He heard the car door open before he saw Komaeda, and in the blink of an eye Komaeda was on his lips. He’d crawled into Hinata’s lap, pushing one hand through his hair and twisting the other in the front of his shirt.

Hinata reacted on impulse, tugging Komaeda onto his lap and grabbing his waist to pull him in closer. For a moment, it was hard to tell if this was real life or some gasoline-induced hallucination. After a whole day of preparing for their inevitable split, it didn't make sense for Komaeda to be doing... this.

But then again, Hinata thought, since when had Komaeda ever made sense?

Komaeda was going fast and hard and a little bit desperate, crowding Hinata back against the driver’s seat. His hands were cold from the energy drink he’d bought, now carelessly discarded on the passenger seat. Hinata met him with equal fervor, knotting his hands in Komaeda's hair and using the grip to pull him in. Komaeda let out a desperate, breathy sound, kissing him back harder.

Hinata had to force himself to pull away. He placed a hand against Komaeda's chest, pushing him back slightly. Komaeda immediately backed away, freezing in place.

“What are you, some kind of exhibitionist?” Hinata panted, tightly gripping the fabric of Komaeda's shirt.

Komaeda shivered, slowly looking over Hinata's expression. When he finally spoke, his voice was trembling. “...I just want you.”

Hinata's body moved before his mind did. He yanked Komaeda in by his shirt, sliding their lips together. He didn’t have time to hesitate. He couldn’t. He didn’t know how many opportunities he had left.

Twenty minutes later they were back on the road. The only sound was the hum of the radio, the only movement was Hinata's hands on the steering wheel. After all, it wasn't like half an hour in the backseat of a car had changed anything. It wasn't like that would suddenly make Komaeda like him back, or whatever.

Hinata tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Maybe he really was a masochist after all.

They were back at Hope’s Peak before Hinata knew it.

The more time he spent away from the place, the less real it had felt. He’d nearly forgotten what it was like to be there. It was almost disappointing.

He and Komaeda didn’t speak as he parked the car. They didn’t even look at each other. If Hinata was being completely and totally honest with himself, he wasn’t sure he could even look at Komaeda without saying something he'd definitely, inevitably regret.

Hinata stepped out of the car first, grabbing his backpack and closing the door. The sky was still cloudy, a warm, foggy drape over campus. The tall buildings of the academy stretched into the gray sky, shrouded in gloom around the tops. It was like the weather was reading his mind.

When he looked back, Komaeda was standing in front of him, shoulders squared like a soldier getting ready for battle. Hinata tried to think of something to say. Not a single thing came to mind.

It felt like there was some unknown heaviness weighing them both down. A giant countdown clock above their heads, ticking down the seconds until this would have to end.

“...Your collar,” Komaeda said. It was almost a whisper. “It’s- here.” He stepped closer, head tilted down. Hinata couldn’t see his face, so he watched Komaeda’s hands slide up his shirt. He unbuttoned the collar first, fingers brushing up against a bruise on Hinata’s neck. The bruise he’d left there himself. Komaeda hesitated for a moment before pushing the button back through, hiding the bruise from view.

“Thanks,” Hinata said, quiet. Komaeda’s hands were still on his collar.

“Of course.” His hands didn’t move.

“Hey, assholes. Did you finally bring back my car?”

At the sound of Kuzuryu’s voice, Komaeda jerked back, almost tripping over his own feet in his attempt to get away. “I should- I should go,” he stuttered, turning on his heel and almost running in the opposite direction.

And that was the problem with playing love on vacation, Hinata realized; at some point, the vacation had to end.

He cleared his throat, burying whatever emotion was in his chest, and turned around to face his friend. “Yeah, Kuzuryu, your car’s right over there,” he called. Kuzuryu was standing in front of him, arms crossed, with a small, barely-there smile on his lips. Hinata reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys, tossing them a bit too high so that Kuzuryu had to jump to reach them.

Kuzuryu scowled at him and pocketed the key. “Well, you sure kept it for long enough,” he snorted. “How long’s the trip from Hokkaido to Tokyo again?”

Hinata flipped him off. “Ask me that again the next time your car explodes, jerk.”

Kuzuryu flipped him off back, a wide grin spreading across his face. “Welcome home, dude.”

