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The Hope Foundation

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Chapter One:  Door to the Future

The six friends stood together as the door opened, focusing on every little detail they could make out as the light gradually stopped blinding them. They remained silent for a moment, taking in the darkened sky, the ravaged buildings, and the toxic smell of the air.

"So this is… the outside world…" Makoto muttered, his eyes scanning their new environment. "There's so much… despair…"

Next to him, Kyoko seemed to be deep in thought. "It looks like Junko wasn't lying when she said that the Tragedy had brought the world to its knees. I personally have trouble breathing, which isn't a good sign."

The Ultimate Detective walked a couple of feet away from the door and knelt down, taking a bit of dried, putrid grass in her gloved hands and giving it a thorough analysis.

"Indeed. There seems to be a lack of oxygen without the air purifier." Byakuya agreed, taking a few steps outside. "Breathing air of such low quality is undignified of a Togami. But I suppose we have no other choice."

"Yeah, that kinda sucks…" said Hina, taking a deep breath to refill her lungs. "But we kinda expected it, didn't we? I mean, Junko could have been lying, but given what Genocide Jack told us…"

Toko coughed a couple of times as she panted, stuttering, "T-This world… i-it's even worse than the K-Killing Game! B-But… as long as M-Master's there with me, I-I can do anything!"

The now orphan Togami heir hmphed but otherwise remained silent as he surveyed the area some more with the Ultimate Writing Prodigy standing close to him.

"T-This is catastrophic, for serious! We're going to die here, aren't we?!" Hiro exclaimed in fear as he shook in place. "I-I almost wanna go back inside!"

"It wouldn't change a thing." Kyoko reminded him curtly. "The air purifier was turned off when Makoto pressed the exit button." she gave him a scary look, saying, "Besides, didn't we agree that we would face whatever waited for us outside? It is too late to be a coward, Hiro."

That's a bit cold, but Kyoko has a point. We decided to vote for hope in the final Class Trial knowing the outside world could be like this… The Luckster thought, looking as his ex-classmates scanned their close surroundings. But that's no reason to give up! If Junko managed to bring the world to ruins, then surely we can restore it! We just need to be determined!

"S-Sorry!" the Ultimate Clairvoyant quickly apologized as his eyes met Kyoko's disappointed ones. "I'll make it up to y'all by giving you a prediction, alright?"

"We don't need your predictions, Hiro!" the swimmer told him harshly, growling in frustration. "It would probably be wrong, anyway!"

As the two Ultimates got into a silly argument revolving around Hiro's abilities, or lack thereof, Makoto got moving on a small path he could hardly discern in the mud.

The campus seems deserted and in ruins… The Ultimate Lucky Student thought, slowly getting used to the polluted air he was breathing. It makes sense… Monokuma had said that raiding the Killing Game from outside would be impossible, and for a fact: this place looks hostile…

"Shouldn't we check out what's this way, guys?" the boy suggested, getting everyone's attention as he pointed towards a large but highly-damaged building in the distance. "The campus seems big, so wouldn't it be wise to start exploring a bit?"

Kyoko nodded in agreement, joining him as she said, "Indeed. We need to either find a safe way out of here or find enough resources to stay hidden for a while. If what Junko said is true and that people in the entire world have fallen to despair, we could be their next targets. Being prepared for every eventually would probably be wise."

The Ultimate Detective's voice was assertive and seemed to convince everyone, even a scared Hiro and a shaking Toko.

"I have little hopes we can find anything useful in this warzone," Byakuya argued, pushing up his glasses. "But it would be folly not to search. Feel free to do what you want, but I am not escaping this campus without a decent enough weapon to fend off against enemies."

"Hm, couldn't we ask for Genocide Jack to remove any threats?" the fortune-teller asked, genuinely curious as his expression seemed to indicate. "Her scissors seem sharp, for serious!"

"N-No!" Toko immediately shouted in disagreement. "I-I've let her loose too much recently, s-so no way am I letting h-her come now! B-Besides, M-Master Togami said he w-wouldn't date me if she killed a-anyone!"

"Don't make me repeat myself. I've never said that and never will." the blond reminded the talented novelist, his voice cold and lacking in empathy. "You are the last person I would think of to help me rebuild the Togami Empire. You should consider yourself lucky I haven't shut your mouth with duct tape yet."

Relying on Jill's murderous side might be going a little overboard when we haven't explored all the other options, yeah… Makoto thought, shaking his head in amusement at the familiar scene between Byakuya and Toko. "Hey, I was thinking about something…" he began, getting the others' attention… yet again. "We're saying there might be enemies coming for us, which is possible, but…" a hopeful smile appeared on the hazel-eyed boy's lips as he finished, "Maybe somebody is coming to rescue us, right now! The Killing Game was broadcasted all over the world, right? There's bound to be someone who tried to help us, don't you agree?"

Makoto's optimistic expression seemed to improve everybody's mood as they all shared a smile.

"Yeah, Makoto's right!" Hina agreed with passion. "I'm sure there are people who have regained hope after we escaped the Killing Game! They'll come to help us!"

"While I usually don't agree with such foolishly hopeful suggestions…" the Ultimate Affluent Progeny revealed a kinder smile, saying, "There is some truth in your words, Makoto. However, if we have to wait for them, we still need to explore this place to ensure we do not die before they arrive. Dying now would disgrace the Togami name, and I won't allow it!"

"Yeah, for serious! I'm not going to die now after we've managed to escape this crazy place!" Hiro added, though his voice still betrayed some fear. "If anyone attacks us, I'll smash them on the head with my crystal ball, even if it was super expensive!"

We're not gonna go far with that, Hiro… Makoto, and pretty much everyone else, thought, sweatdropping at the idea. But more seriously, it's good to see that everyone keeps hope, even if the outside world looks hostile…

"Moving on… I think we should head this way." Kyoko suggested, her glove hand pointing in the direction of a path they could make out more clearly than the others. "I'm pretty sure this leads to a central point of the campus, so going there might help up get a better grasp of where we are and where we should look."

"No objections from me!" the Ultimate Swimming Pro told them, giving the detective a thumbs-up. "Kyoko's a detective, so we should definitely follow her lead in this investigation!"

The lavender-haired girl smiled gratefully at Hina, thankful for the vote of confidence. Makoto had to smile at the scene of friendship between his two classmates, as well. On their hand, Byakuya, Hiro, and Toko didn't seem to have anything to counter Kyoko's proposal.

"I-I agree with the i-idiot swimmer girl…" the latter stuttered, taking a shot at Hina, even now that the game was over. "A-Aside from Master, K-Kyoko probably knows the best…!"

"Then, if we are in agreement, I suggest we get moving," Kyoko told them, walking ahead. "Staying here won't do us any good."

"R-Right…" the short boy said, shaking his head as he realized that his friend had gone back to her usual, earnest demeanor quicker than he could have thought. "Right behind you."

With that, the six Ultimates got going towards the central plaza, hoping to find something that would help them survive on the hostile-looking campus of Hope's Peak Academy…


"Considering that most of these buildings are either destroyed or look too dangerous to be explored safely, I think we should restrain our search to these two buildings for now," Kyoko said as she pointed successively to a building on their right and one on their left. "They seem to be the only ones that still stand correctly."

"I agree. And I order Toko and Hiro to go scout these buildings and tell us if they're really safe or not." Byakuya forcefully added, glaring at the Ultimate Writing Prodigy and Ultimate Clairvoyant. "If we have to lose two people, I'd rather have them be these two."

"Hey, that's mean!" Hiro exclaimed, looking scandalized. Kyoko gave the Ultimate Affluent Progeny a disapproving stare, though Hina didn't seem to disagree much with the boy, which was a first. "My predictions can be so useful, for serious! I know they haven't really been amazing so far, but there'll be a time they'll save us, I'm sure!"

Byakuya scoffed mockingly, retorting, "Please notify me when that happens. But anyway, I thought I was clear. Toko, Hiro, you go first and tell us how dangerous it is. We don't have any time to waste discussing your mockery of a talent."

"Y-Yes, Master!" the purple-haired nodded shakily. "I-I'll be right back!"

And she actually agreed?! Makoto wondered in disbelief, as even Byakuya seemed shocked his stalker had accepted the order. "W-Wait, you don't need to do that, Toko!" he assured her, waving his hands around. "We can't send anyone alone… If there were any threats, we'd be able to defend ourselves much better together!"

"That's right. Any other suggestion is foolish." the Ultimate Detective stated coldly, her glare still on the Togami heir. "For that matter, we will split into two groups of three. I'll explore the building on our right with Makoto and Hina, while Byakuya, Toko, and Hiro will explore the building on our left. Given we're alone, one group should be able to hear the other if they shout, so do that if you need help."

"Great idea!" Hina beamed, quickly walking to Makoto's side. "I'm sure that'll be super effective!"

"And why do I have to investigate with these two idiots, exactly?" Byakuya demanded, even though he sounded anything but surprised.

Kyoko smirked victoriously at him, telling the Ultimate Affluent Progeny, "Who you investigate with shouldn't matter, am I wrong? A Togami will bring results, whoever they are paired with, correct? Besides, Makoto's going with me, whether you like it or not."

"Hmph. You have a point." Byakuya conceded, making the Luckster sigh in relief. An argument now, after they had managed to reach unity, would be counterproductive. Soon enough, however, a grin of his own appeared on the blond's lips. "But if you are willing to explain to me why you care so much that Makoto investigates with you, it would be appreciated."

"That doesn't matter, Byakuya." the lavender-haired girl assured him, closing her eyes in deep thought. "The point is, I'll go with Hina and Makoto. Now, I suggest we come back here after our searches are complete. Does that seem fair to everyone?"

"I suppose it is." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny answered on behalf of his group. "We will bring everything of interest here when we come back." turning away and heading towards the building he was going to be investigating with Hiro and Toko, Byakuya finished by saying, "Do not disappoint."

With their three companions gone on their own adventure, Kyoko sighed. "I think we should start, too. I don't know if we're likely to find anything in this mess, but we won't know until we try." casting one last glance at the Ultimate Lucky Student and Ultimate Swimming Pro, the detective asked, "Are you following me?"

"Yeah, right behind you, Kyoko!" Hina said with enthusiasm, visibly joyed at the idea of investigating with her two friends.

Makoto stayed silent for another second before nodding and giving a more unsure, "Yes, go ahead."

And as they walked, the Luckster couldn't help but ask himself questions.

Why did Kyoko insist that she wanted to investigate with me in particular…? He wondered, trying to keep the girls' pace. I mean, she's the Ultimate Detective, so she'd have been able to investigate with either Hiro or Toko just fine, so…

The swimmer seemed to notice there was something on Makoto's mind as they walked. "Are you alright, Makoto? You seem lost in your thoughts…"

"N-No, I'm fine…" the boy replied, showing a forced yet easygoing smile. "It's just… there's so much to think about, you know?"

In reality, Makoto didn't want to share his questions while Kyoko was next to them. He had a few theories, but in case he was wrong, he preferred to keep them to himself, at least for the time being.

"Ah, yeah, you're totally right." Hina agreed, none the wiser. "But hey, we might get some answers as we investigate this place!"

The Ultimate Lucky Student smiled more genuinely at his friend's boundless cheeriness. "You're right, Hina. We're gonna be just fine, I'm sure of it!"

However, as soon as their conversation had ended, the smile gave way to a frown. The boy's eyes filled with the slightest bit of worry as he observed Kyoko walking, as focused and serious as usual.

Could it be… That you're feeling guilty for what happened during Mukuro's trial, Kyoko…? His near-execution flashed through his mind, recalling it very precisely. You try to look brave, and that's admirable… but if you need to let your guard down, then you should do so… just like when we were in your father's room… Well, I'll have plenty of time to bring it up in the future.

Refocusing on their current objective, Makoto sped up a little, not to fall behind as they approached a tall building made of glass. Perhaps they still had doubts and regrets, but at least, they now could take the time they needed to sort them out.

And Makoto would be there to help his friends with that.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Two:  Threatened Heir and Familiar Face

"Hurry it up, you simpletons! This campus isn't going to explore itself!"

"Y-Yes, Master!"

"I-I'm here, man!"

Byakuya growled in frustration. Kyoko basically forced them onto me just so she could spend some time with Makoto… Investigating with someone like Makoto turned out to help us in the Killing Game, but these two are just utterly useless!

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny waited for Hiro and Toko to catch up to him as he faced the building they'd been tasked to investigate. It wasn't a really tall building, but it did look sturdier than the rest, and for a fact, as it was one of the few buildings still standing.

"Hm, it seems this building indeed survived the Tragedy pretty well so far, whatever the reason for that might be." the Togami heir said, mostly to himself, as he approached the front door, though not without great carefulness. "Let's see…" noticing a doorplate, the boy narrowed his eyes and read with interest, "'Class 78th Dormitories?' Now that's a discovery worthy of a Togami…"

"D-Did you find something, M-Master…?" Toko suddenly asked, standing next to him and trying to look as focused as possible in front of Byakuya. "T-That look in your eyes tells m-me that you've found something…!"

"Of course I did," Byakuya confirmed, the Ultimate Writing Prodigy's presence making him grunt in annoyance. "But instead of standing there uselessly, I order you to investigate the surroundings of this building with that idiot Hiro! You're just bothering me right now."

"M-Master, I-I'm so sorry!" the girl quickly and sincerely apologized, her voice almost begging for forgiveness. "I-I won't bother you anymore, I-I promise!"

"Then leave. I'll be inside. Come tell me if you've found anything of interest." Maybe now I'll actually have some peace and quiet to investigate this place… She was already a hindrance, so now that we need to focus on things as simple as breathing, I don't need her to bother me…

"Y-Yes, Master!"

With that, the novelist was gone. Byakuya was surprised at how fast she had complied, and for once, it was a positive kind of surprise. He didn't spend any time thinking about it, however, and returned to his discovery.

So this building was where we lived before the Tragedy… The boy mused, pushing the door open with ease and stepping in, one step at a time, to avoid any potential danger. "Why I ever accepted to reside here for any stretch of time is beyond me…" This place looks horrendous, even if this might be because of the Tragedy… And it smells awful, too.

He could feel death in the atmosphere, and even he had to admit it wasn't a pleasant feeling. Making sure to be on his guard, Byakuya walked farther down the hallway in front of him.

"The dormitories here seem to be rather similar to the ones we had during the Killing Game." the affluent progeny stated, looking around and noticing the different doors. "So we were moved from here to the other building when the Tragedy began, in all likelihood." he sighed in frustration, clenching one fist. "If only that damned Junko Enoshima had not taken away our memories, this would be much simpler!"

Some walls were partly destroyed, though the building didn't seem to be on the verge of crashing down. However, it was still messy, and Byakuya had to be careful not to trip on anything. Suddenly, he noticed something on the floor, in front of a door.

"What do we have here…?" picking up a wooden doorplate, the Ultimate Affluent Progeny dusted it off with his hands (and winced as he did so - how undignified for him!) and noticed a name written on it. "Well, it looks like I have found my former room… I suppose it could be worth checking out, even if I'm not expecting much…"

The boy opened the door and entered the room with one last sigh, hoping to find something that would help their investigation…


"So, what's this building, Kyoko?" Hina asked as the Ultimate Detective read a doorplate on the front entrance of the building. "Must be something good, right?"

"Yes, quite right…" Kyoko replied, then got out of the way and gestured to the sign. "Hope's Peak Academy Administration."

"The Administration, you say?" Makoto echoed before a lightbulb appeared atop his head. "W-Wait, then that means…!"

"Indeed." the lavender-haired girl nodded, knowing what he was about to say. "This is where my father's office must have been located before the Tragedy. Still… the odds that we find it in a somewhat acceptable state are small to inexistent."

Kyoko breathed a long sigh, making Hina frown. "Hey, don't go all depressed now! We haven't even entered the building yet, so let's be a little more optimistic! Isn't that right, Makoto?"

"M-Me…?" Jeez, Hina's bursts of optimism are something… "Y-Yeah, you're right, Hina." the Ultimate Lucky Student agreed, taken aback by the swimmer's loud and passionate voice. "We should check it out before we make any assumptions. And we might even find something if we're lucky!"

Makoto joined the two girls and placed himself in front of his detective friend and noticed her torn between optimism and defeatism. Still, at one point, Kyoko rolled her eyes, visibly swayed.

"Very well." she conceded, showing a small smile of amusement. "I still have doubts, but your hopefulness saved us from Junko, so following it might not be the worst option on the table." her expression quickly reverted to one of seriousness. "However, I want you to exert absolute caution once we're inside. We don't know who might be lurking around, so be careful not to be taken by surprise, alright?"

"Don't worry, Kyoko! If anyone tries to harm us, I'll kick their butt!" the Ultimate Swimming Pro exclaimed with spirit. "Letting anyone defeat me would be dishonoring Sakura's name, and I won't allow it!"

With Hina and Kyoko with me, we should be fine… A recent memory of the Ultimate Detective saving him from Junko's attack while he was delirious in bed flashed through his mind, comforting him that he would be safe with the two Ultimates girls. Though I probably wouldn't be able to help them in return, which sucks…

Kyoko shook her head and chuckled, unaware of Makoto's regrets. The boy had never been good at any sport or physical activities, and martial arts were no exception. If someone were to attack him or any of his friends, he wouldn't be able to do much except panic, which he regretted a lot.

Still, he had the hope that nothing would happen, which was already a good start, and it did help him gain confidence. And knowing that his friends could back him up if needed was good too. The Luckster knew he could try to give them some hope if they needed it, which meant everybody helped a bit with what they could do best.

Considering they had defeated the Mastermind behind the Tragedy like this, Makoto guessed it was a pretty effective way to cooperate between friends.

"Well, we've wasted enough time." the detective stated, taking a step forward. "Let's see what this place has in store for us… for better or for worse."


As I thought: nothing. This is highly disappointing, even if absolutely not surprising… Byakuya sighed as he finished exploring his former dorm, though his search had led to no discoveries. I don't expect much of these two commoners, but let's hope Hiro and Toko have found more than I did, even if that would be a shame for a Togami…

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny cast one last quick glance around before heading for the door and opening it to leave the room. However, instead of the hallway, he was greeted by the face of someone standing in his way, making him take a step back in surprise.

"W-Who…?" he stuttered in his shock, unable to recognize the person in front of him. Hmph. Perhaps even more carefulness was needed… The boy's eyes narrowed on the mysterious individual… and especially on the Monokuma mask they were wearing. So Enoshima truly has worshippers, doesn't she…?

"You've killed Goddess Junko! DIE!"

Raising a knife, the mysterious person leaped towards the orphan Togami heir, making Byakuya's eyes widen as he barely had time to dodge the attack with a quick sidestep on his left.

"H-How dare YOU?!" Byakuya exclaimed furiously, immediately seeing red and glaring at the assailant. However, he wasn't afraid, even with a weapon being aimed at him so threateningly. "I am the heir to the Togami Empire! If you believe a commoner like you has any right to make an attempt on my life… then you are firmly mistaken!"

"Yeah, how dare you attack my beloved Master, you psycho?!"

"H-Huh?" That voice… D-Don't tell me… The affluent progeny sighed again, this time in a mix of relief and annoyance as he recognized the two pairs of scissors pressed against his attacker's neck. "And may I know what you're doing here, Jack? Didn't I order Toko to investigate with that idiot Hiro?"

"Kyeeehahaha! Master, I thought you'd be happier to see me again!" the serial killer told him, cackling while keeping her hostage at scissor-point. "But anyway, Miss Morose and that not-adorable boy stumbled upon a bloody scene, and that's when I was called to steal the show!"

"I see…" I didn't need her to stalk me around, but I suppose she did take care of whoever this person is… Forcing a somewhat grateful expression on his face, Byakuya replied, "Well, you came at the right time. I suppose I can tolerate your presence in this room, at least, for the time being. Now, what shall we do with whoever that is…? Usually, anyone foolish enough to attack a Togami would suffer severe punishment, but I have some questions for this person, so that will have to wait."

"Are ya' sure, Master? I've been missing the feeling of snip-sniping someone by now!" the Ultimate Murderous Fiend told him, her scissors sliding slowly against the person's throat. "But I wanna know if they're a cute boy before that! Can I remove the mask, Master?"

"No." Not this again… "The last time you removed a mysterious mask, it blew up Mukuro's body and could have sentenced us all to death, so I order you not to do it." he told her forcefully, taking a step forward and grabbing the knife out the attacker's hands with a smug look. "However, keep him hostage while I decide on the course of action to take. We're leaving now."

"Okay, Master! Anything for your love! Kyeeehahaha!"

Byakuya winced at the thought, being absolutely disgusted by his stalker's adoration of him. Sure, he considered himself worth admiring, but certainly not this way, and especially not by her!

I admittedly didn't expect this, but at least this investigation wasn't a total waste of time. I've got a weapon and a hostage that could prove useful… Hmph. No one should underestimate the Ultimate Affluent Progeny… even if I suppose some help can never hurt…

The boy smiled as they exited the room, shaking his head in amusement.

I'm getting too soft… That's your fault, Makoto…!


"So this was the Headmaster's office… I gotta say, even now… this place gives a feeling of grandeur and power…" Hina looked with awe as they began exploring the vacant room. "Being the Headmaster of Hope's Peak Academy must come with great responsibility!"

"Yeah…" I'm not sure I understand everything that Kyoko's dad's job entailed, but he must have been an important person, being the Headmaster… Makoto thought, checking out a shelf against a wall. Making the decision of sheltering us into the building we just escaped from must not have been easy… "But we owe our life to the Headmaster, so I am immensely grateful."

"Me too." the swimmer told him, and even if he couldn't see her expression, her voice carried a great deal of thankfulness. "I don't remember him, but he must have been a good guy. Isn't that right, Kyoko?"

"I'll pass you my life story, Hina." the detective told her coldly and without the need for much thought. Her voice softened, however, as she added, "But Makoto is right. If my father had not decided to shelter us, we would never have survived the Tragedy. I suppose… this is how I should remember him."

Kyoko's still hurting, even if she's doing a little better… The Ultimate Lucky Student realized, frowning a bit. The Ultimate Detective had told him her story near the end of the Killing Game. There was a lot to unpack, and while Makoto didn't know if she had told him everything, he knew it must have been plenty. Kyoko had sounded mostly unemotional and unaffected while telling him her story, but the boy knew she was sad, deep down. When he had found that 'present' in the secret room, Makoto couldn't see her sadness, but he could feel it.

Not getting a chance to reunite with her father to talk things out between them is just so horrible… Poor Kyoko…

The boy kept looking on the side of the room that the lavender-haired detective had assigned him to, though so far, no luck on his end. The best he'd found was some uninteresting books, or at least, books Kyoko had told him were uninteresting. He didn't question her.

"His desk is empty, of course…" both Hina and Makoto heard their friend sigh in frustration, even if she kept her voice low. "Either he moved everything to his office in the other building, or the place was already looted. Anyway, I suggest we get out of here. There's nothing to be found, evidently."

"You sure, Kyoko?" the other girl asked, still combing through the furniture on her side of the office. "Maybe we just haven't searched long enough!"

"I'd like to agree with you, Hina; I really do. But our search has been thorough, and we, unfortunately, cannot stay here forever." Kyoko reminded her, heading for the door. "We have no food and nothing to drink, and this needs to be our first priority. Otherwise, we'll just die here, and we'll have escaped the Killing Game for nothing."

"Yeah, I guess you're right… That's too bad! I really wanted us to find something!"

"You and me both, Hina."

Well, I guess we didn't find anything in the end… Well, it'll be better next time. Makoto thought as he gave the last bookshelf one final look. And… nothing here… O-Oh, wait a minute… Running his hand against the back of the shelf, the Ultimate Lucky Student felt something. Getting on the tip of his toes, he barely managed to reach and grasp it. So, what do we have here… A picture…?

"Makoto? We need to get moving." Kyoko told him, her voice firm yet not aggressive.

"W-Wait a second, Kyoko, I've found something!" the boy said, getting her attention. "There was a picture at the back of this shelf, pretty well-hidden!"

Kyoko's eyes widened in surprise as she immediately approached the boy. "May I see it?"

"Y-Yeah, sure." Makoto handed her the picture before he even got a chance to take a look at it. "There you go."

"Thank you, Makoto." the violet-eyed girl nodded gratefully before staring at the picture. Hina joined them, curious too. "It's a picture of my father and…" she paused, deep in thought for a moment. "This man… I cannot remember who he is, but I have already seen him…"

Makoto glanced at the picture, and while he recognized the Headmaster from the tape Junko had left in his office inside the other building, the other man didn't ring any bells. Looking to his left, he noticed that Hina didn't have any idea either.

"From my childhood, maybe…?" Kyoko muttered to herself, adopting a pensive stance. "Well, it doesn't really matter for now. I can figure it out later." she smiled at Makoto. "Thank you for showing me this, Makoto. It might not be what we were looking for, but it is something."

"O-Oh, um… you're welcome…" It's rare to see Kyoko smiling… but it's always worth it… The Ultimate Lucky Student blushed a little, causing a giggle from the swimmer. This is embarrassing, though…

"You two are just so cute…" Hina told them with a fond look in her eyes. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were together when we were classmates!"

"And where did that come from, Hina?" the Ultimate Detective questioned, a disapproving look in her purple eyes. Then, she shook her head before heading out. "Anyway, let's focus on what's actually important. Come, the others are probably waiting for us."

"Hee-hee, you didn't deny the possibility!" the other girl teased sweetly, tiptoeing behind Kyoko on her way out.

Makoto sighed as he followed them out of the office, unsure of what to do with the traces of pink on Kyoko's cheeks that the Ultimate Detective had not been able to hide in time…

I guess this investigation did turn out something in the end… Whatever it means…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Three:  Setting Priorities

"It's about time you finally came back, you bunch of simpletons!" Byakuya growled, tapping his foot frustratingly. "I haven't got all day!"

The trio of Makoto, Kyoko, and Hina caught up to their three friends waiting at the designated reunion spot, even if the Ultimate Lucky Student was surprised to see a fourth person with them. Questions ran through his mind, though seeing them with their hands and legs bound by rope and with a Monokuma mask answered some of them.

"Uh, who's that…?" Hina asked, pointing to the mystery person. "And why are they wearing a Monokuma mask…?"

"I couldn't answer the first question, but as for the second, I think it's safe to assume it means they worship Junko." the Togami heir replied calmly. His eyes turned angry, however, as he glared at them. "Someone foolish enough to believe they could try to kill the heir to the Togami Empire without suffering the consequences."

"W-WHAT?!" both the swimmer and the lucky student yelled in surprise, gasping in shock. "T-They've tried to kill you?! How can you be so calm about it?!" Makoto wondered, suddenly feeling a chill run down his spine. So even now… We're not really safe, are we…?

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny smirked confidently, assuring the Luckster, "It is no big deal, trust me. I'm sure they won't try again or risk having their throat slit by a very meticulous and effective murderous fiend…"

Byakuya gestured to Genocide Jack mockingly standing in front of the hostage a few feet away, sticking out her long tongue at them. Everyone sweatdropped at the scene, finding it ridiculous yet oddly relaxing. Knowing that someone, even as… bizarre as the Ultimate Murderous Fiend, could be so calm helped with their nerves. And even if Toko didn't want it to happen, having such a skilled serial killer in their ranks was reassuring.

"I take it they haven't talked?" Kyoko asked, getting back to the subject at hand. Byakuya shook his head, wordlessly confirming it. "I see… But that is something. Our investigation has uncovered a picture of my father and a man I recall from somewhere but can't quite replace, but other than that, nothing." she informed them. "But I am curious as to what the building you explored was, Byakuya."

"Our former dormitories." the affluent progeny simply replied. "It was as uninteresting as Hiro's stories about fortune-telling, however. Highly disappointing."

"Hey, that's mean!" the Ultimate Clairvoyant exclaimed, coming out of his silence.

"Be quiet." the blond boy ordered him. "This is a serious talk between serious people. Go and make sure Jack doesn't do anything regrettable and let us talk, will you?"

Hiro sighed but nodded nonchalantly and complied, turning towards their hostage and the serial killer keeping them company.

"So, you don't think there's any point in going there ourselves to explore more?" the Ultimate Detective asked Byakuya, with Makoto and Hina listening closely. "Considering the time you've taken, it seems unlikely you were able to investigate the sixteen rooms we had when we were classmates; am I wrong?"

"No, you're not." he told her before adding, "But there is no use in going back there: the thing is as empty as Hiro's head. The only thing I found there was a waltz with death, so if a Togami couldn't find anything interesting, it means that there isn't anything interesting to be found."

They vaguely heard the fortune-teller complain in the background but didn't pay much attention to him. Instead, Kyoko adopted a pensive stance, planning their next move.

"Exploring the other buildings would be a suicide mission," she told them, closing her eyes for better concentration. "Even from afar, it looks like they could collapse at any minute now, and there could be an ambush waiting for us. Byakuya avoided death, but that doesn't mean we'll get so lucky next time." Kyoko opened her eyes again and pointed at the hostage they had. "We need to get something out of whoever this is. If they worship Junko, then coercion might allow us to learn more about our new environment."

"Quite right." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny concurred with a nod. "You interrogate them, Kyoko. You're the detective among us."

"Yeah, I also agree. I'm sure that if someone can get someone to talk, it's Kyoko!" Makoto also agreed, sharing a quick smile with the Ultimate Detective. "Just… don't torture them if they don't talk, please? I know they're on the side of despair, but we don't know their story and what Junko did to them."

Hina smiled cheerfully and added, "Makoto's right! We can tickle them until they talk, but using Junko's methods would just be playing in her hands!"

"The two of you are just absurdly naïve." the Togami heir shot the Ultimate Lucky Student and Ultimate Swimming Pro, shaking his head. "But fine. Makoto's methods have proven to work so far, and maybe they'll continue to work. Now, failure isn't an option, Kyoko. Understood?"

The detective girl hmphed as she went to start her interrogation of their hostage without replying to the order, which seemed to frustrate Byakuya to no end. Smirking, Hina went to her friend's side, mockingly clapping the Ultimate Affluent Progeny on the back as she passed by.

"Looks like your prick attitude doesn't affect everybody!" the girl teased, giggling like an idiot.

Byakuya sighed in slight annoyance before begrudgingly following her. Makoto, on his end, fondly smiled as he joined the rest of the group near their hostage.

It's good to see everyone getting along… During the Killing Game, Hina would have said her last remark, but she would have wanted to harm Byakuya and get on his nerves… Now, I feel like this is all for teasing. Even when Byakuya insults Hiro, I'm sure he means it, but it doesn't sound as mean as it did before…

Feeling more at peace than at any time in a long while, Makoto stood next to everyone as Kyoko started to ask a bunch of questions, with varying success. Still, everyone seemed to be doing well, and each time Byakuya asked Genocide Jack to threaten their hostage, and they got some answers, the general mood improved even more.

We've come a long way, but… we're a united group of friends now, and soon enough, we'll be helping the world rebuild, I'm sure of it!


"So, what's the plan now?" Hina asked, pointing to their hostage, whom they had figured out, was a woman. "We can't exactly let her do as she pleases, right?"

"Obviously not," Byakuya answered, his voice showing how evident it was to him. "I say we let her starve here and move on. We aren't in a good enough position to be so charitable as to help our enemies. I know Makoto will disagree, but this is the wise stance in this situation."

"Hey, I haven't even said anything!" Makoto complained, pouting. Okay, that's what I would have probably said, but still! "I honestly don't know what we should do… I mean, to fall to Junko's despair… that woman must have gone through horrible things, so on the one hand, I don't want to leave her alone, but…" he sighed in regret, and five pairs of eyes softened as the Luckster frowned. "We don't even have anything we can do for her. She told us a bit about the Tragedy and the world around us, but we still do not have any resources, so it's not like we can really help her…"

"Don't blame yourself, man." Hiro comforted him, padding him on the shoulder. "You're determined, and I know you want the best for everybody, but we're in the freaking world of the apocalypse! I predict that we won't be able to help everyone, for serious!"

"For once, Hiro is right," Byakuya stated, pushing his glasses. "It's foolish to think we're going to rebuild the world so rapidly that there won't be any casualties. This woman fell to despair, and there's nothing we can do about it. If she lost her family, we don't have any necromancer to raise the dead. If she lost her house, we do not have an architect to build her another one." the heir's words reached his friends, and they all had to admit that there was some truth in what he was saying. "If she wants to find hope, then she'll fight for it, just like we did inside this mockery of a Killing Game. Call me inhumane if you want, but that's what a Togami would do."

There's nothing we can do about her despair…? Byakuya's words echoed in the Ultimate Lucky Student's mind over and over again, and he tried to decide whether or not he agreed with them. It's true that we're survivors of the Tragedy like any others now… Maybe our victory against Junko gave back hope to the people who were on the verge of falling to despair, just like we were many times during the Killing Game, but… can we redeem the people who have lost all hope?

"Makoto."

"H-Huh?"

Looking up, the Luckster met Kyoko's determined eyes. "Perhaps in the future, we can find a way to help people like her, but right now, we can't. We do not have what it takes to give her back hope."

"Kyeeehahaha! I say you let me do my work and avenge Master Byakuya for what she almost did to him!" Genocide Jack suggested, cackling and playing with her scissors. "She isn't a boy, but anything would do!"

"No." the Ultimate Detective said assertively. "I think we've all seen enough death during the Killing Game not to see anyone die pointlessly even after. Right now, I suggest we wait for a little longer and see if any help comes. If not, then we will leave the campus to look for resources. We can use Genocide Jack's scissors and the knife Byakuya got to defend ourselves. Are there any objections?"

"I… I don't think so…" Kyoko's really taking the lead right now… She was discreet outside the Class Trials while we were trapped, but since we've escaped, she's been much more in charge… Makoto sweetly smiled as he had these thoughts. I like a confident, assertive Kyoko… "I'm following you, Kyoko."

"Of course you are." Byakuya retorted, rolling his eyes. "You'd follow her to hell if she told you she was going there, Makoto Naegi. You aren't fooling anyone anymore."

"I second that!" Hina said in a rare moment of agreement with the Togami heir. "But that's totally cool and cute!"

"Yeah, I'm totally predicting that when we get settled somewhere, these two will totally be together!" Hiro added, smiling a little. "And you know I'm always 30% right!"

"Whatever, Big Mac can do what he wants with the frightful witch! Master is mine! Kyeeehahaha!" the serial killer concluded, then laughed her signature laugh.

But instead of blushing embarrassedly like the brown-haired boy, Kyoko's expression was disapproving, almost angry.

"This is neither the time nor the point." the violet-eyed girl scolded them, giving everyone, save the Ultimate Lucky Student, her Kirigiri stare. "We have better things to do than discuss both mine and Makoto's romantic lives right now. My priorities are whether or not we'll die of starvation or from the other dangers we may encounter in the near future, not anything else. You'll be free to harass Makoto and me with your theories later on, but right now, we need to focus on the task at hand."

J-Jeez, Kyoko! The Luckster sweatdropped as the Ultimate Detective's shut them all up, and the only one who dared look at her in the eyes was Byakuya. But she has a point… We'll have all the time in the world to have fun and all once we're safe. Though… I wish Kyoko'd be a little less… scolding. I don't want to see her revert to the cold girl she used to be…

"Hmph, to say I'm the one Hina calls a prick…" Byakuya commented, looking as if he'd been the victim of an injustice. "But enough about this. I admittedly couldn't care less what two commoners do with their love life. To follow up on Kyoko's suggestion, we will wait for a little bit longer, though we need to remain on our guard."

They all nodded in agreement, but before anyone could say anything, a loud and piercing sound echoed through their eardrums.

"W-What is this?!" Makoto asked out loud, the sound approaching them and getting louder and louder. It sounds like…

"U-Up here!" they heard Hina shout and point towards the darkened skies.

Hiro panicked as he exclaimed, "T-That's a UFO! I-I'm sure it's the aliens that stole my hamburger!"

"It's not, you idiot!" Byakuya yelled, letting out his frustration on the Ultimate Clairvoyant who cowered in fear. "That's a helicopter."

A helicopter…? "T-Then maybe…!" a hopeful glint appeared in Makoto's eyes as he thought, Maybe they've come to rescue us!

However, he had to put these thoughts on hold when Kyoko grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him behind a fallen piece of a building as she shouted, "Take cover, everyone!"

Surprised, Makoto was about to speak when he noticed his friends all hidden in the same way he and the Ultimate Detective were. Glancing up towards the skies, he caught sight of a couple of rifles sticking out the windows of the flying vehicle, thus understanding why Kyoko had told them to take cover.

"They might not be enemies," Kyoko quickly told him, seeing the doubts on his face. "But until we can figure it out, we need to be cautious, okay?"

Her voice was softer than a few moments ago when she was scolding the others. Makoto felt a sense of reassurance coming from her words, and it did help with his fears.

"O-Okay…" he stuttered, trying to look composed. "If you say so… then I trust you, Kyoko!"

She smiled at him, still kneeling behind their improvised hiding spot. The helicopter made more and more noise, and they could hear it land close to them.

Makoto looked to their right, where Byakuya and Hina had taken cover, and noticed they didn't move an inch, with a serious look plastered on both of their faces. On their left, however, Hiro and Genocide Jack had issues staying still. The fortune-teller was shaking in fear while the serial killer was being visibly overexcited.

After some time, the noise coming from the helicopter came to a stop as the six friends heard it land not too far away from them.

"Well, if they are enemies, this is going to be difficult…" Kyoko said with a sigh. "Give me your hope, Makoto…"

The Ultimate Detective and the Ultimate Affluent Progeny exchanged a nod, signaling they shouldn't move yet.

"Hey, I'm not gonna hurt you! Come outta here; I'm not a bad guy!"

"H-Huh?" Who was that…?

The lavender-haired girl's eyes widened in surprise as she heard that mysterious voice. "W-Wait, I recognize that voice!"

"Y-You do…?" Makoto said, not expecting that at all. "B-But how…?"

"Because I heard it before," Kyoko informed him, though she made no reckless moves. "And if I'm right… Well, let's confirm that first."

"Hello? Is there anyone to talk to me?" the voice, a masculine voice, asked, slowly getting closer and closer. "I'm not asking for a date! I just want someone to talk to me!"

Kyoko tensed as she heard the sound of footsteps, ordering, "Don't move!" then, out of nowhere, she asked a question that none of her five fellow survivors could understand. "What's my father's name?"

H-Huh…? What kind of question is that…? The Luckster wondered though he didn't have time to make a remark.

"Ah, you mean good old Jin? I…" the voice paused for a moment, then, sounding nostalgic, continued, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I keep treasured memories of my drinking buddy, Kyoko, believe me."

The Ultimate Detective sighed, telling Makoto, "It's safe. I know who that is." after that, she heard him mutter, "Why him of all people…?"

Still a little hesitant, the Ultimate Lucky Student waited until Kyoko had come out of hiding completely to stand up, urging the others to do the same.

"Ah, so you've finally realized I wasn't here to torture you, good!" the man told them, smiling. "Jeez, the trust between people these days…"

"Who are you?" Byakuya immediately asked, sounding uninterested in whatever the man was talking about. "Decline your identity at once."

"Ah, I tip my hat to you, young people." taking a small bottle from inside his jacket, the man added, "It's been a while since I've last seen students from Class 78th!"

H-He knows us…? I definitely don't recall him at all…

"My name is Koichi Kizakura, Head of Future Foundation's Third Division."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Four:  Scouting Hope Amidst Despair

"Koichi Kizakura? Future Foundation?" Hina echoed, complaining, "I'm lost!"

"Then listen, and perhaps you'll understand, Hina," Byakuya advised, giving her a disapproving look.

The swimmer growled but complied nonetheless, lending a close ear to the blond man as he approached their small group.

That's the man in the photo I found in the Headmaster's former office… Makoto realized, remembering the picture in question that was now in Kyoko's possession. They appeared to be friends, though I guess he'll confirm this soon enough…

"Well, apart from Kyoko, you don't remember me, which makes sense, considering Junko took your memories…" Kizakura began, visibly more talking to himself than to the former classmates. "I used to be the totally awesome Talent Scout for Hope's Peak Academy before the Tragedy began! Except for Makoto, who won a lottery, and *cough* Junko *cough*, I scouted all of you to join the school. I also was a close friend to the Headmaster, Jin Kirigiri." he tipped his hat and placed it on his heart, eying Kyoko and telling her, "I'm sure we'll have many opportunities to discuss it, but your old-timer was a good man, Kyoko. But, unfortunately, that's another story for another time."

"Indeed, it is." the Ultimate Detective concurred with a small nod, saying, "For now, what matters is that you explain the reason for your presence here. You've told us you're not an enemy, which I'm inclined to believe, but you'll have to be more precise."

"I agree with Kyoko." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny added, giving Kizakura a doubtful look. "We have already encountered danger since escaping the Killing Game, so we will accept nothing less than a perfect explanation for your presence. Don't expect me to trust anyone other than these five without an explanation worthy of a Togami."

For once, the six survivors were in agreement, even the lavender-haired girl, who already knew the man. She seemed the most trusting of him - besides Makoto, of course - but still kept her distances.

Kizakura sighed. "Tough crowd, eh? Well, it makes sense you wouldn't really trust me yet. To make things simple, I mentioned I was the Head of the Third Division of the Future Foundation, right?" seeing them nod, he continued, "Well, the Future Foundation is an organization fighting against the Tragedy ever since it began with the goal of restoring hope to the world. It is led by alumnus and other people related to Hope's Peak Academy. Considering I once was a very competent scout, I was put in charge of human resources, including scouting new members. So, basically, I'm here to rescue you and bring you to the chairman and vice-chairman so they can give you long and somewhat boring speeches about the state of the world and all."

"W-Wait, there's been an organization fighting the Tragedy this whole time?!" Makoto asked, baffled. And yet… "T-That's… a bit hard to believe…"

"Of course it is!" Byakuya added, his voice going up a tone. "And even if this organization exists, then what the hell have they been doing during the Killing Game, you simpleton?! What a bunch of amateurs!"

"Kyeeehahaha! Master is so hot when he gets angry!" Jack chipped in with her comment, making Hiro and Hina giggle in amusement, though Byakuya was far from amused.

"Shut up," he told her angrily, turning back towards the former Talent Scout. "So, could you explain this?"

"Well, it's not that we didn't try…" the man replied, looking a little embarrassed. "But we couldn't break through the defenses that were set up on the building. Each time we tried, it failed, and it ended with casualties. But now that you got out, I can get you to safety."

"Wait, before that…" Kyoko cut abruptly, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "You have to tell us why you pointed rifles at us just before you landed." she gave him a cold stare, asserting, "I don't doubt your intentions, but threatening people with firearms isn't the best way to get them to cooperate in my book."

Koichi took a sip of his drink before answering, "Hey, if I had known it was you, I wouldn't have asked them to aim at you, y'know? This was just a precautionary thing, in case there were some despair worshippers around. We did that sometimes to clear the zone, in case you'd be able to escape."

Byakuya hmphed in contempt, pointing to their hostage. "It seems you did a bad job at it." he pushed his glasses up, telling Kizakura, "This Future Foundation organization smells of incompetence, you, first and foremost. If your goal is to earn our trust, then you should reconsider your strategy."

"Yeah, I kinda agree with Byakuya on that one," Hina spoke up, seemingly a little unsure. "I don't think you're a bad guy or anything, but I just don't feel it… Like, if the organization you're a part of is composed of Hope's Peak alumnus and all… shouldn't it be easy for you to fight against the Tragedy with Ultimates?"

"Yeah, Hina's right, man! It's totally suspicious, for serious!" the Ultimate Clairvoyant said, making Hina, Byakuya, and Jill nod. "We've gone through this horrible Killing Game already, so we can't follow any random guy who tells us he fights for hope!"

Makoto grew pensive. This was a very peculiar situation if he was being honest with himself. They didn't have many possible options. They could follow Kizakura and see where it would lead them, or they could stay on campus. If they had enough luck, they could find enough resources to make do for a while.

"I… I don't want to distrust you, sir, but this is all very sudden…" the Ultimate Lucky Student finally spoke, clearly conflicted as his expression indicated. "I mean, we've just escaped from Junko's grasp, so to hear such a story now… It's not easy to process, you know?"

"Ah, Makoto…" Kizakura smiled at him, saying, "You've changed, yet you're still the same as the student you were back then, aren't you? I understand what you're saying, of course, and your skepticism is healthy, but I assure you that nothing will happen to you if you follow me. You have my word on that. And as for that hostage you took, we'll bring them back to HQ for interrogation. The guys over there don't joke with Ultimate Despair members, so I gotta do what I gotta do!"

I don't think he wants to deceive us… Besides, he was one of the Headmaster's close friends, so I don't see why he'd try to trick us… The boy thought, weighing the pros and cons. But on the other hand… I've got this feeling that the hope of the Future Foundation might not be the hope we fought for during the Killing Game… Hm… What do to, what to do…?

"I remember you being an idiot, and apparently, you still are one, Kizakura." the Ultimate Detective told him, her voice mocking, though not cold. "And my father had so many flaws that I could write a novel full of them. But there's one thing I remember quite clearly about my childhood days with him… he tended to make reliable friends." Kyoko began walking towards the helicopter, telling her friends, "We should go. We won't be able to learn anything if we don't, anyway."

"Fine," Byakuya said, following her without any more debate. "If this is a trap, I'll hold you accountable, Kyoko." he turned towards the others, ordering, "Don't stand there! You're coming along!"

"Of course, Master! Everywhere you go, I go!" Jack exclaimed, looking positively thrilled.

"On second thought, you can stay here." the Togami heir quickly told her, sighing. "And stop sticking to me like glue, will you?! Your smell is an insult!"

Well, if Kyoko goes, then I'm going too. Makoto thought, deciding he'd follow his detective friend. Besides, it can't be so bad, right? No one could be worse than Junko, anyway, so…

Pretty much forced to follow along, Hina and Hiro nodded and walked behind the Luckster towards the helicopter, joining Kyoko, Byakuya, and Genocide Jack.

"Well, I'm glad you chose to trust me," Koichi stated as he reentered the helicopter with the door closing behind him. "I've sent some guys to search the building you were in, to get your things and all, see? The trip to the HQ shouldn't be too long, but please, make yourselves at home. This is quite a great model, so there's a relaxation room in the back if you wanna go there and have a rest or something. Otherwise, I'm here to answer all of your questions, so fire away! W-Well, the questions I can answer, at least…"

"Oooh, I think I'd like a relaxation room after everything that's happened!" the Ultimate Swimming Pro exclaimed, a smile of expectation appearing on her lips. "I feel like it's been years since I've last had a little bit of fun! Later, guys!"

"Yeah, same, for serious!" Hiro agreed, hurrying with the girl towards the back of the helicopter. "Some relaxation will allow me to make some juicy predictions, I'm sure of it!"

"Go with them." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny ordered as he sat on a couch, pointing at the Ultimate Murderous Fiend. "We will have an important talk, and you won't be a part of it. And for the love of God, behave, will you? I've had just about enough of being associated with your foolish antics."

"M-Master…" the serial killer looked very disappointed that Byakuya didn't want her presence around him anymore, though she quickly regained her crazy smile. "Kyeeehahaha! Being so cruelly rejected by Master… it turns me on!"

U-Ugh, gross… Makoto thought, rolling his eyes as the murderer ran off, cackling. I guess some things will never change…

The Luckster went to sit on the couch facing the one Byakuya had sat on. Kyoko sat next to him, and finally, Kizakura sat next to the Ultimate Affluent Progeny, visibly very relaxed.

"Well, now that this is settled, let's talk." the blonde boy said, turning his eyes towards Kizakura as the helicopter slowly gained height. "I suggest you join the others, Makoto. Kyoko and I will handle it from here."

"Certainly not." the Ultimate Detective cut him immediately, her voice disapproving. "If Makoto wishes to be here, then he will be here. That is not up for debate."

Byakuya chuckled mockingly, retorting to the girl, "Ah, the powers of love… Kyoko Kirigiri, where has the emotionless mysterious girl gone to? Don't tell me Makoto had so much of an influence on you, did he?"

"Shut up, Byakuya. I'm not putting up with this right now."

Makoto blushed a little, seeing that while Kyoko was angry, it was the embarrassed kind of anger, which made her cuter than she would have thought, even if the Ultimate Lucky Student kept that to himself.

"Hmph. Seems like I'm on the right track…"

"Drop it now, Togami," Kyoko added, giving him her Kirigiri glare, though he didn't seem impressed. Byakuya merely shrugged. "Makoto is the one who got us out of this mess, and he deserves to be heard if he has something to say. Without him, we'd all be dead, you included. Don't forget it."

"Oh, but I have not forgotten about it, Kyoko, don't worry." the boy assured her, looking as confident as always, smirking at the girl. "I acknowledge that Makoto had a pivotal role in making me realize that falling to despair was foolish, something for which I am grateful, believe it or not. But fine, he's one commoner I can accept the presence of, so if you want him to stay here, I won't stop you."

Uh, I'm here, you know…? The hazel-eyed boy thought, sweatdropping as his two friends argued pointlessly. Moreover, he was the subject of their argument! Kizakura smiled at him. "A-Anyway, didn't you two have questions to ask Mr. Kizakura?"

"Yes, I actually did," Kyoko said, regaining a smile as she gratefully nodded at Makoto. "Now, Kizakura, about the Future Foundation… You didn't answer Hina's question earlier when she asked you if fighting the Tragedy shouldn't be an easy feat for people related to Hope's Peak Academy. Tell us about that."

"Indeed," Byakuya agreed, regaining all sense of seriousness. "Considering your failure in saving the victims of the Killing Game, you need to explain yourself. Such incompetence seems hardly tolerable."

That's a little harsh but not entirely untrue… I really wish someone had been able to save us before we managed to unite against Junko… The faces of his deceased friends flashed through Makoto's mind, saddening him. Things could have been so much better… Everyone, whatever's ahead, I promise I'll fight to honor your names!

Kizakura raised his hands in defense, stammering, "H-Hey, as I said, we did our best! But Junko really outsmarted everybody, so we couldn't do a thing, even with the alumnus of Hope's Peak! Besides, if the problem had been centered around Hope's Peak, maybe we could have managed, but the Tragedy affected the entire world! And ever since the beginning of the Killing Game, it's become so much worse! We honestly hope that Junko's defeat at your hands will calm them down…"

"Is that so? Well, I'll admit this makes sense." Byakuya conceded, deep in thought. "It's a shame for a Togami to having been outsmarted by a plebian like Junko Enoshima… This will forever taint my family name."

Makoto frowned, not used to seeing his overconfident friend being so shaken up about something. Still, he did appreciate seeing Byakuya willing to let his guard down, even if just a little bit.

"I'm sure it won't, Byakuya," he assured him, giving him a comforting smile. "Even if you think Junko outsmarted you, you'll have plenty of time to show the world what you're made of and rebuild your family's empire! I'm sure the best is still ahead for the Togami family, really!"

"Hmph, that's the kind of hopeful speeches I've come to expect by now…" the heir thought, shaking his head in amusement. Then, he returned the smile, one of the most genuine they had seen. "The concern is appreciated, though the fact that I would rebuild my family's empire wasn't ever a question. It will happen. And on the day the Ultimate Affluent Progeny will rule over the world, you'll be here to see the fireworks as I turn Junko's world of despair to shreds."

Kyoko rolled her eyes, probably thinking that Byakuya was too arrogant for his own good - as she had warned during the Killing Game. Makoto's smile widened, knowing that as long as the other boy was this confident, it meant he wasn't doing so terrible. On his end, Kizakura chuckled, drinking some more from his bottle.

"My, my, that's confidence! But that the three of you be warned: it's not because you went through the Killing Game that what's ahead will be easy to deal with, y'know?" he told them, too relaxed for someone announcing news of the kind. "There's a lot of despair, and since you're the symbols of hope who have defeated Junko, you'll be prime targets for the members of Ultimate Despair."

"A-Ah, I see…" That's not good, but it does make sense… Byakuya was attacked, after all, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of Junko's worshippers continued to come after us… "And do you think the Future Foundation would be able to help us with that?"

For a split second, the three survivors noticed Koichi's face growing more serious. With some caution, he replied, "Look, I promised to be honest with you, and I don't intend to go back on my words. The thing is… to the Future Foundation's eyes, you'll have everything to prove. I don't want to be disrespectful to you or to your friends or anything, mind you. But while what you went through was horrible, what the people outside experienced might have been just as bad. I say that simply so you understand that you probably won't have their sympathy. You've got mine, though, but that's likely because I know you from your student days, really. They'll offer you help, I'm sure, but you'll have to prove you're worth it."

Prove… our worth…? The Ultimate Lucky Student echoed in his mind, trying to process the words. But I don't have anything I can do to prove that, do I? I mean, now that we're out of Junko's Killing Game, I'm back to being an average guy without a talent, right…?

Kyoko sighed, clearly annoyed. "I don't have to prove my worth to anyone. I have my flaws, but I won't let anyone tell me what I have to do. If the Future Foundation couldn't stop the Tragedy, then perhaps they need to be the ones doing some self-reflection about their worth, wouldn't you say?"

"Those who would dare to doubt me better think again." Byakuya firmly said, his voice insisting on every syllable. "The heir to the Togami family will never have to prove his worth, and that, to anyone. Going through this Killing Game only furthered my determination. If the Future Foundation believes I have everything to prove, then they can try me."

"I… I don't know how worth I can be now that we've escaped the Killing Game, but I do know something." Makoto suddenly spoke, getting everyone's attention. "I'll keep hope, whatever happens. If the Future Foundation is willing to help us, then it's great. And even if they're not, then we'll just have to make sure we can be fine on our own! But one thing's for sure: we didn't defeat Junko, together, to lose to despair now! Whatever happens, I won't give in to despair! Not now, not ever!"

That's right… If I want to keep my friends close, I need to believe in hope, whatever the Future Foundation will have to tell us! That's what Sayaka, Leon, and all the others would want me to do, and that's what I'll do!

"Spoken like a real Ultimate Hope… Kyoko, your father would be proud to know you give such fitting titles, especially to your boyfriend!"

And with that, a furious blush appeared on Makoto's cheek as the Ultimate Detective had to go on another round of scolding, with the Ultimate Affluent Progeny looking with a mocking yet friendly smirk…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Five:  Friendships in the Darkened Skies

"What's up, everybody?" Makoto asked as he entered the relaxation room and noticed his three friends doing their own thing. "Having a rest?"

"Ah, Makoto!" Hina beamed, standing up from the comfortable-looking chair she was sitting in. "Yeah, finally getting a chance to relax after all that happened during the Killing Game feels so good! This chair has a massaging mode, and it's so awesome!"

"Well, that's reassuring." the Ultimate Lucky Student told her with a relieved smile. Hina looks much better with this wide smile of hers on her face… After seeing her at her lowest point when Sakura died, it's good to see she's faring better. She's a friend of mine, after all. "Knowing you, you can't wait to be able to move around a bit more freely, right?"

"You bet! I need to swim, or run, or even fight someone!" the girl told him, her competitive spirit awakening as she spoke. "And I need donuts, too. Oh, my precious donuts, how I miss you so…"

Makoto rolled his eyes as the swimmer nearly drooled at the thought of her favorite pastries, though he could understand why it tempted her so much. I could do with a bowl of curry myself, honestly. The food at Hope's Peak was okay, but I do miss Mom's cooking… Somewhere at the back of his mind, his motive video played, making the boy shiver for a second. Mom… Dad, Komaru… Please be okay…

"Something on your mind, Makoto?" Hina asked, seeing a conflicted look in Makoto's eyes. "Need to rest a bit, maybe?"

"Ah, no, don't worry about me, Hina," he assured her, genuinely smiling to make her understand he was okay. He looked around the room, then asked, "What have Hiro and Jack been up to since the three of you left us with Mr. Kizakura?"

The Ultimate Swimming Pro scratched her head, visibly a little unsure. "Well, Genocide Jack has been playing darts with her scissors over there in the back, but I don't really know what's Hiro been doing, honestly." she pointed at the Ultimate Clairvoyant, who was intensely writing something. "Other than writing, that is. What he's been writing, though, I have no idea."

Hiro's been writing…? Well, he did have a notebook when we were students, considering I found it in his locker at Hope's Peak… Makoto thought, remembering it had been one of the leads that had pointed him in the right direction back then. I remember he had impeccable penmanship, too… "I'll go check on him, okay? Maybe try to see how Jack's doing, too."

"Yeah, sure!" the girl said, giving him a kind smile as she sat back on the massaging chair, her features relaxing immediately.

Makoto walked to the fortune-teller who seemed to be deep in thought about what he was writing. Carefully as to not scare him, the Ultimate Lucky Student spoke up.

"Hey, Hiro, how are you doing?"

Turning around, Hiro smiled as he noticed the Luckster by his side. "I'm fine, man! I haven't been this good in a long time, seriously! Being out of this terrible Killing Game is so liberating!"

Makoto nodded in agreement, "Yeah, you're right. We've… lost many friends, but none of us have to die now that we've escaped Junko's grasp." Or at least, I hope not… He kept that to himself, not wanting to ruin Hiro's good mood. "I'm curious, though… what are you writing, Hiro?"

"Oh, that? I'm just writing some notes of everything that's happened in the Killing Game." the clairvoyant explained, showing Makoto a notebook with flawless handwriting. "I don't wanna forget anything, so I prefer to write everything down, see? I found a pen and notebook in this room, so I allowed myself to borrow them."

You mean 'steal them,' don't you? The shorter boy thought with an amused giggle. Good old Hiro… I'd even forget that he wanted to sell my organs to the yakuza when he's enthusiastic like that… "Well, I'm sure Mr. Kizakura doesn't mind. And you're right: we must keep our memories of the Killing Game close to our heart, so we don't forget what our friends and we all went through. It was painful, but we overcame it in the end."

"Yeah, we did, man! And it was thanks to you, Makoto! If we didn't have such a Luckster on our side, I predict we would have lost!" Hiro said, seemingly overjoyed. "And you know what my success rate is, don't you?"

Y-Yeah, and I'm not sure it's anything to be proud of… Makoto sweatdropped. Though I guess he always was honest about it… "Yeah, I do. But I really don't think this was thanks to me at all… We did this together, and I don't want anyone to think they didn't play a part in our success against Junko!"

The other boy seemed to be a little embarrassed as the Ultimate Lucky Student indirectly praised him and the four others. "T-Thanks, man… It's really reassuring to have someone who believes I'm worth something. Oh, and by the way… I'm really sorry for that whole yakuza thing… Please forgive me, Makoto…"

Hiro… Speak of the devil… "It's okay, Hiro," Makoto assured him with a genuine smile. "Water under the bridge, you know? I was a little angry for a while, but I don't think you'd do it now, even if you had a chance, so I'm not going to stay mad at you; that'd be unfair."

Despite Makoto's always forgiving nature, the Ultimate Clairvoyant still seemed surprised that his friend had excused him so easily. "Y-You're serious, M-Makoto?"

"Of course I am." Honestly, I've spent too much time being angry at our enemy to be mad at one of my friends… "I know you by now, Hiro, and I know you're a good guy."

The fortune-teller looked moved by his friend's words, and while no tears appeared in his eyes, it looked like he was holding them back. Makoto smiled at the sight, happy that this whole thing had been dealt with.

"Well, I'll go and check on Genocide Jack, so I'll leave you to your notes, alright?" the lucky student told him, waving him goodbye as he approached the Ultimate Murderous Fiend. Hiro can do and say… odd things… But when it comes to strange people, Genocide Jack probably tops everybody I can think of…

Indeed, when he approached the serial killer, and just as Hina had said, Makoto noticed the purple-haired girl throwing her scissors at a dartboard, the metallic tip of her signature weapons leaving distinctive holes. It wouldn't be used again, that was for sure.

"Hey, that's Big Mac! Came for a haircut? Kyeeehahaha!"

"U-Uh…" I'd rather not… If it was just a haircut, maybe we'd discuss it, but… "I-I'll be just fine, thank you…"

Jack continued to maniacally cackle as she danced with her scissors, clearly in her own little world. The Ultimate Lucky Student made sure to keep some distance from the sharp weapons that had already killed so many boys.

"When do we finally arrive?! I wanna find a good boy so I can snip-snip!" she said, visibly getting bored of throwing her scissors. "I know I told Master Byakuya I wouldn't kill anyone, but just imagining him scolding me… That's so hot! Kyeeehahaha!"

I have the feeling he would disagree with you… The boy thought, easily able to imagine the Ultimate Affluent Progeny's disgusted face. "I-If you say so… But how are you doing, Jill?"

"Bad, Big Mac! I'm frustrated, y'know!" the Ultimate Murderous Fiend stated, letting her long tongue hanging out of her mouth. "Miss Morose has been on a streak of mistakes around Master! I'll never be able to get Master Byakuya at this rate! C'mon, why doesn't he like a friendly serial killer?! Everyone should love me!"

"I… U-Uh…" unsure of how to respond, Makoto scratched his temple, trying to come up with an answer that would satisfy her (and thus, not put his life in danger) while being somewhat truthful. "I think he prefers it when you defend him with these scissors, you know? Like, he didn't really say it, but I'm sure he was grateful when you helped him with our hostage. That's the kind of thing you should do to gain his respect."

The serial killer stared at the Luckster right in the eyes with an uncharacteristic pensive look on her face. Makoto began to frown when she didn't say anything for a moment that got longer and longer by the second.

Looks like she's deep in thought… The boy mused, cocking his head in confusion. *Very* deep in thought, I'd even say…

"Are you sure, Big Mac?"

"H-Huh…? Y-Yeah, I guess I am…" It wouldn't take a genius to figure it out… Having a psycho serial murderer as your girlfriend wouldn't please anyone, I don't think…

"Hm…" putting her tongue back in her mouth, Genocide Jack held her scissors high in the air threateningly as she told Makoto, "You better not be lying, Big Mac! Otherwise, it's snip-snip time! A-Ah…*ACHOO*…!"

The Luckster was startled when the girl suddenly sneezed, immediately replacing the serial killer with the Ultimate Writing Prodigy, who looked confused.

"M-Makoto…! W-Where a-are we…?!" Toko asked, looking around the room in a panic. "W-We've been kidnapped again, h-haven't we?!"

"N-No, no, nothing of the sort!" Makoto quickly said, waving his hands around. Jeez, what's with Toko immediately panicking?! It makes others anxious, too! Though I can't blame her, considering what happened to us… "You'll have to ask Byakuya for the whole story, but you must have either sneezed or passed out while you were investigating with him and Hiro, so that's why you don't know where we are."

"Y-Yeah, I fainted after seeing some b-blood when Master B-Byakuya sent me to i-investigate…!" the novelist explained, her stutter not getting any better with time. "B-But where are we?! And w-why are you wherever we are?!"

"Ah, we're on a helicopter." the boy stated, making Toko's eyes widen behind her glasses. "Don't panic, it's okay. Someone actually came to meet us on the campus and explained they had come to rescue us. His name is Koichi Kizakura, and he's from an organization called the Future Foundation. We're heading to their HQ right now."

"F-Future Foundation…? I-I'm sure they're just a bunch of shady guys…!" the girl said, already looking disgusted. "B-Besides, they're gonna mock me for being too ugly, I'm sure of it!"

"Would they be wrong to do so?"

Turning around, Makoto and Toko noticed Byakuya enter the room, walking over to them with a somewhat curious look on his face.

"It looks like our serial killer decided to retire for the time being…" he murmured to himself, looking partly glad, partly disappointed. "I'm sorry you felt the need to interact with her, Makoto. Now maybe you understand my pain of having her stalk me around?"

"N-No, it's okay, really." Makoto denied it, thinking the Ultimate Affluent Progeny was definitely being too harsh on the poor girl. Toko can be a bit mean sometimes, but she's a kind person at heart, I'm sure. She just needs to stop being so much of a stalker around Byakuya, and she'll get better… "We were just mentioning the Future Foundation, actually."

"M-Master! I-I have a bad feeling about this!"

Byakuya sighed, seemingly thinking really hard when he said, "For once, you might be right. This Kizakura fellow seems innocent enough, but I do not know what to expect from his higher-ups."

Byakuya doesn't seem to give the Future Foundation much trust… I get where he comes from… "Well, we'll see when we get there, right? We might be making the wrong assumption, honestly."

"Hmph, always so naïve, aren't you, Makoto?" the Togami heir asked, though the lucky student noticed faint traces of a smile on his face. "But it doesn't matter. Something does matter, however." a scolding look replaced all signs of amusement on Byakuya's face. "Makoto Naegi, for how much longer are you going to be in denial? You haven't been fooling anyone, much less a Togami, let me tell you."

"H-Huh…?" Oh, not this again… Makoto thought as he blushed just a little. "And how long are you going to harass me with that for, Byakuya?" he shot him back, slowly becoming fed up with the constant teasing. "Look, I appreciate that you might want to tease me, and I'm the first one to believe that we need something to get rid of all the stress from the Killing Game, but it's become a little repetitive, you know?"

Surprised that Makoto, of all people, was almost telling him off, Byakuya cocked his head in confusion. Before he could mutter even a word in his defense, however, someone did for him.

"H-Hey, don't talk like this to M-Master Byakuya!" Toko objected, looking positively mad. "I-If he wants to tease you, then he can!"

"I didn't ask for a defense attorney, and such a poor one, at that." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny immediately shut her up, glaring at his stalker. He turned back towards the other boy, who looked a little guilty his words had caused yet another argument between his two friends. "Now, Makoto… If you don't want to hear my advice regarding something painfully obvious, you're free to ignore me. Though ignoring a Togami would be a mistake, believe me."

"B-Byakuya…" It's not that I don't want to listen to your advice… It's just… "I don't think I need any advice, to be honest… I'm not in love with Kyoko, and even if I were, I know we need to have our priorities straight right now." B-Besides… the last person I crushed on… I-I don't want to forget her… K-Kyoko's a great friend, but still…

A blue-haired girl's face flashed through his mind, though Makoto quickly repressed the image, knowing he had to focus on what was happening right now. Any reflections about the past could always wait until they had settled somewhere safe.

"Well, I'm not a heartless monster, whatever Hina might say about me." the other boy said, forcing Makoto out of his thoughts. "So I'll try not to talk to you about it if you don't want me to. But I persist and sign that this is a truth you are trying way too hard to deny."

With that, the Togami heir walked away, with the novelist closely following him. This left the Ultimate Lucky Student alone with his thoughts and questions.

Byakuya's persistent, I'll give him that! The brown-haired boy sighed, going to sit on a chair to relax until the end of the trip. Considering the time they'd already spent in the skies, Makoto deduced that they were probably pretty close to their destination. He sometimes looked through the windows and through the darkness but saw nothing but despair outside. It might take years for the world to go back to normal, even if we stop the Tragedy… Junko really put us through the worst, didn't she…?

"What's the gloomy face for? I didn't expect to see the Ultimate Hope look so down."

In the window's reflection, Makoto noticed Kyoko standing there, smiling at him. Turning around to face her, he scratched the back of his head in embarrassment, realizing he'd been caught being all depressed by the one he had tried giving back hope to the most.

"I'm just… realizing how much needs to be done, is all," Makoto told her, pointing through the window. "There's so much despair outside; I know it's not a nickname you gave me that's going to change a thing."

"But maybe things are already changing, and you just don't know it." the Ultimate Detective's voice reached his ears, and while he processed her words, she sat next to him. "Our victory against Junko wasn't just our victory, Makoto. Of course, it enabled us to escape Hope's Peak, but that's not all. By defeating the Mastermind, we showed people that believing in hope was still worth a chance. That, maybe, giving it to despair wasn't the only choice. I know it's what your words did to me, Makoto."

Makoto perked up when he felt Kyoko's gloved hand on his own. The boy was forced to take his attention away from the scenery and direct it towards his friend.

"I didn't call you the Ultimate Hope for nothing, Makoto, you know? When everybody but you thought that staying inside Hope's Peak was the only choice, you were the one to give us hope. You were the one to give me hope." Kyoko put her hand away, fiddling with her braid instead. "I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people whose words I've been inspired by, Makoto. You're one of them."

"Kyoko…"

"I don't think you give yourself nearly enough credit for what you've already done if you want my honest opinion. Of course, we lost some of our friends along the way, but we have to keep moving forward if we want to honor their memories." she gave him a severe look that reminded him of that moment. "After Sayaka died, I told you that the path you had chosen to take was a noble but difficult one. You chose not to move on, and now I realize that this was probably the right thing to do. But our struggle is not over, Makoto. And this is why we cannot let our hope waver."

She stood up swiftly and turned back towards the door.

"I believe in you, Makoto, so you should definitely believe in yourself."

And with these encouraging yet mysterious words, the lavender-haired girl disappeared through the door as quickly as she had come, leaving a confused Luckster to try to understand what she meant…

Believe… in myself…?

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Six:  Literal Fighting Chance

"Time to head out, kids! We've reached our destination!"

Kizakura's voice echoed through the relaxation room, getting everyone's attention. They all turned towards the former Talent Scout, but not before Makoto peeked through the window and noticed the helicopter losing height.

"Does that mean we've reached Future Foundation Headquarters, then?" Byakuya asked for confirmation, which he got in the form of a nod. "Very well, then. Let us see what these incompetents have prepared for us…" the Ultimate Affluent Progeny gave the four others a look of skepticism. "I advise you don't expect too much out of this…"

Though they didn't voice it, Hina, Hiro, and Toko seemed to agree with the Togami heir as they filed out of the room, with Makoto following closely after one final look around.

Well, I guess there's no other way to know than to see for ourselves… He thought, rejoining the first room they'd been in. There, he noticed Kyoko standing near the door to the helicopter, her arms crossed over her breasts and her eyes closed, visibly focused.

"Let me remind you, Kyoko, that if things go sour, it will be entirely your fault," Byakuya told her but went unanswered by the Ultimate Detective. "And since you were so gung-ho about getting us to follow you, then I'm sure you don't mind heading out first, am I wrong?"

"If you wish." she finally answered with a shrug, and without a doubt, descended the few stairs leading out of the helicopter. Once she had reached solid ground, and with a disapproving look, Kyoko rhetorically asked, "There, happy?"

"Quite." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny simply replied, following her out. "Now, what do we have here…?"

The four others got out, their eyes instantly widening as they took in the sight of the tower in front of them. It wasn't tall. It was absolutely gigantic. In fact, it went so high up in the skies that they couldn't even see the top of it. Overall, it looked impressive, being made entirely out of glass but lacking the look of fragility glass usually possessed. Instead, it gave a feeling of power and dominance.

The second thing they noticed was the rows of soldiers standing on each side of the building, patrolling around with a firm grip on their rifles and uniforms made entirely out of black. This, combined with the dark skies of the Tragedy, made for a grim scenery.

Makoto didn't know what to make of it. Talk about overdoing it… Who needs such a high tower, honestly? I feel so little standing there, and that's not only because I'm shorter than average! And all these soldiers… it really makes you remember that people are battling right as we speak… This'll take time to get used to…

Surrounding the building and the different helicopter landing spots were some woods, and in the distance, what appeared to be a city, even if the fog and the dark skies made that difficult to determine.

"There we are, ladies and gentlemen: Future Foundation's Central Headquarters!" Koichi announced as he gestured at the building. "Intimidating, right?"

"I'm shaking in my boots…" the lavender-haired girl deadpanned, taking a confident step forward and towards the entrance, about five hundred feet away. "This building reeks of an arrogance I find very uncalled for."

"Well, I guess the boss isn't so humble, yeah." Kizakura agreed, walking next to the detective girl with the others in tow. "But I'm not surprised the almighty Ultimate Detective wouldn't be scared!"

"Spare me your useless jokes, Kizakura," Kyoko ordered as she shook her head, not bothering to look at him in the eyes as she kept her walking straight.

Next to Makoto, Hina looked around, saying, "Jeez, Junko's worshipers must have some pretty damn great equipment if they were able to resist against so many soldiers for so long! I know I wouldn't like to be hit by a bullet from one of these riffles!"

"Y-Yeah, for serious! They sure are scary!" Hiro added, his footing made shaky by the fear. "C-Can I use you as a human shield, T-Toko, just in case…?"

"S-Surely not!" the Ultimate Writing Prodigy protested, pushing the fortune-teller away. "I-I'll only act as Master's b-body shield! I-I may be ugly, but I'm not g-going to sacrifice myself f-for someone like you!"

There we go again… Makoto thought, sighing as he let his friends quarrel, knowing his words wouldn't stop them anyway. Let's hope they can behave when we meet the Future Foundation leaders…

About halfway through, Kizakura walked on his shoelaces, forcing the whole group to halt. He kneeled to tie them again, smiling at the former students in apology.

"Sorry 'bout that, kids… We haven't invented self-tying shoelaces, unfortuna-"

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

"H-Huh?!" W-What was that…?!

"U-Uh-oh… T-That's not good!"

A couple of deafening sounds echoed near their position, getting everyone's undivided attention immediately as Koichi got up in a split second. They all looked around, trying to identify the source, and quickly noticed the soldiers readying their weapons.

"An attack! And we won't make it to the entrance!" the man warned, pointing to the door that was so close yet so far away. "At least, not the seven of us!"

Kyoko glared at Kizakura while Byakuya gave the Ultimate Detective an unhappy look. "And what do we do now, Miss Genius Detective?" the blond boy asked her, looking absolutely furious.

Kyoko sighed as they noticed tens and tens of people with Monokuma masks suddenly raiding the soldiers, some carrying firearms, some equipped with metal bars, some unarmed. Panic quickly settled among the group as the Future Foundation soldiers weren't able to hold them all back, focusing on the ones with guns and rifles.

"W-What's happening?!"Makoto wondered, terror evident in his voice as he noticed the rioters closing in on them slowly but surely. "N-No…! W-What do we do?!"

"Relax, Makoto. We'll be just fine."

The Ultimate Lucky Student turned to his left and noticed Kyoko's determined and kind smile. The Luckster could see lots of confidence in her purple eyes, though she still looked very humble.

"H-How can you be so calm?!" he asked her as they watched in shock as the bodies piled up in the distance, most of them Ultimate Despair members, but also some Future Foundation soldiers. "W-We need to hide, Kyoko!"

"Y-You're right, man!" Hiro concurred, as scared as the Luckster was. "I-I don't wanna die now!"

"The heir to the Togami Empire won't die now!" Byakuya swore, trying to keep his blood cold, even if he was obviously far from calm. "Whatever is needed, I won't die!"

"W-What should we do, Mr. Kizakura…?" Hina asked the former scout, watching the scene unfold with great unease. "T-They're getting close!"

"Y-Yeah, that's your fault, moron! I-I told you it was a t-trap!" Toko yelled, pointing accusingly at Koichi, who looked pensive. "A-And your fault, too!" she added, then pointing to Kyoko.

They heard the Ultimate Detective sigh again, getting into a fighting stance. "We'll have no choice but to fight them now. It's either this or death. There isn't anywhere to hide, and the entrance is too far. Kizakura, try to get reinforcements to help us, and on the double!"

"O-Okay!" taking out a phone from his pocket, Kizakura pressed a couple of buttons before exclaiming through the little device, "C-Chairman, it's Director Kizakura, Division Three! We have a problem down the HQ! P-Please send reinforcements quickly! I have the Hope's Peak survivors with me!"

The first couple of rioters reached the group before the Division Head could even put his phone away, forcing everyone to try to get ready for a fight that was getting more and more inevitable by the second. The problem was, they weren't all prepared for this of all things.

Her eyes not betraying any fear, Kyoko leaped at one, dodging the metal bar swinging towards her face before hitting them right in the belly with a strong knee. Then, she got behind them and choked them just enough to render them unconscious before moving onto the next rioter.

Realizing that there was no other choice, Hina sighed and rushed at another with tremendous speed and KOed them in only a few seconds, proving that while she was the Ultimate Swimming Pro, martial arts were no big deal for her.

Clearly hesitant, Toko nonetheless pulled one of Genocide Jack's pairs of scissors from under her skirt and pointed them at one of Junko's worshippers with shaky hands, making them fall back enough that a soldier could take care of them.

Byakuya grunted as a rioter attacked him in particular, being forced to dodge their attacks. Then, a lighting bulb appeared over his head as he pulled out the knife he'd gotten before and used it, stabbing his opponent's leg with it. He looked at them from above, visibly unable to comprehend how someone could attack him.

On his end, Hiro was overwhelmed by panic as a couple of rioters attacked him, and all he could do was run in circles, trying to escape them. And in a humorous twist, his random moves ended up confusing the two rioters, leading them to bump into each other, knocking one another unconscious.

And as the fight dragged on, Makoto couldn't move, unable to make a decision as to what he was supposed to do. He was everything but a fighter in both ideals and physical abilities. So when one of the Ultimate Despair members went for him, he could only stare in shock.

"A-Aaaaaah!" the boy screamed as a knife was raised his way, seeing death approaching. Still, he was tetanized and only took a step back when his attacker took one forward. L-Lady Luck, please be on my side for once…!

*SHOCK*

"H-Huh?!"

All fighting suddenly stopped. A sound even more deafening than that of the bullets was heard, and light as blinding as they had ever witnessed was seen in the middle of the improvised battlefield, making everybody turn in its direction.

"W-What…?" Makoto's words died in his mouth as he opened his eyes and rubbed them until he could see clearly. Before him lay a body, and a knife was at his feet. "W-What just happened…?"

The rioters fled the scene quickly, finally being pushed back by the Future Foundation soldiers that were storming out of the building in reinforcement. The five other Ultimates panted and let out a long breath they'd been holding for far too long before turning towards their friend.

"M-Makoto, what was that?!" Hina asked, shocked to see Makoto staring blankly at the burnt unconscious form that laid on the ground. "A-And are you alright?!"

"I… I-I'm alright, Hina…" Somehow… Finally looking up, the Ultimate Lucky Student let out a sigh of relief of his own, realizing he'd come close to biting the bullet, or in this case, the knife. "A-Are you all alright, guys?"

"Seems like it," Kyoko stated, readjusting her hair. "I admit this was unexpected, but we've managed to push them back. But I'm curious as to what happened too, Makoto. That sound and this blinding light came from close to you."

"I-I know, but…" C-Could it really be…? A crazy theory played in the boy's mind, though he quickly dismissed it. "It just happened so quickly… I was about to be stabbed with that knife when this sound almost ruptured my eardrums, and that light almost made me lose sight! I didn't see a thing!"

"Hm…" putting the knife away, Byakuya pushed his glasses up, theorizing, "It seems preposterous when taken at face value, but is it so unrealistic to assume that what we've just seen was a lightning bolt? The weather is quite… terrible, after all."

"A lightning bolt, you say?" Koichi chipped in with an amused look on his face. "I like that idea! Your friend Makoto is the Ultimate Lucky Student, after all! The weather saving his life seems like a good explanation to me!"

"U-Uh…" Makoto sweatdropped, realizing that the former scout had thought of the same crazy theory he had just dismissed. "T-There's no way that's true… right…? I'm not even so lucky!"

"Yeah, even I wouldn't have been able to predict that!" the Ultimate Clairvoyant concurred, visibly still freaked out. "You'd need, like, a hundred crystal balls to predict that!"

"H-Hey, if Master said it might have happened, w-why are you denying it so quickly?!" the novelist questioned, taking the heir's defense.

"That doesn't really matter, actually," Kyoko told them all before turning towards Makoto and giving him a reassuring smile. "The only thing that matters is that you're alright, Makoto. Whether it was Ultimate Luck or anything else makes little to no difference to me."

"T-Thanks, Kyoko…" Of course, she'd say that… That's Kyoko, all right… "B-But where did they all come from, anyway?!"

Kizakura was the one to answer this question, pointing to the tower. "You can't really hide a building like this, you know? I'm sure they watched the end of the Killing Game and saw you defeating their guru and decided to take their revenge. Raids like this are pretty frequent, but I didn't expect one so soon after you escaped, to be honest…"

Byakuya hmphed audibly, telling the others without using any words what he thought of the situation. On their hand, Hina and Hiro seemed too surprised by what had happened to make any further comments, and Toko was still shaking. Makoto gradually calmed down, though any sound he picked up made him look around, just to be sure.

"Well, I think we've wasted enough time doing your job, so let's get going." the Ultimate Detective said assertively, resuming her walk as if nothing had happened. The others begrudgingly followed though it was clear they wouldn't have minded a second or two to recompose. Noticing this, Kyoko explained, "I understand your worries, but staying exposed like this puts us in danger. We'll be safer inside."

"Yeah, she's right, kids." the fedora-wearing man agreed, taking a sip out of his small bottle as they walked. "While the outside is always a little exposed, I'll admit, entering the building requires an ID card, so it's completely safe. Besides, the walls might be made of glass, but they're actually bullet-proof, believe it or not. Somebody invented that at the beginning of the Tragedy, just before this tower was built. No need to fear anything!"

Visibly convinced enough, the others nodded. Before long, the six friends and their guide stood in front of the door. Koichi took out a card from his pocket while the Ultimates noticed a logo engraved on the entrance door.

"The Japanese word for 'future' right?" Hina cautiously asked as she pointed at the logo. "It would make sense…"

"Yeah, that's right." the Division Head confirmed as he pressed his card against a device on the wall next to the door, causing it to open. "Come on in! I know the Chairman and Vice-Chairman are waiting for you!"

I wonder what they're like… Makoto thought as the group stepped inside the main hall, which was buzzing with activity. Anyway, it looks like the Future Foundation has lots and lots of members! Did all these people really join so they could fight against the Tragedy?

A bit of hope filled Makoto's heart as he and his friends had some small talk on their way to an elevator and through the halls. Kizakura led the group, pointing in different directions to explain where each door led to, even if they were too uninformed to really understand what he was telling them.

Finally, they faced the elevator and filed inside. The last elevator the survivors had been in was the one leading to the trial room at Hope's Peak, so there were a couple of gulps, though no one referred to it. The blond man pressed his card against a panel once again and clicked on a couple of buttons, beginning their ascent.

"To the ninety-eighth floor, we go!" he exclaimed, smiling like a little child. Seeing the former students surprised, he added, "Hey, that's a really tall tower! And it's the last floor, too!"

It took a couple of minutes, though they reached the floor in question, the doors opening again and leading the group into another long corridor.

"There we are, everyone. At the end of this hallway is the Future Foundation's Reunion Room, where all Division Heads meet to discuss things, take important decisions and all that jazz." Koichi explained, pointing at the door and a couple of soldiers standing guard. "And where I often have my naps, too…"

Kyoko, Byakuya, and Toko rolled their eyes while Makoto, Hina, and Hiro giggled in amusement.

"Hey, I'm kinda excited for this, you know?" the swimmer said, cheeriness apparent on her face. "It's good to know we're meeting potential allies rather than facing off an enemy for once!"

"Y-Yeah, the idiot swimmer girl is right…!" Toko agreed, and by a sort of miracle, Hina didn't say anything about the nickname. "M-Monokuma was just horrible! They can't be w-worse than he was!"

"As much as it pains me to say it, I must agree with that. Junko was one of a kind in terms of how villainous she was, and still lost." Byakuya stated, being humble about it. "Whoever stands beyond those doors must be somewhat better, at least…"

Hiro sweatdropped. "I-I hope so, man! I don't wanna see another Junko again for a long, long time! All I want is some peace and quiet so I can work on my fortune-telling properly without being interrupted by one of my friends being murdered!"

Makoto nodded, unable to disagree with what the clairvoyant had just said. "Well, I guess this is it…" I didn't expect us to almost die on the way, but I guess it's not one more life-threatening experience that's going to change anything at this point… Geez, talk about something I would never have believed I'd ever think! "We may not have our memories, but we have hope. Right now, I think we need to hope for the best, and I'm sure everything will work out in the end."

"Indeed." the soldiers saluted at the sight of Kizakura, who saluted back with a laugh. Meanwhile, Kyoko stood next to him and next to Makoto, smiling at the Ultimate Lucky Student. "Makoto, everyone… Let's do this."

And with that, the Ultimate Detective stepped inside, followed by her Ultimate friends…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven:  A Leader in the Guise of a Detective

"So you've finally arrived… The Future Foundation was waiting for you."

The six friends heard a strong voice upon entering the Reunion Room and noticed a tall, white-haired man standing in the center of the room, accompanied by a shorter, older, grey-haired man next to him.

"Yeah, and these are la crème de la crème, you know!" Kizakura replied, tipping his fedora to the two men before going to have a seat on his own. "Six amazing Ultimates from the one and only Hope's Peak Academy!"

"Well, I am happy to see that the little… mishap on the way didn't cause too much trouble…" the older man said, stepping forward. "Good day to the six of you. My name is Kazuo Tengan, and I am the Chairman of the Future Foundation and its founder. There was also a time - distant, I'm afraid - when I was the Headmaster of Hope's Peak Academy. I am glad to finally meet you. The Future Foundation has been observing you and your heroics during the Killing Game, so being able to see you in person is an honor, really."

"Indeed. And I have requested for you to be rescued and brought here." the other man added in complement, his expression extremely serious and his voice cold. "My name is Kyosuke Munakata, and I am the Vice-Chairman of the Future Foundation. You fought against Enoshima and won, so this organization is grateful, even if that in no way means that the Tragedy will end any time soon."

Hm… Kyoko began to think, adopting her customary thinking pose. With Junko out of the picture, the Tragedy could either stop… or become even less predictable… As for these two… it's clear to me who's really in charge of this organization…

Making sure to keep her theories to herself, for the time being, the Ultimate Detective nodded. "I have a question for you, Vice-Chairman." seeing she had Munakata's attention, the girl asked, "Why did you send that idiot over at Hope's Peak to rescue us?"

"Hey!" Koichi complained in the background before pouting and going back to his bottle.

The white-wearing man hmphed. His reply was so cold even Kyoko was taken aback. "Because having you die would have plunged the world into even more despair." seeing their surprised expressions, the Vice-Chairman added, "Don't be so surprised. Our role is to ensure that hope can be restored to the world. We'll do whatever it takes to reach this objective. In the grand scheme of things, you do not matter. But your status as the survivors of the Killing School Life does."

These words irritated the lavender-haired girl more than she thought possible. She turned towards her friends, who seemed to be sharing either her surprise or her irritation. Goal-minded… what a surprise… "And what makes you think we'll cooperate with you? All things considered, we were faring better on our own than since we were rescued."