After chatting for a bit with Kuzuryu, Hinata realized he’d forgotten something.

It wasn’t something important. It wasn’t even something he had to do at all. And really, it was probably just a miserable excuse to see Komaeda again, though he’d never admit that to himself.

But as Hinata pulled the giant Monokuma plushie out of the car, he felt like he was accomplishing a task of Herculean levels. He dragged it all the way over to the Main Course dorms, getting some pretty strange looks from the other students. He even heard a full-on cackle from some pig-tailed girl in the grade below.

His key card didn’t work for the Main Course dorms, either, so he had to wait for someone else to swipe their card so he could awkwardly follow in after them. As he slipped through the doorway, Hinata registered, just for a moment, how desperate he was being.

Hinata knew what floor 77-B was on, and he could figure out through process of elimination which room was Komaeda’s. (At the very end of the hall. The only room he’d never been inside.)

He stood in front of the door, taking a moment to compose himself. Steeling his nerves, he took a deep breath, wiped his hands on his jeans, and knocked on the door.

For a few seconds, there was no response. Hinata felt a sudden flash of fear that Komaeda might not even answer.

After a moment, though, the door opened. Komaeda seemed surprised to see him there, green eyes all wide like it was the first time someone had ever knocked on his door. For all Hinata knew, it might have been.

Hinata scuffed the toe of one shoe against the linoleum floor, holding out the Monokuma plushie to cover his face. “You, uh. Forgot this.”

“Oh,” Komaeda said, soft. Hinata’s heart did a traitorous flip in his chest. “That’s… thank you,” he mumbled. He took the plushie and placed it in his room, then opened his mouth like he was perhaps going to say more. Pausing for a second, he seemed to think better of it and closed his mouth before looking away.

Hinata swallowed, tapping his foot against the floor. “Uh, Kuzuryu said our friends wanna throw us a welcome-home party tonight,” he said. “It’s in Main Course dorm basement at eight.”

Komaeda’s hand tightened on the door. “I don’t, um. I don’t know if they’ll actually want me to be there.”

“It’s your party,” Hinata insisted, eyes flickering between Komaeda’s hand and his face. “Please?” He resisted the urge to slap himself for sounding so pathetic.

A second passed, and then: “...I’ll be there.” Komaeda glanced back at his room. “I should go get ready, then. Goodbye, Hinata.” He gave a slight nod before closing the door, leaving Hinata standing awkwardly in the hallway.

Hinata stayed there for a moment, just staring at the door, before he finally came to his senses. “...Bye,” he mumbled to the door. The word felt just as useless as he did.

Hinata had been standing in front of the mirror for almost ten minutes by the time he realized how ridiculous it he was being.

He was uselessly messing with his hair, scouring his reflection for any imperfection, and he’d changed his shirt four different times. It was humiliating. He knew it didn’t matter how good he looked. It wasn’t like Komaeda would care either way.

Hinata took one last look in the mirror, then sighed and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. At this rate, he was going to be late to his own party.

As he walked across campus to the Main Course building, a strange feeling had begun to create knots in his stomach. He was excited to see his friends again, but it was like Komaeda was always there, lurking at the back of his brain.

With a sigh, Hinata shook himself back to reality and opened the basement door.

The first thing he saw was a giant banner hanging down from the ceiling. ‘Welcome Back Hinata’ was written across it in large letters, with an ever-so-slightly smaller ‘and Komaeda’ tacked on at the end. Judging by the fancy calligraphy, it must have been made by Sonia, and looking at the satanic runes added along the edge in glitter-glue, her boyfriend must have helped.

Hanamura was sliding one last platter of snacks onto a long plastic table, clearly satisfied with his work. Ibuki had already gotten into her DJ persona, even though all she’d done was connect her phone to her speaker, and Saionji had dragged Koizumi into dancing with her near the corner of the room.

Komaeda wasn’t there yet. Hinata only noticed that because he’d been looking for him. It was like an unconscious impulse, almost, to seek him out in a crowd. An impulse he knew he would have to unlearn pretty soon.

When everyone started to realize Hinata had arrived, they all rushed him at once. Despite everything else, Hinata couldn’t help but grin as he looked over the crowd of his friends. He’d forgotten how much he’d missed them.

After a barrage of hugs and greetings, Hinata began to step away from the crowd - before being half-tackled by Soda in some odd attempt at a hug.