"Kyoko's right." Byakuya chipped in, crossing his arms, the look in his eyes showing how unimpressed he was. "You couldn't break through Junko's defenses, allowed us to be attacked even before we had taken a single step inside this tower, and you ask for our cooperation… It will take much more to persuade us."

Makoto, Hina, Toko, and Hiro were too shy to add anything to what the Ultimate Detective and the Ultimate Affluent Progeny had said, though their discreet nods showed their agreement.

"Now, now, there is no need to be so cautious of us…" Kazuo assured them before continuing, "The way Vice-Chairman Munakata has worded this made it sound as if we did not care about your well-being, which is false. On behalf of the Future Foundation, I wish to give you my most heartfelt condolences for what happened to your now deceased friends." he gave them an apologetic smile, which helped with the amplifying tension in the atmosphere. "The reason we wish for you to cooperate with us is so you can fight on our side against the forces of despair. In return, we would like to offer you protection and shelter to ensure that the fate of your former classmates doesn't befall you, too. Does that make answer some of your concerns?"

"Hm…" We promised that we would help rebuild the world when we escaped from Hope's Peak, so this would be the perfect opportunity to do it, but… Kyoko thought, processing the Chairman's words and trying to reach a decision. Will the Future Foundation really be able to do that…? Can they be the vector of hope people need to believe in…? "…And what would be the terms if we decided to cooperate with you?"

"You would become agents for the Future Foundation, under a new division we wish to open," Munakata answered, gesturing to one of the screens. "There are currently thirteen branches to this organization, as listed here. A Fourteenth Division has been in our plans for quite some time now, and with potential new members, this would be the perfect opportunity to create it."

"I see…" This proposal seems acceptable, but I won't make this decision alone… "We will take a few minutes to discuss it before we give you our answer."

"Please take all the time you need to think," Tengan told the six Ultimates. "Director Kizakura, there is something I would like to discuss with you and the Vice-Chairman. Could I take a few minutes of your time?"

Koichi - who had almost fallen asleep at his seat, making the Ultimate Detective sigh at his antics - yawned. "S-Sure, boss! Coming!"

After the former Talent Scout lazily got up and joined his superiors, the three men began to discuss something on the other side of the room, leaving the survivors with enough peace and quiet to exchange their thoughts.

"So, what should we do?" Kyoko asked, kickstarting the discussion. "We need to reach a consensus before we make a choice. Munakata seems to be the sort of person who uses any sign of weakness against you, so I want us to be united when we tell them our decision."

"Point taken," Byakuya told her, pushing up his glasses. "But know that I believe we should accept this offer. An organization with so much influence would be the perfect way for me to rebuild the Togami Empire." a small smile and even a blush (!) appeared on the heir's cheeks as he shyly (!) added, "B-Besides… you aren't bad commoners to be around, I suppose. I'd rather have us continue to cooperate from there on out."

"T-Then if Master accepts, I-I accept too!" the Ultimate Writing Prodigy stuttered through a genuine smile, staying close to the Ultimate Affluent Progeny, who, for once, didn't reject her. "H-He's sure to make the r-right call! I absolutely t-trust him!"

"Yeah, I kinda think we have no other choice, to be honest," Hina argued, playing with a strand of her hair absentmindedly. "I'd like to have a place to settle in soon, too… And if it allows us to fight for hope, then count me in! Furthermore, I'll be able to honor Sakura's memory this way!"

"Y-Yeah! I don't know if I really was useful to you all during the Killing Game, but I wanna keep up the fight for hope!" Hiro exclaimed, a form of courage and bravery that was new for him overcoming his past fears. "C-Count me in, for serious!"

So far, they seem to agree with me… I didn't expect everyone to be so open to the idea, actually, considering we were all really skeptical at first… But I suppose unity is always appreciated, especially among friends. The only person left is… A relieved expression gracing her expression, Kyoko turned towards the Ultimate Lucky Student."What do you think, Makoto? Do you think that's a good idea?"

The boy was in deep thought when the Kirigiri detective asked him that. "I think… I think we need to do what will allow us to fight for hope best, and having allies on our side would be a major advantage. Besides, if you all think we should accept, then I'm obviously with you guys! The memories we carry together aren't all pleasant, but going through what we went through made us bond so close; I don't want to lose that now! We didn't become friends in despair to be separated as we fight for hope!"

Typical smiling Makoto… That'll always be a heartwarming sight to see… Kyoko thought, subconsciously smiling along with her friends as their favorite Luckster's enthusiasm reached them. "Very well, then. I believe we are all in agreement, which is good." the detective stated before allowing herself a harmless joke directed towards Byakuya with a smirk. "Who would have thought?"

Byakuya shook his head, trying to hide his amusement while his fellow Ultimate friends chuckled.

"Well, enough joking around for now." the detective told them, regaining her seriousness even if the smile stayed. "We need to communicate to them our decision." Wherever this leads us, this is a decision we're taking together… It must be the correct one, right…? But I still have this uncanny feeling that there'll be a twist we did not see coming… "Chairman Tengan?"

"Yes, what is it, Ms. Kirigiri?" the old man questioned, turning in their direction, as did Munakata and Kizakura. "Have you perhaps reached a decision?"

The Ultimate Detective nodded in confirmation. "That's right. We have decided to accept your offer."

"Ah, talk about good news!" Kazuo cheered, clapping in joy. "I am glad to hear this, Ms. Kirigiri! Now, we can go over the details of your integration into the Future Foundation, if you don't mind."

"Go on." Kyoko's gaze focused more on Munakata than it did on Tengan, though she lent an attentive ear to the Chairman's words. I hope I'm wrong that there aren't any last-minute twists they haven't told us about…

He nodded, starting, "Well, the Future Foundation had admittedly already considered the possibility that you would want to cooperate with us, and thus, our conditions have already been established."

Kyoko's eyes narrowed in suspicion, as did Byakuya's, next to her. "Conditions…?" I should have seen this one coming…

"Hmph. Don't tell me you believed there wouldn't be any conditions, Kirigiri?" Munakata asked her, not even in a mocking tone, but just coldly.

So we are on a last-name basis, then… Giving the man her Kirigiri glare, the Ultimate Detective didn't back down. "Perhaps it would have been fairer for you to tell us about that detail before, Munakata."

"I couldn't care less about your opinion, Kirigiri." the Vice-Chairman asserted, ending all possible debate. "Moving on, we have established one main condition for your membership. Toko Fukawa represents a threat to security and will not become a member."

Kyoko's eyes widened as Munakata laid out his terms. Behind her, Byakuya frowned, Hina and Hiro gasped, Makoto let out a surprised sound, and Toko shrieked.

"H-Hey, what's that f-for, you jerk?!" the novelist asked furiously, moving past Kyoko and Byakuya to face Kyosuke, all signs of her shyness gone at this point. "I-I have my flaws, but I w-won't let you say I'm a threat!"

"T-Toko, calm down!" Makoto told her, walking over to her in a hurry and placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "W-We can talk about this…!"

"No, we cannot." the white-haired man stated, stopping the Ultimate Lucky Student's argument before it had even begun. "This organization won't include in its ranks a serial killer! This point is not up for debate!"

That makes sense… I probably would have done the same thing if I had been in Munakata's shoes… Genocide Jack's face flashed through Kyoko's mind as she closed her eyes in deep thought. But still… Does Toko deserve to be judged for someone else's actions? Is it fair to ostracize her because her life trauma led her to be in this situation…?

Suddenly, the detective heard a voice interrupting her train of thought.

"Hey, what do you think you need to do, Kyoko?" she noticed Kizakura had walked to her side, his expression casual yet a little more serious. "For your friend's sake, I mean."

"Kizakura…" What should I do for Toko…? How am I supposed to know that?! I've never been good with social interaction and helping people! That's Makoto's role, not mine! She sighed. "I… I don't know…"

That confession carried a good deal of shame for the girl, who wanted to step up as the group's leader. She knew she needed to be there for everyone, but right there and then, the girl didn't know what she was supposed to do.

Kyoko turned her eyes away from the former Talent Scout and watched the purple-haired girl arguing fiercely and advocating her cause, tears in her eyes. She didn't think she'd already seen Toko look so emotional, but the detective understood where she was coming from.

"Then why don't you give it some quick thought?" the blonde suggested, shrugging. "You were a pretty damn good detective, even before that Killing Game, so consider this an investigation, no? Just saying."

Toko's afraid of not being able to prove her worth… What keeps her going is her drive to show Byakuya that she's worthy of being his friend… Finding herself on a type of investigation she was wholly unfamiliar with, Kyoko began to focus on what her possible moves were. We can't really refuse the offer, or it'll just be back to square one… But accepting it like this would be betraying Toko… She caught sight of Makoto trying his best to calm the writer. And Makoto wouldn't forgive me for this, either. The thing is, it's clear that Munakata won't budge, and Tengan clearly has no power over him…

"You know, your old man was a lot like you when he was younger."

"Hm?" What's this…?

"He always wanted things to go as he had planned and for people to understand his point of view." Koichi smiled in nostalgia at the memory of his old friend. "But when he became the Headmaster of Hope's Peak Academy, he was forced to realize that there were higher powers even he wouldn't be able to convince. It was hard for him at first, but as the years passed, he got better and better, and while it wasn't enough to foil Junko's plans, it made him a stronger man. He learned to compromise so he wouldn't lose everything. Maybe you should do the same, Kyoko."

My father… The Ultimate Detective did her best to repress the memory of seeing her father's remains in that present box, even if it was difficult. It's hard for me not to think of him as the weak man who abandoned me, but I suppose there must be some truth in Kizakura's words… He knew him better than anyone, after all…

"You're right." Kyoko ended up telling him, her course of action now clear. "A happy medium is probably all I'm going to get, so it'll have to suffice."

Koichi's smile widened a bit more as he took a sip of his drink. "Like father, like daughter, as they say…"

"Hmph." As if… Feeling emboldened, the lavender-haired girl joined her five friends, and with a determined look, addressed the two leaders. "I can't turn a blind eye to how unpredictable Genocide Jack can be… If I had caught her outside the Killing Game, Toko would be locked up in a cell by now."

"K-Kyoko!" Makoto protested, wincing at the coldness of his friend's words.

"However," she cut him immediately, raising her hand to stop the Luckster. "There is no doubt in my mind that Toko's will to fight for hope is as strong as anyone else's, and I cannot accept that someone would refuse to see this. We've defeated Junko together, and I won't approve that even one of us isn't able to join." she looked at Munakata right in the eyes, telling him, "Give her a minor role if you want, but this is all I'm willing to negotiate on."

The Vice-Chairman looked down on her with contempt, though it didn't impress the Ultimate Detective. She could remember more and more of her years as a detective by the minute, and she quickly got back the feeling of putting the pressure on her suspects. It was admittedly a bit different, but the overall feeling was similar.

"I'll grant her an internship, nothing more." Munakata finally conceded, his voice not wavering, however. "She will have to show proof to this organization that she can control her urges immediately, or we won't hesitate to fire her. And any fault she might commit will be blamed on your Branch. Is that clear?"

"Crystal." That's already something…

"Good. Now, there is something I would like to discuss with you, Kirigiri. Then, you will be on your way." the white-haired Division Director told them, only adding, "A room has been prepared for you to spend the night. Tomorrow morning, a meeting of the Branch Leaders of the Future Foundation will be held. You will sign your contracts then."

"W-Wait, hold on a second, please…!" Kizakura demanded to the six Ultimates and the two leaders, his voice filled with urgency. "T-There's something important I just remembered!"

Annoyed, Kyosuke sighed. "What is it, Director Kizakura? Make it quick, the Future Foundation has better things to do than chatting pointlessly."

"W-Well, about that…" Koichi scratched his head in embarrassment, "My Division has been working on personnel redistribution over the past few weeks, and we've realized that Branch Thirteen was lacking a member! And considering we've got six Ultimates here… I was wondering if one of them couldn't fill the missing spot…?"

W-What…? Giving the former Hope's Peak scout an incredulous look, Kyoko couldn't even find the right words to express how unexpected this last-minute twist was.

"Approved." the Vice-Chairman simply said, not bothering with anything more.

"Hold it!" the Ultimate Detective objected, shaking her head. "I would like a chance to discuss this before you make a decision, Vice-Chairman."

"Denied." he refused harshly. "Toko Fukawa's particular case notwithstanding, you are five. That is far too many members for one single Branch at its opening, especially considering the low amount of agents we will be able to allocate to you. One of you will join Division Thirteen, which is specialized in front-line food and resource distribution. I don't care who, but one of you will."

"B-But…!" Kyoko tried to object again, only for Munakata's glare to harden and for her to finally give in.

"Fine, then I'll do it." the voice of Hina said, speaking up for the first time. "If no one's willing to be the member you need, then I'll be the one. Besides, working with food seems pretty fun! Especially if they have donuts!"

"H-Hina!" they all exclaimed at the same time, shocked that the Ultimate Swimming Pro had made such an important decision. "What brought this on, hm?" Byakuya asked, looking suspicious.

"I…" Hina paused for a second, then admitted, "Ever since Sakura's death, I wanted to redeem myself and prove to you that I could be of some use to the group… But the person I need to need to improve for… it's myself." she raised her head, giving a smile that betrayed nostalgia, joy, and an ounce of sadness. "I don't want to leave you guys, but this is a challenge I need to face if I wanna honor Sakura's name! Chairman Tengan, Vice-Chairman Munakata, please let me fill the gap!"

T-That was… unexpected, to say the least… Kyoko thought, her surprised expression matching that of her other friends. But if she wants to do it… then we cannot prevent her. "If Hina wishes to, then I have no objections."

"Thanks, Kyoko." the swimmer told her, showing her a warm smile. "So, can I?"

The Vice-Leader shrugged, visibly not interested enough to care. Tengan was the one to answer her question. "Certainly, Ms. Asahina. We will have to organize a different meeting for you, however, young lady. That is how the procedures work, you see?"

"Yeah, no problem!" the girl answered, making the old man smile. Her enthusiasm caused Kyoko to realize something.

She must really have been wanting her so-called challenge, considering how relieved she seems… Well, Hina is a sweet girl, so I'm glad she found something to motivate her, even if working alongside her would have been a good experience…

"Very well. Now that this is settled, I'll have to take a few minutes of your time, Kirigiri." Munakata reminded her, stepping away from Kazuo.

What does he want to tell me about…? The Ultimate Detective wondered, having to restrain herself from sighing out of annoyance. I suppose there are no other ways to know that to go find out… If I want to be a leader of any kind, this is probably something I'll have to do more than once…

Come on, Kyoko Kirigiri, be the leader they need!

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eight:  Those Who Really Matter

"What was it you wanted to tell me, Vice-Chairman Munakata?" Kyoko asked, doing her best so that her annoyance wouldn't show. "You were insistent, so is it fair I suppose this is important?"

"Yes, quite. I wanted to tell you about one specific Future Foundation rule in person just so you can get into your head that I want it to be respected." Kyosuke firmly said, the shadow of his taller figure hovering over the Ultimate Detective. Seeing she had her full attention, he explained, "There have been rumors during Enoshima's Killing School Life, Kirigiri, and one of them is that you would have developed romantic feelings for Makoto Naegi."

The lavender-haired girl sighed, keeping her calm, nonetheless. Of course, it's about that… I'm sick and tired of my character being judged based on my nonexistent feelings for someone! "Ignoring the fact that my private life is none of your concern, that is ludicrous." But to know that people are theorizing that *me* of all people might be in love with someone… preposterous.

"I do not care whether this is true or not, mind you." the white-haired young man assured her, then carried on, though he looked highly suspicious, "However, should it be the truth, you must know that no romantic relationships between members of the Future Foundation are allowed. No exception."

At least some people here have a certain sense of professionalism… The girl gave a quick glance towards Kizakura, sitting with his bottle not too far away. I may not like Munakata, but I think I can give him that… "Then you needn't worry. I have no idea where this idea got into your head, but know this will not happen. Makoto is a friend who has taught me how to believe in hope, but nothing more."

Her voice was clear and full of conviction. Kyoko Kirigiri was someone who understood her own feelings very well, in place of understanding others'. It had downsides, but as a detective, it had always helped her. She hoped that it would be an advantage in her professional life moving forward.

"Good. It was all I wanted to tell you, so you may leave now. You will be called here tomorrow morning for your integration meeting by the council of the Future Foundation Branch Leaders." Munakata told her before he walked away.

Well, having him as a boss promises to be fun… Kyoko deadpanned as she also walked away, initially so they could leave, but upon noticing Makoto chatting with Tengan, realized they would wait for him to be done. I wonder what Makoto and the Chairman are talking about…

Her curiosity was piqued, but the purple-eyed girl didn't try to find out. This was not her business, so she would let the Ultimate Lucky Student alone for the time being. Instead, she returned to Koichi in case he had anything more to tell her.

"Hey, not feeling too down about it, I hope?" the man asked, taking another sip. Seeing Kyoko's confused expression, he clarified, "What he told you, I mean."

Kyoko frowned disapprovingly, giving Kizakura a stare. "Were you eavesdropping on us?"

Koichi smiled embarrassedly and scratched his head like a kid who would have been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Busted…"

He actually admitted it… At least he's honest, I suppose… The detective sighed, not willing to go on an argument with the only clear ally they had for now. "You shouldn't do that; it's impolite. And what did you mean, I'm not feeling too down about it?"

"Well, what he told you about not being able to be in a relationship, of course! I know it was a real bummer for me!" the Third Branch Leader claimed, looking all depressed. "But I'm an old geezer, so my love life doesn't really matter so much… Yours, however…"

"Doesn't matter either," she stated bluntly, cutting him without any hesitation. "I know where you're going with this, Kizakura, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that I am not in love with Makoto, nor do I entertain any feelings of the romantic kind for him. And even if I had feelings for Makoto, this wouldn't get in the way of my work."

Seeing the skeptic look on Koichi's face, the Ultimate Detective frowned, wondering what she needed to add to convince him.

Talk about persistence… "Makoto is a good friend who has taught me many important life lessons, and he will become a colleague. You should know that the person I will love romantically isn't born yet, Kizakura."

There was a second of silence before the former Talent Scout laughed out loud, visibly enjoying himself more than Kyoko.

"And what is so amusing, may I ask?" the girl gave him a cold stare, wordlessly ordering him to stop.

Kizakura's laughter quieted down gradually until he could control it, and he answered, "N-Nothing you need to worry about, don't worry. I'm just having some slight doubts, let's just say." he smiled at her, adding, "It's not anything you need to be concerned with, though. Just an old man who tries to have fun with the most stoic girl on Planet Earth…"

Thank you for the compliment, Kizakura… Being called that by an idiot is actually an honor… Unwilling to let that slip, the Kirigiri detective made sure to keep her mouth shut. "Is that all you wanted to tell me, Kizakura?"

"H-Hey, no!" he hurriedly told her, waving his hands around before leaning close to her ear and whispering. "There's something you need to know about what Munakata just told you!"

Surprised he was so out of character with the sudden discretion, Kyoko took a seat to listen to him and the words he visibly wanted to keep between himself and the detective. I think I know what he's about to tell me…

"Actually, Munakata says he wants to enforce the rule that Future Foundation members can't be in a romantic relationship, but…" Koichi looked around, making sure he wouldn't be heard before continuing, "Most of the organization suspects he has a girlfriend. You'll meet her soon, most likely, but there's something you ought to know about her. Don't ever suggest that she might be Munakata's girlfriend around him, okay? Just… don't."

Hm… So my instincts were right, it seems… Being appreciative of Jin's longtime friend's more professional behavior, Kyoko nodded gratefully. "I appreciate the piece of advice. I'll make sure to remember that and tell the others when an opportunity presents itself." If he told me that, it must mean that something of the sort already happened… Considering what I know of Munakata's personality, this must not have been pretty…

"You're welcome, Kyoko. Now, I think your friend Makoto is done with the Chairman, so I'll lead you to the room that was prepared for the six of you." the blonde man said, getting up from his chair. "Following me?"

The Ultimate Detective simply nodded, walking in the direction of her friends, who seemed to be having various chats…


"If you ever want me to consider you worthy of anything, you better prove to Munakata that you can be useful, understood?"

"M-Master…" I-I've never heard Master Byakuya give me encouragement like that… Toko's heart fluttered in her chest as she looked at the Togami heir with admiration. "I-I promise I'll do my best! I-I'll be a full-time member before you know i-it, Master!"

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny looked at his stalker with suspicious eyes. "Hm… Your words don't mean much if you are not able to back them up, Toko. A Togami expects nothing short of perfection, so you better be ready to show me that these aren't just empty words."

The expectant look on Byakuya's face made the Ultimate Writing Prodigy gulp as she realized that he meant every word. She didn't want to disappoint him, but on the other hand, she knew he was a perfectionist and that it wouldn't be easy to prove her worth to him.

But this made her even more determined! The girl had never felt loved or even liked by anyone - which was actually the reason Genocide Jack even lived within her body -, so the promise that she could even be worth something to Byakuya Togami… there was nothing she wouldn't do to reach it.

"T-They won't be empty words, M-Master Byakuya…!" she swore, trying to battle her stuttering to appear more confident, though it was not working so well. "I-I won't stop working until you f-find me worthy! T-Then we can have our d-date together, just like you promised me a-at Hope's Peak!"

"Ugh…" the blonde boy winced, physical pain showing on his face as he processed the girl's words. "When will you understand that I never promised you that…? I'm giving you a chance to prove your worth, but don't expect anything else." he gave her a cold glare. "The fact that a Togami wouldn't stoop as low as to get romantically involved with a commoner like you notwithstanding, you have been stalking me at all times ever since we've met! Hopefully, you'll one day understand that it is more disgusting than appealing…"

M-Master… Byakuya turned his back to her and sighed. H-He seems… sad… I didn't know my conduct was making him so uncomfortable… I… I need to apologize to him… "I-I'm sorry, Master…" Toko's voice was filled with shame as she looked down to the floor. "I didn't mean to bother you so much… I-I'll try to stop if it makes you u-uncomfortable…"

Even if she couldn't see his face, she did see him raise his head in surprise. Byakuya ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. "One day, I'll tell you, Toko. How I became the heir to the Togami Empire. Then, maybe even your commoner brain will understand what I went through, and it'll make you realize a few truths."

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny turned around, though he didn't face the novelist. He noticed Kyoko and Kizakura walking in their direction.

"Are we done here? A Togami's got better things to do than to wait pointlessly."

M-Master… A single sob fell from the purple-haired girl's eyes. I-I'll do my best to help you at any turn so that you won't be so uncomfortable around me! F-From this day onwards, Toko Fukawa will show you what she can do!


"H-Hey, say… I wanted to apologize, Hina… You know… about what I did to Sakura…"

Hiro looked embarrassed as the Ultimate Swimming Pro shook her head.

"It's okay, Hiro." the blue-eyed girl assured him with a small smile. "I can put things into perspective now that we've escaped from the Killing Game, and I understand why you felt threatened." If only they'd all been able to understand that Sakura wouldn't have hurt a fly… S-Sakura… "I'll forever miss her, and I know there'll be times I'll be depressed because I'll want her to be close to me, but I need to stay strong and to stay united with my friends. I don't want to hold grudges anymore, especially since I almost killed us all…"

"H-Hina…" the Ultimate Clairvoyant looked a little overwhelmed as Hina closed her eyes and took a deep breath to regroove. "You did what you did because of Monokuma, so there's no need to feel guilty, for serious! I didn't know Sakura very well, and I might be a little limited sometimes, but I know that, from above, she doesn't want you to feel guilty!"

Hina smiled gratefully, brushing off the tear under her eye. "It sounds like you can make some sense when you want to…" she told him sweetly, the remark not carrying any ill-will. "But I appreciate it, Hiro. It's been difficult for me ever since Sakura's death, so I'll need a few days to get back in shape completely. At least, now I don't have to worry about my friends potentially betraying me, and this is already a great weight off my shoulders. It will make grieving faster, I hope…" Even if I'm not naïve… I'll never get over Sakura's death… How would I…?

"Yeah, I predict it will!" the boy cheered, excited at the thought. "Though… I know I'm not that bright, but I haven't understood exactly why you wanted to be alone in that other division…"

"Ah, well…" I understand this took them all by surprise… The swimmer mused, thinking back to the moment of her decision. I'll probably don't see them as much as I could have if I had not made that choice, but… this is my chance to prove to myself that I can do something on my own! I'll get that gold medal! Besides, it's not like I'll be totally separated from my friends! "You see, I'm an athlete, so I'm constantly looking for challenges. Apart from swimming, which is my passion, I tried to tackle as many sports as possible as a personal challenge. Now, though… I wanna prove to myself that I can be useful on my own in this fight against despair! Makoto and Kyoko have been absolutely awesome, but we can't expect them to do all the work, so that's why I wanna take on this challenge alone!"

The fortune-reader sweatdropped, overwhelmed by the blue-eyed girl's sudden burst of enthusiasm. "I-I see… Y-You sure are… passionate about it…"

"You bet!" I'm hyped! I need to get into action soon! "Give me a donut, and I could take on an army of a hundred! A thousand, even!"

"U-Uh…"

"Just they wait! Aoi Asahina's here to kick some butts!"


"My apologies, young gentleman, could I please take a few minutes of your time before you head out? Speaking with the Ultimate Hope themselves would be an honor for an old man like me!"

"O-Oh, C-Chairman Tengan…!" He caught me by surprise… Makoto thought as he stood, daydreaming, in the center of the Reunion Room. I need some sleep… Talk about a long day… "W-What is it…?"

The old man genuinely smiled, telling the young Ultimate Lucky Student, "Well, I wanted to congratulate you on your victory and your courage, first of all. Not many people would have been able to stand so strong and determined after what Junko Enoshima put you through!"

"A-Ah, um…" Makoto blushed at the praise, stuttering, "T-Thank you, M-Mr. Chairman… Though I wouldn't have been able to do it without my friends…"

"And he's humble, too… The world of tomorrow's in good hands, then." Tengan told himself aloud. "You know, Mr. Naegi, the conclusion of the Killing Game you and your friends went through forced me to think deeply about what fighting for hope really meant. I realized thanks to you that some of my ideals were maybe not as hopeful as I once thought they were." he extended his hand for Makoto to shake. "I have no doubt that you will do wonderful work as a Future Foundation member, and I will be looking forward to seeing you in action."

Hesitantly, the boy shook the Chairman's hand, being taken by surprise by the unexpected praise of what he and his friends had been forced to do to survive.

"I-I'll do my best, Chairman Tengan," Makoto assured him, trying to look more confident. "I want people to trust in hope again because it's what worked the best for me and the others."

"Indeed… If we want hope to spread again, then we must give people a reason to hope. That is why we created the Future Foundation, and I firmly believe that we will succeed." Kazuo added. "I wish the Tragedy would never have had to happen, but now, all we can do is work hard to make it stop as soon as possible, I suppose…"

He's right… I don't exactly know what triggered the Tragedy because of these missing memories, but we're not gonna change the past, that's for sure… Makoto thought, adopting a pensive stance. All we can do is make sure that the future is better than the past was… even if that's probably easier said than done…

"You seem deep in thought, young man. Is something the matter, perhaps?" the grey-haired man wondered, looking at Makoto with curious eyes. "Do you need to use the facilities?"

"O-Oh, no!" Come on, it may have been an eventful day, and I might have wet the bed until 5th Grade, but still…! Rolling his eyes, the Luckster shook his head. "I was just thinking, that's all. Sorry for having worried you, Chairman Tengan."

Kazuo nodded in understanding. "That's good to hear. Well, I think the Vice-Chairman wanted Director Kizakura to show you to your room for the night, so perhaps it would be wise for me not to take any more of your time. Besides, you probably need rest."

Yeah, I wouldn't mind that… But Chairman Tengan isn't so assertive… he seems way less in charge than Vice-Chairman Munakata is! "Alright, sir." Makoto bowed respectfully in front of the older man. "Have a nice day."

"Yes, you too, young man." the Chairman answered before turning around to talk with his theoretical subordinate.

Well, I should join Kyoko, Mr. Kizakura, and the others so that we can see what room the Future Foundation's prepared for us… The image of a comfy bed flashed through Makoto's mind, making him relax. I can already feel it… the comfort of a good night without having to worry about too much…

With a smile that reached his ears, the Luckster walked over to his five friends and their fedora-wearing guide. The six of them were standing near the entrance door, chatting amongst themselves.

"Ah, there you are, Makoto," Kyoko commented, noticed him coming. "We can get going now, Kizakura."

"Alrighty then!" Koichi powerwalked out of the room, making the others sigh as they followed him at a more leisurely pace.

On his end, Makoto walked, his mind at peace, realizing that his Ultimate friends seemed to be doing better than he'd ever seen them do in a long time…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Nine: Class 78th's New Beginning

"There you go, ladies and gentlemen!"

Koichi opened the door with as much style as he could muster - as if the room on the other side was going to change the former students' life. However, he got no such reaction.

"Hmph, this is definitely no suite…" Byakuya sighed, stepping inside with reluctance. "But I guess it will have to do for one night…"

"Hey, don't complain! We didn't even have a bedroom to sleep in when the Tragedy began!" the former scout told him as he entered, followed by the other students. "Geez, young people…"

Makoto, Hina, and Hiro giggled as they took note of the six beds disposed in a row inside the room, not really comfortable-looking, but at least enough so they could get a good rest.

"Thank you for showing us here, Kizakura. We'll take it from here." the Ultimate Detective stated, sitting on one of the beds. "We will see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, sure!" the blonde man smiled, then tipped his hat to the six friends. "Some agents will come to get you a few minutes before your meeting start, so be on the lookout, alright?" seeing Kyoko nod, Koichi turned around and waved. "Well, sweet dreams!"

The Division Head closed the door behind him, leaving the Ultimates alone.

"Oh, there's a fridge there!" Hina exclaimed, pointing to a backroom they could see, thanks to the slightly ajar door. The Ultimate Swimming Pro rushed there, making it look like she still had some energy to spend. The Ultimate Lucky Student and Ultimate Clairvoyant followed. "O-Oh my God, these are donuts! FINALLY!"

They sweatdropped as Hina emptied the whole box of the pastries in a second, stuffing her mouth and swallowing the donuts at light's speed.

Hina sure is hungry… *growl* Makoto blushed as he placed a hand on his belly. "Seems like I need to get myself something, too…" the boy looked through the fridge and found a couple of sandwiches. "Do you want one, Hiro?"

"Sure, man!" the fortune-teller looked relieved as the Luckster handed him a sandwich, and he eyed it with stars in his eyes. "The aliens better not steal this one, too!"

Hearing their discussion from the sleeping room, Kyoko called out, "Makoto, can you get me something to eat, please? Whatever you'll find will suffice."

"Yeah, sure! I'll bring this to you!" the boy replied with a smile. "Toko, Byakuya, do you guys want anything?"

The three Ultimates heard the Togami heir sigh from where they were. "Dying of starvation isn't exactly on my list, so I suppose I have no other choice… Eating commoner food isn't what a Togami would usually do, but I'll have to make do with what's available…"

Byakuya… The Ultimate Lucky Student sighed at the remark as he took out some more food from the fridge, not really paying attention to what it was. "And you, Toko?"

"I-I wouldn't m-mind something, t-too…!" the writer stuttered from afar, though Makoto got the message.

"Alright." he, Hiro, and Hina basically emptied the fridge and returned to the sleeping room, where they set everything on the table. "That should be way more than enough for the six of us, especially considering Hina and Hiro have already eaten for four…"

"Hey, an athlete's gotta eat, you know!" the swimmer complained, making Kyoko and Byakuya shake their heads. "Besides, I could never refuse a donut!"

The six Ultimates got seated around the table and began to eat. It was far from being a classy dinner, but considering how quickly the pile of food disappeared, they were definitely hungry. For instance, Makoto ate a couple of sandwiches and some ice cream in only a few minutes, patting his belly as he felt he couldn't - and shouldn't - eat anything more.

Better stop now before I get a stomachache… The Luckster thought, oping to be reasonable, gingerly getting up and stretching. "I needed that, honestly…"

Five nods in agreement confirmed that he wasn't the only one to think that.

"Indeed." Kyoko concurred, finishing eating much more elegantly than the likes of Hina or Hiro. "We probably wouldn't have found anything to eat if we had stayed outside, so I think coming here was the right idea, after all."

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny sighed, admitting reluctantly, "I was the first one to say this was a bad idea, but it seems I was proven to be wrong… somehow… Eating even such low-quality food is still rather effective. Our bodies were drained out from our experience in the Killing Game."

"You got that right…" Hiro agreed, scratching the back of his dreadlocks. "Can't believe we got out of that hellhole alive, honestly…"

"M-Me neither…! I t-thought we were going to d-die for sure!" Toko added, trembling with fear at the mere thought. Still, a perverted gleam entered her eyes as she fantasized, "B-But we pulled through thanks to Master…! He's the one who saved us!"

They all rolled their eyes, slowly getting used to the girl's unhealthy antics they had not found how to fight against yet. Hina continued to stuff her mouth while Byakuya stood up before heading for one of the beds, setting his glasses on the nightstand.

"Please finish eating quickly. I would like to get some sleep, and the sooner, the better," the blonde Ultimate said, not an order but a strong suggestion. "And for the love of God, please show some manners, Asahina! You haven't been challenged to eat as much as possible in a minute, have you?!"

The swimmer swallowed the food in her mouth before her cheeks reddened in anger, "Oh, you don't tell me what I have to do, you jerk! Let a girl eat how she wants, prick!" she laughed and showed him her middle finger, (playfully) mocking, "Bet you couldn't even see that without your glasses!"

Hiro chuckled (and received a glare from Toko for that) while Kyoko giggled behind one of her gloved hands as Byakuya didn't have a comeback at the ready. As he headed for one of the beds, Makoto sighed in exasperation.

These two make for quite a pair… The brown-haired boy thought, sitting down. But they wouldn't be Byakuya and Hina if they didn't bicker like an old couple every five minutes, I guess… *yawn*

"Tired, Makoto?" the lavender-haired detective smilingly asked as she sat on the bed next to his, untying her braid. Seeing him blush in embarrassment, Kyoko told him, "You're not the only one, don't worry. A good night's sleep won't do harm to any of us, really." the girl removed her boots and set her to her bedside before slipping under the sheets. "Can whoever goes to bed last please turn off the lights?"

"Yeah, will do," Hina answered as she finished her food when the Ultimate Writing Prodigy and the Ultimate Clairvoyant headed for two of the three remaining beds. The lights stuck on the ceiling turned off as the girl had no choice but to take the final bed between Makoto and Hiro. "Geez, what a day…!"

"You can say that again!" Makoto declared, slipping under the sheets for some well-needed warmth. "This has got to be the most eventful day of my life so far!" F-Fortunately, honestly…

"A-And now I'm about to sleep in the same room as M-Master…! I-I'm a little n-nervous…!" Toko added, her voice sounding like it was driven by lust.

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny made a disgusted sound. "Don't get used to it. It won't happen again."

"Makes sense! No one would want to sleep with you, Byakuya!" Hina taunted, and while they couldn't see it in the dark, they all could imagine the smirk on her face. "Even Toko!"

The Ultimate Detective sighed, telling everyone off before another argument began. "May we just have some peace and quiet in order to fall asleep or is that too much to ask for, hm? You'll have all the time in the world to have these petty arguments again starting tomorrow morning."

Both Hina and Byakuya hmphed, complying with their leader on the rise.

"Back to what my man Makoto was saying, this was a long day!" Hiro commented and changed the subject, something which Kyoko was grateful for. "I still can't believe what that girl Junko put us through, for serious!"

"It's true that it's barely believable…" the purple-eyed girl agreed, her analytical voice wavering with tiredness. "But I suggest we try not to think about it too much if we want to avoid any unnecessary depressing moments. The task ahead is already important enough, in my opinion."

"That's right. However, I have no doubt that the orders of the almighty Kyoko Kirigiri will lead us to a total success worthy of a Togami; am I wrong…?" Byakuya deadpanned, taking a shot at the detective.

"Apologies for hurting your ego, Byakuya," she replied coldly. "But if anyone had any objection to the role I decided to take, I'm sure they would have worded them by now, don't you think? Or perhaps you were too shy to object?"

"Nonsense. I've just decided to take a step back to ensure I can search for assets for my Togami Empire properly, nothing more." the Togami heir stated confidently, though they all understood that this was an excuse. "But for the record, I do trust your leadership, Kyoko. More than that of the others, at least… Makoto's too naïve, Hiro's too stupid, Hina's the same, and Toko's Toko."

This kickstarted another argument, which Makoto decided not to take part in, feeling his eyes flutter in exhaustion as he fought to keep them open. I-I'm gonna fall asleep soon… *yawn* "G-Good night, everyone… S-Sweet dreams…"

"Oh, sweet dreams to you too, Makoto!" Hina told him sweetly.

"Good night, Makoto," Kyoko said, and he could see her smile at him on the bed next to his. "Sleep well."

"Yeah, you too, man!" Hiro cheered. "I predict you'll totally have some great dreams!"

"Hmph, I suppose it would be best if you slept well, yes…" Byakuya simply commented.

"Y-Yeah, good night, I g-guess…" Toko stammered. "A-And sweet dreams…"

"T-Thanks, everyone…" the lucky student yawned again and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to come, something he knew wouldn't take long. Our first night since we regained our freedom… Ever since I woke up this morning…

We've investigated a case featuring a booby-trapped body…

I've almost been executed…

I've seen the remains of my friend's father…

We've figured out the identity of our captor before seeing her execute herself…

We've finally escaped Hope's Peak…

I've escaped death thanks to a lightning bolt of all things…

And we've agreed to join an organization that fights for hope…

Makoto smiled in amusement. Yeah, definitely an eventful day… Starting tomorrow, though, this is a new beginning… for me, and for everyone…

With that, the Ultimate Lucky Student fell asleep, his mind at peace… but for how long…?


"Zzzzzzz… Zzzzzzz…"

"Grr, j-just how noisy can he be…?!" Toko asked out of frustration. "W-We want to sleep, t-too!"

"Yeah, I agree with Toko on that one…" Hina said, sighing sadly. "He's making this difficult…"

"I had not predicted that! This is not funny!" Hiro added, sounding depressed.

"I say we throw him out on the corridor," Byakuya suggested, and they didn't know if he was being serious or not. "My sleep certainly won't be disturbed this way for long!"

"Zzzzzzz… Zzzzzzz…"

Makoto continued to snore, exasperating his friends as none of them was able to get even a wink of sleep twenty minutes after he had wished them a good night.

"Well, instead of arguing pointlessly, we should have tried to fall asleep before Makoto did," Kyoko argued, taking the boy's defense. "He cannot control it, I'm afraid." And he was the same way when I came to his room last night…

"I won't comment on the fact that you've jumped to Makoto's defense, yet again, Kyoko." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny tiredly said. "T-Talk about a… Zzzzzz…"

The Ultimate Detective giggled as Byakuya fell asleep in the middle of his sentence, quickly followed by Hina, Toko, and Hiro, who couldn't resist it any longer.

"Zzzzzzz… Zzzzzzz…"

The girl closed her violet eyes and tried to focus on something else than Makoto's noisy snoring, hoping it would stop soon, although…

It… does sound quite… cute… Z-Zzzzzzzz…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Ten:  Making Dreams Worth Hope

Makoto opened his eyes and rubbed them to get a better view. The room he was in was surprisingly familiar, though it took him a second to realize exactly where it was.

And then he freaked out.

"W-Why am I back in Hope's Peak?!" the Luckster screamed in a panic, his eyes widening in despair as he got up from the bed. "N-NO! I-I'm not supposed to be h-here!"

"And why do you say that, Makoto? I think you're very much in your place here, no?"

"H-Huh, w-who…?!" looking around to find where the mysterious voice he had just heard was coming from, Makoto's heart skipped a beat when he noticed who it was. "N-No, this can't be h-happening… Y-You're not supposed to be here e-either!"

"Oh, and why not, Makoto?" they asked, smiling at the boy. "Don't you think this is where exactly I'm supposed to be, actually? Come on, Makoto, don't you want us all to be one big happy family here?"

"N-No, leave me a-alone!" the boy begged, moving away from the bed, though he was quickly backed into a corner. "Y-You can't be real! Y-You're dead!"

The other person cocked their head in confusion. "Me, dead? Oh, my poor Makoto, I think you're very confused… I'm far from being dead, you know?" they finally stood in front of the Ultimate Lucky Student and tapped his temple. "I'm right here, Makoto. I'm always here to haunt you and make you remember that you failed. Failed to save me…"

Tears appeared under Makoto's eyes as he felt more and more threatened by the sick smile on the other person's lips.

N-No, that can't be real! I-It's just a nightmare, and I'll wake up s-soon! He thought, trying to reassure himself the best he could. "G-Get away from me! Y-You're not her!" he cried desperately. "Y-You're not Sayaka!"

There was a moment of silence that lasted an eternity for the hazel-eyed boy. Makoto looked into these blue eyes but saw nothing but despair and hatred in them. There could be no doubt about it, however: that shining blue hair, that impeccable posture, that sweet-sounding voice…

The person in front of Makoto wasn't anyone other than the Ultimate Pop Sensation, Sayaka Maizono.

"Ah, you're confused, my poor Makoto… Of course, I'm Sayaka!" the girl assured him, rendering the boy claustrophobic with how little breathing room she was giving him. "Have you ever seen another girl that looked like me, Makoto? Have you ever dreamt of another girl besides me?"

Her smile turned angelic, giving Makoto a glimmer of hope that the pop star quickly took away from him. The smile turned evil, carrying ill-will.

"I wonder, Makoto… Have you ever loved another girl besides me?"

"S-Sayaka, n-no…" W-Why won't you leave me alone?! I promised to forever carry my memories of you… of everyone, so why won't you leave me alone?!

The blue-haired Ultimate leaned on the Luckster, her upper-body touching Makoto's. He winced at the sensation, though he couldn't do anything against it.

"You never actually told me that, but I'm not dumb, you know?" Sayaka stated, looking disappointed with him. "I'm the Ultimate Pop Sensation, so I've learned to see when boys are in love with me… And you know what, Makoto? Maybe this could have worked between us… You seemed kind enough, and everybody seemed to have a good opinion of you…"

"N-No, I… I d-didn't…" Makoto stuttered, desperately trying to find a way to get her to leave him alone.

She giggled. "You didn't have the hugest crush on me; is that what you were going to say?" the idol band leader questioned him, playing dumb. "I have a hard time believing that…"

Makoto's eyes filled with tears as his own feelings were used against him. He wanted to deny, wanted to find words to convince her - and himself - but he came up empty.

"But whatever, honestly." Sayaka shrugged, changing the subject. "It's not like I can forgive you, honestly… Do you realize what you've done to me, Makoto? How you betrayed me? I couldn't forgive you, even if I tried!"

"W-What…?" B-Betrayed…? "I-I don't understand!"

She shook her head, leaning even closer so that their faces were almost touching. The tightness of the space he had forced Makoto to take a deep breath so he wouldn't run out of air.