“Hinata!” Soda wailed, tightening his boa-constrictor-like grip around Hinata’s shoulders. “I missed you!”

Wobbling just a bit, Hinata tried to remain upright as Soda went limp around him. He tentatively wrapped his arms around Soda, patting him a couple times on the back. “Hey, buddy.”

With one last squeeze, Soda released him. Hinata took a very deep breath to recover. “Man,” Soda said, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. “You haven't called us for days! I was so afraid I was never gonna see you again!”

Hinata gave him a helplessly confused look. “That seems… dramatic.”

Soda’s eyes quickly darted around the room, like he was looking for something. Apparently satisfied, he turned back to Hinata and muttered, loudly, “I’m just surprised you’re still alive after a week with Komaeda.”

“...I dunno.” Hinata shrugged, some weird feeling pressing down on his chest. “It took a bit, but I realized he’s… actually kinda cool. You’d see it if you talked to him.”

“Are you kidding?” Soda once again looked from side to side, nervous. “But what if he says something weird?”

Hinata narrowed his eyes. “You say weird things to me. All the time.”

“What? When have I ever said anything weird?!” Soda tossed his hands in the air. “I’m the most normal guy on the planet!”

“You tried to get me to build a robot out of cars, like, a couple days ago.”

“What’s weird about that?”

Hinata gave him his best really? glare, and Soda’s shoulders slumped down.

“...Well, Komaeda did buy me fireworks for New Year’s last year, I guess,” Soda said eventually, voice leaning towards consideration. “And he always gives me extra cola when the vending machine wigs out on him.” He paused. “I’ll definitely have to keep him away from my inventions, though.”

“That’s… probably a good idea,” Hinata said, thinking back to the car explosion. “Just - I promise he’s cool, okay?”

Soda squinted at him. “...Is that a soul bro promise?”

Hinata bit back a smile, then sighed and held out his fist. “Soul bro promise.”

Soda nodded, serious, then bumped their fists together. “Okay.”

Only a couple minutes passed before Komaeda finally arrived. The door opened slowly and only halfway, as if Komaeda was hoping to slink in unnoticed by the rest of the partygoers. He peeked his head through first, as if testing the waters, then shuffled through the doorway, awkward and nervous. He was so, so hopelessly out of his depth that it was almost comical.

It sent a pang through Hinata’s chest to watch him like that. He started towards him almost unconsciously, as if his body couldn’t stand being away from Komaeda for any longer than he already had.

“You came,” Hinata said, relief almost tangible in his voice. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

Komaeda glanced up at him slowly. “I wasn’t quite sure myself,” he said, his voice soft.

Hinata’s heart felt ready to beat out of his chest. “I’m glad you did.”

“Uh… hey, Komaeda.”

Hinata turned around to see Soda standing behind them, shuffling a bit awkwardly on his feet. He’d… actually taken my advice to heart, huh? Hinata thought, a swell of pride coming over him. He gave Soda an encouraging grin, and Soda continued forwards towards Komaeda.

Surprisingly, though, Soda wasn’t even the only one to approach him. Several members of their class actually come over to greet him. It wasn’t anywhere near the way everyone had swarmed towards Hinata, but it was more than Hinata had expected. He considered that maybe absence really did make the heart grow fonder. More likely was that they’d noticed Hinata had bonded with him and thought, ‘maybe he’s not that bad after all.’ And, well- they were nearing the end of high school. Maybe it was just time for second chances.

Komaeda had backed up a bit, clearly not used to the positive attention. He was looking around nervously, unsure how to how to respond to his own classmates greeting him and asking about the trip.

“Tell them about the guy with the knife at the gas station,” Hinata said, nudging him forwards. “You’re a better storyteller than me.”

Komaeda looked back at him, clearly grateful. For a moment it felt like they were back on the trip, able to communicate without even speaking.

Then Komaeda turned back to the crowd, and Hinata had to remind himself that it wasn’t like that anymore.

The party had been going on for two hours, and somehow Komaeda had found a way to ignore Hinata for every minute of it. He was getting so good at it that it could have been his Ultimate talent. Whenever Hinata had approached him, or even so much as passed by him, Komaeda had found a reason to leave. Hinata wasn't stupid. He knew that Komaeda knew that he wasn't stupid. So why was Komaeda acting like he was?