"Ah, you sure have a bright future ahead of you, being called the Ultimate Hope who defeated Junko Enoshima, don't you, Makoto?" the Ultimate Pop Sensation rhetorically asked, her eyes filling with anger. "I'm sure you were thrilled when you opened that door and managed to escape! But have you thought about me?! Have you thought of the suffering I went through when that bastard put that knife inside my chest?!"

Makoto's eyes widened as he was hit with a realization. N-No… Have… Have I-I been really so selfish…? I… I'm doing my b-best not to forget a-anyone…! B-Being called a traitor… I-It's unfair! IT'S UNFAIR!

"Ever since you escaped from that hellhole, have you perhaps thought of me and not of that smartass detective, even for once?! Oh, I know that she's smart and pretty, but don't forget she almost sent you to your death! She would have killed you just to satisfy her ego!"

"ENOUGH!"

With all the strength he could muster, Makoto pushed the Ultimate Pop Sensation away, his mind filling with fury as he was forced to recall the sound of that hydraulic press threatening to take his life. He managed to push her a few feet away, enough for him to take a few deep breaths.

"Y-You lie! I-I'm always thinking of you, Sayaka! Ever since you died, y-you've been on my mind all the time! There wasn't a single second when I didn't think of you!" the boy exclaimed, letting it all out. "I promised I would not move on from your death, and I won't! Y-Yeah, I crushed on you pretty hard… M-Maybe… Maybe I was even in love with you at some point, and these feelings will always be here somewhere!"

The Ultimate Lucky Student placed a hand on his heart, the tears in his eyes falling on the plain blue floor of his dorm room and dampening it.

"But the S-Sayaka I loved wasn't you!" Makoto cried, trying his hardest not to break down completely. "I-I know it's not the girl in front of me! The Sayaka I k-knew was always kind and compassionate! S-She wasn't that crazy and mean person! S-She wouldn't insult someone else!"

"But people change, Makoto. Our experiences make us change, and this is who I became." the blue-haired girl told him before adding, "You've made me change, you know? Your betrayal made me change. I'll make sure you wallow in despair forever now because that's all a traitor like you deserves."

"STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!"

The Luckster's yelling echoed throughout the room as he tried to cover his ears as to not hear his friend's words and to stop the growing headache he was feeling.

"What, you can't accept the truth, Makoto?" she once again got close to him, looking down at him with despair-filled eyes. "If you want me to forgive you for letting me die… why don't you join me in despair?" she switched personalities, showing him her bright smile. "After all, the girl you love fell to despair, didn't she?"

The pain in Makoto's skull reduced as he heard Sayaka's sweet voice. He began to think about the implication of her words.

S-Should I… should I join Sayaka in despair…? He closed his eyes for a split second before opening them again. They immediately widened as he saw the wicked look on the pop idol's face. T-That's…!

For the briefest of moments, the Ultimate Pop Sensation's face morphed into another. Makoto shivered in fear as he noticed the long blue hair turn into two blond pigtails and the gentle smile turn into an evil grin. He immediately blinked again and was relieved to see her gone and Sayaka back in her stead.

"S-Sayaka, I…" S-She's right… I-I had promised her she'd be fine a-and… Sayaka's dead body flashed through his mind, prompting him to make a choice. "Y-Yes… Y-Yes, you're right…" I… I thought she was being unfair to me, but… I-I was the one being selfish all along… Spirals entered his eyes as he eyed the girl with admiration.

"I'm glad I could reason you, Makoto." her smile widened as she took his hands. "You deserve a little gift for being such a good boy…"

Makoto's body got paralyzed as the pop star leaned close to himand pressed her lips to his in a sweet and gentle kiss that completely entranced the Ultimate Lucky Student. He felt himself giving in to despair as his feelings towards the deceased Ultimate Pop Sensation got mixed with the sensation of desperation he was currently feeling.

"Don't let her control you, Makoto! Remember the truth! Don't let despair take over your hope!"

W-Who…? A mysterious voice echoed through the boy's head. W-What's happening to me…? Makoto's vision blurred as he suddenly wasn't standing in his room at Hope's Peak Academy but in a familiar middle school. H-Huh…? That's… Sixth Black Root Middle School?

Sayaka pulled away from the kiss and took a step back, visibly surprised by the change of scenery.

"W-Wait, why are we here…?!" she exclaimed, an unhappy look entering her eyes. She and Makoto turned in the direction of a young boy, kneeling next to a crane. "T-That can't be!"

"H-Hey, that's me!" Makoto stated, a smile subconsciously appearing on his lips as he noticed a twelve-year-old version of himself tending to the injured animal. "And I remember that now! That's when you saw me for the first time, Sayaka!"

The Ultimate Lucky Student rushed towards his former self, seeing him helping the crane out of where she had gotten stuck. The young boy was being so careful, so gentle, that it made his older self proud.

"That's right, Makoto! That is who you are and who you'll always be! Don't let yourself be manipulated!"

The Luckster stopped on his tracks. T-That voice again…! J-Just who's this?! He wondered, looking around but not seeing anyone who might have whispered to him. They're telling me not to be manipulated, b-but…

"There you go, little crane!" the young Makoto beamed as the bird managed to take flight once more, making the future Ultimate Lucky Student smile contently as he walked back towards the school grounds. "Poor little thing…"

"Talk about a kind boy… Not anyone would have helped that crane…" Makoto turned to see a young Sayaka standing behind a tree, watching as the scene had finished unfolding. "I wonder who such a considerate and cute boy like him could be…"

He blushed furiously as the future Ultimate Pop Sensation's words reached his ears. They sounded like music to him, and he knew his middle-school self would have thought the same if he'd been able to hear her.

She said I was kind… But… Makoto froze in place as he felt the cold presence of the other Sayaka behind him. The blue-eyed girl approached him with silent steps in such a way that he could only notice her when she was a couple of feet away. T-This Sayaka says that I betrayed her… but which one is telling the truth…?

"You shouldn't be here, Makoto." the deceased pop star told him, her voice lacking empathy. "This isn't worth it. You didn't betray her, but you betrayed me. It's all that matters."

"No! You never betrayed anyone, Makoto! You never did, and I'm sure you never will!"

"Join me in despair, Makoto; things can be much simpler this way. You've sent me there, so don't you think it's only fair you follow me now?"

"She's wrong, Makoto! You're the last person responsible for what happened to her! Don't listen to her nonsense!"

"You know I'm right, Makoto. Don't listen to your conscience, but to me. The girl you crushed so hard on, just because she was cute and super famous… Don't tell me you think I could be lying to you, Makoto?"

"You fought too hard to let her take over you now, Makoto! You and your friends! Everyone *here* knows that you've kept *us* in your heart! Despair isn't worth a great person like you, Makoto!"

"You're much more deceitful than I believed, you know? Making empty promises… If I had known that you'd let me die, perhaps I would have gone after you first, actually… If I don't get to live, then you don't either, Makoto."

"It's because *you* live that we all live, somewhere! It's because you've refused to move on; it's because you've decided to believe in everyone that you won, Makoto! Please, don't let all of your efforts go to waste!"

Makoto closed his eyes, trying to ignore the two feminine voices echoing in his head to think. He made abstraction of everything around him, trying to focus on what was a lie and what was the truth.

T-These aren't *my* efforts… I… I didn't… I didn't win on my own… The faces of Kyoko, Byakuya, Toko, Hiro, and Hina flashed through his mind. We did it all together… believing we could carry on the memories of our fallen friends! I wished Sayaka and all the others would have survived, of course, but now, I need to focus on what's really important: making sure they're remembered! If I can't do it, then who will?!

He opened his eyes again, which now shined with a hopeful gleam.

Whoever you are, voice in my head, and even if this is probably just a dream… I couldn't have done it on my own, but… The Ultimate Lucky Student smiled, thinking, Thank you, nonetheless…

"You!" he exclaimed, pointing at the blue-haired pop star in front of him. "You aren't Sayaka! You just are the image of her the despair in my mind created; nothing more! You aren't my friend, you aren't the girl I crushed on, and you never will be!"

"W-What…?!" she freaked out, recoiling in shock. "Y-You are supposed to follow me in despair, Makoto! That's the only choice you have if you want my forgiveness!"

"No, that's wrong!" Talk about a familiar feeling… "That precisely is what I am supposed not to do! I chose to believe in hope, and that won't change anytime soon, and I know Sayaka would agree with me! I would understand it if she was mad at me for not ensuring that she could see her friends again, but… whatever you might say, I know Sayaka… and I know that's not her type! She wouldn't want me to fall to despair, especially not now!"

"N-No… T-That's not possible!" the Sayaka facing the Luckster shouted, slowly being consumed by a ray of light. "T-That wasn't supposed to happen!"

As the girl's image was being engulfed under Makoto's eyes, her glare turned demonic, evil, and threatening.

"You might have won for now, Makoto… But I'll be back, I swear! You won't be able to resist the part of you that's already fallen to despair for long, trust me! You too will fall to the deepest of despair, Makoto Naegi!"

The Ultimate Lucky Student was blinded by a powerful explosion of light that made the deceased pop sensation disappear, leaving the confused boy alone. He looked around, but all was very silent and very empty.

Well, I guess that ended pretty well… Makoto looked up to the sky, wondering, Are you up there, Sayaka? Can you maybe hear me? If so, then… I hope you really don't hate me. There'll always be a part of me that'll be fond of you, you know? I don't know what was before Junko took our memories, but… I'm sure we were good friends.

He felt his eyes flutter with tiredness as he yawned. The brown-haired boy sat crosslegged on the grassy ground.

It won't be easy, but I'll try to keep hope… Even if this was probably just a dream, I'd rather have it be a hopeful one…

Makoto closed his eyes for good and felt himself be pulled out of this mysterious world by a strong force he couldn't resist. When his hazel eyes opened again, he recognized the room at the Future Foundation Headquarters and noticed a touch of pink standing in front of him.

"Earth to Makoto Naegi?"

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eleven:  Dead and in Love

She sighed in relief before scratching her head. The room was dark save for the lit screen, and she sat in one of the rows in the middle, allowing herself to relax now that the stressful part was over.

"Don't give me scares like that, Makoto…" the girl thought out loud, rubbing the sweat from her forehead. "Though that's easy for me to say now that I'm dead, I guess…"

The screen turned pitch black for a second as the lights returned. The girl stood up from the red seat when the Ultimate Lucky Student was woken up by the Ultimate Detective. She yawned as she headed out of the projection room of the Afterlife Theater, feeling the tiredness get to her after a sleepless night.

But making sure Makoto was alright was the most important… I literally have an eternity to catch up on my sleep schedule, so it's not like I need to worry about that right now…

"Ah, there you are! I was wondering where the hell you had wandered off to!"

The girl stopped as she heard another feminine voice talk to her and noticed its owner standing at the entrance door, a disapproving look on her face.

"S-Sorry… I just didn't want you to worry, Mukuro…" the girl said, mustering her best apologetic expression. "Guess that didn't go so well…"

The Ultimate Soldier shook her head. "It didn't. You should have just told me where you were going, you know?" the black-haired girl told her, scolding her. "And also why."

"A-About that…" Knowing Mukuro, she'll worry if I tell her… I don't want to keep anything secret from her, though… Pondering over her choices, the girl sighed and decided to tell her the truth, at least partly. "I was checking on Makoto. I sensed something off coming from him earlier and decided to check it out. Turns out, he had a pretty bad nightmare that ended just now."

Mukuro listened closely. "I see… You didn't want me to worry, right?" seeing the other girl nod in confirmation, the deceased soldier sighed. "Well, I can forgive you for not telling me that, I suppose… However," she paused, emphasizing, "I'll need the whole truth before I do that… I thought you trusted me enough not to keep secrets from me, you know?"

The girl's eyes widened immediately in surprise and guilt as Mukuro's eyes filled with disappointment. "H-How…?"

"Because I saw it, too." the soldier answered the question before she had even finished asking it. "The whole thing. I just wanted to know if you would tell me everything, but I'm afraid you didn't…"

"W-Wait, Mukuro, I'm sorry!" Great… this couldn't have gone any better! She thought ironically, biting her lip as the Ultimate Soldier turned around and began to head out. "I… I just thought it would cause you more issues than necessary, that's all… I don't want to keep any secrets from you, I promise! C-Come on, you're my girlfriend, Mukuro! I know better than to hide anything from you!"

These words made the short-haired girl stop in her tracks, visibly hesitating. In the end, she let out a long sigh before turning around again. "I… might have overreacted a bit… Sorry."

"I-It's okay… It's my fault for not being completely honest with you… The truth is… I felt like I needed to come to see Makoto alone… Still, I should have told you… I'm really sorry, Mukuro."

"Don't sweat it." the other girl assured her, taking her hands with hers. "But I'm worried about you now, you know? As I said, I saw Makoto's nightmare, and I don't want you to feel bad because of what happened inside his sleepy mind. Besides, I'm sure the little voice he imagined inside this silly head of his was yours, am I wrong?"

"Y-Yeah… I think so… I-I wanted to help him because seeing him have to face despair all alone like that…" she looked down to the floor sadly. Mukuro lifted her chin with strong fingers so that she looked at her in the eyes. "I'm always heartbroken whenever I see him like this…"

A couple of tears appeared under shining blue eyes, making Mukuro frown as she hugged her girlfriend tightly, stroking her long blue hair in a comforting gesture.

"It's okay, Sayaka, it's okay…" the soldier repeatedly whispered in her ear softly and reassuringly. "Makoto's okay… You know he's much braver than he may look…"

"I-I know… b-but…" the deceased pop idol's voice was strained. "I don't want him to see me like this! I'm not this despair-addicted psycho the despair inside him is trying to pass myself off as!"

Mukuro sighed, keeping her girlfriend close to her. "Makoto knows this, Sayaka… If he chose not to move on from your death, it's because he knew that you weren't the girl in his nightmare just now."

The Ultimate Soldier pulled back from the hug, watching the pop sensation seriously in the eyes.

"Even after what happened with your Motive Video, I know he never even entertained the idea that you could have been an evil person, Sayaka…" she paused, looking frustrated. "I can't know for sure what's going on through his mind, but… I think there are people he holds in worse esteem than he does you. You heard him, didn't you? He had romantic feelings for you, Sayaka, and he probably still does! You aren't going to go from being his crush to being an absolute devil!"

M-Mukuro… The blue-haired Ultimate's shoulders slumped as she precisely realized what the meaning of her loved one's words was. She admitted, "I… I don't want anything to happen to him… He… He's already seen enough tragedies in his life…"

"You and me both, Sayaka." the soldier agreed, her voice not wavering. "And I still hate myself that I was the reason for so many of his problems, but I believe in the guy. Kyoko might be their leader, but he'll always be their emotional pillar, and for a reason."

She pulled Sayaka into a quick and reassuring kiss.

"He's strong, you know? He'll pull through because he already went through so much and never considered giving up. Besides, he's got good friends, both here and close to him. So please…" Mukuro's expression morphed into a pleading look. "Don't be so worried, okay? He'll probably have other nightmares, but it's normal after everything that's happened. He'll be fine, Sayaka. I promise you he will."

"A-Are you sure…?" she asked, trying to cling onto something.

"A hundred percent."

Sayaka took a deep breath before a small smile of relief showed on her lips, and she squeezed her girlfriend's soft hands, brushing over her tattoo.

"Thanks, Mukuro. I needed that, really." the pop idol gratefully said. "What would I do without you, right?"

The teasing smile made the soldier adorably giggle as she blushed. "You're welcome, Sayaka. But don't look down on who you are, sweetie. I'm here for you if you need any help because we swore to help each other if we needed to, even before we started dating. I'm just keeping my end of the bargain."

To think that Mukuro was part of the Ultimate Despair when we were still alive… Sayaka mused, smiling at the pet name and thinking back to their shared time as classmates when Mukuro was still on the side of despair. She's changed so much, and I couldn't love her more than I do… Makoto and the others have a strong leader with Kyoko, and we've got the chance of having a strong leader of our own with Mukuro… The two girls held hands as they exited the theater.

The Ultimate Pop Sensation considered herself very lucky, maybe even more now that she was dead. Regaining her memories had been a liberation for her, and while dating the Ultimate Soldier was just blissful, reuniting and getting a chance to start all over again with her boyfriend wasn't so bad either.

Leon…

It wasn't exactly a love triangle in the sense that Mukuro and the baseball star were only friends, but Sayaka had two hands, and she had found lovely people to take both. Nonetheless, as days passed, Leon and Mukuro were becoming really close friends. The three Ultimates lived together, and there wasn't any jealousy between the two over their shared girlfriend.

It was definitely the proof that despair had not beaten them in death, at least: Leon had killed Sayaka, and Mukuro had been partly responsible for their fate, but they were still together, nonetheless, grieving together and standing for their friends who had survived, as one.

And while not everything was perfect, it was certainly good enough that the Ultimate Pop Sensation wouldn't complain any time soon…


"So, what's the news, babe?" Leon asked as the two girls came back home and entered his bedroom. "I had a feeling you had left to check on Makoto earlier. Is he alright?"

"I… guess so, yeah," Sayaka replied, leaving her girlfriend's side for a second to go kiss her boyfriend quickly. "He had a nightmare and thought I was there to make him fall to despair… Fortunately, he heard a voice telling him not to be misled by that me, and he's okay now." she sighed in relief. "Gave me quite the scare, but it's in the past now."

The deceased Ultimate Baseball Star frowned. "Ah. Poor guy… He can't get a minute of rest, literally. Are you alright, babe?"

"Y-Yeah, I am, thanks…" she answered as genuinely as possible. "Still a little shaken up, but I'm okay. I'm not the one who had a nightmare, so I can't complain…"

The two other Ultimates nodded in agreement. The ballplayer, who was still in his pajamas, sat on his bed, gesturing for Mukuro and Sayaka to do the same.

"Do you think he'll be alright, Mukuro?" he asked, noticing she seemed more knowledgeable about this matter. He wrapped a protective arm around his girlfriend's waist. "If he continues to have nightmares even after escaping from Hope's Peak…"

He didn't finish his sentence and didn't need to for the soldier to understand him.

Tough question… The short-haired girl thought. Makoto might be strong and really hopeful, but he's not immune to trauma… Images of the Ultimate Lucky Student's friends' dead bodies flashed through her mind. I'll forever be traumatized at the sight of spears, Sayaka won't be able to use a kitchen knife anytime soon, and the trio of Mondo, Taka, and Chihiro won't be eating butter in a long time, I can imagine… The Killing Game left us all with trauma, even those who survived…

"I understand what you mean, Leon, but there's not much we can do for Makoto right now," Mukuro told him after a sigh, perhaps a little bluntly. "What Sayaka did by reaching out to him is all we can do. The voice he heard was something his mind made up as a self-protection system, but an idealist part of me I didn't even know was there believes that maybe, just maybe, he's able to hear us. The rest is for Makoto and the others to figure out. We're dead, and while we can see them, they cannot see us."

The redhead seemed to disagree with these words but didn't show any animosity. Instead, he just scratched the back of his head, looking for words to help with the mood.

"Well, I believe in Makoto!" Leon exclaimed, feeling some enthusiasm course through his body. "If someone can beat those nightmares, it's definitely him, right?"

"Indeed." the Ultimate Soldier gave a nod of agreement. "After being subjected to so many deaths and so much despair, it makes sense his sleep wouldn't be as peaceful as he would want it to be. My opinion is that they will recede if the world goes back to normal, which could happen now that my sister has been defeated."

At least, she was defeated for now… A chill ran down Mukuro's spine at the thought of her sister having some more tricks up her sleeve. However, she didn't mention it, knowing it would cause unnecessary panic for her the two other Ultimates. I know she had plans, but will they be able to succeed now that she's dead…?

"Yeah, I'm sure the Tragedy will end soon!" Sayaka proclaimed without a doubt, regaining some hope in her blue eyes. "With people like Makoto and Kyoko helping in the fight, this will be over in a heartbeat! And maybe these two will stop fooling around and get together, too!"

"You bet! That's bound to happen, anyway! They can be in denial all they want; we all know the truth!" the baseball player said, playfully laughing with his girlfriend at their friends' expense.

Mukuro cocked her head, deep in thought. As much as I didn't like Kyoko when I was alive… Sayaka raises a good point when she says that her help should help the Future Foundation quite a lot… Memories of her rivalry - her hatred, even - with the Ultimate Detective made Mukuro bit her lip. Things could have been different, and maybe we could have been friends… For now, I hope she'll be able to protect Makoto to the best of her abilities…

"Something on your mind, bestie?" the blue-haired pop idol asked the soldier, seeing her absorbed by her thoughts. "Can a kiss help?" she asked with a teasing smile.

"You know kisses can always help, Sayaka…" Mukuro told her and sighed again, rolling her eyes. "But no, I'm fine, thank you." she smiled.

"Oh, okay." the pop sensation smiled too, intertwining their fingers together and placing a sweet and chaste kiss on the Ultimate Soldier's lips.

Suddenly, Leon yawned tiredly, making the two girls yawn in turn only a few seconds after.

"I'm gonna go back to sleep, babe, Mukuro…" he told them, rubbing his eyes. "I think you should do the same… And don't worry about me, the two of you can sleep together if you want. You need each other."

"Are you sure, Leon?" Sayaka wondered, yawning again and showing that she hadn't slept all night. "I don't wanna leave either of you alone, you know?"

The Ultimate Baseball Star giggled and gave the young woman a thumbs-up. "Nah, it's okay! We'll sleep together again soon, don't worry. And as long as you have sweet dreams, that's all I care about."

Mukuro smiled at him gratefully, glad that she wouldn't finish her night alone. She had looked for her lover for most of the night and had barely gotten any sleep, so she and Sayaka would probably not be the earliest birds of the group at breakfast later.

"Okay, then." the Ultimate Pop Sensation nodded before jumping in the boy's arm in a lovely embrace. They kissed each other good night (though it wasn't really night anymore) before the girl pulled away. "I love you, Leon. Sleep well."

"Love you too, babe." showing her one of the smiles that made the Ultimate Baseball Star who he was; the boy waved at the two girls on their way out. "Just don't be too loud in there, okay?"

Mukuro blushed instantly at that remark while Sayaka simply chuckled, knowing for a fact what these words meant.

The soldier sweatdropped as she and her girlfriend went back to the former's room.

I'm too tired for that, and I'm pretty sure Sayaka is too… What an idiot…


Mukuro snuggled close to Sayaka, the soldier spooning with her girlfriend and breathing the delicious scent of her perfume on her neck.

"Love you, Sayaka…" she whispered to the other girl, fiddling with her hair as she liked doing. It was so soft, and she took such good care of it, Mukuro loved giving it slow and comforting strokes. She was admittedly a little jealous of her girlfriend's beauty.

"Love you too, Mukuro…"

The former soldier kissed Sayaka's cheek as she felt her girlfriend slowly drifting to sleep after staying up all night. She wrapped her arms around her, keeping her close.

"Sleep tight, love…" the grey-eyed Ultimate told her softly. "And don't worry, Makoto and the others will be fine… You'll be fine. I'm here for you, okay?"

The deceased band leader tried to nod but fell asleep before she could finish, making the Ultimate Soldier smile in amusement under the sheets.

That's right… I can't exactly know what's going on in Makoto's mind right now, but… I know that he's not planning on giving up anytime soon, even with despair attacking him from within…

Mukuro frowned in worry, an uncomfortable feeling engulfing her as she closed her eyes worriedly. One tortured soul flashed before her eyes, making her regret her actions.

But will you be able to discern the agent of despair hidden as a pillar of hope, Makoto?

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twelve:  A Future to Believe in

"Earth to Makoto Naegi?"

"H-Huh?" the Ultimate Lucky Student rubbed his eyes and noticed Kyoko standing over his bed, her arms crossed over her breasts and her expression disapproving. "K-Kyoko…?"

"Get up! Our meeting begins in five minutes!" the detective exclaimed, tapping her wrist as if she was wearing a watch. "You've got three minutes to splash your face with water and get ready!"

H-Hey, what's with the big rush…?! The boy wondered, scratching his head as he got into a seated position. And right after having that nightmare, too… Seeing Kyoko glaring at him, Makoto muttered, "Y-Yes, ma'am!"

The lavender-haired girl rolled her eyes - not really mad - before leaving him alone and exiting the room. The Luckster finally got up and noticed the six beds were empty: his friends were already out and waiting for him. He decided not to make them wait for too long and headed for the kitchen where he had seen a sink.

He wouldn't get the shower he was dreaming of, but it would have to suffice.

So we're about to become members of the Future Foundation… Talk about crazy… He thought as he sprayed some cold water onto his face, waking him up for good. And we'll meet all of its Branch Leaders, too… I wonder what they're all like…

For now, the six survivors of Junko Enoshima's Killing School Life knew three of the organization's Division Heads: the carefree Koichi Kizakura, the cold Kyosuke Munakata, and the wise old man at the head of all this, Kazuo Tengan. He was curious what the others would be all about, though he was sure there would be some… colorful personalities.

The hazel-eyed boy giggled. I suppose there's no other way to know than to find out… I'm admittedly a little nervous but also excited; it's a weird feeling… Like… Knowing that we're given a chance to make things change for the better… it's definitely more than an average guy like me ever could hope for…

Makoto uncrumpled his clothes a bit to look more presentable (it was a professional meeting after all!) before heading out, already more alert than a few minutes ago.

That didn't mean he wouldn't need to think some more about that nightmare that had plagued his night, but one thing at a time. The organization he was about to become a member of might have had the word "future" in it; he would first have to focus on the present. His actions in the present would shape his future, after all.

"Finally!" Byakuya grumbled as he exited the room, carefully closing the door behind him. "I thought you would never arrive! Your tardiness is unprofessional, Makoto."

"S-Sorry…" the boy said, looking all embarrassed, which made Hiro and Hina giggle. "Had a tough night… I guess I could have used some more sleep…"

"We all could have. Especially without that snoring of yours…" the Ultimate Affluent Progeny coldly retorqued, though he quickly sighed and dropped the subject. "Anyway, these agents have told us to use the elevator to the last floor to attend our meeting."

O-Oh, I guess I was too tired and snored all night… The lucky student gave an apologetic smile. That must have been annoying for them…

"Indeed," Kyoko confirmed with a nod. She gave the Ultimate Lucky Student a curious look, showing that she had something on her mind. "I suggest we get going. I don't specifically care for what Munakata might think of me, but I would rather not be late."

Did… something I just say bother Kyoko…? Makoto wondered as they all nodded in agreement with their appointed leader and walked in the direction of the elevator. She gave me that doubtful look she always has whenever something she's just heard piqued her interest… Making sure to keep his walking steady while thinking, the boy made a choice. Guess I can always ask her what was wrong later after we're done with the meeting…

The Luckster tried not to think about it too much at the moment. He and his friends stepped inside the elevator after the guards had let them enter. Knowing where they had to go, Kyoko took the lead and pushed the button to the last floor.

"I hope this goes well for you guys!" Hina said, crossing her fingers. "Think about little old me who'll have to do this all alone!"

She wasn't genuinely complaining, though it still made Byakuya sigh. "You asked for it, remember? Call it the first part of your so-called challenge. A meeting should not be a difficulty for anyone worthy of being a Togami's friend."

"Oh, so I am Mister Togami's friend now?" the swimmer rhetorically asked with a mocking grin. "Are you sure Byakuya's not been kidnapped? Who are you, imposter?!"

Everyone, save for the Ultimate Affluent Progeny and Toko, giggled or laughed while Byakuya only pushed his glasses up, trying to hide his embarrassment by turning away.

Hina… Makoto sweatdropped as the girl seemed proud of herself - as she always was every time she managed to render the Togami heir speechless. But she's not wrong either… Having to face a council all on her own… That must be intimidating! That's a little selfish, but I'm glad I don't have to be in her shoes!

The boy smiled as he noticed Kyoko leaning against one of the elevator's walls, waiting for its ascent to end. She seemed particularly confident and absolutely not nervous.

Upon noticing him staring at her, the Ultimate Detective narrowed her eyes on him. "What could I possibly have done to earn such scrutiny, Makoto?"

"A-Ah, nothing, Kyoko!" Makoto assured her, waving his hands around. "I was just thinking that you were awfully calm… I know you're not the type to be nervous and all, but still… This is an important meeting!"

Kyoko shook her head. "And I'm starting to realize that you're the type to be too nervous, Makoto," she told him gently, adding, "I don't consider that a flaw, considering where your moral leadership led us. But back to the point, trust me when I say that there's no reason to be nervous at all. Do you want to know why?"

"U-Uh…" I can't really say no, can I…? "S-Sure…"

"We need the Future Foundation to ensure our survival, but the Future Foundation needs us to win the fight against the Tragedy and Junko's forces." the lavender-haired girl stated matter-of-factly, her voice neither going up nor down a tone. "More particularly…" she smiled at him. "I think they need you, Makoto. They need the one called the Ultimate Hope because you're the one who led the fight against Junko."

T-They need me…? Hm… "I-I'm not sure about that…" the lucky student humbly said, blushing at the indirect compliment from his friend. "I-I'm just a random guy… N-Nothing more…"

The detective sighed and turned around as the elevator finally reached the final floor, and the doors opened once again.

"You really need to be more confident, Makoto. If you are just a random guy, as you put it, then we're the lucky ones for getting to meet you, you know…? Though this lack of self-confidence can be endearing, I suppose…"

With that, the girl filed out, with the other Ultimates following closely. The Ultimate Lucky Student didn't have anything to reply to that - even if he thought this was a compliment he didn't deserve.

If someone had told me that Kyoko Kirigiri, of all people, would be the person to find my lack of self-confidence endearing…

They reached the grand doors of the Reunion Room again, with a couple of heavily-armed agents standing guard on both sides.

"Well, I guess this is where we split up, guys!" the Ultimate Swimming Pro told the rest of the group, standing back a couple of feet. "I hope this goes well for you!"

"Thank you, Hina," Kyoko replied, for herself and the four others. "Your kindness is appreciated." she turned towards one of the guards and said, "Could we please enter? We have a meeting scheduled with the council of the Branch Leaders."

The agent wordlessly nodded before opening the door, saluting, and stepping away. It left the entrance clear for the five former students, though the Ultimate Detective turned in their direction before they could go inside.

"Now, I'll handle things with Munakata and Tengan. If you aren't asked to say anything, then I ask that you don't, alright?" she said, though it sounded more like an order than a suggestion. Upon seeing the displeased look on Byakuya's face, the girl added, "I hope everyone can put aside their egos for just this meeting for the greater good… We'll have plenty of time to talk about this later."

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny muttered something under his breath but didn't complain further. Makoto nodded in compliance, knowing it was a safer choice to let the wise Kyoko handle things. On their end, Hiro and Toko were taken aback and knew it wasn't a good idea to object right now.

"Then let's go." Kyoko took a deep breath. "Future Foundation, here we come…"


"I declare that the Great Council is now in session! The Honorable Division Leaders of the Future Foundation might sit!"

G-Geez, talk about formalities… Makoto thought, trying to think of something other than his growing nervousness as Tengan waited for the others to sit before doing the same. The detective had told him not to be nervous, but he couldn't help it.

"Now, this council is here today to finalize the integration process of Mr. Yasuhiro Hagakure, Ms. Kyoko Kirigiri, Mr. Byakuya Togami, Mr. Makoto Naegi, and Ms. Toko Fukawa." the Chairman announced, having full attention from all the leaders. "It should be noted that in the case of Ms. Fukawa, it has been negotiated that she would be granted an internship to prove her worth. Are there any questions so far, or can we move on?"

The Ultimate Lucky Student noticed Munakata organizing his notes but remaining oddly silent. It seemed that, contrary to the day prior, Kazuo was actually the person in control.

"Yeah, you bet I've got a question!" a man objected, his voice filled with a mix of… unfriendly emotions. "Why the hell do we even want to give these shrimps membership?! Isn't this organization meant to be for fighters?! We won't stop the Tragedy with people like this!"

Makoto shivered and noticed Byakuya gritting his teeth on his left, though a gloved hand on his arm stopped him from doing - or saying - anything unwise.

G-Good to know that everyone loves us… Makoto deadpanned, averting his gaze from the man who was glaring at him surprisingly hatefully. W-What have I ever done to that guy…?

"That's enough, Sakakura!" Munakata came out of his silence and reprimanded the other man firmly. That shut him up immediately. "Resume, Chairman Tengan."

Talk about an unexpected ally… The Ultimate Lucky Student thought, and considering the look on their faces, his friends were thinking the same thing. And whoever this guy is, he doesn't like us for some reason… He gulped. T-Talk about reassuring…

"Thank you, Vice-Chairman Munakata," Tengan said, giving a disapproving look to the so-called Sakakura before moving on. "It happens, as I'm sure everyone here knows, that these five young people here are Ultimates from Hope's Peak Academy who have defeated none other than the person who had been tormenting us for far too long now." he turned to Kizakura, who was fiddling with his fedora. "Director Kizakura, please give us a brief summary of events for this council's complete understanding."

"A-Alright!" the blonde said, gathering his papers and speaking up. "S-So, these five were respectively scouted as Class 78th's Ultimate Clairvoyant, Detective, Affluent Progeny, Lucky Student, and Writing Progeny. However, when the Tragedy began, they were forced to take shelter inside Hope's Peak Academy among the leader of the Ultimate Despair and Mastermind of the Tragedy, Junko Enoshima."

The atmosphere in the room tensed at the mention of the Ultimate Fashionista's name, and Makoto could still see her mocking and despair-inducing smile haunting him. Koichi ignored the awkwardness and carried on.

"They were kidnapped by Enoshima and forced to participate in the infamous Killing School Life, which led to her defeat." the former scout explained, becoming more and more professional as his explanation went on. "Still, there were many casualties as eight of the sixteen participants were killed, Enoshima and her twin sister Mukuro Ikusaba notwithstanding. Pretty much ever since their collective escape, these five and their friend Aoi Asahina, the Ultimate Swimming Pro have been under the care of the Future Foundation."

That sums it up pretty well… Makoto realized, and while he was curious about the part about their student life, he knew this wasn't the time.

Koichi concluded. "Thank you, Director Kizakura. This was most informative." Tengan thanked. "Now, the Vice-Chairman and I had a talk with these young people yesterday about the conditions of their integration. We have decided that, should this council vote in favor of their membership, a Fourteenth Branch to the Future Foundation would be opened. I will let the members of this council consult Director Kizakura for the details."

The Chairman got up under the scrutiny of the other members and of the five Ultimates. The Ultimate Lucky Student noticed Kyoko narrowing her eyes, visibly curious as to what was up. Hiro, Toko, and Byakuya were still dead silent.

"Now, Honorable Division Leaders of the Future Foundation, I ask you: in our fight to restore hope over the despair brought upon this world by the Tragedy, do you believe that Yasuhiro Hagakure, Kyoko Kirigiri, Byakuya Togami, Makoto Naegi, and Toko Fukawa would make for valuable allies? If you do, then raise your hands at once!"

W-Woah, no need to shout!

Nine hands went up almost immediately. The Former Ultimate Student Council President gave a young man and the woman almost sitting on his lap a glare, causing them to raise their hands. Reluctantly, Sakakura raised his hand, though it was begrudgingly.

"After a unanimous vote, I declare that Yasuhiro Hagakure, Kyoko Kirigiri, Byakuya Togami, Makoto Naegi, and Toko Fukawa have now become members of the Future Foundation!" the former Headmaster exclaimed, and the hands quickly went down. There was a short round of applause, though only Kizakura and an orange-haired woman clapped, making it awkward.

Makoto looked around and noticed Hiro tapping his shoulder with a smile. He smiled back and noticed Toko and Byakuya looking slightly more pleased than they usually were. On her end, however, Kyoko refused to let even the faintest trace of a smile grace her lips.

I'm happy that, the incident with whoever that was aside, everything went well, but… The boy cocked his head to the side and noticed the Ultimate Detective biting her lip. What's up with Kyoko…? She seems more nervous now that we've become members than she was before! And she was the one who told me not to be nerv-

"Ms. Kyoko Kirigiri!"

A-Aaah! Makoto was startled by Tengan's voice getting him out of his reverie. He heard a couple of Division Heads snickering, which made him feel a little embarrassed. Great time to not pay attention, Naegi…!

"Please step forward." the Chairman added, gesturing towards the lavender-haired girl. She nodded and took a step forward, separating her from her four friends. "As Chairman of the Future Foundation, I have made the choice of naming you as Division Fourteen's Director. However, this decision must be confirmed by the Honorable Division Leaders of the council. Before all, however, I wish to inform you."

I-Inform her…? Makoto echoed in his mind, curious. He noticed Munakata perking up and paying even closer attention. Kizakura, on his end, hid his eyes with his fedora, something which the Luckster took as a bad sign. I have a bad feeling about this…

"Being the Director of a Future Foundation Division is a responsibility only a few can live up to," Kazuo told her, his voice full of wisdom. "You are still young, Ms. Kirigiri, and we all were one day. The youth believe in an ideal of peace and prosperity, naively thinking that hope is easily achieved. However," he paused, getting her full attention. "Should you become Division Director, you must be willing to comply with the Future Foundation's goals and objectives, no matter the cost. Death itself cannot stop you from fighting for hope against the forces of despair. And should you one day make the decision, or let someone make the decision, of pursuing the path of despair…"

He trailed off, looking at all the Branch Leaders around the room individually.

"Then only death can be a fitting punishment. Traitors will be considered enemies of the Future Foundation and be executed. Now, knowing this… do you wish to apply for the position of Division Fourteenth's Director, Ms. Kirigiri?"

E-Execution…?! Makoto's eyes widened in shock, and he had to put his hand over his mouth to muffle the gasp that threatened to escape him. B-But… t-these were Junko's methods! The sound of the hydraulic press echoed through his mind. N-No, keep your calm, Makoto… They just say that because of protocol… B-Besides, we aren't going to betray anyone, so there's no need to worry…

"I do, Chairman Tengan." the purple-eyed detective simply answered, nodding.

Kazuo nodded in return. "Very well, then! Honorable Division Leaders of the Future Foundation, I ask you: in our fight to restore hope over the despair brought upon this world by the Tragedy, do you believe that Kyoko Kirigiri would make for a suitable leader for Division Fourteen of our good organization? If you do, then raise your hands at once!"

The Luckster noticed Kyoko tense suddenly. He looked to his left, then to his right, then at his friend.

P-Please… Kyoko is the best leader we could hope for!

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirteen:  Taking the Lead

Kyoko sighed in relief when all twelve hands went up. It didn't seem like everyone in the room cared, but the result was what mattered the most to the Ultimate Detective. She knew that not everyone would like her or her friends, but she decided to be diplomatic about it: she'd just avoid them as much as possible.

"After a unanimous vote, I declare that Kyoko Kirigiri is now the leader of Division Fourteen!" Tengan announced to the council. "And this puts an end to this session. You are free to go back to your Division Headquarters or to stay here to get acquainted with our new colleagues."

Kyoko turned around and walked back over to her friends, notably Makoto smiling at her.

"Congratulations, Kyoko!" he cheered, genuinely happy for her. He then grinned, adding, "Or should I say… Boss Kirigiri?"

Makoto… The newly-elected leader rolled her eyes and giggled. "Thank you, Makoto. You do not need to call me anything other than Kyoko, though. At least, while we're in private. I suppose this is something we'll need to address once we officially begin our work."

"Yeah, I'm not so good with formalities anyway, haha." the Ultimate Lucky Student laughed, making the girl sweatdrop. "But I'm really happy for you! I know you'll make for an amazing leader!"

The boy's trust made her smile. "I will do my best." she simply and humbly said. His support is more than appreciated… If there's someone whose approval I care for… it's Makoto's. "Whether or not I succeed will honestly depend on the group as a whole, rather than just me."

"Hm? Why do you say that, Kyoko?" Makoto wondered, cocking his head to the side. "I mean, among the five of us, you're the most athletic, intelligent, and experienced. I'll probably only be holding you back, really!"

She let out an audible sigh of disagreement. "My first order as the leader of our division will be for you to stop putting yourself down so much at all times, Makoto Naegi." she reprehended, giving him a disapproving glare. "You obviously have your immature side, but I know well by now that you are as intellectually gifted and as deductive as I am. Of course, you're still naively trusting and sometimes way too dense for your own good, but these are flaws that define you." she patted him on the shoulder. "If everyone could be like you, Makoto, I'd be more than satisfied."

The Luckster's cheeks reddened at the praise. "T-Thanks, Kyoko…" he muttered.

"Are you two quite done? It is unfitting of someone of your rank to court your own employee, boss."

*sigh* He's going to be a pain… Turning around, the detective girl stared at the smirking Ultimate Affluent Progeny in front of her. "I'm not going to stand that attitude for very long, Byakuya. Either you change it, or I'll make you change it. One thing in everything you said was true, and it's the fact that I'm now your boss. Keep that in mind."

The Togami heir gave a chuckle, visibly not so impressed. "Very well, then. You have my sincerest apologies, oh-esteemed-leader Kyoko Kirigiri." he bowed in an overexaggerated fashion in front of her. Before long, however, he regained his serious expression. "But rest assured that I won't let anyone in this division outmatch the quality of my work. The dignity of the Togami name is at stake, and I won't let it be tainted with incompetence."

"Hey, take it easy, Byakuya!" Makoto told him. "We're in this together, remember? I'm sure Kyoko appreciates your enthusiasm to do all the work, but you don't have to do that. I'm sure your family would be very proud just to know that you can take part in all of this."

"Wise words." Kyoko concurred. I'll need this Makoto, moving forward… I don't know what Munakata will ask us to do, but I'm pretty sure that whatever it is, he can help by being himself around the others… "I'm not a fool, Byakuya, and am very well aware that you are not an idiot. And this is why I'll be counting on you."

The blonde boy nodded. "Very well. You will not be disappointed."

"Good." Having Byakuya with us is an asset, whatever my opinion of him is. She mused, adopting her thinking pose. Considering that Toko won't be a fully-fledged member and that Hina will join another division, it leaves me with…

"Hey, guys! How's it going? Not nervous anymore, eh?"

Hiro… What am I going to do with him…? Kyoko wondered, defeated. I already have regrets, and I haven't even worked with him for a day…

"Ah, Hiro! I-I'm a little less nervous now, yeah…" the lucky student admitted, not without some embarrassment. "I thought something would go wrong, but I guess it didn't…"

"Of course it didn't: I had predicted it!" the clairvoyant told him, proud of himself. "And you know how accurate my predictions are, don't you?"

"Yes, yes, we do know that you are an absolute idiot; no need to remind us." Byakuya bluntly stated, not hiding his frustration. He shared a look of mental exhaustion with their leader. "I've known commoners, but I have to admit that your stupidity is not common!"

"H-Hey, that's really mean, Byakuya man!" Hiro complained, his shoulders slumping. "Hey, it's possible that I'm actually a genius and that you're the idiots! Have you ever thought about that?"

"I-If y-you're a genius, t-then we're not g-going to save the w-world any time s-soon…!" Toko chipped in and mocked, looking at the fortune-teller with a look of superiority. That was saying something.

Kyoko nodded. "You haven't shown us any proof that might point to the possibility of you being a genius, so I'm more inclined to believe that you are an idiot."

"An absolute idiot, might I add." the Ultimate Affluent Progeny said while pushing up his glasses. "Not even Makoto could defend such idiocy."

"H-Hey, don't bring me into this!" Makoto requested, taken aback. "Hiro might be far from being a genius, but I still trust him! Being an idiot doesn't mean you can't be a good human being!"

"Y-Yeah, you tell them Mako- HEY!"

They all, save for Hiro, shared a laugh at their friend's expense as he realized that Makoto's compliment might not have only been a compliment.

"Roh, you all suck!" he told them and pouted, though it was evident he wasn't genuinely mad.

Well, mocking him won't make him any more intelligent, though I hope he'll be able to figure it out, or else he might actually hold everyone back… The purple-eyed detective mused, watching her former classmates chat among themselves from a couple of feet away. And then there's Toko… I think she wants to impress Byakuya, so even as an intern, I think she'll have her role to play in this. Let's just hope she can keep Genocide Jack in check… for her sake.

Kyoko looked at her five friends… and now employees. It was strange to think of them this way, and the Ultimate Detective knew it would take her time to get used to it. Especially for Makoto, honestly. Whether she wanted it or not, she had grown fond of the boy, and she hoped that their new boss/employee relationship wouldn't harm their friendship.

But someone has to take the lead… And all things considered, I think it's up to me to do it. That's what Grandfather would have wanted me to do… That's what *she* would have wanted me to do…


"Hiya, Director Kirigiri!"

Kyoko rolled her eyes as she heard Kizakura's loud voice from behind her. Might as well get this over with quickly… She thought, walking away from the group and over to the former scout.

"What do you need, Kizakura?"

"Well, nothing much; just thought I'd come to chat a bit with my new best colleague!" he told her and took a sip of his little bottle. "Want a drink?"

The detective looked at him severely. "I don't drink. Besides, I'm underage. You should know that."

He scratched his head, waiting for Kyoko's glare to soften. "I guess I should, yeah, since I was a scout and all… Though, you know, laws don't really apply anymore. You'd have a hard time finding a cop to arrest you for underage drinking."

"And that's supposed to be an excuse…?" Is he trying to test me or something…? Kizakura shrugged. "I'd rather not have my thinking process influenced by anything other than rationality, thank you very much."

"Well, your loss!" the man told her and took another sip. "Your old man wouldn't have missed the chance, believe me!" he laughed.

My father… "Actually, would you mind telling me some more about him? My father, I mean."

Koichi smiled and put the bottle back in his inside pocket. "Sure. Whaddaya want to know?"

"Everything" might be asking for too much, but… "As much as you can recall about our relationship together before the Tragedy." Kyoko requested, walking a bit further from anyone else in the room. This was something she would rather keep between herself and her father's friend.

"Alright…" focusing deeper than she thought possible, Kizakura puffed his cheeks, telling the girl, "There's a lot to unpack, though."

"That's fine," Kyoko assured him. Even if this sheer fact surprises me… What the heck does "a lot" mean in this case? She looked around the room and noticed Makoto now speaking with Munakata. "I have time, so feel free to go into details."

Kizakura took a deep breath. "Well… Not everything was all fun and games, y'know?"

"I can imagine."

"Y-Yeah, like… You came to your father's office on your first day at Hope's Peak, and uh…" he paused. "How do I put this…"

"Spit it out!" she ordered, growing frustrated by his repeated hesitations. I swear he can be annoying too!

"Well, you kinda snapped at him and made him cry." Kizakura finally managed to say. "Not a pretty sight to see, believe me."

Kyoko's eyes widened in surprise. "I… didn't expect that…" That's an understatement… "He… cried?"

"You bet he did! You did tell him a lot of mean stuff, after all." the man argued, trying to be as reasonable as he could. "Things like how he was a failure of a father or how you never wanted to talk to him anymore."

That does sound like something I could have told him… Kyoko realized and felt the slightest bit of guilt. I probably would not have worded it like this if I had been given another chance, but does that mean I wouldn't have thought the same way…? I was only sixteen and not as mature as I am today, after all…

"Then… You paid visits to the Headmaster's Office for your investigations, but the atmosphere was rather… tense." Koichi tugged on his fedora, obscuring his eyes. "Can't say this was only fun, not gonna lie."

What were you doing in my father's office 24/7 in the first place is what I'd like to know… Kyoko thought, giving the man a suspicious glance. "Do go on."

"A-Ah, um…" suddenly, uncertainty invaded the former Talent Scout's voice. "I-I'm not sure the rest is wise for me to say…"

"I'll be the judge of that." What could he possibly want to hide from me…? Seeing he wouldn't talk, she gave him her Kirigiri stare. "Talk now."

"H-Hey, no need to look at me like that!" waving his hands around, Kizakura stuttered, "G-Geez, it's for your own good, you know!"

"As I said, I'll be the judge of that."

"F-Fine, then… You had a fight." he gave her a few seconds to process that, and seeing she didn't understand the meaning of his words, he added, "A big fight. Your Grandfather was involved, too, and you guys argued until you broke down crying."

"I… I broke down crying, you say…?" the detective echoed. "That's… most surprising… And you say that my Grandfather was involved…?" Why would he get involved with this if I had already cut all ties with my father, though?

"Yeah, he most definitely did. Threw a couple of insults here and there, too." Kizakura explained, going back to his drink. "Took me by surprise; that he did. I didn't know the old geezer had it in him, to be honest."

There must be something he's not telling me… Grandfather wouldn't have had a reason to act like this, and it's not in his nature, either… He always taught me to keep my calm at all times, so for him to break his own rules… it must have been a heated argument…

"Anything else I should know?" she asked. Kyoko wouldn't have been surprised if there was still more.

"Not for now."

"Not for now?"

"You heard me right."

"Elaborate."

"Not yet, Kyoko," he told her, putting on a severe expression. "I'd prefer it if this was something you recalled yourself. I'm not sure you would believe me if I told you, anyway."

"Tell me, Kizakura. I'm not interested in playing mind games right now." the detective ordered, matching his expression with her cold glare. "Is it about my father?"

Koichi sighed. "Look, I don't know much of what happened after you were sheltered, so I don't know if you and your old man ever reunited, actually. But it's not about your father; that's all you need to know."

Why won't he tell me…? Kyoko wondered, narrowing her eyes on the man. "Haven't you considered that these are my memories and that I have every right to know about them?"

"I know that Kyoko, I do." he sighed. "But that's not something you need to learn from me. You'd hate me if I was the one to tell it to you. And since I'm pretty much the only one who knows, this means you'll have to wait until you regain your memories to remember. I'm sure the boss will find a way to help you with that."

"Don't change the subject," she instructed, her stare not leaving him. The blonde gulped. "I cannot understand a word of what you're saying, but if I realize you were only talking nonsense…"

She didn't finish the threat, leaving her new colleague to imagine what she could have meant. Kizakura simply chuckled.

"Hey, I really don't know why you're getting so worked up over this, y'know? It's not even anything sad, or that will hurt you! It could have been, but it's not!" he assured her, showing a small smile with the hope that it would make her just a little less mad. "And I honestly think it would overwhelm you if I told you that now, Kyoko. It's for your own good. Please don't be mad at good old Koichi…"

The Ultimate Detective rolled her eyes and let out a long sigh. What wouldn't I give to know what's happening in this idiotic brain of his… "Fine." He says it's not something that'll hurt me, but that doesn't give me many clues… What could I have done during my student years that would warrant such care while not being saddening? "I might have other questions in the next few days, though."

"And I'll do my best to answer them. As long as it's not about anything that has begun after the Tragedy, I should know a couple of things about it."

"Good. Then I'll leave you to your work." Kyoko turned her back to him and muttered, "If you have any, that is…"

With one more mystery to solve and a new professional role to embrace, the Ultimate Detective walked out of the room, leaving her friends to chat with the other Division Heads.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Fourteen:  White and Orange

Makoto sighed as another pointless argument began between Byakuya and Hiro, with Toko fangirling over the Ultimate Affluent Progeny as she always did. He did not want to be a part of it and realized it was probably wiser to simply give them some space until they were done.

This way, he could perhaps begin to socialize with some of the other Division Directors around the room. He deemed it necessary, even if he was aware that it wouldn't be as easy as he would want it to be with everyone.

"Makoto Naegi. Could I take a minute of your time?"

The Ultimate Lucky Student turned around and noticed Munakata's tall figure close to him. Makoto managed a small smile, trying to act as friendly as he could around the Vice-Chairman.

"A-Ah, good morning, Vice-Chairman Munakata…" he greeted and bowed. "G-Good to see you."

"Likewise," Munakata simply replied politely. "You have my congratulations for joining the Future Foundation. I can only hope that you and your friends will prove useful in the war against despair."

"T-Thank you, sir…" I didn't expect congratulations from Vice-Chairman Munakata, to be entirely honest… Makoto thought but made sure to keep his lips sealed. "I will do my best to help, whatever this will amount to."

Kyosuke gave him a less unfriendly look than he did the day before. "Is that so? You may want to wait until you've actually seen the extent of the work that has to be done before you make empty promises. Well, it doesn't matter. Just know that there will be no favors, even for the so-called Ultimate Hope."

There was a moment of silence for a little bit after that. Makoto wasn't sure if he was even supposed to say anything or not. The semi-inquisitive stare he received from the white-haired man didn't help either. He scratched the back of his head, trying to play it cool, even if he was nervous.

What do I even say to that…? It's not like I asked for the title… He looked around the room and spotted Kyoko chatting with Kizakura in the background. I hate to say it, but on this occasion, I would have been better off without the nickname Kyoko!

"W-Well, I don't ask any favors, sir…" Makoto stuttered. "I k-know I'm a pretty average guy, whatever happened at Hope's Peak, so… all I can do is count on my above-average optimism and hope it can help. I don't care about being called the Ultimate anything as long as the Tragedy can end, Vice-Chairman…"

"I'm afraid we'll need more than your optimism to turn the tide in our favor, Naegi," Munakata told him quite coldly before his tone became less accusing. "Enoshima's forces have brought us to nothing short of a total war, which can only have one winner. You won't be able to ask them to believe in hope. However, the Future Foundation is grateful to you for removing Enoshima. This was long overdue."

"A-Ah, um…" I… I'm sure that even if she committed some horrors, Junko didn't have to execute herself, though there's nothing I can do about that now… The Luckster thought. "N-No problem…"

"Hey, boys! Having a friendly chat, are we?"

Munakata turned around and shook his head as an orange-haired woman approaching them, smiling sweetly with her hands behind her back.

"Naegi and I were just talking about the work he'll have to do as a Future Foundation member. Nothing you need to concern yourself with," the man explained to her. He turned to Makoto and gestured to the young woman. "Naegi, this is Chisa Yukizome, Former Ultimate Housekeeper and Division Five's Director, specialized in intelligence, inquiry, and counter-espionage. Yukizome, this is Makoto Naegi, as I'm sure you're well aware."

"Nice to meet you, young rotten orange!" Chisa greeted and extended her hand towards Makoto, who shook it hesitantly. "Well, to meet you again would be a better way to put it since I'm pretty sure I've already seen you at Hope's Peak. Kyosuke has told me good things about you!"

Munakata has said good things about me…? That was unexpected… And who calls people they've just met "rotten oranges…?" Makoto thought, struggling to hide his surprise. "W-Well, I don't have my memories of my time at Hope's Peak, but I'm glad to meet you too, Ms. Yukizome."

"Call me Chisa, Makoto!" she asked, giggling. "Kyosuke won't ever call me by my first name, but maybe you will!"

Munakata sighed. "Will you drop this one day, Yukizome…?"

"O-Oh, I couldn't, Ms. Yukizome…" the lucky student stuttered. "Y-You're older than me, and we'll be colleagues…"

"Listen to the boy, Yukizome," the Former Ultimate Student Council President advised. "Your dedication to working has and will always be appreciated, but you cannot address another colleague so casually."

Chisa pouted and stared disapprovingly at Munakata. A faint trace of a smile appeared on his lips, though it was quickly hidden. Chisa giggled again.

"Excuse him, Makoto," she told the Ultimate Lucky Student. "He's super serious all the time, and that's why he's an inspiration for many people in the Future Foundation. If you follow his orders, you know we'll stop the Tragedy soon, for sure!"

"T-That's good to know…" Considering the look on his face, Munakata's a little annoyed by the praise… In fact, the Vice-Chairman was tapping his foot on the floor, giving his colleague a look that suggested she stopped quickly. Still, Makoto smiled. I wouldn't be surprised if they happened to be closer than just colleagues… It seems Ms. Yukizome's found a way to break through Munakata's barriers, which is kinda cute…

"Can I know what's making you smile like this, Naegi?" Munakata asked, turning his stare from Chisa to the Luckster in an instant. Makoto gulped. "Whatever. I have work to do. I'll talk to you later, Yukizome. Good day, Naegi."

"Alrighty!" the girl cheered, smiling at the man as he walked away. "Don't be fooled by his cold demeanor: Kyosuke's really got a sweeter side he doesn't show when he's working. He's been like that for as far as I can remember! Thick-headed, too!"

Makes me think of someone… The Luckster thought with a smirk. "S-So you've known Vice-Chairman Munakata for a long time then, Ms. Yukizome?" Makoto asked, his curiosity aroused.

"Indeed, rotten orange! Ever since we were classmates at Hope's Peak Academy!" Chisa explained, then added, "He changed since the Tragedy began, but who didn't, honestly? I'm sure I did, too, you know…?"

That would make sense… The boy missed the quiet laugh from Chisa and let her carry on.

"After graduating, I became a teacher at Hope's Peak, but that's in the past now," she said with a pained look on her face that quickly disappeared. "And now I do my best to help fight the Tragedy with Kyosuke and all the others. As he said earlier, my division is specialized in intelligence and counter-espionage," Chisa grinned. "You wouldn't believe how good of a spy I can be!"

"I-I don't doubt your abilities, Ms. Yukizome…" Makoto sweatdropped, overwhelmed by the young woman's sudden enthusiasm. I'd make for a terrible spy…

"I hope you don't, young rotten orange!" she giggled for the umpteenth time. "But enough about little old me! Let's talk about you, young man! So, I've heard that you defeated the almighty Junko Enoshima? Well done!"

"W-Well, I didn't do it on my own…" Makoto blushed at the compliment but tried to keep face. "Without my friends' help, we never would have done it, honestly… And well, all I did was keep the faith and continue to hope even when it seemed futile, and pretty much anyone could have done that…"

Chisa smiled and ruffled Makoto's hair playfully. "I think you're being harsh with yourself, rotten orange! No need to be so humble! You know, you've even impressed Kyosuke, and that's saying something! As the Killing Game progressed, he couldn't stop saying that your determination was a powerful weapon that could help you defeat the big bad meanie. He wasn't wrong!"

"V-Vice-Chairman Munakata said this… a-about me…?" Now I'm officially shocked… The boy mused, his eyes widening as he fiddled with his hoodie. Chisa nodded. "I… I didn't expect that…"

"Well, he'll never admit it because he's a man and men have their egos, but I know Kyosuke has respect for you," Chisa told Makoto. "Knowing him, he probably thinks that you're way too naïve and trusting for your own good, but you've more than piqued his interest, at least. I think you'll learn to like him, just like I did. He was suited for the job, and he knows who to associate himself with. Just don't double-cross him, and you'll be fine, really!"

"U-Um… I-I didn't intend to…" Who does she think I am?! Some kind of backstabber…? The boy sweatdropped at the implication. I don't think I have the face of a traitor! Though Munakata does seem like the kind of guy to kill you if you double-crossed him… But for her to say that… does it mean it's already happened before…?

Keeping his questions to himself - mostly because he knew Chisa wouldn't tell him the answer even if he asked - Makoto went silent. Luckily, the Former Ultimate Housekeeper still had things to say.

"I had a question for you if you don't mind me asking…" she said sweetly.

"A-Ah, no… Go ahead…"

"Well, we've all seen the Killing Game, and we've all seen you and the rotten orange detective get closer and closer…" Chisa's smile turned into a teasing smirk. "So… do you like her?"

"H-Hey, that's none of your business, Ms. Yukizome!" Makoto protested but couldn't hide the discrete blush that tainted his cheeks pink. Chisa's knowing smirk only grew wider. "B-Besides, I-I'm sure Vice-Chairman Munakata wouldn't want us to talk about that…!"

She pinched the bridge of her nose, saying, "You're not wrong… I dunno if Kyosuke's told you that, but the Future Foundation doesn't actually allow romantic relationships, which honestly sucks! And guess what?" she pouted. "Kyosuke's the one who implemented the rule! Well, almost no one respects it, so it doesn't really matter, but you get my point."

Makoto's eyes widened in surprise as he learned that. Kyoko had understood the motives behind such a rule when Munakata had told her about it, but the Ultimate Lucky Student was more conflicted. To him, it was sad that those who were supposed to be the symbols of hope couldn't show their shared love with their special someone(s). Still, he did understand that the time wasn't for hugs and kisses, but…

Ah, well, it wouldn't change a thing for him, anyway.

"I see," he nodded. Ms. Yukizome doesn't seem to like the rule… Makoto grinned. Makes me wonder why… "Thank you for telling me anyway, Ms. Yukizome."

"No need to thank me, Makoto," Chisa said. "Well, I have to go back to my Division's HQ to finish my work, so I'll leave you alone, young rotten orange! I'm happy we could chat a bit, though! Bye!"

"A-Ah, um, have a nice day, M-Ms. Yukizome…" Makoto bowed as the Division Director turned away, her ponytail almost hitting him from behind as she did so. Jeez, she's quite a character… She's kind, though. And she did tell me some pretty intriguing things, especially all that talk about having Munakata's respect… He certainly didn't show it much…

Shrugging, Makoto looked ahead and noticed Byakuya and Hiro still bickering. He looked for Kyoko but noticed she wasn't in the room anymore. Just as he began to ponder what his next move was, he heard a mocking voice behind him.

"Ha, long time no see, Makoto Naegi!"

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Fifteen:  Forging Sweets and Medications

"Ha, long time no see, Makoto Naegi!"

"H-Huh? W-Who…?"

Makoto turned around and noticed a short girl with short pink hair, wearing an outfit that showed too much of her legs to be professional. At her side was a blond boy, almost as tall as Byakuya or Munakata were, with an austere expression. Makoto immediately noticed the long blade he kept sheathed at his waist.

"H-Hm…" the Ultimate Lucky Student scratched the back of his head. "H-Hello…?"

"Yeah, good morning!" the girl exclaimed, a smirk on her lips. "It's been a while, you know! I'm laughing just thinking of it!"

The boy next to her smiled a bit though it wasn't directed at Makoto directly.

"I… I take it we've met at Hope's Peak, Miss…?" the Luckster asked, a little taken aback by the evident mockery the girl was displaying. Just how many people have I forgotten…? And whatever I forgot about this person, it's making her laugh way too much for it to be good for me…

The girl snickered mockingly. "Well, not really, but close enough. My name's Ruruka Ando, Former Ultimate Confectionner and Director for Division Eight, and this is my boyfriend Sonosuke Izayoi, Former Ultimate Blacksmith and Director for Division Nine," she laughed again. "I didn't expect to see you again, to be honest," just as Makoto was about to speak, she cut him. "Yeah, I know you forgot everything and all. We've been paying some attention, even if it was mostly boring."

So that's common knowledge, apparently… Well, we discussed it during the last trial for the whole world to hear, so that's not so surprising… Makoto thought, recalling the horror he and his friends shared when Junko had announced them that. "Well… I'm glad to meet you, Director Ando, Director Izayoi," he said with a smile back on his face before his eyes lit up in realization. "W-Wait, did you say boyfriend…?"

"Sure did, shorty!" Ruruka said, taking Sonosuke's hand with hers. The nickname made Makoto roll his eyes. Okay, he wasn't exactly tall, but that was just mean. "Yoi is my handsome boyfriend!"

"R-Ruruka…" the boy turned all red at the praise, and Makoto smiled. "Y-You know you shouldn't be saying that so loud…"

This confirmed it for Makoto. So that's what Ms. Yukizome meant when she said that the no-relationship rule wasn't respected in the first place… What's the point of making rules if no one respects them, though…?

"Oh, they can take their rule and shove it up their ass!" the girl exclaimed, making everyone in the room turn in their direction for a second in surprise. "So yeah, there's that. They're lucky we can't go outside safely, or we would have been out of this organization for weeks now!"

"Y-You would…?" Makoto asked, pretty surprised. That was unexpected… "Aren't you Division Directors, though?"

"We are, but that doesn't mean that this organization has any uses," Sonosuke spoke, his voice cold and rather emotionless. "It's led by the same bunch of goal-minded people who have already ruined our dreams, especially Ruruka's. We help them but only because they provide us safety to some extent."

"They've… ruined your dreams…?" the Ultimate Lucky Student echoed. What does that mean; I wonder… And who exactly is he talking about…?

"Yeah. Maybe it wasn't exactly the same people, but to us, they might as well be," the boy added, clenching one fist. "I actually pity you, Naegi. We heard you during the Killing Game, going on and about with how great Hope's Peak Academy was. If only you could remember the time you spent there, I'm sure you wouldn't be saying that."

The blacksmith's voice was full of hostility, and contrary to his girlfriend, he didn't bother to hide it. It made Makoto even more curious. Now that he had escaped Junko's Killing Game, the Luckster realized that there must have been something seriously wrong with Hope's Peak in the first place, but he couldn't even begin to imagine what it was.

He knew the answer was somewhere in his missing memories, but as their name implied, they were missing. The boy would have to wait before he could get any form of lead. Well, he could always ask about it, but he felt like this wasn't going to be a topic anyone would discuss freely with him.

"They needed Ultimates to fight against the girl who put you in that Killing Game," Sonosuke added, giving a more sympathetic look to Makoto. "I'm sure we weren't on their priority list, but we probably were the best they could find. Since then, the Future Foundation has shown nothing but contempt for Ruruka and me, even though we were willing to put the past behind us and move on," he turned around and glared at Tengan. "I don't know who's worse between the old man and Munakata."

Ruruka nodded next to her boyfriend, her expression turning much graver. "Yoi has been making awesome weapons for them ever since we joined, but they haven't even been able to win yet. They aren't worth his talent, and they aren't worth my sweets either!"

"Ah, so you make sweets, Director Ando?" Makoto asked before giggling embarrassedly. "I guess that makes sense since you were the Ultimate Confectionner and all…"

"You're a bright one, aren't you, shorty?" the girl mocked before pulling one candy from her pocket. "Want one?"

"Sure," the boy said and took it with a nod. "Thank you, Director Ando," he put the sweet inside his mouth and moaned in pleasure before swallowing it down. "T-These are great! I have never tasted candies so sweet before!"

"Hey, you're talking to the best confectioner there is, shorty!" Ruruka reminded him, pulling another sweet and feeding it to her boyfriend, who smiled. "Nothing beats my candies, and that's the deal! I know you definitely liked my sweets when I gave you some back then!"

The girl erupted into laughter again, and her boyfriend had trouble hiding his amusement. Makoto wondered what could be so funny about eating candy but decided not to question it. Even if her sweets were tastier than any he had ever eaten before, Ruruka clearly seemed the odd type, and he wasn't sure whether or not trying to understand her was a good idea.

Once again, regaining his memories would solve the mystery - even if this was not a mystery he really cared about if he was being honest with himself.

"Well, I'll leave the two of you alone, Director Ando, Director Iza-"

"W-Wait!" Ruruka exclaimed just before Makoto could leave. "I'll offer you another one for the road since you liked the first one so much!"

"O-Oh, um…" hesitantly, the Ultimate Lucky Student reached forward and took the candy that was extended his way before swallowing it. This one was not as sweet as the first one, but still better than the cheap candy Makoto used to buy at the local bakery in his childhood. "Thank you, Director Ando!" he bowed. "I hope you have a nice day."

"Hehehe… You too, Naegi, you too…" the two Division Directors turned away, but Makoto could still hear the girl's chuckles. "A lovely day, I should say…"

The Ultimate Lucky Student felt a shiver run down his spine for some reason and stood there. It almost sounded like a threat even if he knew Ruruka - a stranger, basically - had no reason to threaten him. None that he knew about, at least.

Well, I guess I should get going… No reason to stay there doing nothing… Makoto thought, scanning the room to decide who he would go talk to next. Suddenly, as he took a step, he felt a sudden pain in his heart which stopped him right in his tracks. "O-Ouch!" he grimaced as the pain lasted for a few seconds. I wonder what that was… I'm still a little too young to have a heart attack, so…

The boy shrugged it off, particularly since it didn't hurt anymore after a short time. However, just as he took another step, he felt his vision blur before everything became blue, and he felt his heart flutter.

Panic began to overtake him as he realized that he couldn't move his legs anymore, though the fear was quickly replaced by another feeling and one that he couldn't control either.

W-What… What is that feeling inside my stomach…? Makoto wondered, feeling appeased. He blinked and saw something, or rather, someone, that he didn't expect to see. S-Sayaka…?!

He rubbed his eyes with a frown, but the deceased Ultimate Pop Sensation was still there. He was kinda freaked out at first, but the pleasant feeling in his chest won him over, and he just relaxed and moaned in pleasure.

S-Sayaka… His thoughts were focused on the pretty blue-haired pop star, and he could see her lovely smile. I… I want to kiss her… I wanna kiss Sayaka and tell her how much I love her… "S-Sayaka~…"

He moaned her name out loud and closed his eyes, almost feeling her at his side, sweetly kissing him.

I-I love you, Sayaka… I want to stare at your pretty face forev-

"Oh no, Mr. Naegi!"

The boy was taken out of his fantasy by a worried feminine voice getting closer and closer to him.

"H-Hold on, Mr. Naegi, I'll help you!" the girl exclaimed, combing through her pockets and taking out a test tube. "D-Drink this!"

"H-Huh…? W-Who are you…?" Makoto asked, feeling all dizzy. "Y-You're not Sayaka… are you…? W-What is that…?"

The grey-haired girl bit her lip before taking a deep breath. She forced Makoto's mouth open and made him drink the contents of the tube by force, sighing in relief when she had managed to empty it entirely.

Quickly, Makoto's body tensed, and he straightened very suddenly. He felt like his head was going to burst before everything came back to normal, and he was back to being okay.

"W-What happened to me…?" he asked, nursing the back of his head. "A-Are you responsible for what happened to me, M-Miss?"

"N-No, I gave you an a-antidote, that's all…" the grey-haired girl said shyly. "I-I wouldn't do t-this to you…"

"S-Sorry, Miss…" Makoto apologized, realizing he had been a little too quick to accuse her. He bowed. "I didn't mean to wrongfully accuse you. My name is Makoto Naegi, by the way. Glad to meet you."

"O-Oh, u-um… my name is Seiko Kimura…" she told him from behind her mask. "I-I am the Leader of Branch Four… A-And I was the Ultimate Pharmacist at Hope's Peak A-Academy before being e-expelled… G-Glad to meet you, too…"

That girl was expelled from Hope's Peak…? Makes me wonder why… Makoto thought, adding another question to the pile of things he was curious about. "You said you gave me an antidote, Director Kimura…? What for?"

"A-Ah, you see…" she paused, looking behind her and sighing in relief. "I-I have known D-Directors Ando and Izayoi f-for a long time, and she once asked me to help her m-make a drugged candy that w-would amplify the f-feelings of love for someone… S-She used it on you, but I k-keep an antidote on me since she h-has already used it before… I-I recognized the symptoms when I saw you and came to help…"

"W-Wait, Director Ando… DRUGGED ME?!" What the hell?! "Y-You can't be serious!"

The surprise on Makoto's face made Seiko take a step back. "N-No, I assure you it's true… I-I'm sure she would admit it herself…"

"Grr…" it wasn't often that Makoto was angry, but he was now. S-She took advantage of my trusting nature to fool me…! And what was the point, anyway…? It's not like she had anything to win in doing this… Shaking his head to clear his mind from the frustration, he smiled at Seiko gratefully. "Thank you, Director Kimura. I don't know what would have happened to me if you had not reacted."

"W-Well, your s-symptoms would have a-aggravated, and you would have fallen unconscious soon after…" Seiko explained, fiddling with the test tube. "I-I'm glad I could help you… B-But, um… y-you'll lose your memory of everything that's happened while you were drugged, too… M-Most often, it's… better this way…"

"Oh…" She isn't wrong, though… I can't remember a thing that's happened ever since I ate that damned candy! "I-I see…" I-I hope I didn't do anything ridiculous under the effects of the drug… And when she mentioned meeting me before the Tragedy… don't tell me she has already pulled the same stunt on me in the past?!

"I-I'll go find V-Vice-Chairman Munakata to r-report this to him…" Seiko said. "H-He asked him I report every i-incident of the kind… G-Goodbye, Mr. Naegi…"

Before Makoto could even say one more word, the pharmacist was gone, leaving the Luckster alone with his emotions.

I… I don't want to hold grudges against anyone, but I can't just ignore that… Makoto realized, taking a deep breath. She drugged me… and if it wasn't for Director Kimura's intervention, I probably would have embarrassed myself… A blush appeared on his cheeks. I-I wonder who I was thinking about under the effects of the drug, though…

The Luckster sighed. He had enough things to worry about already to be thinking about that.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Sixteen:  Growing Seeds of Respect

Just as Makoto was about to turn around, he felt a shadow covering him, prompting his eyes to widen as he looked up and noticed an absolute titan in front of him. He couldn't help but take a step back, seeing a man that looked to be twice as tall as he was and who could probably step on him and crush his body.

"G-Good morning…" Makoto stuttered, shivering in fear. Please don't hurt me, please don't hurt me, please don't hurt me…

"Good morning, Makoto Naegi! I'm so, so glad to meet you!"

The Ultimate Lucky Student immediately frowned. What…? He looked up to meet the man's eyes, suddenly not very impressed anymore. "H-Hm… Likewise…?" What the hell is that voice…? I… didn't expect that not gonna lie…

Indeed, the man in front of him, with skin darker than Hina's, an afro, a goatee, and a build as muscular as Makoto had ever seen… didn't have a voice that really fit with his appearance. He spoke in a soft and cutesy voice, and the Luckster had to admit that it wasn't so intimidating. Perhaps it had been wrong to judge based on looks, though with his weak physique, he preferred to always be careful.

"My name is Daisaku Bandai! I was the Ultimate Farmer at Hope's Peak Academy, and now I am the Director of Division Eleven of the Future Foundation! I produce lots and lots of great food!" the man said, making Makoto a little more comfortable already. "And like the howling wind, the tree stands in the way of nothingness."

"Hm…" Either they've invented new sayings since the start of the Tragedy, or what he just said doesn't make any sense… Makoto thought, clueless as to what this could potentially mean. "S-Sure…?"

"I really hope we can be friends, Makoto!" Daisaku added, showing the Luckster a wide grin. "After all, the lion in the field is just as grand as the rocket in the skies!"

"If you say so…" Makoto rolled his eyes and gave up trying to understand. It appears that Director Bandai likes to make his own sayings up… He noticed the man smile happily. Well, if it makes him happy, then I guess that's good enough of a reason for him to continue. "Well, I can be a glutton sometimes, so I'll be looking forward to eating the food you produce, Director Bandai."

"Really?" Daisaku's eyes shone with excitement all of a sudden. "You really will?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah! Thank you, Makoto!" he took Makoto's hand and shook it up and down, almost lifting the boy at the same time. "You're the best!"

"Y-You're welcome…" Makoto stammered, surprised by so much enthusiasm. At least he doesn't need much to be happy… That's a good trait, especially with the world being how it is… "Well, I'm sure you have a lot of work, so I won't waste your time, Director Bandai."

"Oh, but you aren't wasting my time, Makoto!" Daisaku assured him, still not releasing Makoto's hand. "I'm happy I could speak with the Ultimate Hope! The strawberries of time awaken for those who are the most prepared, after all!"

With one last smile, the farmer walked away and waved at Makoto, leaving the boy to sweatdrop. At least, he had found someone in a good mood and who didn't try to drug him, which was good enough for him…


"Ah, I finally get to cross paths with you, Mr. Naegi! I couldn't be more satisfied!"

"O-Oh, um…" What's up with that mask…? Makoto wondered as a man with a large build and a cow mask of all things shook his hand, almost breaking it in the process. And what's up with shaking people's hands so hard?! They're not made of steel, you know! Keeping that to himself, Makoto managed a smile. "G-Good morning, sir."

"You can call me Great Gozu, Mr. Naegi!" the man said, releasing his hand. "I was the Ultimate Wrestler during my time at Hope's Peak Academy. Now, I stand here as the Director for Division Twelve, specialized in infrastructures, and I am also Chairman Tengan's bodyguard."

The Luckster nodded. "I see. I'm happy to meet you, Great Gozu," Makoto said with a smile. He looked intimidating, but just like Daisaku, it was just his appearance. "I hope we'll get along."

"Oh, I have no doubt that we will, Mr. Naegi!" Gozu told him confidently. "I have the highest respect for my comrades, especially those with a sense of honor like yours. I prayed for your success in your battle against Junko Enoshima, and I am glad that the Future Foundation can have an ally such as you, Mr. Naegi."

"Y-You praise me too much…" the boy said, blushing slightly. "I… I didn't do so much…"

Gozu laughed. "Ah, such modesty! I appreciate that in a comrade, Mr. Naegi!" he placed his hand on one of Makoto's shoulders. "It changes from the likes of Vice-Chairman Munakata, at least!"

Seems like Great Gozu isn't a fan of Munakata's leadership… Makoto thought, coming to an easy conclusion. "W-Well, I insist that anyone could have done what I did with just enough optimism…"

"But you are the one who did it, and you have my immense gratitude for that," the wrestler said genuinely. Makoto could feel it was heartfelt. "Things have mostly been terrible ever since the Tragedy began, but thanks to people like you, I feel like we have a chance now. You are a good man, Makoto Naegi."

The Ultimate Lucky Student smiled, a little embarrassed. "T-Thank you, Great Gozu. That's kind of you to say. I do my best to embrace the hope my friends and me fought for… and if it can help other people too, then I'm glad."

"I also wanted to thank you for being nice to Daisaku," Gozu said, though his mask hid his emotions. "He's a good friend of mine, but other people tend to be mean to him. I could see him smiling at you when you were chatting earlier, so that means you were kind to him. The big guy needs it, so thank you."

"A-Ah, um… no problem… I… admit that Director Bandai intimidated me at first because he could have broken me into pieces, but…" Makoto let out a nervous giggle. "I shouldn't have been so cautious…"

"Well, can't blame you for that. It just takes some time to get used to Daisaku making up his own sayings, but that's it," the man told him in agreement. "I know I can look a little scary too, but I wouldn't hurt a fly! Well, at least not outside of a wrestling fight, that is! Not like that brute Sakakura, Munakata's lapdog. Stay away from him, Mr. Naegi, and tell me if he harasses you. I know he pretty much hates your guts, though no one knows why."

I had figured… The Luckster frowned. Whatever Sakakura's reason for hating him was, Makoto didn't have a single idea of what it could be. Maybe it was related to something that had happened during his student life at Hope's Peak, but he obviously couldn't be sure of that yet. Other than that, the boy had no clue.

"I… I see. I'll keep that in mind, Director Great Gozu," he told him with a firm nod. "It… pains me a little to know that, especially since I don't think I have done anything that could warrant such hate…"

"No, you haven't, Mr. Naegi," Gozu assured him, giving Makoto a thumbs-up. "I wouldn't pay too much attention to what he thinks of you. Besides, I'm sure that Director Kirigiri will be able to defend you just fine against him, should anything happen."

He's not wrong… Kyoko technically has to defend us now that she's the Division's boss… Makoto smiled and rolled his eyes. I'm in good hands.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I will have to take my leave to return to my Division's Headquarters, Mr. Naegi," the Former Ultimate Wrestler said, shaking Makoto's hand once more. "I hope you have a nice day. I wish you and your friends safety."

"T-Thank you, Great Gozu… Have a nice day, too."

The man powerwalked towards the exit. All in all, the wrestler seemed to be a man of honor, and the Ultimate Lucky Student knew he would be an ally in the future, should he ever need one.


I think I introduced myself to everyone, aside from Sakakura… Not that I have any intention to talk with him now that I know that he hates me… Makoto thought, seeing Byakuya, Toko, and Hiro leave the room after finally being done bickering. Guess I should follow them out.

Makoto headed for the exit, yawning and rubbing his eyes. The night had been too short for him, especially after such an eventful day yesterday.

"O-Ouch!" the boy was brought out of his reverie when he felt something hit his legs, stopping him in his tracks. Looking down, he noticed a blue-haired girl in a wheelchair equipped with a screen at the front. "O-Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't see you!" I feel bad now… I had not even paid attention to her before… What a gentleman you are, Makoto…

The girl stopped rolling her wheelchair and looked up, staring at Makoto with unexpressive eyes. After a couple of seconds, the silence became awkward.

"U-Um… Hello…?" Makoto tried, hoping to get a reaction.

Suddenly, the screen lit up, revealing a pink and white creature that looked the most like a rabbit.

"Hello there!" the rabbit said with a cheerful voice. "Oh, I think I know you! You're Makoto Naegi, right?"

U-Uh… Is a digital rabbit talking to me right now…? The Ultimate Lucky Student wondered, sweatdropping. "T-That's right… A-And you are…?"

"My name is Usami! I am the sweetest rabbit you've ever met!" it replied, smiling at Makoto. "I am also Miaya's best friend! Together, we make for a great duo!"

Miaya…? I guess that's this girl's name, then… Makoto figured, nodding. "Happy to meet you, Usami, Miss." I wonder why she's got a digital friend like that, though…

"I can see why through you, Mister Makoto! You're wondering why I need to help Miaya, right?" Usami asked. "Well, Miaya was the Ultimate Therapist at Hope's Peak, and since she's a little shy and can't move around without her wheelchair, we have to work together! Now I help her in her role as Division Seven's Director! We are specialized in dealing with cyber-meanies and curing despair!"

Cyber… meanies…? Makoto sweatdropped again. It's a little strange for a therapist to be so shy… But I doubt she stole her title, so I won't question her abilities… "I see. That's pretty sweet," the Luckster said with a smile.

"Yes, you're right!We were also close friends with your classmate Chihiro Fujisaki! It's… terrible that such a sweet soul had to suffer like that…" Usami added, surprising Makoto. "We worked on many projects together to combine our talents. We created a love test together, for example! But then that meanie Junko caused Chihiro's death! That's a big no-no!"

"U-Um… r-right…" Why does Usami talk like a child…? "I don't remember my time as a student, so I'm not even sure we've ever met, Usami."

"Well…" the rabbit brought one of its paws to its 'chin' in thought. "My memory says that we've never met each other before, but I've heard of you, that's for sure!"

"You… You have…?" I was apparently more famous before the Killing Game than I thought… Makoto mused, giggling.

"Yes! The Detective Miss was the one who told me about you!"

"The Detective Miss…? You mean Kyo-Director Kirigiri?" That'll take time to get used to…

"Indeed! I cannot tell you why because the Vice-Chairman asked us not to say anything about our work before this mean Tragedy, but I remember she was a really kind girl, even if she acted a bit coldly at the start!" the rabbit explained while Miaya was still completely unresponsive.

This girl looks like a robot with how passive she is… The Luckster thought. I can't believe that I'm talking to the digital bicolored rabbit instead of the human girl… "That's very much like her, yeah. She can seem cold at first, but that's her nature, and I think she's better this way."

Usami nodded in understanding. "You're probably right! You are her friend, and the power of friendship is more powerful than any! That's why you were able to defeat this mean girl at Hope's Peak Academy!"

"You're right about that," Makoto told the rabbit (and the girl). "We couldn't have done it if we weren't united. It took us time, but we managed to stand as one against Junko, which allowed us to defeat her in the end. I don't know what I would have done with my friends…"

"You were a great example to many of us here at the Future Foundation, Mister Makoto!" said Usami, smiling and toying with her magic staff. "We don't know what we would have done if you had not given us a new hope! Apart from a few meanies, everyone here trusts you!"

Makoto chuckled before shooting the rabbit a grateful smile. "Thanks, Usami. This sure gives my self-confidence a little boost."

"You're welcome, Mister Makoto! Well, Miaya and I will have to go back to our HQ to see if our wonderful agents are doing well, okay?"

"Ah, okay, sure. I'll talk to you later then, Usami, Miss." I don't even know her last name… Usami didn't tell me…

"Yes! I hope you have a great day, Mister Makoto! I wish you well!"

With this, Miaya and her digital friend rolled away and out of the room. Makoto had now introduced himself to all Division Directors who he knew didn't hate him. He did feel more integrated now than he was an hour before when the meeting was about to start.

Guess I'll go find the others now… Maybe Hina will still be here? I wonder when her meeting is… Since pretty much all the Division Directors left, I'd wager it's this afternoon… Well, let's get going.

Makoto left the room, looking for his new boss and colleagues.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seventeen:  New Home

"I thought we would have to wait for you forever, Makoto."

Makoto entered the hallway and immediately noticed his five friends standing there. Kyoko looked at him with exasperated yet not surprised eyes.

"Sorry… Talking with everyone took more time than I thought it would," Makoto said. "Well, almost everyone, at least." I'll be kind to Director Ando and not say anything… It'll reach Munakata's ears through Director Kimura, anyway…

"I assume you're referring to Sakakura, right?" Byakuya asked. The Ultimate Lucky Student nodded. "This joke of a man seems to have developed a profound hatred for us, and especially for you, Makoto," the Togami heir told him, though it was nothing new. "Even I can't comprehend why."

"Well, no need to waste your time thinking about it," Kyoko told them, crossing her arms over her breasts. "Whatever it is, I doubt he would change his mind just because you understood his reasons. Leave him be. He isn't worth attention."

"Yeah, Kyoko's right, for serious!" Hiro added. Kyoko gave him a slightly disapproving look. "U-Um, I-I meant Director Kirigiri… Geez…"

"Hey, since you're not technically my boss, can I still call you Kyoko, Kyoko?" Hina asked with a sweet smile. "Though Director Kirigiri sounds badass if you want my opinion!"

Kyoko shook her head and sighed. "I think you should rather get ready for your own meeting, Hina," she scolded. "We were five to meet the other Directors, but you'll be alone. That is a different task altogether."

"Don't worry about me!" the swimmer said with enthusiasm. "I'll be just fine! They aren't ready for Aoi Asahina and her determination, believe me!"

"Hmph. Enough talking, Hina," Byakuya coldly told her. "We will not be direct colleagues, but a Togami won't accept failure coming from someone they're acquainted with."

"M-Master is right! W-Wait until t-that good-for-nothing S-Sakakura has insulted you a-and then you'll talk!" Toko exclaimed, looking a bit frightened. She pointed at Hina. "T-Those milk sacks won't h-help you in there!"

"H-Hey, stop talking about my boobs!" Hina ordered. "It's not because yours are flat that you need to be jealous!"

"ENOUGH!" Kyoko exclaimed, giving the two girls a cold glare. "Toko, don't forget that you are an intern. Continue with this behavior, and the only thing you'll earn is being fired and thrown into the outside world," she then turned towards Hina. "Hina, I can't have you argue pointlessly with one of my subordinates like that. The two of you might have your disagreements, but I can't let you influence Toko's work, especially since I don't yet know how productive it will be."