At that moment, Komaeda was over near the food table, talking to Ibuki. Hinata guessed he was telling her about the concert, judging by the way she was bouncing on her heels and yelling out questions. Komaeda seemed a little bit intimidated by how loud she was, but extremely excited she’d come over to talk to him.

Komaeda was back with the Ultimates, Hinata reminded himself. Back where he belonged.

He tried to remind himself to stop thinking like that. He was 18, dammit. He wasn't an insecure first-year anymore. It was hard, though, when he felt so stupid just standing there. Like he was waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen. Hinata stared down at the ink on his palm, the faded name of a boy who would no longer speak to him.

“Why d’ya got Komaeda’s name written on your hand?” Owari asked, sliding in next to Hinata and slinging an arm over his shoulders.

“Uh,” said Hinata, desperately searching for an excuse. “...So I won’t forget it.”

“Really?” Owari blinked before taking a large drink from her cup. “Man, Hinata. You’re kinda dumb.”

A wry, empty smile pushed at the corners of his mouth. “You don’t know the half of it.”

He closed his palm tightly and wondered if Komaeda had washed the ink from his own hand, scrubbed it off on purpose, harsh and unforgiving. Had he wanted to forget?

He should have known this is how things would end. When they were back at Hope’s Peak, when the lines that separated them had been drawn once again, he should have known exactly where Komaeda would go. So it shouldn’t have hurt so much, shouldn’t have made his chest feel empty, shouldn’t have shattered him into a million stupid pieces. He couldn’t believe he’d actually deluded himself into thinking Komaeda would stick around. Maybe Hinata really was as stupid as Komaeda had believed the Reserve Course to be.

But at the very least, Hinata was smart enough to put two and two together. By now, he knew he was in love with Komaeda.

And he knew one other thing with equally absolute certainty: Komaeda didn’t love him back.

With a sigh, he excused himself from Owari and stepped outside, leaning back on the wall. The slight chill of the outside air settled over him, and he knocked his head back against the brick.

Finally caving in, Hinata pulled his phone from his pocket. He’d downloaded the photos from the camera onto his phone that morning, but he hadn’t gotten a chance to look at them yet. There was a combination of photos from his phone, the camera, and Komaeda’s stupid flip-phone, all put together in one neat place.

The first was the two of them hanging onto each other in the concert venue, bright lights flashing around them. Next was Komaeda awkwardly posing in front of a giant cherry tree. Komaeda with the rocks and the demon handprint. Blurry images of maps they couldn’t figure out how to follow. Komaeda smiling in the car, the statue from Sendai in the background. The lake, bright and blue and sparkling under the sunset. Hinata, blurry and grinning with the lake right behind him. An ominous giant Monokuma in the backseat of Kuzuryu’s car. Fields of flowers under the bright seaside sun. Blurry fireworks from the festival. The two of them together at the beach, all lit up and happy.

He tried to remember what it had felt like. He had to, because he knew he wasn’t going to get to feel anything quite like that again.

Hinata sighed, shoving his phone into his pocket. Dwelling on memories was only going to make him feel worse. He began to walk aimlessly around the building, not yet ready to go back inside. The night air felt fresh, so different from the somewhat constricting feeling of the basement. Hinata kept walking, rounding a corner, and that’s when he saw her.


“...Nanami.” He let out a sigh of relief. “What are you doing out here?”

Nanami looked up from her DS, sleepy eyes going wide. “I needed to take a break for a minute to recharge, but I was just about to go back in after this level…” She yawned. “What about you?”

“I-” Hinata cut himself off, unsure how to explain it. “I, uh.”

Nanami looked at him carefully, and she must have seen something important, because she slowly flipped her DS closed. “Something… happened between you and Komaeda on that trip, didn’t it,” she said quietly.

“I don’t. Uh. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. At all.”

“...You know, Hinata, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear your collar buttoned all the way up,” Nanami said, casual. “It’s odd you would choose to do that tonight, isn’t it? I mean, it’s pretty hot out.”

Hinata knew he was caught. With a groan, he popped open the top couple buttons of his shirt and pulled back his collar, humiliated. The hickeys almost looked worse than they had earlier, all dark and prominent in the dim light.