"S-Sorry…" Hina apologized to the lavender-haired girl with a bow. "You're right… This isn't very professional of me. I'll… let you leave while I prepare for my meeting, alright?"

"Okay. Good luck, Hina!" Makoto told her, giving her a confident smile. "You'll crush this, I'm sure of it!"

"Thanks, Makoto," she smiled kindly at him in return. "Please stay safe, everyone. I'll try to talk to you as soon as I can, alright?"

"Very well," Kyoko said, nodding. "Good luck, Hina. We'll talk to you soon. Makoto, Byakuya, Hiro, Toko… let's get going. I met Munakata in the hallway, and he told me there was a helicopter waiting for us outside."

"And do you know where this helicopter is going to take us?" Byakuya asked, pushing up his glasses.

Kyoko began to walk. "To our Headquarters, I'd wager. Division Fourteen's HQ…"

The other four Ultimates followed behind their boss. Makoto felt like a lot had happened ever since he woke up this morning. He doubted this day would be as eventful as the last one had been (defeating another Mastermind of Despair was unlikely to happen again any time soon), but it was more than enough for him, especially with how exhausted he still was.

Division Fourteen… This is just too crazy… Makoto thought, absentmindedly walking towards the elevator with his friends. But I guess I don't need to understand what's happening… I just need to live it and see where it leads us. One thing's for sure: this is the beginning of something new. At least, it can't be worse than what has just ended…


The guards protecting the helicopter saluted as the five now Former Ultimates entered. It was a smaller helicopter than the one that had come to rescue them on the campus of Hope's Peak Academy. Still, it was sized correctly for five persons plus the pilot.

"Director Kirigiri!" said pilot exclaimed, saluting before the lavender-haired girl. "I have been tasked by Vice-Chairman Munakata to bring you to the new Division Fourteen Headquarters in Downtown Tokyo! Please, make yourselves comfortable. We will take off shortly."

"Understood," Kyoko told him, sitting on one of the two couches. The pilot returned to their cabin, leaving the five former classmates on their own. "Now, I think this is a good time for us to go over some things before we reach our HQ."

"You're right," Byakuya said, sitting on the other couch, facing the first one. He sighed when Toko sat next to him. "Organization will be key."

Kyoko nodded. Makoto went to sit on her left with Hiro taking the last remaining spot on this couch. They felt the helicopter leaving solid ground.

"What did you want to tell us about, Kyoko?" Makoto asked curiously.

"Right. The first thing, and while it's just a detail, I believe it is an important one, is about formalities," the Former Ultimate Detective began. "When it is only the five of us, I'm okay with calling each other by first names. We are friends, and our new status won't change that. Still," she empathized. "I insist that you refer to me as Director Kirigiri with the rest of the personnel. And before any of you worry, I do plan on referring to you as Mister and Miss," she chuckled. "It might sound strange for a while, but we'll get used to it."

"That sounds fair," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny said. "Anything else?"

"Yes, actually. This is a much more important point, so I ask you to please pay attention," Kyoko requested, taking a second to wait for the others to listen. "About the other Divisions, and especially, their leaders… Unless we are told otherwise by Munakata or Tengan, they are none of our business."

"What do you mean, Kyoko?" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student wondered. "Aren't we gonna have to work with them, anyway?"

"Maybe we'll have to, yes," she replied. "However, as long as we're not asked to, then we won't. I want us to focus on the work we'll be given first. I can safely bet that Kizakura's Division will be friendly to us, but I can't say for sure for the others."

"Well… I think there are a few that wouldn't be hostile to us, at least," Makoto told her, thinking back to his various chats with the Division Directors. "Maybe they weren't being honest with me, of course, but Director Kimura of Division Four, Director Yukizome of Division Five, Director Gekkogahara of Division Seven, Director Bandai of Division Eleven, and Director Great Gozu of Division Twelve seemed friendly enough."

"I see… Thank you for telling us this, Makoto," said Kyoko, smiling at the boy. "Well, even with this, I think we should mind our own business. Still, if our schedules allow us a few days off from time to time, you're free to visit whoever you want as long as you come back in one piece. You're free to visit Hina, for example."

"Hmph, I doubt even Hiro would have been stupid enough to pay a visit to that scum Sakakura," Byakuya stated, clenching his fist. "To dare call the heir to the Togami Empire, me, Byakuya Togami, a shrimp… A day will come when I'll put him back in his place!"

"Y-Yes…! W-Who's he for insulting my M-Master?!" Toko asked furiously. "I-I was tempted to free h-her so she could deal with him!"

"I understand your frustration, and I do share your dislike of Sakakura, maybe even to a greater degree," Kyoko assured them, her voice full of wisdom. "And this is why, for our sake, I believe we need to limit our interactions with the other Divisions," she then went on to explain, "We are new to the Future Foundation, and I have no doubt that if a conflict was to begin between our Division and another, we would be at a clear disadvantage."

They all seemed to agree with that. With Munakata at the sail, making enemies didn't seem like the way to go, especially so soon. The five Former Ultimates and new colleagues agreed to keep their stance neutral, far from any conflict that might happen. That didn't mean they agreed with everything the Vice-Chairman had said, but it seemed the safest to Kyoko.

After all, they had not joined the Future Foundation to participate in any conflicts. For now, trying to help to fight against the Tragedy was enough.


Makoto looked through the window and noticed thousands of soldiers deployed around a luminous tower. This wasn't a squad: it was an army. The building wasn't as tall as the Central Headquarters tower was, but it reached high into the skies. The boy was pretty sure it wasn't there before he enrolled at Hope's Peak Academy.

"We've just landed, Director Kirigiri," the pilot said, pressing a button and opening the door. "An expert from Division Two will be waiting for you outside to show you around, per Vice-Chairman Munakata's orders."

"Very well," Kyoko nodded, standing up. "Let's get going."

They all followed the Former Ultimate Detective outside the helicopter and noticed it taking off again not even a minute after they were out. And waiting for them was this army. They all saluted at the sight of them, assault rifles across the chest. A red carpet had been deployed from the helicopter's exit to the tower's entry, where a man was waiting for them.

"G-Geez, they really sweat the details…" Hiro stated, visibly really impressed. Makoto couldn't blame him: he was also overwhelmed.

"Indeed… I don't recall the Togami Family having such an army, and it was the most powerful family in the world…" Byakuya said, looking around as he walked. "Quite impressive…"

Are all of these people… under Kyoko's command now…? Makoto wondered, trying not to look too intimidated. Kyoko appeared to be as confident as ever as she walked ahead, leaving her subordinates to follow her. And to say we're only one of fourteen divisions… What does it say about Divisions One or Two, led by Chairman Tengan and Vice-Chairman Munakata…?

Just imagining it caused Makoto's brain to overload, so he focused on following his friends. After a minute of walking, they reached the man waiting for them, who bowed respectfully.

"Director Kirigiri! I have been tasked by Vice-Chairman Munakata to show you around your Headquarters!" he said as a couple of agents opened the front doors. "Please follow me."

"This building is tall…" Makoto muttered as they entered. The main hall looked gigantic, almost as big as the one in the Central HQ. "I can't believe this is our workplace now…"

"This is the main hall," the man told them. "Agents will be there to guide you if you ever need it, but it leads to the elevators and stairs and also to the archives below. Only Director Kirigiri, Mr. Togami, and Mr. Naegi have been granted access by Vice-Chairman Munakata. A magnetic card will be in your offices to enter the archives and other rooms, depending on the rights you've been given."

I wonder what's in the archives… Could there be documents about Hope's Peak…?

"H-Hey, why can't I go to the archives, too?!" Hiro demanded, looking upset.

"I'm sorry, sir, but the Vice-Chairman didn't give me a reason," he explained. "You have my apologies, Mr. Yasuhiro. As for Ms. Fukawa, he explained that interns could not be given the right to access the archives. You also have my apologies, Ms. Fukawa."

Yeah, we all know why Munakata didn't grant him the right to poke through the archives… Makoto thought, sweatdropping. Considering the look on their faces, they all knew the reason. He'd be able to steal them…

"If you do not mind, I would like to lead you to the elevator so we can continue this little tour," the man told them, gesturing to a long corridor that led to an elevator. "There are fifty floors, after all."


"There is the cafeteria which has been set up just for you, save Ms. Fukawa," the Division Two agent told them after the doors opened. "As you saw, it requires a code to enter, which will also be on your desks. You are free to divulge this code to whoever you want. Vice-Chairman Munakata specified that he could not care less."

Toko didn't seem too happy about that but didn't voice her complaints. They had visited a couple of floors already, which were offices, training rooms, dormitories. Right now, they were on the thirty-seventh floor.

"I see. Anything else we should know about this room?" Kyoko asked, looking around the room. It was shiny and well-equipped, far better than where they had eaten at Hope's Peak. "Where do we get our food, for example."

"As for the meals, a team of chefs has been appointed for your Division, Director Kirigiri," he explained. "You are free to fire them at any time, of course, and ask for new ones. Agents from Division Eight may also come to deliver you high-quality food at any time of day or night, should you require it."

Division Eight…? That's Director Ando's Division… Makoto felt a shiver run down his spine at the thought. I think I'll be fine with whatever they usually have… Don't want my food stuffed with drugs…

"Finally, the entire thirteenth floor is a cafeteria for all agents of your Division, and you obviously can eat there if you want."

"Very well," the purple-eyed girl said. "Let's move on."


"This entire floor is dedicated to Special Agents Naegi, Togami, and Hagakure," the man said, opening another door, this time on the forty-sixth floor. "There are the desks I mentioned, some equipment, as well as a game room where you can spend your free time. The agents Director Kirigiri will allocate to the three of you will be working here, also, as well as your secretariats."

I am a… Special Agent…? Makoto giggled. It sounds cool!

"So I get a floor with these two…?" Byakuya asked, sighing. "This is going to be fun…"

"Hey, don't be like that, Byakuya!" Hiro said, slapping him on the back. "I'm sure we can have a great time together with Makoto! Right, Makoto?"

"Sure…" The fact that there's a floor only for the three of us… it kinda makes my head spin… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought. It just seemed too… big for someone like him. And I get staff working for me…? He let out a long sigh. "I'm sure we'll find a way to make this work, Byakuya."

"I recommend you do, yes," Kyoko advised, giving Hiro a disapproving glare. "We are mainly here for work. Lack of seriousness won't be tolerated, Hiro."

The Former Ultimate Clairvoyant sweatdropped, having been rendered speechless.

"There are two offices, so two of you will be working together," the man said. "This is the case for most of the Divisions, so please do not feel discriminated."

"Well, I know a Togami won't be sharing an office with a fool like Hiro any time soon…" the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny muttered. "Or ever, for that matter…"

"You will be free to explore it more thoroughly later, of course. Just please grab the magnetic cards on the table here for now." the improvised tour guide told them, leaving the room. "I hope these offices will be to your convenience, however."

So this is where I'll be working for who knows how long… Man… I don't think I can complain, but this is not what I ever would have imagined… Makoto muffled a laugh as he grabbed a small card with his name imprinted on it. I didn't know what job I would be doing after graduating… I guess I found my answer!

With this, the five former students went back to the elevator.


"This, as you probably figured, is a floor dedicated to Director Kirigiri and her private personnel," the man said, showing them inside. "It is the best-equipped floor in the entire HQ with enough offices for more than a hundred agents. Vice-Chairman Munakata also asked me to tell you, Director, that a secret room had been set up for you. You will find the details attached to an email the Vice-Chairman has sent you on your private computer. Here is your magnetic card, Director Kirigiri," he pointed to a card similar to the one Makoto had found previously.

"A secret room, you say?" Kyoko echoed, looking suspicious, as she pocketed her card. "Do you know what it was set up for?"

"I'm afraid not, Director Kirigiri," he apologized and bowed. "I have just been told to warn you about it. I'm sure Vice-Chairman Munakata explains what it is for in his email."

Geez, Kyoko gets an entire floor… and it's absolutely immense! Makoto thought, his eyes widening as he looked around. There were screens everywhere, offices, folders, tables… He felt dizzy again.

"You better make good use of that floor, Director Kirigiri," Byakuya told the former detective, crossing his arms, almost pouting. "Having such quality equipment… it would be a shame not to use it to its full potential."

"I'll wait until I know what we'll be put in charge of before deciding what I'll make of it," Kyoko said, looking around without much enthusiasm. Makoto wasn't sure if she was keeping it hidden or if she really wasn't enthusiastic. "However, I must say I'm surprised that so much equipment can exist with the world being in such a state."

"Well, Chairman Tengan and Vice-Chairman Munakata have always insisted that the Future Foundation would never win its battle against despair without top of the notch equipment, Director Kirigiri," the man told her. "Anyway, I do hope that everything will be functioning correctly. Vice-Chairman Munakata also insisted that you report any case of the equipment not working to Division Two."

"I'll keep that in mind. Are you going to show us what the top floors are for?" Kyoko wondered. "We are only, if I may say only, on the forty-seventh floor."

"Quite right," the Togami heir nodded in agreement. "You have not mentioned any Reunion Rooms for Director Kirigiri and us Special Agents. One would be needed."

"Good thing you should mention this, Mr. Togami, for the floor just above this one has been designed to hold meetings," the agent explained. "The door is locked and can only be opened with a magnetic key under Director Kirigiri's responsibility. Hence, you'll be able to meet without the fear of being interrupted by a third party."

"And for the two remaining floors…?" Byakuya continued.

"Well, the forty-ninth floor is simply a storage room, with spare equipment. Your magnetic cards can open it without trouble. As for the last floor, I will show you there if you may follow me."


"These are the four apartments that have been prepared for you. Since they were built before it was decided that Ms. Fukawa would be an intern, she does not have one, unfortunately," the man said, giving an apologetic look to Toko. "However, you may reside within one of the dormitories you have visited earlier, of course."

"Yes, put her there," Byakuya immediately suggested. "Before she gets the idea of living with me."

The Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy's shoulders slumped. Byakuya looked disgusted. It appeared that the novelist had already thought about it. Her idea had been shot down even before she could suggest it.

"Well, I'll let Director Kirigiri deal with the formalities later," Munakata's agent told them before opening one door and stepping inside. "This will be Mr. Naegi's apartment. Mr. Naegi's magnetic card will be the only one who can open it again once I close the door again. However, please note that the four apartments are similar apart from the contents of the wardrobe. You are free to customize them at will later, of course."

The five Former Ultimates all looked around the room, especially Makoto. It was at least twice or even three times as big a room as his dorm at Hope's Peak was, and he could feel it. Besides, knowing that he wouldn't have to shower where Sayaka had been killed made him breathe a little easier. He had never been comfortable, even after Monokuma had cleaned it.

I'll definitely have some space in there… The bed looks comfy, the TV screen is larger than the one I had at home… The Luckster smiled without even realizing it. This isn't so bad! For a first apartment, it could have been worse, especially during the Tragedy! Besides, my three neighbors are going to be friends, so that's a plus, too…

"The walls are soundproof if you want to know," the man informed them. "Director Kirigiri's apartment also possesses a special button that will alert the entire building with a loud alarm sound. It will also warn the Central Headquarters, so you can use it in case of danger."

"Understood. Anything else?" Kyoko asked.

"Basic supplies for your respective bathrooms have been provided. Your nightstands contain a flashlight, a cellphone, a spare magnetic key, and u-um…" the man blushed. "A box of… well, I think you understand… However, Vice-Chairman Munakata has asked me to emphasize that romantic relationships were forbidden within the Future Foundation. Perhaps these won't ever be used."

I guess we're all better safe than sorry, though I don't plan to invite anyone in my bed any time soon… Makoto thought.

"I… didn't know that," Byakuya admitted, referring to the part about relationships. "Did you?"

"I've been told, and I wanted to mention it but didn't get the chance," Kyoko told him.

"Director Yukizome told me, too," Makoto added.

Byakuya nodded. "I see. Well, the Togami heir won't be so easily captured by a woman's attempts at charm, especially if that woman's name is Toko Fukawa."

"Ouch…" both Makoto and Hiro grimaced as Toko looked down to the floor in shame. That was cold…

"If I may have your attention for a few more seconds?" the man asked. He waited until he had everyone's attention again before continuing. "You should know what aside from your apartments, Chairman Tengan and Vice-Chairman Munakata can also use their own magnetic cards to enter any room in this building if they ever need to."

"And what for, exactly?" Kyoko quickly asked, clearly suspicious.

"I do not know, Director Kirigiri. These are just the words I've been ordered to convey to you."

There were a couple of silent seconds during which Kyoko seemed deep in thought. Makoto could see that she didn't appreciate this much, but they all knew that they had to play by the rules the two leaders had created. They didn't really have a say in all this.

"Well, I will leave you alone for now. I hope the visit allowed you to understand the finest workings of this building a little better."

"It did, thank you," the Former Ultimate Detective told him. "You are dismissed. If you see Vice-Chairman Munakata soon, tell him that I will be calling him as soon as possible."

"Very well, Director," the man saluted. "I hope you have a nice day."

With this, the man left Makoto's new apartment, leaving the five former classmates all alone. Suddenly, Makoto yawned loudly, feeling all of his exhaustion crashing on him at once.

"It seems you're tired, Makoto, so perhaps it would be best for all of us to split to our own apartments for now and settle in," Kyoko suggested before turning to Toko. "We'll go find you a suitable dorm room on the lower floors so you have a place you can settle in."

"O-Okay…" Toko stuttered and nodded.

"Well, I will be taking my leave, too," Byakuya told them, heading for the door. "Come knock when you need us to start working, Kyoko. As a Togami, slacking would be unacceptable."

"This was my intention," the lavender-haired girl assured him. "We'll most likely begin tomorrow, though. We all need more rest than we got last night, and I have some questions to ask Munakata before we begin. Still, please be ready at any moment, alright? We can have dinner together later at the cafeteria the agent mentioned if you wish."

A collective nod seemed to satisfy her.

"Alright, then. Toko and I will get going, too," Kyoko said, following Byakuya out with the writer in tow.

"Well, I've got some predictions to do, so I won't bother you, man," Hiro told Makoto, stretching. "For serious, I'm exhausted! I hope my predictions won't be all messed up because of that!"

Your predictions were messed up before that, Hiro… The Luckster thought, rolling his eyes. Still, he smiled at the fortune-teller. "Sure. I'll see you later, then."

When Hiro was out of the room, Makoto sighed and closed the door, hearing the lock close automatically. He chuckled. Guess I won't have to worry about leaving it open…

He literally jumped on the bed and rested there for a couple of minutes, staring at the white ceiling. There was no backing down now. This was the start of a new life for him, and this was the new place he had to call home, at the very top of one of the highest towers in a nearly destroyed Tokyo.

It was just so unreal. Everything seemed so unreal, but it was all the truth. Makoto preferred to close his eyes for now.

A few hours of sleep in this new home couldn't do him more harm than good.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eighteen:  The Birth of Division Fourteen

Makoto looked at himself in the mirror and found himself smiling like an idiot. The black suit fit him to a T, and the color of his tie matched the color of his eyes perfectly. He had his Future Foundation pin attached just above his breast pocket.

For his first time wearing such professional and formal clothing, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought he looked pretty good! It definitely changed from his hoodie, which had been carefully folded and stored inside his wardrobe.

The night had allowed Makoto to rest, and he now felt a little better, both physically and mentally. He didn't know whether or not he was ready for his new life, but he was more likely to be prepared than he was the day prior. Now, he just had to wait for Kyoko. The Former Ultimate Detective had texted them all, saying that she would come to get them for the Opening Ceremony of Division Fourteen.

The Luckster was a little nervous. He wondered if Kyoko was, too. She would have every right to be, but he knew Kyoko: being stressed or anxious wasn't her type. Or at least, she hid her nervousness better than most.

He didn't have to wait for too long until someone came to ring at his door.

"I guess that must be Kyoko…" Makoto thought aloud, turning away from the mirror and heading for the door, which he opened to reveal his new boss on the other side. "Good morning, Kyoko."

Makoto was (positively) surprised when he saw his friend standing there. Gone were the black skirt, purple jacket, and orange tie. Instead, they were replaced by a short purple skirt held up by a brown belt and a more formal dark vest which she wore over a long-sleeved white blouse.

Her hair was also done differently. Her usual braid was gone and was instead replaced by a ponytail. It let two parts of her hair fall loosely down the front of her body, almost hiding her Future Foundation pin.

The Luckster had to admit - though no one would hear him say that to his boss! - that Kyoko was pretty. Very pretty if he was being honest with himself. Formal wear gave her a sense of confidence that went even beyond her usual confident aura.

"Makoto," she began, keeping the greetings short and to the point. "The Opening Ceremony will begin in fifteen minutes. I'll be giving a speech to the entire Division, and I want you, Byakuya, and Hiro to stand on the podium behind me while I do."

"A-Ah, okay… I didn't know you would give a speech, Kyoko…" Makoto said with surprise after nodding.

"I thought it was the best way to give my instructions," she told him matter-of-factly. "I wrote it last night before going to sleep."

"W-Wow… That's pretty impressive…" And I can't even see dark circles under her eyes… The boy realized. Kyoko looked as well-rested as ever. "Well, I'm ready to go. Just tell me where to go, and I'll be there."

Kyoko nodded. "It'll be on the fourth floor. There's a little waiting room at the exit of the elevator we took yesterday. You can go wait there. Munakata asked me to deliver a televised statement afterward, which will be in my office."

"A televised statement?" Makoto echoed. "What for?"

"You'll see when you hear it, Makoto," she said. "I just know that he didn't give me much leeway with what I could say, but I'm fine with what I prepared."

"I see… I'll be looking forward to it, Kyoko," the young man told his boss. "Alright, I'll go wait on the fourth floor. Good luck, Kyoko, though knowing you, you probably don't need it."

Her stoic expression wavered for a split second. "Thank you, Makoto. I always appreciate the support."

They exchanged a quick smile before Makoto left the apartment and let the door close on its own. Kyoko turned towards Byakuya's room, and the Former Ultimate Lucky Student could hear the ringing of his doorbell as the elevator's doors closed behind him.


Makoto tried to stay still as he felt thousands of eyes going his way, even if he wasn't who people were looking at. Next to him, Byakuya didn't waver, pushing up his glasses. Hiro, on his end, looked terrified, which made Makoto feel a little better.

But the person everyone was looking at was Kyoko. She stood in front of all these men and women who seemed ready to fight, should they be given the order. The three Special Agents stood behind her, but Makoto could see her serious and professional stare. She set the paper on which she had written her speech on the lectern, giving it a quick glance.

When she spoke, Makoto felt her voice was different than it usually was, filled with determination and will.

"One can only realize what hope truly is when they've experienced the deepest despair. Hope is meant to be handled with care, for the fight for hope is a noble one. But it is what it is: a fight. Those who stand here must be ready to stand tall as fighters of hope, believing in better days ahead."

Makoto could almost hear the Former Ultimate Detective's words at that moment, after Leon's execution, when she had told him that his struggle was a noble one.

"Our enemies have decided to plunge this world to despair, but the day when hope will yield hasn't arrived yet, and the Future Foundation will ensure that it never does. But until the day we can declare ourselves the winners of this fight that will decide the fate of mankind, our determination must not waver."

The Luckster noticed Byakuya nod next to him. He looked as determined as Kyoko was, although the Luckster could only imagine what his thoughts were.

"My name is Kyoko Kirigiri, and I have gone through hell on earth to earn the right to hope again. I stand here as your leader today to ensure that hope will never be taken for granted again. The fools who believe that hope can be obtained easily are those who will fall first. If you do not understand its value, I can only pray that your foolishness won't cause your doom."

Being born an optimist, siding for hope was as natural as breathing was for Makoto. There wasn't a world in which he could envision despair as the solution. But he also knew what it took to reach hope. His friends had died for it.

"But if you stand here, I trust that the challenge ahead won't ever leave you defeated. To feel despair is natural, as it is to feel sadness, remorse, regret. But in the same way that the phoenix rises from the ashes, I know your hope will be soon reborn as we continue our struggle, and we will be victorious."

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student smiled. Her words were really reaching him, though he'd known for a long time that they were nothing but the truth.

"Under the authority that was given to me by Chairman Tengan and Vice-Chairman Munakata, I shall ensure the prosperity of this fine Division, and I will go as far as to forfeit my own life for my subordinates' hope, for I have learned that the greater good will always matter more than selfish objectives."

The sound of the word 'forfeit' made his eyes widen because it made him realize something. Makoto could never have considered Kyoko selfish, although the Former Ultimate Lucky Student was aware that these words were meant for him, albeit indirectly.

"In the long fight ahead, every single one of you matters. Every life saved, every kind word, every hopeful dream instilled in the mind of a child, will be a victory against despair. But for us to achieve our goals of hope, everyone will have to play their part."

Makoto swore he would. Being called the Ultimate Hope wasn't the way he wanted to help. He wanted to be there, to help people, to see a smile on their faces. He would do his best.

"And for you to play it well, I order you to never allow yourself a second of unnecessary rest. Laziness will never be tolerated. Under my leadership, no one will ever find themselves left aside without anything to do. Our fight is too important for anyone to ruin another's efforts."

Not that he had any intention of slacking, and he realized that even if he had, he wouldn't have been allowed to. He knew that the task that lay ahead was monumental, and he didn't plan to rest more than necessary.

"If someone ever wants to question my authority, I warn them that they better have some quality arguments to face me. Disrespect will be punished by nothing less than exclusion from the Division. You might disagree with me, but fighting against this Tragedy is too crucial for us to focus on petty arguments."

Makoto recalled how difficult it had been for the group to unite against Junko during the Killing Game. He wasn't sure whether it was what Kyoko was referring to, but it could have been.

"And in the same way that my leadership shall not be questioned, you can consider the orders given to you by Special Agents Togami, Naegi, and Hagakure as my orders. You will all be assigned in the next few hours to work either under one of them or under me. I ask that you respect whoever your direct superior is, and I will ensure that you are being respected in return and that your work is being valued."

The idea that he would have people working for him to whom he would have to give orders didn't yet sit right with Makoto, but the boy was aware that he'd have to get used to it. He just hoped that there wouldn't be any troublemakers.

"Still, it is understandable that you would feel fear. I have learned that being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in the face of despair. I am not the friendliest individual, but I will always do my best to give you a few words of support, should you ever need them. Hope asks for team spirit, and I want this Division to bloom with trust and kindness as its values."

Makoto couldn't have agreed more. He knew what fear was like: he had been closer to death than anyone in the room, and it still haunted him. But he also knew that getting over that fear required a collective effort and one they would need to provide.

"The road ahead might look perilous, and it probably is. But our future will be bright and filled with hope. Soon enough, this Tragedy will be nothing but a distant memory."

Kyoko's voice rose as she gripped her lectern with passion. Makoto could see it was genuine and not just an act she was putting on to motivate the troops. Seeing his friend show so much emotion made Makoto smile. For her to be so hyped up about something, he knew it was a cause that mattered to her.

He knew it mattered to her as much as it mattered to him.

"So keep on believing! Trust in your abilities to inspire change! Show Enoshima's worshippers that we will never give an inch in this fight! Show them the powers of hope! Tomorrow will be a day of hope! Everybody, I officially declare the opening of Division Fourteen of the Future Foundation!"

She raised a clenched fist in the air, and with an overexcited crowd listening, concluded her speech.

"Long live the Future Foundation, long live Division Fourteen, and long live humanity!"

The whole crowd clapped with the overwhelming and passionate shouts of "Director Kirigiri!" or "hope!" which indicated just how much her speech had reached her subordinates. Makoto and Byakuya clapped much more calmly while Hiro whistled with his fingers, making the other two Special Agents roll their eyes.

Kyoko took her notes and turned around, seeing her three direct subordinates. Byakuya crossed his arms, shaking his head.

"I didn't know your voice could have so much influence, Director Kirigiri," he said, though his voice couldn't be heard from more than a couple of feet away with the noise. "I'll admit this was a good speech. Good job, Ms. Director."

"Yeah, Byakuya's right!" Makoto agreed, smiling at her. "This motivated me so much!"

"Totally! This was awesome, for serious!" Hiro added, not terrified anymore but relaxed instead. "I predict that this speech will have some totally great consequences on everybody's spirits!"

Kyoko nodded. "Thank you. I'll admit this was a little out-of-character for me to show so much emotion, but I felt it was needed to set things right from the start," she told them, folding her notes and putting them inside her breast pocket. "You won't hear me make such passionate speeches often."

Makoto and Hiro giggled while Byakuya merely smiled. She walked past them.

"To the forty-seventh floor we go, you three," she instructed them. "I've got another speech to give, to a much larger audience, this time…"

The three Special Agents followed their boss back to the elevator under the chants of the agents. Hearing their optimism put some spring in Makoto's step.


"Alright, we're ready to air, Director Kirigiri," said the chief technician, fiddling with the camera. "Are you ready?"

Makoto, Byakuya, and Hiro stood together at the back of Kyoko's office, where the Former Ultimate Detective had elected to give her televised address. A team of specialists had been sent by Munakata to coordinate and prepare the whole thing. It would be on all the airwaves, so anyone who had a functioning television would come across it if they turned it on now. Kyoko sat at her new desk with a teleprompter in front of her.

She gave a quick and simple nod.

"Okay. Three, two, one… and action!"

"Good morning. My name is Kyoko Kirigiri, and as you probably know, I was one of the participants of the Killing Game orchestrated by Junko Enoshima, the leader of the Ultimate Despair organization," she began, her tone factual. "Quite against our will, we were forced into a cruel game in which the winner would be the person able to kill one of their classmates without being caught. The sixteen participants were the students from Class 78th of Hope's Peak Academy, known as Ultimates, who were supposed to be the hope for mankind's future."

Makoto grimaced. He knew that among the class, he was an exception. Having been the Ultimate Lucky Student meant that he didn't really have a talent - even more so considering he didn't consider himself so lucky.

"However, through the hardships, me, as well as five of my former classmates, Makoto Naegi, Byakuya Togami, Yasuhiro Hagakure, Toko Fukawa, and Aoi Asahina, managed to escape from Hope's Peak Academy and defeat Junko Enoshima, backing her into a corner and prompting her to commit suicide," Kyoko continued, visibly not showing regrets for their captor's fate. "Now, we have joined the Future Foundation, an organization whose objective is to restore hope to the world and put an end to the Tragedy that has destroyed it."

Kyoko had told him that parts of her address had been written by Munakata and his staff, and Makoto was curious to know if her last sentence was something she had written herself or not.

"Those who have followed the events of the Killing School Life know what we had to go through and can imagine how painful it could be. However, I can also imagine how difficult everyday life can be in this apocalyptic world for all of you," the lavender-haired young woman added with empathy. "This is why my friends and I have decided to help in this fight against the forces of despair. Too many have fallen for us to give up the fight now."

She paused for a few seconds.

"Sayaka Maizono. Leon Kuwata. Chihiro Fujisaki. Mondo Owada. Kiyotaka Ishimaru. Hifumi Yamada. Celestia Ludenberg. Sakura Ogami."

Each of the names Kyoko uttered made Makoto's eyes widen more and more. She spoke with determination, and deep down, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student could hear her sadness. He began to tear up with emotion, though he was still lucid enough to notice that one name was missing from the list. Makoto was ready to bet Munakata had excluded her.

"I might not be an expressive individual, but I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering they all went through, whether they were stabbed, hit to death, or electrified. I pray they rest in peace. The Killing School Life showed humanity's worst flaws. The word 'humane' in 'humanity' had been lost. The world was meant to see the elite among its youth fall to despair. However, if I speak to you this morning, it means that these plans have been foiled.

"Junko Enoshima wanted despair, but she never took into consideration that our hope wouldn't so easily be defeated. And so we kept on hoping, leading us to stand victorious," Kyoko said. "But this victory will mean nothing if we do not learn from our past mistakes. I'm asking you, all around the world, not to give up this important fight. You might be afraid, lost, desperate but know that you can overcome all these negative feelings. If we could, then you can, too."

Makoto couldn't help but think about these words. Kyoko was right. They had gone through something no one could even imagine. If they had defeated Junko, the world could move past this Tragedy.

"The Division of the Future Foundation I now stand as the Director of, Division Fourteen, will be specialized in civil rescues and assistance. Soon enough, starting from Japan but soon all around the planet, our forces will be deployed to assist the people in need. News of the state of the world will be provided in complete transparency and honesty."

This was actually news to the three Special Agents. Makoto was wondering what their exact mission would be, and he now had his answer.

"A famous writer once said that hope was the heartbeat of the soul, and I ask you to remember that. Recall the happy days and believe that the future will be paved with peace and hope. Trust in the Ultimate Hope that makes your heart beat, just as mine does. Hope won't be lost as long as we remember it. Soon enough, this tragic world will only be a distant and faint memory."

There was another short pause. Kyoko took a deep breath, her purple eyes shining with belief.

"People of the world, hope will always move forward."

"And… CUT!" the technician exclaimed after stopping the camera. "Good work, Director Kirigiri!"

Kyoko sighed and stood up. "This was more stressful than I thought it would be…"

"Hopeful and to the point…" Byakuya commented. "This should inspire people for a bit. Let's hope it can be enough to make a difference."

"You're right," the Division Director told him with a nod. "That was my goal, and I think it was Munakata's, as well."

Byakuya and Kyoko continued to talk together, reviewing the address the young woman had just given. Meanwhile, Makoto stood there, his eyes locked on the now empty chair where Kyoko had sat, the words echoing in his mind.

"Trust in the Ultimate Hope that makes your heart beat, just as mine does."

He closed his eyes, not to show the tears in them. He could still hear Kyoko's voice, and the way she had spoken made him emotional. Because he knew the double meaning behind her words. He knew what, or rather, who her Ultimate Hope was.

To know that, in her own words, his hope had made her heart beat made him happier than he thought he could be.


"…Sayaka Maizono. Leon Kuwata. Chihiro Fujisaki. Mondo Owada. Kiyotaka Ishimaru. Hifumi Yamada. Celestia Ludenberg. Sakura Ogami…"

"…If we could, then you can, too…"

A young woman looked at the TV, observing the lavender-haired woman's address with curiosity. Her lips were turned slightly upward in a discrete smile as she held a hammer in her right hand and wooden planks under one arm.

"Hey, darling, I need the planks! These windows won't cover themselves, you know!"

"I'm coming, gimme a second!"

"…Recall the happy days and believe that the future will be paved with peace and hope…"

"…Trust in the Ultimate Hope that makes your heart beat, just as mine does…"

The woman shook her head and knowingly smiled as she turned around and joined her boyfriend. The feeling of déjà vu made her feel more at peace. No matter how repressed one's memories were, it seemed that some things would never change.

This, in and of itself, was one important teaching.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Nineteen:  Special Agent Makoto Naegi

"Hey, are you alright, Makoto, my man?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student was brought out of his reverie by Hiro's worried voice next to him. He turned towards the fortune-teller and showed him an easy-going smile.

"I'm fine, Hiro, don't worry," he assured him. "Just hearing Kyoko's address and the names of our classmates made me emotional. But I'm fine."

"Okay, cool. Man, this was something else… Didn't know our boss could be so passionate…" Hiro noted, visibly surprised and also a little confused.

"You tell me," Makoto agreed. "But I guess it's not because she didn't always show it that she didn't care. Deep down, this affected all of us."

The Former Ultimate Clairvoyant nodded but didn't add anything else. The two young men approached Kyoko and Byakuya.

"Hey there. What are we supposed to do now?" Makoto asked, turning to Kyoko. "Getting to work, I assume?"

"Yes, that's right. There's no time to waste, especially with the list of tasks Munakata sent me," the Division Director explained, powerwalking out of the Reunion Room with a sigh. "You wouldn't believe the number of things we have to work on, believe me. For now, let's go to the forty-sixth floor so you can get more familiar with your respective offices."

The three Former Ultimates followed after the lavender-haired young woman out of the room while the team of technicians wrapped up and began to tidy up in the Reunion Room.


"So, since I'm pretty sure this would lead to a disagreement anyway, I've made the decision of who would get the office for himself," Kyoko told them, straight to the point. "Byakuya will be the Vice-Director of Division Fourteen, so he'll get the largest office. Makoto and Hiro, you get the rest of the floor."

"I must thank you for your reason, Director," Byakuya humbly (!) said. "Working with Makoto would have been acceptable, but not with that fool."

"T-Thanks for that…" Hiro muttered, sweatdropping. "But hey, I'm glad to be working with my man Makoto!" he turned towards the Former Ultimate Lucky Student, clapping him on the back. "At least he's friendly, unlike you, Byakuya, for serious!"

"I don't care about being friendly, Hiro. We're here to work," the Togami heir reminded him harshly, making Kyoko nod in agreement. "I have a feeling I'll be getting more work than you, and I've got to wrap it up quickly so I can get onto some more personal matters. I don't need to be friendly around anyone at my workplace, especially an idiot like you, Hiro."

Personal matters…? What did Byakuya mean by that…? Makoto wondered. Hiro seemed offended, though Byakuya showed no sign of caring about it.

"Right, enough about that," the Former Ultimate Detective ordered. "You have a couple of hours to settle in and set up your equipment before your assigned agents join you. I suggest you give them a short welcoming speech so they can know you a little better," Kyoko told them before turning away. "I'll be on the floor just above if you need me. We can have dinner together tonight if you want. See you later."

With this, the newly appointed Branch Leader was back inside the elevator, leaving the three Special Agents all on their own inside their offices. Byakuya sighed.

"Well, I'll get to it. Please do not bother me unless it's urgent, alright?"

Makoto nodded. "Okay. Good luck, Byakuya."

"Same to you," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny replied, walking away and entering his office.

"Guess we should do the same and discover our office a little better, huh?" the Luckster told Hiro, clearly overwhelmed. "We haven't even begun, and I already feel like I have tons of work…"

"Hey, relax, man! One thing at a time!" the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant told him carefreely. "Kyoko said we had a couple of hours, right?"

"Yeah, but I don't think it's wise to wait until the last minute to get to it, Hiro…" Makoto stated, rolling his eyes as he entered the office. The desks were huge, with tons and tons of folders waiting to be filled to the brim with paperwork. "Which desk do you want?"

"Oh, hm… I'll take the left one," Hiro said. Makoto nodded.

The Luckster turned to his desk and sat on the comfortable chair waiting for him. He was relieved to know that working wouldn't be a pain, as far as his bottom was concerned. He now just hoped that it wouldn't be a pain at all.

He doubted that working next to Hiro would always be easy, but he was also aware that if he would one day be depressed, being next to the fortune-teller would always be better than being next to the Togami heir, and by a mile.

So, there's a computer, though I hardly know how to operate one… I know how to go on the Internet or play video games, but other than that… Makoto smiled. I wish Chihiro were there to help me… Having the Ultimate Programmer with me would definitely help…

He turned it on and waited for it to boot. The young man had to fill in a few boxes with his information and scan his magnetic card on a sensor on his desk. It granted him access to the desktop, where different icons were waiting for him.

There are folders, contacts, a web browser… Nothing out of the ordinary… Makoto thought, opening his mailbox to see if he already had any messages or not. Seems like I got one… From Chairman Tengan? Interesting…

He opened the email.

"To Special Agent Makoto Naegi,

I sincerely hope that your first night as a member of the Future Foundation went well. I have no doubt that under the leadership of Director Kirigiri, Division Fourteen will prove to be a powerful ally in the fight against the Tragedy. I am not so good with computers, so please send a message to my secretariat if you need to contact me.

I hope you have a nice day. Take care,
Chairman Kazuo Tengan."

Makoto appreciated that Tengan had taken the time to leave him a message. Kyoko had asked them to limit their interactions with the other Divisions, and while the Luckster didn't plan on disobeying her, he didn't see the harm in these kinds of interactions.

Well, whatever. I should finish setting this up, as well as my desk, so I can be ready when my agents get here… Makoto mused, closing the emailing software. And I've got to prepare a little speech before they arrive, too… Geez, thanks for dropping this unannounced, Kyoko!

Slumping in his chair, Makoto sighed and combed through the drawers of his desk. He found a pencil and a sheet of paper. Very unsurely, he began to write a semblance of a speech, though he didn't even know what he had to include inside of it.

He would have to thank Kyoko for the poisoned gift later. Well, it couldn't be worse than Hiro, at least, right?


In the end, it happened that a horde of approximately five hundred men and women arrived on the forty-sixth floor all at once, the majority of them heading towards Byakuya's office while the rest split evenly in the direction of both Makoto and Hiro.

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student's eyes widened in fear. He had not been able to come up with anything good to tell them as an introductory speech, so he'd have to improvise. He didn't know whether the fact that Hiro had not prepared anything either should reassure him or not.

Guess I'll be as natural as possible and see where it leads me… Makoto thought, reluctantly getting up from his new chair. Being friendly is probably the way to go, even if Kyoko would most likely disagree with me…

The two Former Ultimates exchanged a panic look. It seemed the facts had finally reached Hiro, and he wasn't prepared either.

"I'll take this side of the floor, okay?" Makoto said, asking for his permission. "Byakuya's office is huge, so I think he'll give his speech there."

"S-Sure, man…" Hiro replied, gulping.

The Luckster took a deep breath, readjusted his tie for good measure before opening the door and exiting the office he shared with the fortune-teller. It seemed the agents had been told who they would be working under, considering they quickly followed after their respective superiors.

The fact that the tens of people standing there were now his subordinates threatened to make Makoto's brain explode. Still, he got up on the podium that had been prepared for the occasion, and after hearing Byakuya's voice echo inside his office, decided to begin.

Where was this headed, he didn't know, but he would soon have his answer. He prayed he wouldn't humiliate himself.

"H-Hm, hello to you all," he began, trying to act as friendly as possible. "M-My name is Makoto Naegi, and I was the Ultimate Lucky Student for Class 78th's of Hope's Peak Academy, and now I am a Special Agent for Division Fourteen."

So far, so good.

"There are… a lot of you… I honestly didn't think you would be so numerous, but I guess that's okay…" Not. Keeping as much calm as possible, he continued. "You've heard Director Kirigiri's speech earlier, so I don't have much to add. I guess I'll be pretty lenient, so if you want to call me by my first name, I'm okay with it."

The young man wasn't sure if this was a good idea, but he didn't want his new employees to think he'd be a pain of a boss.

"I-I'll try to memorize your names as we get to collaborate together in our work, though it'll take me time, considering there are tens and tens of you," he told them, not promising them anything. "Now, as for the rules, as I said, I'm gonna be pretty lenient, so as long as you respect all that Director Kirigiri said in her speech, that's enough for me."

The more he talked, the more confident Makoto felt. He saw that his subordinates weren't laughing at him and were instead paying close attention. The stutter gradually disappeared as he relaxed. He quickly noticed that the words were easier to say now that he wasn't so nervous anymore.

"Still, I don't want anyone to slack either, even if I know it can sometimes be difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed and go to work," Makoto said, trying to convey his message in a sympathetic way. "Our mission is crucially important as we were tasked with helping the people on the field and communicating with them."

Not that he knew what this entailed yet, evidently.

"I want our working relationship to be based on respect and communication because tensions among us would just lead to disaster. The world is in a bad enough state for us to fight amongst ourselves. This is why if anyone of you ever feels down, sick, or mentally exhausted, my door will always be open for assistance. Just knock, and I'll give you the time you need, alright?"