Nanami’s jaw dropped, and she sputtered out a soft laugh. “Hinata,” she said, giggling. “That’s- really?” She snorted, overcome by another round of laughter.

“Yeah, okay, okay.” He buried his face in his hands, embarrassed, before buttoning his shirt back up. “God. Was it really that obvious?”

“If it helps, I don’t think most of the others have caught on yet.” Nanami shrugged, her hair catching around her shoulders. “But… I dunno. Komaeda’s been staring at you all night, awkwardly hanging around in the corners just to look at you. It’s not that hard to miss.”

“...That’s just kind of how Komaeda is, though. He always does that. Even before the trip,” Hinata said helplessly. Nanami narrowed her eyes at him, and he tossed his hands in the air. “What?”

“Hinata, that is not the airtight defense you think it is,” she said flatly.

Hinata groaned. “Well, what do you even want me to do about it? If you’ve been watching him, then you’ll also see that he’s avoiding me.”

“...Maybe you could try taking him to a Power Rangers movie,” Nanami said slowly. “And you could try to hold his hand across the chairs, but you accidentally grab Soda’s hand instead, and-”

Hinata narrowed his eyes at her. “I thought we both swore to never bring up our one date.”

Nanami snorted. “You forgot your wallet and I had to pay. But I was going to the arcade later, so I only had coins. Do you remember the look the cashier gave us?”

Hinata buried his face in his hands. “It was first year!”

Hiding a small laugh behind her hand, Nanami’s gaze quickly turned sympathetic. “You know, Hinata,” she started, pausing for a second. “I think he would stay, if you asked him to.”

Hinata sighed, already resigned to the truth. “...No, he wouldn’t.”

“You won’t know until you try, right?”

He smiled sadly. “Maybe later, Nanami.” With a sigh, he turned away, staring out at the campus. “We should head back inside.”

Hinata spent the rest of the party trying to distract himself from Komaeda. And it was fun, and he was with his friends, it was just - there was something missing. He felt like there was a hole carved out of his chest, a void of empty and longing, and he knew exactly who had put it there. And he knew, at least for a while, that he wouldn't feel complete without Komaeda.

It was so stupid. He’d been completely independent before this trip. The problem was, he’d grown used to having Komaeda around. To his face, his voice. It was going to hurt to have to give all that up so quickly.

As it turned out, his heart was a whole lot easier to fool than he was.

It was well past midnight when the party started winding down. Hinata helped his friends clean up, stacking chairs and putting away food; he felt bad for them, knowing they would have to go to school the next morning while he would be free to sleep in. For perhaps the first time, Hinata was glad he wasn’t in the Main Course. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. He never would have thought something like that even a week ago.

After saying his goodbyes, Hinata left the building, starting his trek back to the Reserve Course dorms. The gloom from earlier had lifted, pale moonlight illuminating his path. The air was still warm, but there was a slight chill to the breeze. Summer really was over.

Hinata sighed. He wished that the Main Course and Reserve Course dorms had been built closer together.

He kept walking, footsteps echoing off the smooth stone pathway, and he was so distracted that he almost missed the only other person walking around campus this late.

With their luck, who else could it have been?

Komaeda was sitting on a wooden bench in the courtyard, all alone. He looked so small. He was hunched over, hands shoved in his pockets, pale hair drifting around his face in the slight wind.

Well, whatever. Hinata was content to just walk right past Komaeda, ignoring him completely.

But then Komaeda, who had apparently seen him, stood up, turned around, and started walking away, as if Hinata wouldn’t notice - and that hurt even more. Hinata clenched his fist, unable to stand this any longer.

“Hey,” he called after Komaeda. “Wait up for a second.”

Komaeda froze in place and gestured to himself, feigning confusion.

“Yeah, you.” Hinata followed after him, finally catching up near the back of the library.

“Oh, Hinata,” Komaeda said, forcing nonchalance as if he’d just suddenly noticed him. “What a lovely evening. Unfortunately, I have to get back to my room, so-”

But Hinata wasn’t going to let him go again without an explanation. “Are you avoiding me?” he asked bluntly, cursing the hurt that seeped into his voice.

Komaeda just blinked at him owlishly. "How observant of you, Hinata!”

Hinata felt his stomach twist even harder at Komaeda’s lack of reaction. “Why are you avoiding me?”

“...Ah. It seems I’ve made you upset,” Komaeda said slowly.

“That’s one way to put it,” Hinata muttered. He looked down, ready to leave now that he’d gotten an answer to his question. But, he realized, he still had more to say. “So is this it, Komaeda? You were the one who was so scared I was going to leave, but in the end it was you. Now that we’re back at Hope’s Peak, you’re just gonna go back to acting like you’re better than me?”

“...Wait, I-”

“You’re gonna pretend like I don’t even exist?”

“No, that’s not-”

“Like the whole trip meant nothing to you?”

“That isn’t what I meant!” Komaeda said quickly. There was a brief flash of hurt in his eyes, and he looked so absolutely miserable that Hinata gave him half a second of pause. “Please.”

Hinata swallowed down his next words, heart swelling at just the look on Komaeda’s face. “I- sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you,” he said, his anger beginning to fade to a quiet, almost guilty hurt. “I just meant- if you didn’t want-” and he barely stopped himself from saying me, “ actually be friends… you should have just told me instead of ignoring me. It would have made it easier.” He took a step back, ducking his chin. His eyes were burning a little bit. “I’ll, uh. I’ll stop bothering you now.”

Hinata was had already started turning around when he felt the hand around his wrist. He looked back over his shoulder slowly, carefully, like if he looked too quickly it would go away.

But it didn’t. Komaeda was still there, one pale, trembling hand clutched so tight it almost hurt around Hinata’s wrist. He was looking down, like he couldn’t quite bear to meet Hinata’s eyes.

As if he had just realized that he’d done it, Komaeda dropped Hinata’s hand, flexing his own a few times before shoving it in his pocket. “I was trying to make it easy for you,” Komaeda said, quiet. “I- I thought you would have been happy about not having to deal with me all the time. You shouldn’t have to get dragged into my disastrous life just because of, um.” He scuffed the pavement with his shoe awkwardly. “What happened on the trip.”

Hinata swallowed over the lump in his throat. So this wasn’t Komaeda being cruel to Hinata - it was Komaeda being cruel to himself. He sighed, exhausted. “...If I was happy about not having to deal with you, I wouldn’t be so upset about you avoiding me. It felt like you were about to start calling me a worthless Reserve Course leech again, or something.”

Komaeda’s eyes went wide. “I wouldn’t do that,” he said quickly. “I- I wouldn’t, okay? You have to know by know that I- I wouldn’t do that again.” His gaze darted between Hinata and the ground, like he wasn’t sure which was more painful to look at. “It’s just - well, the trip is over, right?”

“...I know that,” Hinata said. “Obviously I know that.” He paused, and all of the pieces suddenly came together. “...Did you really think I was just going to ignore you once we got back?” he asked carefully. “Even after everything I said?”

“Yes?” Komaeda blinked, as if Hinata had finally figured out something incredibly simple. Like it was a basic tenant of human existence. 2+2=4, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, and Nagito Komaeda will always be alone.

Hinata’s brain hurt. “And you- what, were you trying to be the one who broke away first?”

Komaeda looked at the ground. “...I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.”

Hinata couldn’t believe the other boy had lived his whole life like this - just waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Komaeda,” he said quietly. “That’s- no. C’mon, man, no, I wouldn’t do that.”

“Ah!” Komaeda’s face went pink. “I didn’t mean to imply anything indecent about your relationships!”

Hinata felt his face grow hot. “H-hey! That’s not what I was saying. I meant I wouldn’t do that to you, alright?”

Komaeda bit his lip and met Hinata’s gaze, confusion still helplessly written across his face. “But you’re under no obligation to stick around. You're completely free to continue on with your normal life, free from my unbearable presence.”

“I don’t want to, okay?” Hinata insisted. “I know you’re gonna try to fight me on this, but my life’s gotten a whole lot better since you became a part of it.”

Komaeda blinked, several times in a row, before finding his words. “It… has?”

“Komaeda,” Hinata said, honestly, “that was one of the best weeks of my life.”

“...I feel the same way,” said Komaeda, his voice shaking. “But I never- I just couldn’t let myself believe you’d think that too. I mean, I… I guess I thought you were just doing me a favor.”

Now it was Hinata's turn to be confused. “A... favor?”