Receiving tens of nods from his own little crowd comforted him. He still wondered how Kyoko had been courageous enough to address thousands of people then the whole world so confidently, but he knew that Kyoko was an awesome girl for many reasons and that he was no awesome girl.

If you asked him, he was more of a girl than anyone awesome.

"Well, I don't have much else to say, so I hope we'll be able to work well together as a big group and that our work will have an impact on making the world a better place soon. You're free to use the facilities and to choose a desk on the floor, preferably on this side of the floor, so you don't get mixed up with the agents working under Special Agents Hagakure and Togami, alright?"

They all nodded again.

"Director Kirigiri hasn't tasked us with anything to do yet, though she probably will soon. I'll try to divide the work you will all have to do evenly, so no one is overwhelmed. This is all very new to me, so I'll need a few weeks to get organized properly, but I'm sure we'll be fine," he scratched the back of his head (he now realized that he needed a haircut soon - his hair had grown too much during the Killing Game without him realizing). "Well, you're free to go find a desk. I hope you all have a nice day."

"Yessir!" they all exclaimed, catching Makoto by surprise.

He let out a sigh of relief now that it was all over. He didn't expect to do so well and convey his message so clearly, especially since he had done so without any notes. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student heard Hiro wrapping up, too, while the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny was visibly taking his sweet time.

I feel bad for the agents Kyoko has assigned to work under Byakuya… Makoto thought, heading back inside his office. Well, that's a little selfish of me to say, but they're not my business, but Byakuya's… He's been going on about how he led many people in his family's empire, so he shouldn't struggle with management at all…

"All done with that…" Makoto said to himself aloud as he sat back on his chair, allowing himself a second or two to recompose. He noticed Hiro entering the room. "How did it go, Hiro?"

"Great, man! I didn't expect them to listen to me so closely!" Hiro told him with the broadest of smiles on his face. "This motivated me, for serious!"

Makoto smiled. This was a little unexpected, but I'm glad for you, Hiro. "By the way, I'm curious… is Toko working under you?"

"I didn't see her in the crowd I was talking to," the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant answered, a bit confused. "Why?"

"Because she wasn't with me, either…" So that means she's either with Kyoko or with Byakuya… "I hope for the sake of her sanity that she's with Kyoko, you know? Fangirling over Byakuya won't improve their relationship."

"Yeah, you're right about that, man…"

*knock* *knock*

"Hm? Who's that?" Makoto said aloud as both friends turned towards the door. "I'll go see who it is, okay?"

He got up and checked the door. He opened it and noticed Kyoko on the other side, with two huge folders under her arm.

"Enough slacking you two, I've brought you some paperwork," she said, partly teasingly, partly seriously. "There's enough for a good week, I'd say."

"H-Hm… T-Thanks, I guess…?" Makoto tried, surprised when Kyoko powerwalked past him and placed a folder on each of their desks. "What's that all about, Kyoko?"

"Mostly information you've got to review about your subordinates," the Division Director explained. "I know it's not fun, but the entire Division has to get on with it right away, or we'll be late. Munakata wants it done by the end of the week."

"A-Alright…" Geez, she didn't wait… "Hey, Hiro and I were wondering about something…" seeing he had Kyoko's attention, Makoto carried on. "Does Toko work under you? And how did you assign the agents, anyway?"

"Randomly, that's how," said Kyoko, smiling. "I knew how many had to work for each one of us four, and I let my computer do the rest. As for Toko, she isn't with me, so if she isn't with you, that means she's with Byakuya."

Boy, oh boy… We're gonna hear about that, that's for sure… "I bet Byakuya's not happy."

"He can stick his opinion you-know-where if he's not happy about it, believe me. He'll most likely tell me about it tonight at dinner, but I'm not going to give him any favors just because he's second in the Division. Well, we all have work to do, so I'll leave you to it. Have a nice day, you two."

"Yeah, you too, boss!" both Makoto and Hiro said at the same time, causing them to erupt in laughter. Kyoko simply rolled her eyes and exited the office, although she wasn't able to hide her smile.

Laughing like that made Special Agent Makoto Naegi realize that this would maybe not be so bad of a first job, after all…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty:  The Time it Takes to Change

"Alright, let's begin this reunion. We're here today to discuss the work you and your agents have done so far."

Makoto, Hiro, and Byakuya took their seats in the Reunion Room as Kyoko glanced at her laptop. It had been a week since the opening of Division Fourteen, and so far, Makoto couldn't complain. His agents had been hard-at-work and respectful, and he didn't have any incidents to report.

What they had to do for now wasn't so interesting - filling paperwork, mostly - but everybody knew it had to be done, and Makoto had made sure not to fall behind. As far as he was concerned, his work the week had been done.

"My agents and I have completed everything you asked us to do, Kyoko," Byakuya began, pushing up his glasses. "Good organization on our part allowed us to complete it in two days."

"W-Wow, that's pretty impressive, Byakuya…" Makoto told him. "We finished also, but it took us the week…"

"As long as it's all done, I honestly don't really care how long it took, but I'm glad you found a way to organize your agents properly, Byakuya," Kyoko said, typing on her computer. "What about you, Hiro? Is everything done?"

"W-Well…" he scratched his head, which both Makoto and Byakuya interpreted as a bad sign. "Kinda? T-They should be done before we end this reunion, so…"

The Former Ultimate Detective sighed. "I'm not so surprised that you are the last one to finish, Hiro, but if what you say is true, I'm willing to let it slide."

"T-Thanks…"

"Now, I also wished to tell you how you would specialize from now on," she told them, double-clicking on her mouse. "Byakuya, you're my Vice-Director, which means that if I'm ever incapacitated, you'll take my place. Other than that, I want you to focus on our finances and armed forces."

"Fair enough," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny said, visibly content. "This is what I did all day long in my family's empire, so it shall be no trouble."

"I'm glad to hear it. Moving on, Makoto, you and your agents will be in charge of overseeing the completion of our missions," Kyoko added, turning towards the Luckster. "This will be an important task when we actually do get missions from Tengan and Munakata, so I want you to be serious, alright?"

"Got it, Kyoko," Makoto nodded. I wonder what kind of missions we'll be asked to complete… Officially, we're in charge of the Future Foundation's public relations, but I don't know what this exactly entails… "I'll do my best."

Kyoko showed him a small smile. "Okay, last but not least, Hiro, you're in charge of everything regarding resources for civilians. You'll be in charge of delivery, installation, and maintenance of the equipment, okay?"

"I… I think I understand," the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant stated, and it was evident he was trying his best to commit this to memory. "I might not remember it in ten minutes, but…"

"Well, try to remember. Although, I'll send you emails with more detailed assignments in them, so you can refer to that in case you forget."

The three Special Agents nodded, prompting their boss to move on.

"I had one last question before we put an end to this reunion," the lavender-haired young woman said. "Byakuya, how has Toko been doing so far? Is there anything to report regarding her behavior?"

The Togami heir let out a long sigh. "Saying I'm excited to see her work under me would be a lie, though I have to admit she's been working efficiently. She completed the paperwork I gave her pretty quickly. It seems she is trying to impress me, though it'll take much more than that to actually impress me. However, she's still stalking me on my way to my apartment after my work hours, which will annoy me rather sooner than later."

"I… I see… That is a problem, although I'm hardly surprised," said the Division Director, typing on her laptop some more. "Come tell me if it happens again, and I'll call her to my office to tell her to stop."

"Very well. Even I cannot understand Toko's adoration of me, but it seems I can only hope she will get over it with time," he told his three former classmates, looking a little sorry for the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy. "I think my only way out of this is for her to find more suitable to hold a dear place in her heart, but we haven't found this person yet, nor is it the time to do so."

"Quite right, yes. Well, we're done here," Kyoko said, closing her laptop and standing up. "We can have lunch together at the cafeteria if you wish."

"I'm kinda hungry, yeah…" Hiro said, placing a hand on his belly.

"I don't have any more work to do, so I might as well follow you," Byakuya added nonchalantly.

"Sure, I'd love that!" Makoto finished, his voice showing much more enthusiasm than his two colleagues. "Besides, I'm hungry too!"

Kyoko chuckled. "Then let's get going. You aren't the only ones who are hungry, believe me…"


"I can't believe it's already been more than a week since we've escaped Hope's Peak… It's surreal to me."

Makoto looked at his plate, frowning. He wanted to think of his deceased friends at any given moment, but with so much work and so many things to do, there were times he couldn't. He didn't know if he should feel guilty or not.

"Well, no matter how long it has been, as long as I'm not forced into anything of the kind again, I'll be just fine," Byakuya said, classily eating a bite of his food. "But time did fly by, that much we can agree on."

"Y-Yeah, I still dream of it at night, for serious! I-It's as if I was still there!" Hiro exclaimed, a panicked look entering his expression. "Junko was all kind of scary, for serious!"

Kyoko sighed. "Something was obviously wrong inside her brain. I can't believe I'm even saying this, but it is a shame she had to execute herself. I'm sure the Future Foundation would have liked to analyze her to understand what caused her adoration of despair. There must be a scientific explanation to it."

Kyoko's not entirely wrong… Maybe Director Gekkogahara would have been able to do something about it…? Makoto wondered, leaving his friends to discuss a bit. What could have caused Junko's love for despair… I guess we'll never know…

"There was something I was wondering about, and maybe you'll have an answer for me, Kyoko, but…" the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny paused, visibly unsure of whether to continue. "Do you know how Asahina is doing? We haven't heard from her in the whole week."

"I managed to get her phone number. We can call her if you want," the Former Ultimate Detective told him, taking out her cellphone. "But I haven't talked to her personally."

Makoto smiled. "Yeah, let's call her! She must be getting bored to death, all on her own like that!"

"You might be right, though we can't know before we ask her," Kyoko said, tapping on her phone. She placed it in such a way that they were all in the field of the camera. "I'll get her on video mode, alright?"

It rang for a couple of seconds before the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro's surprised face appeared on the screen.

"H-Hey, everyone!" she exclaimed, showing her former classmates a broad smile. It was clear she'd been missing them, and she had only said two words. "I… I didn't expect you to call!"

"Hina!" Makoto and Hiro cheered. "We missed you!" the Luckster said, giving their friend and fellow survivor a heartwarming smile.

"That we did, yes," Kyoko added, unable to hide a trace of a smile on her lips. "It lacks cheeriness without you around, I must say."

"I didn't miss her insults, mind you," Byakuya deadpanned, showing a lack of interest.

Hina chuckled. "Thanks for that, Byakuya! I'm glad to see you haven't changed at all in a week!" she playfully mocked.

"He's actually the one who asked for news of you, believe it or not," the Former Ultimate Detective informed her.

"W-Wow, really?! Are you sure that's the real Byakuya Togami and not an imposter?! Jeez, I'm gonna think he actually cares about little old me! Talk about unexpected…"

They all laughed save for the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny, who turned his face away from the camera, pouting like a baby.

"How are you, Hina? Fine on your own, I hope?" Makoto asked though the happy expression on the girl's face was a good indicator.

"Oh yeah, I'm fine, don't worry about it! I felt a little lonely the first couple of days, but this is all better now!" the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro assured them by showing them a thumbs-up. "Besides, I'm in Division Thirteen, specialized in food and resources distribution, so I've got lots of things to eat!"

"You can say what you want about me, but you haven't changed either, Hina," Byakuya noted, giving her a disapproving glare through the screen. "I don't see what good eating so much will do you. Don't forget that quite against my will, you were associated with me through this Killing Game. I can't have you dishonor my name with your lack of manners or your uselessness. Toko's been more than enough."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can you do anything about it, though?" Hina teased, smirking at Byakuya to irritate him. He groaned, which shown just how much it was working. "That's what I thought. Plus, I'm sure you say that just for your 'proud guy' act. Deep down, I know you're just a big softie!"

"Nonsense," the Togami heir rebutted. "I have reasons to be proud, and I'm definitely not a 'softie' as you put it! Don't put me in the same bag as you commoners."

"I take it this doesn't include me, Special Agent Togami?" Kyoko asked, giving her subordinate a cold stare. "I'm sure you wouldn't say this about your boss, would you?"

Makoto and Hiro giggled, feeling Byakuya become more and more flustered. Hina laughed on the other end of the screen, happy that she had forced the blonde young man into a corner.

"I'm out of here," he said, standing up and leaving the room. "Remind me to never ask for news, will you?"

"Aww, he left…" Hina stated, visibly very proud of herself as they heard the door slam behind them. "Guess he'll never change either, will he?"

Kyoko sighed, looking at the swimmer with disappointment in her eyes. "That doesn't mean you had to act like a child, Hina… Byakuya's my most efficient subordinate, and I'd like to keep him that way. If you want to have an argument with him, then wait until I give him a day off so he can visit you, and you can settle this personally, okay?"

Kyoko makes a good point… It seems like Hina and Byakuya will never be able to get along… Makoto thought, noticing that his boss and friend wasn't too mad either, just a little annoyed. But I guess that's always better than things being what they were after Sakura's death… I'd rather have Hina teasing Byakuya than wanting him dead…

"Sorry… I can't help it, you know? I don't want him to be a jerk to you, so I try to make sure he doesn't get too confident," Hina explained. "But I know it'll take him time to change and not be his proud, arrogant self. And it'll take me time to stand him, too, I guess."

"It will take time for us all to change, though we've already changed much because of the Killing Game," Kyoko stated, closing her eyes and sighing. "I'd say for the better, though there's some trauma we probably would have done without."

"I… I agree with that…" Hiro said, running a hand through his dreadlocks. "For serious, I never felt as traumatized as during the executions! I… I feel like I'll never be scared that much again!"

I'm having some slight doubts about this… Makoto thought, rolling his eyes. "Yeah… I don't know what happened during our student lives, but I know that the Makoto who entered Hope's Peak at seventeen isn't the Makoto of today at nineteen…"

"Hey, you saved us all from Junko's despair, Makoto, so I'd say this was an improvement! You seemed like a crybaby at first, but now it feels like you couldn't be afraid of anything!" Hina cheered.

"A crybaby…? Yeah, I guess I kinda was one…" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student chuckled. "Sayaka's death is what changed me the most. When I realized that the average world I used to live in simply wasn't there anymore. If the Tragedy were to end tomorrow, I'd probably reverse back to being who I was before to some extent."

"I disagree with this, Makoto," Kyoko cut him, shaking her head. "I have gone through trauma in my past, the best indicator of which being my gloves," she said, showing her gloved hands. "I've moved on from what caused me this trauma, but I'm not the person I used to be. Whatever happens, Makoto, what we went through won't ever disappear. Who you are is there to stay now. At least, that's my opinion."

This got the Luckster thinking. Makoto wanted things to go back to the way they used to be, before that horrible Killing Game that had taken too many of his friends. He wanted to go back to being an average person with above-average optimism and just live his average life.

Being a Special Agent of an organization fighting to put an end to the apocalypse had never been on his agenda. But there he was, and Makoto had to admit that the part of him that had gone through this would not disappear, or at least, he didn't think so.

"Yeah, you're right, Kyoko…" he admitted. Whether he wanted it or not, the second he had made the choice of not moving on from his friends' deaths was the moment he could not be the person he was before anymore.

Choosing to remember the past had determined a different future for him, and he realized it now.

"Although… There are still plenty of things I'm scared of, you know? Every day, I wake up, and I fear that this might be the day I die," he looked at his plate sadly, trying not to tear up. His garbage can had enough tissues damp with tears already. "In reality… I'm afraid of so many things now… Thousands, maybe millions of people would kill to see our heads roll on the pavement; how could I not be scared?"

He looked up and met his friends' curious gazes.

"But even if I'm scared, it'll never be as bad as what I experienced on that conveyor belt. I'll never experience that much fear again in my life," Makoto told them, and he noticed his boss look away immediately. "Having experienced this, nothing will ever scare me enough to make me fall to despair. Besides, I have you guys, so even if I'm afraid, I know we'll be alright in the end."

"Yeah, that's true, man! I totally predict that we'll be fine!" Hiro said, fiddling with a crystal ball he had discretely taken out.

I don't know if that's a good sign, though… The Luckster wondered, nonetheless giving the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant a thankful smile.

"That's right! We've gone through so much together to die now, anyway!" Hina added, visibly fired up. "Besides, letting my fears overwhelm me would be dishonoring Sakura! I need to stay alive, so I can continue to honor her name and memory!"

"I probably don't have as many reasons to live as you do, but…" Kyoko began, looking deep in thought. "I suppose being with you is reason enough. Not that I would want to die otherwise, mind you, but it's definitely… a motivation to keep going, you could say."

That's the spirit, Kyoko! The two Former Ultimates shared a smile, looking at each other kindly. And even if he wouldn't tell us, I know Byakuya's got the same motivation. He wants to restore his family's empire, sure, but… he isn't the Byakuya we knew at the beginning of the Killing Game. He's changed, too.

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student went back to his food, listening to Hina, Hiro, and Kyoko chatting in the background. In the end, he realized one thing.

They had all changed individually, and while all six of them would probably continue to grow with time, something would never change: they were friends, and that, whatever happened and whatever life had in store for them, was set in stone.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-One:  Killing for a Friend

"You wanted to see me, Director Kirigiri?"

Makoto stood in front of Kyoko's large desk. It was covered by folders and files all around, barely leaving any space for a laptop and a cup of coffee, which the Luckster guessed was Civet Coffee.

"Ah, there you are," Kyoko said, looking up from her paperwork. "I've called you here to relay one of Munakata's orders to you."

"Really? What does Vice-Chairman Munakata want?" I actually haven't heard from any member of another Division since we've begun working here… Apart from Hina, that is.

This was the third week at the Future Foundation for the five Former Ultimates of Division Fourteen. So far, they had spent their time filing paperwork, having meetings, giving or receiving orders… With only one day off each week, Makoto was starting to feel tired, but he tried to stay focused.

"He has called me to inform me that our Division will be going on its first missions this week," the Former Ultimate Detective told him, looking him in the eyes. "There are a bunch of them, and I've decided to allocate you to three of them."

"Three missions…? That sounds like a lot…"

"Well, remember that this is the first time I'm doing this, too, Special Agent Naegi," the young woman reminded him. "I'd like to be sure this won't be too many, but I can't yet. I'll make adjustments, but for now, it'll be this way."

"Alright." I'll never get used to Kyoko calling me Special Agent Naegi… It's kinda amusing, though. "And what do I have to do?"

"Various things, actually," she took out three sheets of paper from a folder and extended them to Makoto. "Read these. They'll explain all you need to know. Your first mission is in two days with Special Agent Togami."

With Byakuya, huh…?


"I can't believe I'm being put on missions with the likes of you and Hiro," Byakuya said, not bothering to hide his annoyance - it would have been out of character for him. "What am I going to do with you, anyway?"

"Well, my instructions sheet says my group has to deal with reassuring the people, so I guess I'll be doing that," Makoto replied, choosing to ignore the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny's remarks. "What about you?"

"Securing the perimeter and evaluating the damage done to the neighborhood," the Togami heir stated, arms crossed. "But with so little information to work with, this might prove more difficult than I thought it would be. Well, no matter."

Byakuya sure is confident he can carry out his mission flawlessly… The Luckster thought, noticing that his friend and colleague didn't seem nervous at all. I'm so stressed! What'll happen out there?!

In fact, the two Special Agents were in one of the many helicopters flying over Downtown Tokyo, heading for the neighborhood where their mission was set to take place. Kyoko had clearly told them to do their best as this was more of a way for her to see how they should organize. Still, that did not mean that either of the Former Ultimates had planned to fail their mission.

"I'm hoping not to have to use this."

"Huh?"

Makoto turned to Byakuya and noticed him holding a handgun, staring at it with dissatisfied eyes.

"Believe it or not, but I have never fired a firearm, Makoto," Byakuya told him, putting the weapon back in his holster. "I've always had people doing it for me in the past. I suppose I didn't want to have blood on my hands," he hmphed. "After what I did to Chihiro, I guess that's not something that should be bothering me anymore…"

The blonde boy sighed. The Ultimate Lucky Student could see he looked troubled, tapping his foot on the floor repeatedly.

It's true that what Byakuya did to Chihiro's body was cruel, but… Makoto's mind wandered back to that bloody scene at Hope's Peak Academy. It's not the same Byakuya anymore. I think he's actually feeling guilty now…

He placed a hand on Byakuya's thigh to get his attention. The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny turned to look in his direction with surprise all over his face.

"It's alright, Byakuya. You made a mistake back then, but I know you regret it now," Makoto told him, giving his friend a reassuring smile. "Besides, I'm sure that Chihiro wouldn't want you to feel like that. The most important now is that you change. And you've already changed quite a lot."

"Who gave you the permission to place your hand on my thigh like that, Makoto Naegi? If you want to touch someone's thighs, touch Director Kirigiri's!"

"S-Sorry…" Guess the friendly gesture was too much for Byakuya… He's changed, but not too much still…

Byakuya rolled his eyes. "I suppose it can't be as disgusting as if it was Toko doing it…" he sighed. "Anyway, I'd rather not have to fire this, whatever you say. I guess I will if I have to, though. By the way, do you want one? I'm specialized in our Division's armed forces, so I could provide you with one without issue."

"Oh, no, I'm fine, don't worry about it," Makoto quickly answered, waving his hands around, eyes widening. "I am the last person you want to give a weapon to, trust me. I'd be capable of shooting myself by accident."

"Hmph. That does sound like something a commoner like you would do, I'll admit."

"Special Agent Togami, sir! We're about to land!" an agent said, coming out of the flight deck.

Makoto looked through the window and noticed that the helicopter was indeed losing height, preparing to land in an open area where other helicopters had already landed.

"Then let's get ready. The sooner we're done here, the better."


"W-Well, we've prepared for this, so… I guess you all know what you've gotta do, right?"

The group of agents nodded, allowing Makoto to breathe a little easier. He could hear Byakuya giving clear orders next to him, and it made him feel even more nervous than he was before. Helping people, what he was supposed to do today, was something he enjoyed doing.

However, he had never helped people in what could only be described as a wasteland. The capital city of Japan definitely had lost its charm with the Tragedy. Makoto wondered if his family's house was still holding, though he knew it was unlikely.

"Well, we just have to wait for Special Agent Togami's cue, and then we'll begin," the young brown-haired man told them, turning to see Byakuya still giving orders. "As a reminder, the mission is set to last four hours, and the reunion spot is here. Don't hesitate to use your walkie-talkies if you need any help, alright?"

"Yessir!"

Don't call me that… Makoto thought, rolling his eyes. He heard Byakuya conclude with his orders and turn in his direction. The Togami heir nodded to him, giving him the signal. "Let's go, everyone! Remember, the goal is to reassure people and give them some hope back!"

At once, the agents all went in separate directions, leaving Makoto and Byakuya to leave afterward. They headed in opposite directions. Coordination was absolutely crucial: if Makoto's team wanted to help many people, Byakuya's team would need to secure the perimeter quickly and correctly.

Let's hurry… We don't have all day. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student told himself, speeding up until he was almost running. He passed by a couple of his agents on the way. They were already knocking on doors and looking through the few windows that weren't barricaded. Everyone's already hard at work, so I can't allow myself to be lazy!

The young man quickly found himself in front of a single house, with none of his agents around. He could hear a couple of sounds coming from inside, so he knew there was someone in there. However, there was no space between the wooden planks to look through the window, so he simply knocked, hoping for an answer.

"This is Future Foundation! Please open up; I'm not going to harm you!" Makoto exclaimed. "The neighborhood is being secured as we speak! It's safe!"

Makoto knew that if whoever was inside didn't want to open, then he couldn't force them. Destroying the door could be a solution, but the Luckster didn't want it to be the solution. They were here to reassure people, not scare them even more.

Still, after a few seconds, the door slowly opened, revealing a young woman, looking around Makoto's age. She seemed terrified.

"I-I beg of you, d-don't kill me!" she yelled, putting her hands up in surrender.

"H-Hey, I'm not going to kill you!" Makoto assured her, caught by surprise. "I'm from the Future Foundation. I've been sent here to help people in the neighborhood. Everything's fine, Miss."

"O-Okay…" the woman took a couple of deep breaths to compose herself before returning inside. "C-Come in, sir… P-Please close the door behind you, though…"

"Sure," Makoto said, doing as he was told. He took out a pen and a paper sheet from his breast pocket. "Do you think you could answer a few of my questions, Miss? I need to report the state of the houses I visit to prepare for future reparations."

"Y-Yes, of course… W-Wait…" her eyes widened suddenly, and she pointed at Makoto with amazed eyes. "A-Aren't you Makoto Naegi?! The Ultimate Hope from the Killing Game?!"

"A-Ah, um… yes, I suppose that would be me…" I didn't expect to be recognized by the first person I'd meet… Thanks for the title, Kyoko… The Luckster scratched his hair embarrassedly. "I guess the ahoge gave it away…?"

The young woman's afraid expression turned into one warm smile as her eyes filled with joy.

"I-I can't believe I'm meeting the real Makoto Naegi! This is so awesome!" she ran to him, placing her hands on his shoulders and looking at him as if he was her idol. "You were so cool during the Killing Game! You inspired me so much, Mr. Naegi, sir!"

"I… I did?"

"Yeah! The way you gave your friends hope and defeated Junko Enoshima was just amazing! You totally rock, Mr. Naegi, sir! Besides, you're super cute! Your friend Kyoko Kirigiri is so lucky to be your girlfriend!"

"H-Hey, hold your horses!" he exclaimed, a red blush tainting his cheeks cutely. "D-Director Kirigiri is a friend, and she's my boss now, not anything else!" Geez, why does everyone get the same idea?! "A-And we're not here to talk about me, anyway! I'm here to help you, not for you to give me a self-confidence boost!"

However, he would be lying if he said that hearing this made wonders for his self-confidence. He didn't want to be an inspiration to anyone, but he wanted his hope to inspire people. Being called cute was a bonus, nothing else.

"Oh, we aren't even free to tell a guy they're cute nowadays! My name's Laura Lawn, by the way!" she extended her hand. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Naegi!"

"I'm glad to meet you too, Miss Lawn," Makoto replied, shaking her hand. "Now, as I said, I have a few questions I need to ask you, alright?"

Laura nodded. "Sure. You can sit there on the couch if you want," she suggested, gesturing to a couch in disrepair. "It's not that comfy anymore, but it's not like I can go buy another right now. Want a drink?"

"Oh, well… I'll have a glass of water, please," the Luckster answered, sitting on said couch. He looked at the sheet he had to fill in and began writing. Name, gender, age, address… These are all pretty basic questions.

"There's your water, Mr. Naegi," Laura said, placing a glass on the coffee table. "So, what did you want to ask me?"

Makoto went on to ask her everything he needed to know. It took only a few minutes, except for the last box he had to fill.

"I'm sorry if I overstep any boundaries, but did the Tragedy leave you with any trauma so far, Ms. Lawn?"

The young woman sipped her drink, her smile gradually disappearing. "Yeah… When the people with the Monokuma mask raided our house, they…" she sobbed. "They killed my parents and did horrible things to their bodies and forced me to watch it happen…"

The Special Agent gasped in horror, and he felt the need to puke when Laura went into more details about her story. At that moment, he thought of his parents and Komaru. This could be happening or could have already happened to them, and he would be none the wiser. Shaking that thought out of his mind was tough.

"My older brother Tony managed to escape… but I haven't seen him since."

And she has an older brother, too… Komaru… please be alright… With difficulty, Makoto took note of what Laura was telling him. Kyoko had told him this was to plan therapy sessions with Miaya's Division, but it was painful to even write. He couldn't even imagine how tough it must have been to experience.

"I… I see…" Her story's so sad… "I'm really sorry for your losses, Ms. Lawn. The fact that you've not given in to despair shows just how strong you are."

"Eh, thanks…" Laura laughed, but it sounded hollow. "I'm just hoping my brother comes back one day… and in one piece, too…"

Poor Ms. Lawn… she's been all alone like this… Makoto stood up. "I'm going to make sure you get help really soon, Ms. Lawn, alright? You're first on my priority list." And not only because you're the first person I visit…

"R-Really…?"

"Yes."

"Hey, Laura. Long time no see."

"H-Huh…?"

Both the Former Ultimate Lucky Student and Laura turned around and noticed a man standing there, clothes bloody and with evident exhaustion in his eyes.

"N-No way…! T-TONY?!"

W-Wait, that's her brother's name! Makoto recalled, going back and forth between Laura and the man. H-He just came back! What a coincidence!

"You bet it's me!" Tony smiled. "Laura!"

"TONY!"

The two siblings ran in each other's direction. Makoto smiled as he could imagine a heartwarming family reunion.

But when Laura was about to catch her brother in a bear hug, the Luckster realized that something was seriously wrong.

Why… does he have a… knife…?

And before he could even move an inch…

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"L-LAURA!"

"Eh… ehehehe… EHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE!"

Tony stood there over his little sister's pool of blood, knife still lunged inside her midsection. He laughed manically, and the sound threatened to take Makoto's sanity away.

"N-No… N-No, you didn't…!"

"Eheheh… such despair… SUCH GREAT DESPAIR!"

S-Shit, he's fallen to despair! N-No, this can't be happening! Sayaka's body flashed through Makoto's mind as he saw the knife. He gulped.

"Now, Makoto Naegi… the Ultimate Hope… To avenge our Goddess Junko…" Tony took the bloody knife out of Laura's body without remorse, holding it high. "You must die!"

"N-No, not now! N-Not after everything I've been through!"

Makoto knew his pleads wouldn't lead him anywhere. This was the other side of being the Ultimate Hope. He inspired people and gave them happiness.

But not everyone enjoyed the same form of happiness.

Some people were happy with despair.

"Goodbye, Makoto Naegi! IT'S PUNISHMENT TIME!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student closed his eyes when he saw the bloody blade approaching him, feeling as close to death as he was on that conveyor belt.

I guess this is it… The moment when I di-

"MAKOTO!"

*BANG* *BANG*

There were a couple of silent seconds. Makoto thought this was what death was like. It was dark. It took him some time to figure out that it was because his eyes were still closed. When he opened them again, he noticed that he was still very much alive.

And the corpse in front of him had, quite literally, lost its mind.

"A-AAAAH!" Makoto shrieked at the sight of Tony's exploded head, backing away in horror.

"M-Makoto!"

He heard a familiar voice and turned his head around to see a panicked and sweaty Byakuya, gun in hand and breathing heavy.

"H-Hold on, Makoto!" the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny rushed to Makoto's side as he stumbled and fell right on his bottom. "F-Fuck, stay with me, Makoto! H-Hold on!"

"B-Byakuya!" N-No way… As the Togami heir approached him and began to look around for any signs of injuries, Makoto began to sob and wrapped his arms around his friend's body. "BYAKUYA! Y-You… YOU'VE SAVED MY LIFE!"

"H-Hey, what are you d-doing?!" Byakuya stuttered, pulling Makoto away. "Y-You'll thank me later, p-plebian!"

He quickly stood up again and noticed Laura's body lying on the floor, losing blood. He rushed to her side and placed a finger on her arm. After a few seconds, he let out a sigh of relief.


"She should live, according to what the doctors said," Kyoko said, crossing her arms over her breasts. "She got lucky, though. One centimeter more to the left, and it would have pierced her heart," she sat down next to a mute Makoto. "You've saved her life, Byakuya. If you had not reacted so quickly, she would be dead."

The young man looked away, the expression on his face grave.

"I did what I had to when I heard that scream."

"I suppose you're right," the Former Ultimate Detective stated, turning her purple eyes towards Makoto. "Director Kirigiri is glad that you've saved that woman's life, Byakuya, but… you can't know how grateful Kyoko is that you've saved Makoto."

"Don't worry about it. I wasn't going to let that fool die so easily," Byakuya told her. "I didn't want to take a life, but…" he turned away, and the Luckster swore he had heard the Togami heir sniffle. "There are things that matter more than that."

"Yes. Yes, there are," Kyoko said simply, putting a gloved hand atop Makoto's. "Are you feeling better, Makoto?"

"I… I-I'm fine, Kyoko…" he managed to say, though he wasn't really. "As long… as long as Ms. Lawn makes it out alive… I think I'll be fine…"

"I hope so. I'm sorry that things had to take that turn, Makoto. I wasn't on this mission, but as your boss, it is technically my fault."

"N-No, it's not… All of this…" Makoto clenched his fist and gritted his teeth. "The reason Ms. Lawn won't ever be able to see her brother again… and the reason I almost died today… that's Junko's fault and Junko's fault alone. None of this would have happened if not for her."

Kyoko nodded and squeezed his hand before standing up.

"You're right," she sighed. "The two of you take a break for a week and get some rest. I'll call Munakata and tell him what happened," she gave them her Kirigiri glare. "And don't even try to ask me to come back sooner than that, understood?"

The two Special Agents nodded in understanding.

"I'll give you an update on Ms. Lawn's status as soon as I get info. Until then, try to relax and rest. Everything's alright now. I'll talk to you later."

She left the room, leaving Makoto and Byakuya together. Neither of them said anything for a while.

"You know… you shouldn't have come to check up on me back there, Byakuya. Ms. Lawn could have died at that moment."

"I shouldn't have. But I did."

"Yeah, you did. Why?"

"Because I thought it was what I needed to do. If it happened again, I'd do the same thing."

"You would?"

"I would."

"Why would a Togami check up on a commoner, though?"

"…"

Makoto stood up. He walked past the Togami heir with a small smile.

"Thanks, Byakuya. I'm glad you're my friend."

The smile quickly dropped, but the words were genuine.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Two:  Lifesaving Foolishness

"The answer is no."

"Come on, please, Kyoko!" Makoto begged, leaning on his boss's desk. "You've got to reconsider!"

"Special Agent Naegi," she emphasized so he would realize his slip-up. "If it had not been for Special Agent Togami's intervention, you would be dead today. It has been a week since then, and I am not sending you on another mission so soon, and that's the end of it!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student groaned, growing frustrated.

"I wanna work! I can't be useless to the Division now, can I?! Everyone's doing their best out there, and I've got to help them out!" he told her, making sure not to throw a tantrum and to keep his voice low. "I'm not any good as a Special Agent filling paperwork, Director Kirigiri! Besides, you've sent Special Agent Togami back on missions already!"

Kyoko sighed, giving him her Kirigiri glare. "You just don't get it, do you? You nearly died. Perhaps you try to hide it, but you are still traumatized by what happened, and rightfully so. I am not letting you go on a mission right now."

The last time Makoto had been on the receiving end of Kyoko's cold stare, it had been during the Killing Game when he had hidden Sakura's betrayal from her. Back then, Makoto understood that he deserved it to some extent. Right now, however, he felt it was unfair.

And so he did something he usually never did. His eyes darkened, and, feeling emboldened, he shot his boss and friend a glare of his own.

"Then I am resigning."

The Former Ultimate Detective's eyes narrowed the tiniest bit. "I don't have time neither for your jokes nor for your blackmail."

"This is not a joke, Director," he unpinned his Future Foundation pin and placed it on Kyoko's desk. "You know I feel useless if I can't help people, so I'd rather be out. Have a nice day, Director Kirigiri."

The Luckster turned around and headed for the exit without any hesitation. He didn't want to argue with Kyoko of all people about this. She was insisting on preventing him from being helpful. Makoto thought she would have to find someone else to do the job in his place.

He hated doing this to his closest friend, but he just couldn't sit down in front of his paperwork all day long while the others were helping. Be it Kyoko, Munakata, or the entire world, he wouldn't let anyone prevent him from helping.

Of course, Tony's dead body and Laura's blood haunted him every night now. Makoto woke up multiple times each and every night due to nightmares. But he knew he couldn't let this overwhelm him. Besides, he'd been having nightmares ever since seeing Sayaka's dead body at Hope's Peak, so this wasn't exactly new.

"Hold on, Special Agent Naegi."

Hearing Kyoko's voice as he turned the doorknob, Makoto turned around and noticed her standing up from her chair.

"Follow me," she instructed, entering another room near her office.

Unsure but curious, Makoto relented and followed her. The room they were now in was an archive room with shelf upon shelf of files and folders. Most were still empty, but a good amount had already been filled. However, the young man quickly realized that this was not the detail that mattered.

What did matter was that the room was vacant save for the two of them. Kyoko closed the door behind him.

"Now you listen to me for a second and tell me what the hell you think you're doing, Makoto Naegi."

"H-Hey, hold on a second! I'm not the one in the wrong!" he said, getting offended that she was trying to put him on the spot. "I have every right to resign if I want! You don't even want to listen to me!"

She walked over to him, and her Kirigiri glare darkened more than he had ever seen. This was a sign that things were getting serious.

"If you really think I'm going to let you do that, then you're not only naïve but also incredibly dumb," Kyoko told him, looking at him right in the eyes, making him gulp. "You're going to retract that resignation the second we come out of this room, and we'll pretend this never happened, alright? I don't know why you can't understand that I'm doing this for your sake, but my decision won't change. And I'm not fighting with my friend over that, as tempting as you're making it to be."

Makoto felt her stare so close to him, it was almost choking him. He understood how she'd come to be called the Ultimate Detective if she could intimidate her suspects like that. Suddenly, he felt almost scared. The nightmares were scary, of course, but being on the receiving end of Kyoko's stare like this…

It was frightening.

I… I don't want to fight with Kyoko… I just want her to understand! He thought, feeling Kyoko's cold anger rising. I don't want to be useless!

He sniffled before sad tears formed in his hazel-colored eyes. Before he could stop himself, he began to cry and didn't have the strength to even try to hide it.

"M-Makoto?!" Kyoko exclaimed, her glare immediately disappearing in favor of a look of surprise. "What's wrong?!"

"I… I don't wanna be useless! I-If I'm not going to help anyone… b-be it with my words or anything else… t-then I should have died at Hope's Peak!" he cried. "H-How can I be anyone U-Ultimate Hope without e-even helping?!"

The lavender-haired young woman stared at him with baffled and confused eyes. After a second, she sighed and looked at him apologetically.

"Please don't say you should have died, Makoto. You know this isn't right," she said, her voice softening. "You are the Ultimate Hope and my closest friend, and this is why I want to preserve you. But…" she paused for a second, clearly thinking. "If you think this is what's best for you, I can't go against it. I'm sorry I made you cry, Makoto. Please forgive me."

She took a step back and bowed her head in front of him.

"Now, dry those tears and get ready. Your next mission starts in an hour."


"You're super courageous, Makoto man! Going back to work like this so soon after what happened… I'm scared, and I haven't even gone on a mission yet, for serious!"

"Well, I just couldn't stay in my office, doing nothing," Makoto told Hiro, glancing through the window of the helicopter. "And I'm still scared because I know this mission might be the one that will leave me dead, but… I can't let my fear and trauma stop me. If I want to help people, then I have to overcome that!"

His words seemed to reassure the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant a little bit. Following their argument, Kyoko had immediately sent him on a mission with the fortune-teller to inform people of the Future Foundation's presence and tell them that resources were coming soon.

Honestly, what scared Makoto the most about this mission wasn't the possibility of being attacked again: it was that if it happened, Hiro probably wasn't as reliable as Byakuya had been to save him. That, was scary.

I guess I've just gotta trust in Hiro… We haven't even begun the mission, so I'll keep my judgments for the report Kyoko'll ask me to write… He thought, watching Hiro fiddle with a crystal ball. "You okay, Hiro?"

"Y-Yeah…" he stuttered. "I guess…"

That's not what it sounds like, but okay… "Cool. Have you briefed your agents about what they were supposed to do?"

Hiro nodded. "Sure did! I think they understood me better than I understood myself, too!" he claimed, the chit-chat visibly making him less nervous. "If we're not ready now, then we'll never be!"

"That's reassuring," the Luckster told him, nodding in understanding. "I haven't had much time to prepare since Kyoko sent me at the last minute, but I'll do what I can and see how it helps."

"Special Agent Naegi, we're about to land, sir," an agent said, saluting. "The different squads are waiting for the two of you at the landing spot."

"Alright, thank you," Makoto scratched his head, thinking deeply. "Was it… Hiroto? I'm sorry, I'm not sure I remember all of your names yet."

"No, you're right, sir! My name is Hiroto!"

"Ah, well, I guess my memory's not so bad yet," the Former Ultimate Lucky Student said with a chuckle. "Anyway, thanks. You ready, Hiro?"

"Guess I've gotta be, huh…?"


"Okay, so Special Agent Hagakure told me that you've all been pitched about what you had to do, so I don't think I need to go over it again. The one thing I'd like to suggest is that you stay in pairs as much as possible, alright? It's… just in case."

Makoto would be damned if he didn't learn from his mistakes. He refused to let anything like the first mission happen again, so this was self-evident for him. If everyone had a partner, the reaction time to whatever could happen was quicker, potentially saving lives.

"Yessir!" they all said and saluted, making Makoto roll his eyes.

"Then I guess we should begin. Good luck, everyone!" the Special Agent wished, raising his hand as a signal. "Every little action counts!"

All the agents on the mission cheered and ran in all directions to do what they were supposed to. Soon enough, only Makoto and Hiro remained.

"Could… Could we please stick together, Makoto man?" the fortune-teller asked. "I-I think I'd feel more at ease with your good luck close to me, honestly."

You and me both, Hiro, you and me both… Makoto thought, but not wanting to panic his friend even more, kept silent. "Well, let's go. There must be plenty of people waiting to be helped who need us!"

"Y-You sure are enthusiastic, my man," Hiro told him, chuckling.

Makoto smiled as they began to walk. "You bet I am! One week of doing nothing was so annoying! I wanna help people! It's what I'm best at!"

It might actually be the only thing I'm good at…


"Hello? Is anyone here?" Makoto asked as he knocked on a wooden door with Hiro standing next to him. "This is Future Foundation! We're here for a check-up!"

The two Special Agents were met by silence, prompting the Former Ultimate Lucky Student to try to knock again. It didn't bring more results, however.

"Well, maybe we should try to break the door?" Hiro suggested. "Though… I can predict that what's inside isn't gonna be so cool, man!"

"Oh, you're just a chicken, Hiro." Besides, it can't be worse than what happened last time, right…? Makoto thought, trying to reason with himself before reasoning with the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant. "And before we break the door, I guess we should just try to open it," he turned the doorknob and opened the door. "There you go."

The fortune-teller looked a little silly.

"Let's go inside and see if there's anybody home," the Luckster said, entering the house. It was an old house, and the place was dusty. "I don't think anyone's lived here for a while… It's all dusty everywhere! If you brought Toko here, Genocide Jack would be out in a second!"

"Y-Yeah, I really think we should leave, man…" the other Special Agent told him, his face paling. "I don't feel it… There's something evil in this house!"

"Something evil?" What kind of nonsense is he saying now…? "Well, it's more likely that this house is empty rather than haunted, I think. Hello?! Makoto Naegi, Future Foundation!"

Once again, nobody answered. Makoto shrugged.

"Well, there's a staircase leading to an upper floor. Perhaps we should go check this out before we go, alright?" the young man offered. "While we're here, you should look on this floor to see if there're any resources, in case the house's empty, alright?"