“Yes,” Komaeda agreed readily, as if he was finally back on territory he understood. “A favor. You let me indulge in something I desperately wanted, even if it was only for a few days. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful.”

“...I think you, uh, misunderstood something here?”

Komaeda’s brow furrowed. “You told me you liked someone.”

Hinata thought back a couple days, to that night in the hotel. “...Yes?”

Komaeda continued. “And then, a couple nights later, you kissed me.”

“Yes?” Hinata had never been more confused. “What do you think that meant?”

“...You reached the natural conclusion that I could be an incredibly useful distraction while you worked up the nerve to confess to the person you actually love.” Komaeda scuffed at the pavement with his shoe. “But luckily for you, you don’t have to use a worthless piece of trash like me anymore. While the mere thought of being useful to you in any way fills me with hope, it’s no longer necessary for you to sink so low.”

Hinata had thought he was being too obvious about his feelings, but apparently he’d utterly and completely underestimated the tragic effects of Komaeda’s inferiority complex. “And why would I- do that?”

“You knew I would say yes?” Komaeda said. “I was convenient?" At the completely blank look on Hinata's face, Komaeda continued. "...And, I mean, definitely once you figured out I’m in love with you.”

Sometimes, there are things that you believe to be true so deeply that you remain convinced that you could not possibly be wrong. And then, as is human nature, you get proven wrong. And when you do, the world shifts just a little bit on its axis. And suddenly, everything makes sense.

“You’re in love with me,” Hinata repeated blankly. His voice was weak. His heart was in his throat. This was his world-shifting moment.

“You didn’t…?” Komaeda blinked, his eyes very suddenly going wide. “I assumed you knew,” he said quietly. “You knew, and we were both- ignoring it, I suppose."

"You... we...." It's hard not to trip over your words when your whole world has suddenly, instantaneously shifted. "Why?"

Komaeda offered a small, helpless smile. "You’re the first person in my life who’s ever taken an actual interest in me. I love you, for being willing to spend time with me, even after knowing what a hopelessly incompetent person I am. For proving me wrong. For being yourself. For dancing with me outside the restaurant, and for swimming in the lake, even though I pulled you in, and for kissing me, and for being a bad driver, and for not abandoning me, even when I told you to. For - for everything, really. Of course I love you.” He paused, fiddling with the cuff of his sleeve. “Did you really not know?”

When Hinata finally brought himself to reply, his voice came out all strangled and scratchy. He looked up at Komaeda, pleading. “...I didn’t.”

“Oh.” Komaeda looked down. “Please don’t… think about it too much, then. And I’m sorry for burdening you with it now. Know that I would never delude myself into believing you feel the same way. It’s an honor that you would even consider using me the way you have.”

“I wasn’t using you,” Hinata said carefully. The words hurt to say. “Stop saying that, okay? That wasn’t just some distraction for me.”

“...You don’t have to say things you don’t mean just to make me feel better,” Komaeda said. There was a new, wounded quality to his voice, something so fragile it was almost bitter. “I've already humiliated myself enough for tonight, haven't I? I know my place.”

“You don’t know anything,” Hinata snapped. "Just let me tell you-"

Komaeda's eyes were burning. “I already know what you're going to say, Hinata. I’m aware that I’m incapable of doing anything right, but this one was obvious enough for even me to figure it out,” he hissed. “You’re in love with someone else, but you haven’t told them, so you were using me as a distraction. I understand, okay?”

“For someone so smart, you’re really stupid sometimes,” Hinata said. “I’m not in love with someone else.”

“But you told me-“

“It’s you, Komaeda.”

And with those words, Komaeda’s whole world seemed to fall apart. He clenched his fists and took a deep breath, like he was bracing himself for something terrible to happen. But the buildings around them didn’t begin to crumble, not a touch of lightning came down from the sky, and neither one of them dropped dead. Komaeda was just left standing there, staring wide-eyed at Hinata.

“...Hinata," he said, "this isn’t how the world is supposed to work." His voice was trembling. “I know how my life goes, and it isn’t like this. Good things don’t happen to me without something catastrophically terrible happening in return. I don’t get to be happy, I don’t get to be loved, and I don’t, under any circumstances, get what I want.”

“I’ve already told you that’s a stupid ending.” Hinata grabbed the other boy’s hands and laced their fingers together. “Komaeda,” he said quietly. “I love you.”

“...You’re going to regret this,” Komaeda said, his voice an odd mixture of fear and confusion and hope. “You’re going to be stuck with me, and you’ll wish you had let me talk you out of it.”

“You can’t talk me out of being in love,” Hinata shot back. “That’s not how that works.”

“I just... are you sure?” Komaeda asked quietly. “You’re sure you want this? Me?”

“Komaeda,” he said, “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”

“Ah.” Something in Komaeda’s expression shifted. His eyelids lowered, and the corners of his lips curled up. “If you’re so intent on sticking this out, Hinata - you better hope your luck starts getting better.”

“I don't need luck.” Hinata grinned. “I have you.”

Komaeda’s eyes went wide. He blinked a couple times, a strange, raw expression crossing over his face. Hinata was just about to ask him if he was okay when Komaeda leaned in and kissed him.

This was different than the other times they'd kissed. He pulled Komaeda in softly, taking his time. This was less desperate. More tender. Less rushed, because now there was the promise of more. It carried with it a whole new kind of intensity, something that set off every nerve in Hinata's body.

It ended the same way, though, with Komaeda pushed up against a wall.

His hands were slid up beneath Hinata's shirt, cold fingers against warm skin. Hinata kept his own hands on Komaeda's jaw, tilting the other boy's head as he pushed in further. Komaeda was kissing him like he'd been desperate for it, letting out small, soft noises whenever Hinata shifted his hands. Hinata pulled him in closer, impossibly closer, aching for the touch as if he'd never felt for anything before. This was what he'd wanted, all along. And now he knew Komaeda wanted it too.

“Um!” yelped a voice that did not belong to the guy Hinata was kissing.

In an instant, Hinata jerked away from Komaeda to stare at the source of the sound. A short boy in a Main Course uniform and a hoodie was staring at them, clearly embarrassed.

“I- I’m so sorry, I’ll just, um,” the boy stuttered before walking very quickly in the opposite direction.

“Oh, shit,” muttered Hinata, mortified. “Poor Naegi.” Same shit every day, for that guy.

Komaeda looked the exact way he felt: absolutely wrecked. He was still leaning back against the brick wall, as if he didn’t yet trust himself to stand on his own. His hair was somehow messier than usual, his face was a handsome shade of pink, his lips were red and still slightly parted, he was breathing heavily, and his eyes were dark and blown out as he kept his intense gaze focused on Hinata. All at once, he seemed to realize where he was, and his eyes went wide.

“Hinata,” he said quickly. “I’ve debased you on campus, I never should have- of course you wouldn’t want me to do this here- I-"

“Komaeda,” Hinata said, wrapping his hands around both sides of Komaeda’s jaw to pull him in closer. “It’s fine.”

“But I-”

Hinata knocked their foreheads together. “You better not do something stupid like apologize.”

“...I wasn’t going to apologize.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, you were.”

“Yeah, I was.”

They smiled at the same time. Hinata met his eyes, unable to look away. He never thought he would get to feel like this - unashamed for wanting.

“If it’s not too much to ask,” Komaeda said quietly, slipping a finger through Hinata’s belt loop, “walk me to class tomorrow, okay?”

Hinata felt his eyes go wide with disbelief. “...In the Main Course building?”

“No, Hinata, the other place where my classes are.” Komaeda gave him an unimpressed look, but the patronizing effect was ruined by the small smile still written across his face.

“Okay,” Hinata nodded, grinning. “Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow it is.”

It was a promise or something more, something continuous. A sense of certainty and assurance neither of them had ever really felt before. As he turned around and began to walk back to his dorm, he knew that he didn't have to worry for a while.

And then, without warning he heard footsteps approaching behind him. He turned around just in time for Komaeda to grab his collar and pull him in for a kiss. When Komaeda pulled away, his whole face had gone pink. “Goodnight,” he whispered, then turned on his heel, grinned over his shoulder, and started walking away.

Hinata touched his hand to his lips, all his nerves lighting up. When he finally reminded himself to turn around and start walking, he couldn’t keep the stupid smile off his face.

Maybe it was okay that nothing in Hinata’s life ever went according to plan.

After all, if he’d ended up here, he must have done something right.