"U-Um, I'm not sure if that's a good-"

"Oh, you really are a chicken!" Makoto exclaimed, growing frustrated by his friend's cowardness. "We've been through a Killing Game, Hiro! You aren't gonna be afraid of a house?!"

"D-Don't come to ask for my forgiveness if you see a ghost, m-man!"

Makoto rolled his eyes and started going up the stairs. The stairwell was just as dusty as the rest was, and he knew his suit would have to be cleaned after he came back to HQ. The second floor was also quiet, apart from his footsteps.

"Anyone here? This is Future Foundation!" Makoto tried again, knowing that someone could potentially be hidden inside. Guess either there's no one here, or they don't want to come out… I can't blame them. No sign of a ghost, though…

The Luckster opened a door and noticed it led to a bedroom. It was empty, though there were a couple of closets and wardrobes he wanted to look through. The order was to gather any resources they could find in inhabited houses to give to people in need. Clothes and food were the most useful.

"Well, let's see here…" he opened the first wardrobe and saw a couple of suits and pants. "That's already something. If there's no one living here, we'll be able to take that."

*growl*

"H-Huh…?"

Makoto turned around as he heard a strange sound and looked in all directions, trying to identify what had caused it. What was that?! C-Could it be… a g-ghost?! He gulped. N-No, I'm just letting Hiro's words get to me… Deep breaths, Makoto…

Gathering courage, the brown-haired man went back to look inside another wardrobe and saw dresses and other pieces of feminine clothing.

"I guess a couple used to be live here…" he thought aloud, finding that the sound of his own voice could cover any other scary sounds. "I hope they just moved out… I don't want to find their skeletons in the closet!"

*growl*

"Makoto Naegi… Makoto Naegi…"

"H-HUH?!"

The Luckster began to panic as he heard something or someone saying his name. It was almost like the voice of a zombie: empty and inhumane.

"W-Who's there?!" he asked, taking a step back and scanning his surroundings. "H-Hiro, I swear to God that if you're p-pulling a prank on me…!"

"Seeing you die would bring me so much despair, Makoto Naegi!"

"W-Where are you…?!" N-Not again! Can't I just go somewhere without someone wanting to kill me?! I-I've gotta get out of here!

Makoto ran for the door, not even trying to understand where the other person was. The one thing he knew what that the longer he stayed inside this bedroom, the more risks he was taking. He ran back into the hallway and headed for the stairs.

Looking behind him, he noticed somebody running after him. Well, something would be a better word to describe it, as the thing chasing him was barely human.

This was as close to a zombie as Makoto had ever seen: putrid flesh, empty eyes, and the blood from its cuts having turned black. Whatever that was, it couldn't be called a human person anymore.

"HIIIIIIROOOOOOOOOO!" he yelled, begging for the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant's help. "HEEEEEEEEELP!"

Of course, the stairs were on the other end of the corridor, and he quickly realized that the despair-addicted zombie chasing him was gaining ground.

"MAKOTO?! Where are you, man?!" he heard Hiro shout from downstairs. "W-What is it?!"

"I'm upstairs, and a zombie is trying to kill me! HELP!"

The Luckster tried to do what heroes in video games and movies did when trying to escape a house: knocking off whatever was in the way to get separation. However, this wasn't quite enough to give him any breathing room.

I-If this thing catches me, I-I'm absolutely dead!

Running as far as his legs would allow him to, Makoto reached the stairs and descended them at light's speed, with only a couple of stairs of advance on his attacker.

*BADUMP*

And this was when he realized that his famous Ultimate Luck always chose the best moments to manifest. As he turned into the first-floor hallway, Makoto heard the zombie tripping and falling down the stairs, leading it to crash right into the wall.

*CRASH*

"Phew, that should have knocked it out… That was way too close…" he thought, allowing himself to sigh in relief. "How did it even turn into something like that…? That must have been a human once, right…?" he wondered aloud, turning to try to find Hiro. The fortune-teller had a pair of handcuffs with him. "Hiro? Where are you?"

"Makoto Naegi… Die!"

"E-EEEEK!

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student barely had time to react that the zombie was right back on its feet, chasing him again.

"M-MAKOTOOOOO! WAAAAAATCH OUUUUUT!"

*CRASH*

Just like the first time, he closed his eyes as he felt death approaching, only opening them again a couple of seconds after hearing another loud sound of somebody falling. At first, he thought he had been the one to make that sound after being tackled to the ground but quickly realized that it wasn't the case.

In fact, he could see the zombie landing square on its face in front of him and an exhausted Hiro just behind.

"M-Man, what is that thing?! I-I told you, that house is haunted!" the fortune-teller exclaimed, breathing heavily.

"H-How did you even knock it out, Hiro?!" Makoto asked in disbelief. "Crashing right into the wall did nothing!"

"W-Well…" Hiro scratched his head. "I guess I did random movements with my arms and hit it hard enough to knock it unconscious?"

"S-Seriously?!" Well, it seems like it won't wake up any time soon, so I guess how he did it doesn't matter… And it's also less bloody than what happened last time… "T-Thanks, Hiro. I don't think I would have stayed alive for very long if this thing had caught me."

"No problem, man! But you've gotta learn to trust me more! I had predicted that something bad would happen!"

"You… actually did." Makoto sweatdropped. "My bad…" Maybe his predictions aren't that bad after all… "W-Well, enough talk! We need to arrest that zombie thing to bring it to HQ!"

Hiro paled immediately. "U-Um, you take the handcuffs, man… I'm not touching that… thing!"

"U-Ugh, I don't want to touch it any more than you do, believe me…" he sighed in disgust. But we need to do this before it wakes up, so I have no other choice. He might have been right on that one, but Hiro's still a chicken, isn't he…?

Makoto took the handcuffs from his friend and colleague and put them on the zombie's wrists carefully, making sure to avoid skin contact as much as possible. Its flesh was cold, and he didn't want to wake up tomorrow as a zombie himself; thank you very much.

"We need to call agents, so they bring it to the helicopters," the Luckster stated once that was done. "Director Kimura is going to have a fun day with that when they bring it to her."

"H-Hey, the sooner we're out of here, the better!" Hiro added, slowly but surely getting close to the door. "I-I didn't find anything of interest, a-anyway!"

Well, if HQ learns that the clothes I found came with a zombie, I'm not sure anyone will want to wear them…

"Y-Yeah, you're right… Besides, we've got other houses to visit before the end of the mission. I'll just call somebody so they can deal with it."

"U-Um… Y-You sure you wanna continue, Makoto…? I-I think I'm good!"

Makoto grumbled and looked at Hiro with disapproving eyes.

"N-Never mind! W-We can continue all day long!"

Makoto sighed, knowing that even if he might have saved his life, Hiro would always be Hiro, but that it might be better this way.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Three:  Makoto's Promise

"By the way, I hope you didn't think that what had almost happened to you last time didn't reach my ears, Makoto."

The Luckster's eyes widened, and he gulped in fear, slowly turning to meet Kyoko's disapproving gaze.

"I… I didn't tell you?" Makoto wondered, trying to make it sound natural. In truth, he knew he had not told her, and he never had any intention to. "I guess I must have forgotten."

"It's not a good sign if you begin to forget things like life-threatening experiences your age, Makoto," the Former Ultimate Detective noted ironically. "I suppose I have Hiro to thank, or I would never have known since I'm pretty sure you would never have told me."

Thanks for having my back, Hiro… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student deadpanned. He simply scratched his head and didn't say anything more.

In reality, he had hidden the zombie incident from her so that she wouldn't be tempted to put him to the side again. They had almost argued over it once, and he didn't want it to happen again.

Now, the problem was, he had hidden something from Kyoko, and she knew it. Makoto could only hope she wouldn't give him the same treatment she did before Sakura's death during the Killing Game.

"You're lucky I'm in a good mood, Special Agent Naegi," she told him, her expression not showing any signs that she was in a good mood. "And for your information, I would not have sidelined you if you had told me. I got the message that you wanted to be on the field, believe me."

A sigh concluded that sentence, making Makoto redden at the cheeks. He knew he was a little too old now to throw tantrums and cry in front of his boss, but he couldn't help it. But hey, at least it had worked!

"Alright, enough about that," Kyoko then added. "By the way, you might be curious as to what that zombie you crossed path with actually was?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student frowned. "I-I mean… kinda? This was really scary, but for someone who's played video games for my whole childhood, I guess I'm curious, yeah."

"That's the answer I expected," she chuckled. "Well, I got in touch with Director Kimura, who analyzed it, and it turns out that it was a human person whose body rotted to extreme proportions. Food deprivation, radioactivity, and polluted air turned them into this… thing."

The sheer fact that even stoic Kyoko Kirigiri seemed disgusted proved to Makoto that it was not simply him lacking bravery. And he had been chased by it, too!

"She believes that they were living close to a nuclear powerplant that might have been targetted by Ultimate Despair members," she explained further, crossing her arms. "She hopes that it's not transmittable, or we might have a problem, I'm afraid. Dealing with an army of despair-craving worshippers is already painful, so if there could not be zombies, the entire Future Foundation would be grateful…"

She sighed again, and Makoto couldn't disagree with her. He wanted to help those who had been affected by despair, but even he had his limits, those being that he couldn't help non-human things.

Except for cranes, maybe.

"Well, anyway. We've prepared for today's mission, but I think it's important we go over what we need to do again, okay?"

"Sure," Makoto replied with a nod. "We have to gather resources that were left in strategic spots before the Tragedy, right? And help people on the way, too?"

"Yes, that's right. I'm glad you didn't forget about that," the Former Ultimate Detective noted, her eyes darkening for a split second. "I've sent Hiro and Byakuya on another mission in the meantime, so we have pretty much the entire Division on the field today. Toko is also with them, which worries me to some extent."

"Oh, I'm sure they'll do fine," the Luckster said. "With Byakuya leading the way, it can't go wrong. I just hope he's alright after what he was forced to do during our first mission…" he frowned.

"Well, he didn't tell me about being too troubled, though that might just be his ego hiding it. But anyway, we've got our own work to do, so we cannot worry about them too much," Kyoko then sighed. "I can't be behind every single agent in the Division, I'm afraid…"

Makoto had trouble being the superior of not more than two hundred agents, so he couldn't imagine himself being in Kyoko's shoes with way more than that under her direct orders. He had figured out for a long time that the lavender-haired woman was Ultimate in many regards, and not just as a detective.

She's never complaining, always hard at work, never unsure… Sometimes, I wonder if there's anything that could stop Kyoko, honestly… He chuckled. I guess that doesn't apply to anyone…

"Director Kirigiri, Special Agent Naegi! We're about to land at the designated position!"

The two friends and colleagues turned and noticed the co-pilot saluting in front of them, eyes obscured by his helmet.

"Very well. We'll get ready," Kyoko said, standing up. "With the hopes that everything goes well for everyone. We're working on a larger scale than during previous missions, after all."

"Yeah. Well, I'm ready," Makoto informed her, also standing up. "Do you think the other helicopters have already landed, Kyoko?"

"Some probably have, yes. I can't know for sure, though."

"I guess that makes sense."

Today was indeed the day of a special mission. Division Fourteen's first few missions had focused on specific neighborhoods of Tokyo, but today, they had been asked to patrol the entire Japanese capital. There were many things to do, and Kyoko had told Makoto that other Divisions were actually on the field on the same day.

And since not all agents could be correctly gathered in one spot when they were so many, every helicopter had been given its own landing spot. Makoto and Kyoko were on their own for the sake of being discrete. They had definitely understood that big crowds often came with despair worshippers, so it was a safer choice, at least in Kyoko's opinion.

"Let's go, Makoto."


"Please remain careful, alright? You got caught in two life-threatening situations already, and I'd rather not have this one be the third, understood?"

Kyoko's words were said a little harshly, but Makoto knew she didn't mean harm. Far from it, actually. And he knew what she meant, although he'd hardly chosen to get caught in these situations.

"Alright, I'll be careful, Kyoko," Makoto replied with a confident nod. "Well, why don't we start with this house over here? It seems in a pretty decent state."

He pointed at an old house that was actually doing pretty well for itself. The walls were cracked a bit, but none were broken, and the wooden planks covering the windows weren't damaged at all. Of course, before the Tragedy, a house like this would have been in a sorry state. Things had changed, however.

"If you wish, we can start here," Kyoko said, shrugging. "Do us the honors and go knock, alright? You'll be more effective with the talking than I could ever hope to be."

Makoto stepped up to the wooden door and knocked a couple of times, hoping to get an answer.

"Is anybody home? This is Future Foundation! Please open!" he shouted, though he made sure that his voice didn't sound hostile at all. The last thing he wanted was to scare whoever was living there. "We're here for a check-up!"

The two Former Ultimates waited for a couple of seconds in front of the door. Kyoko tapped her foot from behind Makoto.

"It could be empty, the owner could be out right now, or they could potentially not be able to open at the moment," she suggested. "Or well… I suppose they could also be inside, but dead."

"U-Uh…" the Luckster sweatdropped. "Let's hope not, right?"

"I'm just saying," Kyoko added, shrugging. "And it looks like your optimism was well-founded."

The door slowly opened, revealing a grey-haired and bearded old man on the other side.

"Are you the good people…?" he asked, standing somewhat straight with a cane. "Hm, whatever… it's not like I want to live anymore… kill me if you wish."

"S-Sir, we're from the Future Foundation. We came to help you," Makoto said, taken aback by the old man's negativity and pessimism. "We are not going to harm you, far from it. Is it alright if my boss and I came in?"

"I… I suppose so…" the man told them with a sigh. "If you say you want to help, I'd be a fool not to listen to you. I may sound defeated, but I am not a fool."

"You do sound defeated," Kyoko noted, following her employee inside the house. "Why is that?"

That's too direct, Kyoko… Makoto regretted and gave his boss a discrete disapproving look. He leaned into her ear and whispered to her. "Lemme handle it. The poor man's gonna want to hang himself if you're so cold to him."

"Understood," the Former Ultimate Detective simply replied, crossing her arms and waiting a couple of feet away from Makoto and the old man.

"Young miss, when you've seen what I've seen, there is nothing that could give me hope back," the man told her, sitting on his couch. "I've seen wars, I've seen atrocities, I've seen my wife die too young, but… what I've seen since the beginning of this apocalypse is far worse than all that."

"You… You have my condolences, sir," Makoto said, respectfully bowing his head. "Mankind is facing some trying times, and this is why the Future Foundation is doing its best to restore hope to the world," he sat on the couch next to the old man. "My name is Makoto Naegi, sir. I've been an unwilling participant of the Killing School Life orchestrated by the person responsible for the Tragedy, Junko Enoshima. I have seen my friends die, so I understand your suffering, sir."

The old man looked at Makoto in the eyes before shaking his head.

"My memory's not what it used to be, young man, but I do seem to recall you from that television program, yes," he said, looking down to the ground. "Ha! What a world we live in, pushing the youth to die… Really, I'd rather be dead than continue to live on this sick planet."

"But you can't give up hope now, sir!" the Luckster insisted, placing his hands on the man's shoulders. "You're still alive, and it's what matters the most! You've lived a long life already, and even if you've seen the worst, you've also seen the best the world has to offer! And as long as you've not seen the world like this again, I refuse that you give up! You can't!"

"Young man… I don't think you understand… I am ninety-two years old, I can barely walk, my eyesight has worsened, I cannot hear from ten feet away, and my memories are hazy at best. There's no realistic hope for me, I'm afraid."

"No, that's wrong!" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student shouted, passion entering his eyes. "As long as you're still here, there's hope, sir! As long as you can transmit something, hope is not lost for you! What would your wife think if she heard you sound so defeated, sir? I'm sure she would want you to keep some hope!" Makoto smiled at the gray-haired man. "Besides, we're here to provide you with help so that you're not alone! I know what it's like to feel lonely and responsible, sir; I really do. And this is why the Future Foundation helps people in need! We're working very hard to make sure that this Tragedy can be over soon so that things can go back to normal!"

"Mister Naegi… You are a good young man, but I don't think-"

"Then I'll visit you every week, sir. Until you either accept that there's hope to be had or that you draw your final breath, I'll be there, and you'll tell me all about that world you've lived in," Makoto told him, looking at him right in the eyes. "And I promise, sir, that I'll make you see hope again. And then…" he smiled at him, showing him a reassuring expression. The one that said 'everything will be alright.' "We'll see the world reconstruct together, alright?"

"You're a persistent one, boy!" the man exclaimed, chuckling. Makoto noticed Kyoko nod to herself. "Fine, then. I could do with some company, actually. Though I think you'll be wasting your time with an old man like me."

"Perhaps, but perhaps not. But I'm willing to take the risk, sir," the Luckster stood up from the couch and extended his hand to the man. "I'll be back next week, and we can begin then."

The grey-haired man nodded. Makoto was glad to see him doing better. He wasn't smiling, but it was all in his voice. The first seeds of hope had been planted, and now the young man needed to water them frequently enough to make them grow.

"Cool! Then I'll see you in a week, Mister…?"

"Hanzou. Shouta Hanzou, Mister Naegi," he replied, shaking Makoto's hand. "I'll be lucky if you remember it."

"Then consider yourself lucky, Mr. Hanzou, because I'll definitely remember," Makoto assured him with confidence, turning around. "Well, see you in a week! Stay safe!"

"Goodbye, sir," Kyoko simply added before following her employee out of the house. She closed the door before frowning. "Can I ask you a question, Makoto?"

"Hm?" What does she want to know…? Makoto wondered. "Yeah, sure. What is it?"

"Do you think this can really work…?" the young woman asked, seemingly uncertain. "He doesn't have any will to live, so don't you think it's pointless…? I know you've given us hope when we'd reached the very bottom at Hope's Peak, but we're young… it wasn't impossible for us to see a better world. This man… we both know he won't make it to the end of the Tragedy, Makoto."

"We weren't supposed to make it either, Kyoko. But we did," he simply told her. "It will work. I'll make it work."

Kyoko nodded. "Fair enough."

As the two colleagues headed for the next house, the Luckster knew he'd made the right decision.

Maybe I won't be the one to save the world, but… if my hope can inspire even one person, I'll consider myself useful. I don't know why I told him I'd come back every week when I have so much work to do, but I'll do it, whatever it takes.

After all, every little bit counts.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Four:  To Save The Pink Princess

"Well, here we are. We've done some good work so far, but this is the place that really matters for this mission."

Kyoko and Makoto stood near the entrance to an old building. The neighborhood was quiet save for the two of them, which was almost intimidating for the Luckster. This wasn't a part of Tokyo he usually visited before Hope's Peak Academy, but it felt too empty.

"What's this place, Kyoko?" he asked, not bothering with formalities. There was no one around, after all. "And why is it so important?"

The Former Ultimate Detective pointed to a sign atop the building. "This is a former armory, and we need to list the weaponry inside so it can be taken away, in case some of Junko's worshippers had planned to steal them. It was listed as a strategic spot in Munakata's orders."

"Ah, I see." I guess that makes sense… I think I'll always prefer to help people rather than to handle weapons, but I'm not the boss around here. "Right behind you, Kyoko."

"Then let's go inside. Hopefully, there isn't a trap awaiting us inside," Kyoko said, opening the sturdy door and entering the armory, Makoto following. She gave the Luckster a funny glance. "You've been a magnet for trouble recently, haven't you?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student sighed, making her chuckle.

"I'm joking, Makoto. This was just a coincidence. We'll be fine."

I hope so, yeah… The young man thought, looking around the building. "Man, there are so many weapons everywhere… Swords, knives, firearms… It almost seems like we're in a video game!"

"Except that we're very much in real life," the purple-eyed young woman reminded him. "You don't get extra lives in real life, so be careful, alright? It's not because I think we'll be fine that we can let our guards down. You just need to take pictures of the rows of weapons so they can be taken away later, okay?"

"Sure, that seems easy enough." As long as I don't have to fire a gun or something, I'm good with that. Makoto decided, impressed with the arsenal in front of him. "Do you think that someone would be able to use so many weapons, Kyoko?" he asked, taking out his cellphone and taking pictures. Chit-chat could be enjoyable, especially during work.

"Someone probably could handle them all, yes, but not anymore, I don't think," she said, taking her pictures on the other side of the room.

"Hm? Who are you talking about, Kyoko?" the Luckster asked. Do we know anyone good with weapons…? No one's coming to mind… "Anybody I know?"

"Well…" Kyoko hesitated for a second. "I suppose we know her, though remembering her is something else entirely."

"Oh. You mean that person, don't you…?" I had honestly forgotten about her… It's almost ironic, honestly, considering what almost happened to me…

"Indeed. That girl is a mystery to me, even to this day. If we ever get back these memories Junko took from us, I'd be curious to know who she really was," Kyoko stated, the detective side of her showing. "Though that's hardly important right now."

"Yeah, I guess it isn't." Let's focus on these pictures… Geez, there are enough weapons for an entire army in there! He thought, snapping shot after shot. "We've already worked for the Future Foundation for a bit more than a month now… Time definitely flies too quickly…" the young man added, thinking out loud.

"I'll admit that I have not really been keeping track of time, but if you say so, it's probably the case," Kyoko replied flatly. "What do you think of our work so far, Makoto?"

Makoto took a moment to think. What were his thoughts? Being a member of the Future Foundation had already become a routine for him, so this was definitely not an easy question.

"I guess… I guess it could have been better, but it could also have been worse, so I have no right to complain," Makoto told her, sighing. "I think that the incident with Ms. Lawn will leave me with lifelong trauma, but at least I'm alive. Not everyone had that chance."

Tony's body flashed through his mind, as did Laura's blood. He could still see it clearly, and there wasn't a night during which it didn't cause him nightmares. Except there, Byakuya wasn't there to save his life. But these were only that: nightmares.

Makoto knew they weren't real, that when he woke up, his friends were still there. If he had to lose his friends, this would be a nightmare he wouldn't wake up from.

"I understand. We might have a lot of work, but you can ask for a day off whenever you feel like you need one, Makoto," the Branch Leader assured him. "Or even go see Director Gekkogahara in order to work on your trauma."

"Thanks, Kyoko, but I'm fine, don't worry about it," he smiled at her, trying to convince her. He would convince himself later. "As long as I can help people, I'll be okay enough. I don't think we can expect more from a world like this."

He saw Kyoko nod in agreement.

"By the way…" Makoto paused, trying to shake the bad omen from his mind. "Do you have any news about Ms. Lawn's status? She's gonna live, right?"

"Well, since our Division is the one that visited her, I'm getting regular updates on her status from the doctors taking care of her. They say that her state is improving slightly every day, and she has woken up from her coma," Kyoko explained, continuing with her photos. "She'll live, and it should be possible to visit her soon if her state continues to improve."

Makoto breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God… I was so scared she wouldn't make it…"

Kyoko narrowed her eyes on him, though he could not see it since his back was turned to her. They took their pictures where they needed to be taken, so they were more talking to the wall in front of them than face-to-face, really.

There were a couple of silent seconds.

"Then you don't need to be scared anymore."

"Yeah, I guess so."

In reality, Makoto was still scared. He needed Laura to live. She was a stranger, but if she survived, it meant that Komaru could, too. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student didn't know where his little sister was, but he knew that if someone could live after this, then his baby Komaru could too.

He thought about his parents a lot, also. That motive video was still very fresh in his mind, but he tried not to pay attention to it. It had led Sayaka - the girl he was crushing on - to fall to despair, so he knew better than to try to think about it.

One thing he knew for sure, though: he would never find himself in the same state Tony had found himself in. Even if he fell to despair, he never could raise a knife on his little sister. He would take his own life before the thought of killing Komaru could cross his mind.

"Well, I'm done with my side of the room," Makoto said proudly, pocketing his phone and stretching. "Say, Kyoko… can I try one of these swords…? They look so cool!"

The young woman shook her head. "You are a little kid, Special Agent Naegi, you know that…?" she rolled her eyes. "Fine, as long as you put it back where you got it from afterward."

"Yay, thanks, Kyoko; you're the best!" the Luckster cheered. Ever since I watched all these knight shows on TV as a kid, I always wanted to try wielding a sword!

"I suppose you're welcome…" she sighed. "Don't bother me, though. I'm not done yet."

"Don't worry about a thing!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student turned towards the rows of swords at his disposal and smiled. There were so many to choose from, he didn't know which one to pick. Some looked too heavy, so he eliminated these first. Others were placed way too high for him to grab, so these were, of course, eliminated, too.

In the end, he chose a simple one and grabbed it with ease. It still wasn't light, but he could handle it without too much difficulty. He found himself giggling like an idiot as he swung it around, imagining dragons in front of him that he needed to slain.

"Look, Kyoko, I'm a knight!" he exclaimed, forgetting that his boss had instructed him not to bother her.

"If you say so."

She didn't even turn in his direction, too focused on finishing her work. Makoto continued to mess with the weapon he'd chosen, finding himself having more fun than he ever had in a good two months now.

*growl*

He continued to play until he thought he'd heard a suspicious sound coming from somewhere inside the room. He looked around, trying to find where it was coming from. Other than the sound of his sword swinging in the air and Kyoko's phone taking pictures, it was quiet. Or at least, it should have been.

"Did you hear that, Kyoko?" he asked, taking a deep breath. "I swear I heard something…"

The Division Director sighed. "You're probably imagining it. Maybe it's one of the monsters you're fighting that you've heard; who knows?"

Very funny… Makoto thought, though he didn't dare to say anything. He shrugged and dismissed it.

*growl*

"H-Hey, I definitely heard something!" Makoto exclaimed as he picked up another sound. "You heard that, Kyoko, right?"

"Hey, can you let me work in peace for a second, Makoto?" she ordered frustratingly. "You're disrupting me, and it's irritating."

It was rare for Kyoko to raise her voice, so Makoto took this as a sign to stop bothering her. Whatever he had heard, she had not.

"Sorry…" he apologized, seeing Kyoko go back to her pictures. I guess I should stop messing around and place this sword back where I found it…

And then, Makoto froze, almost dropping the weapon.

"DIIIIIIIIE!"

The voice threatened to pierce his eardrums, and he was finding it to be too familiar by now.

Goddamnit, not again!

He turned around with fear and hesitation, ready for his third rendezvous with the doors of death in a few weeks, only to find out that the Grim Reaper had not come to get him this time.

His eyes widened, and in less than a second, he was rushing like a madman. He didn't know what he was doing, but his instincts told him that it was what he needed to do.

"KYOKO! WATCH OUT!"

He saw the glinting eye of a Monokuma mask first, followed by the reflection of light on the blade of a knife.

The woman turned around at the sound of Makoto's plead and gasped. Makoto never thought he would see so much shock in her eyes. Her expression morphed in a split second, and the sidestep she did hardly put her out of the weapon's way. The Luckster saw that she tried to kick her attacker, but it did nothing to put them off-balance.

Unsure of what to do and seeing his closest friend less than a second away from certain death, Makoto let his body do the thinking instead of his brain.

*BONK*

The Monokuma mask broke instantly after the impact with the sword as the mysterious attacker dropped unconscious, knife still in their hand. Makoto tossed the weapon away, rushing to his friend's side.

"K-Kyoko!" he exclaimed, wrapping her in a close hug. "A-Are you alright?!"

"I… I-I'm fine, Makoto…" she said with a rare stutter and deep breaths, allowing her friend and savior to embrace her tightly. "I… I think I'm okay… Y-You saved me, Makoto. You saved my life… again."

"T-That's not important! W-What matters is that you're alright!" Makoto told her with panic filling his voice. "G-God, I-I almost lost you…"

The two Former Ultimates stayed like that for a couple of more minutes, comforting each other. Makoto began to cry and let the tears fall on Kyoko's shoulders while the young woman looked down at her attacker's unconscious form.

She suddenly pulled away and looked at Makoto right in the eyes.

"I'm grateful, Makoto. And I'm very sorry, too," she bowed her head in front of him. "I didn't take you seriously when you said you had heard a sound, and it could have cost me my life. I feel ashamed."

"I-It's okay, don't mention it! I was messing around and didn't take the possibility of a threat seriously, so don't worry about it!" the Luckster insisted, obviously shocked. It wasn't him who had been attacked, but he was more shaken up than Kyoko was. He quickly realized that he was feeling almost more relieved than when Byakuya had saved his own life. "That was way too close…"

"Well, what matters is that we're both still alive. I feel bad, though. I should have been more careful about my surroundings instead of getting angry at you. I still have much room for improvement, it seems like."

Makoto didn't know what to say after that. He stayed silent, finally turning to the attacker he had disarmed. It had come naturally. He had raised the sword without even thinking about it, knowing that if he didn't, then Kyoko would die.

And then he realized how lucky he'd gotten once again. What if he had not picked up that sword in the first place? Considering the time it would have taken for him to get a weapon, the detective probably would have had the time to die three times.

Ironically, Kyoko had been saved thanks to the fact that Makoto watched knight shows when he was a kid. Although, to him, this hardly mattered. She was still alive, and it was all he could think about.

"Let's get out of here now," she said, taking out a pair of handcuffs and restraining her attacker. She looked at them with her Kirigiri stare, saying something under her breath that Makoto couldn't hear. "I'll make sure they get the punishment they deserve for that, mark my words."

You're in trouble, whoever you are… Makoto thought, hearing how serious Kyoko was. She'd given him the cold shoulder for days after he had hidden a piece of information from her. He had no idea what the sentence would be for an attempt on her life, but he knew they would not get off easy. I'm so glad she's safe… I would have felt so guilty if something had happened to her and I had done nothing…

The two colleagues got out of the armory with Kyoko dragging her attacker unceremoniously on the ground. The young man still had many worries, but he was grateful that the day Kyoko Kirigiri would die wasn't today.

He'd have more nightmares tonight, but he'd been his boss's knight in shining armor today in more than one way, and this was worth all the nightmares in the world.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Five:  Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

"W-Where… W-Where am I…?"

The bright lights quickly blinded Laura's once shining blue eyes. She closed them again by reflex, and when she opened them for good, the young woman realized something.

"I'm not… dead…?"

She looked around and noticed that her long black hair was completely disheveled and that her ears were hurting like hell. Machines emitted an unbearable beeping sound. The frequency of said sound, which she realized was her heartbeat, made her conclude that this wasn't the Afterlife but something else entirely.

And in this case, it was a hospital room.

Her eyes, instead of closing this time, widened in despair as she remembered why she was there in the first place. She had had visions during this weird sleep she'd been in, but she thought it was just the Tragedy getting to her.

"TONY!"

She shivered as she heard her own voice echo in her mind. It was such a joyful shout, but it had ended tragically. Laura looked under the blanket and noticed a bandage on her midsection. She assumed she was on painkillers, but upon seeing it, it hurt all the same.

Actually, it hurt her even more. Her parents had died at the hands of some of Junko Enoshima's worshippers. She, on the other hand, had almost died at her brother's hands.

"T-Tony tried… he tried to kill me…" she told herself, the tears appearing under her eyes. "M-My brother's fallen to despair… Just how much does this Tragedy plan to take away from me…?"

Laura could recall vague elements of what had happened after she was stabbed, and in particular, the gunshots. She knew Tony didn't have a firearm with him, so it left very little to the imagination.

My brother's dead. He had to be killed because he had fallen to despair. Her mind was empty, and the tears actually disappeared. Whether it was a self-defense mechanism or something else, Laura didn't know, but she couldn't cry. Maybe her brain knew that she wouldn't be able to shed enough tears, anyway. She drew her conclusions, though.

I don't want to live anymore. If I die, I'll at least have a chance to reunite with Mom, Dad, and Tony.

When she blinked, a person flashed before her. Just one sick, despair-inducing grin and two blond pigtails, but they were enough to make Laura enrage.

"Grr… JUNKO ENOSHIMA…! JUNKO… ENOSHIMA…! Do you think you've won?!" she screamed, looking up to the ceiling as if the Ultimate Fashionista could see her from Above. "Well, do you, Junko Enoshima?!"

She screamed at the top of her lungs before taking deep breaths. Rationally, shouting at the ceiling wouldn't lead her anywhere, and she knew that. But that growing hate… it wouldn't go away. Laura didn't want it to.

Ever since her family had immigrated from America to Japan, she had suffered from remarks and mockeries. Being a foreigner had not always been easy for her and her family. However, she had forgiven those who had mocked her. All in all, Laura considered herself to be a forgiving person.

But for the leader of the Ultimate Despair, there would be no forgiveness from her.

"M-Ms. Lawn! Y-You've woken up!"

The girl looked up and noticed a team of doctors and nurses rushing inside the room, immediately checking on the different machines and getting around the bed. They looked panicked, which made Laura realize that she must have been close to not waking up.

She didn't say anything. She neither had the words nor the desire to talk.

One of the doctors gave orders to her colleagues, and the noise was bothering Laura quite a bit. She had just woken up from a - she assumed - long sleep, and she would have loved some peace and quiet. Eventually, though, it stopped, and only the leader of the doctors remained inside.

"Your state has improved quite a lot these past few days, Ms. Lawn. It's good to see you awake," she told her, giving her a reassuring smile. "You'll be just fine now. You need a few more days of bed rest, and then we'll be able to discharge you."

Laura only nodded.

"Is there anything we can do for you, Ms. Lawn? Are you perhaps hungry or thirsty?" the doctor asked. "Or maybe you need to see someone? We have already called the Ultimate Therapist from the Future Foundation so she could help you."

"You can call her and tell her that it's not needed," Laura immediately said. "I don't need to see anyone right now. Or maybe ever."

This took the doctor by surprise. "A-Are you sure, Ms. Lawn…? This therapist is known to make miracles happen-"

"Yes, I'm quite sure, thank you very much," the young woman insisted, raising her voice to show her annoyance. "After what happened, I just need some time alone."

"I understand," the older woman said. "You can always press the button by your bedside if you need a nurse for anything."

"Alright, thanks."

The doctor headed for the exit and opened the door.

Wait, actually, maybe not… "Wait a second, ma'am!"

"Yes, what is it, Ms. Lawn?"

"A-Actually…" Laura paused, thinking it through again. Is this a good idea…? So soon after what happened, can I really…? "There's actually someone I'd like to talk to."


Ugh, I'm so bored! Makoto thought, stretching and looking over at the pile of paperwork he still had to fill. Being on the field is so much better than doing this… I might just give it to my agents and see if there's anything I can do outside…

"You done with work, man? Thought we could go have a drink at the cafeteria together," Hiro suggested from the other desk. "And you're old enough to drink now, right?"

"No, I'm not, and I'd rather not touch alcohol, anyway, thanks," the Luckster replied. "I'm bored, but not that much…" Hiro always has the worst plans!

"Aww, that's a shame, for serious!"

Makoto rolled his eyes. "I'm not really a workaholic, but you really need to focus more on your work, Hiro. Kyoko's gonna be mad if you don't complete the work she gives you in time."

"Nah, you worry too much, Makoto man! I prefer to work slowly but efficiently rather than to rush things and be ineffective!" the fortune-teller explained proudly.

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student laughed. "Yeah, sure." Except that knowing you, it's slow *and* ineffective… I bet Kyoko won't be too pleased…

Hiro began to pout as he understood that his friend didn't really believe him. Makoto giggled.

The door to their joint office suddenly burst open, revealing Byakuya, who invited himself in, a professional expression on his face.

"I was hoping not to interrupt anything important, and I'm comforted to know that you two commoners still aren't working…" he said and sighed. "Anyway, the local hospital has just called. Makoto, you're required there."

"The hospital, you say…?" Makoto echoed, turning towards the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny with a curious look. "Did they say why?"

"They didn't, but I think you should be able to figure it out on your own, Makoto," Byakuya assured him. "I don't think it's something you forgot, as clueless as you can be."

The Luckster thought for a second before a lightbulb appeared over his head. "I-I got it!"

"Good. I told the hospital you'd be on your way as soon as possible. A helicopter's waiting for you in front of the building."

"Okay, thanks, Byakuya. I appreciate it," the hazel-eyed young man said with a grateful smile. If it is what I think it is, it could either be great or terrible news…! Let's hope for the former!

"Hm, maybe you'll say that I'm stupid or something, but…" Hiro cut them, looking genuinely puzzled. "Isn't the boss supposed to tell us this, Byakuya man? This sounds like something she'd be doing, for serious."

"My, you said something intelligent for once, congratulations," Byakuya deadpanned. "Director Kirigiri told me she was meeting with Munakata and Tengan to bring them her attacker. They've attacked the wrong person, it would seem."

"Ah, I see…" That's not so surprising… And Byakuya's right: attacking someone else would have been wiser for them… He rolled his eyes in amusement. "So you're in charge for now?"

"Indeed. And since you will be gone for a while and that I am temporarily your boss, I better see you working harder than that, you idiot!" the Togami heir ordered Hiro, pointing at him disapprovingly. "You're lucky she won't be gone forever, or I would have fired you!"

Makoto sweatdropped, knowing it was better to leave before the argument escalated. He discretely left the office, leaving the two Former Ultimates to argue on their own.

Better get going quickly, so I don't make the pilot wait for too long. The Luckster thought, closing the door behind me so that the agents wouldn't be disturbed by Byakuya's orders. It seems everybody's working hard, as always… It's relieving to see this… It makes me believe that we'll put an end to the Tragedy soon!

Makoto smiled as he reached the elevator and pushed the button to open it. He heard someone walking up behind him.

"O-Oh, it's you…"

The young man turned around and noticed Toko standing next to him, still in her casual clothes, though her usual braids were gone and her purple hair was let loose. She was carrying a file under her arm.

"Oh, hey, Toko! How are you doing?" Makoto asked with a friendly smile. He had not seen the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy around much with how much work he had to do. "Is work going well for you?"

"I-I'm sure y-you don't r-really care…" she said as they got inside the elevator. "M-Master Togami is p-putting so much p-pressure on me to w-work hard… b-but I'll do it! A-And then… t-then he'll acknowledge me!"

Well, she's got one goal in mind, so I guess that's good…? Makoto wondered, taken aback by the novelist's determination. "I wish you luck, Toko. Byakuya's currently in my shared office with Hiro, bossing him around, in case you need to look for him later."

"M-My Master's with t-that idiot a-again…?" she sighed and looked down to the floor of the elevator. "H-He's going to ruin M-Master's golden brain with h-his idiocy! I-I can't believe he's a S-Special Agent and not me!"

"Well…" Makoto scratched his head, unsure of what to say to that. Hiro might not be my brightest friend, but he doesn't have a split personality with a serial killer, at least… He made sure not to say that out loud. "Maybe you'll get a promotion soon, who knows?"

"Y-Yes, y-you're right! And f-for that, I-I need to impress M-Master!" she suddenly looked at the Luckster with angry eyes. "A-And I need to not waste my t-time with p-plebians like you!"

With that, the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy rushed out of the elevator, leaving Makoto confused. He sighed, knowing that trying to understand Toko was a lost cause.

If she's even using Byakuya's insults now…


The door opened slowly, startling Laura. She'd been staring at the ceiling for far too long, thinking about nothing, or, at least, trying to. The longer she could hold the thoughts of what had happened away, the better she would be doing.

"The doctors told me this was the room…" she heard a man mutter, closing the door behind him. "It'd be embarrassing if I got the wrong one…"

Laura smiled in amusement, knowing that, other than the voice, there was one person she knew who could possibly tell themselves that.

"Ah, you're finally here… Good morning, Mr. Naegi, sir," she greeted, trying to stand as upright as she could with the cables surrounding her. "I was about to say 'long time no see,' but that would be pretty uncalled for, wouldn't it…?"

"Ms. Lawn! So it is you!" Makoto exclaimed, walking to the woman's bedside. "It's good to see you awake!"

"Thank you, Mr. Naegi…" Laura humbly said. "Well… I'm not sure I really wanted to wake up, you know…?"

The Luckster frowned. "O-Oh, hm…" he bowed his head in apology. "I'm sorry if this came off the wrong way. I didn't mean any harm. You have my sincerest condolences, Ms. Lawn."

"I-It's okay, Mr. Naegi, sir… I know you didn't mean it in a bad way," Laura assured him, her voice stuck on that sad and depressed tone. "And besides, I guess dying would have been choosing the easy way out…"

Makoto's eyes lost a bit of their hopeful gleam as he looked uncomfortably around the room. He finally sighed and sat down on the chair next to the hospital bed.

"I don't mean to compare what we went through, Ms. Lawn, but during the Killing Game, every time one of my friends died, a part of me asked itself this question," he admitted, crossing his arms. "But every time, I convinced myself that life was always worth living. And I still stand by that belief, even today."

"Yeah… I guess you're right… It's just difficult, you know…?" Laura sobbed a bit before wiping away the tears. "I'm feeling so much hate right now. I'm sad, too, of course, but it's mostly hate… against her, especially."

"I can't say I know exactly how you feel, Ms. Lawn, but I do understand how hard this must be for you," Makoto assured her, leaning forward on his chair. "What happened to you is just horrible, and it's one more crime that can be added to the list of the atrocities Junko is responsible for. But still…"

He paused for a second, biting his lip. Laura looked at him with surprise.

"While I'll never forgive her, I have to move on from my hate for Junko," the Luckster stated, looking at his shoes. "What she did to my friends… I hope there's someone to punish her for that up above, you know? But if I spend my days thinking of her, I'll never be able to move forward."

H-How can he say that…? H-How can he not hate her…? Laura wondered. "B-But I can't move forward anymore, Mr. Naegi! I-I'm all alone now!"

"That's not true, Ms. Lawn. The Future Foundation is here. I'm here."

Her blue eyes widened as Makoto's words reached her.

"I had never planned to become a student of Hope's Peak Academy and to be forced into this Killing Game. Being called the Ultimate Hope… there isn't a day I wake up not thinking that it's absolutely ridiculous. But then," a determined look entered his eyes, and he spoke with conviction. "I don't care about titles, but I know I care more about hope than many. Because I've experienced despair, I've realized how valuable hope is. Maybe I'll die the second I leave this hospital, but if I do, I'll at least know that I never gave in. I'll help people as much as it's needed, and you'll be one of them."

"M-Mr. Naegi…" H-He's so strong… H-He's my inspiration… Laura began to cry, finally letting it all out. "T-Thank you…"

"You're welcome, Ms. Lawn."

He smiled at her, trying to ease her worries. She cried uncontrollably, and he didn't stop her. Laura didn't even know why it was happening now and not before, but she didn't have time to think about it. Makoto handed her a tissue which she took with a grateful nod.

After a few minutes, her crying subsided, and she stared right into the wall.

People like Mr. Naegi… they're the people I need around me if I want to find a new meaning in my life. I have to accept that I can't change the past, but… if he could see hope again… then maybe I can, too…?

"When you are discharged from the hospital, ask for my number at Division Fourteen of the Future Foundation, okay? I'll ask Director Kirigiri if I can place you under my protection for the time being, alright?"

"Y-You… You'd do that for me, Mr. Naegi…?"

Makoto nodded. "Of course, Ms. Lawn. I'm not sure how good my protection would be, but my agents are pros, so they'll be able to keep you safe once you're discharged. You'll be alright, Ms. Lawn; believe in me."

His voice was so reassuring, so kind… Laura felt more at peace after every word he said to her. The young woman didn't know how to describe it, but what Makoto was making her feel right now was already making her feel safer. Like she didn't have to worry so much anymore.

"I… I believe in you, Mr. Naegi." I need to believe in him…

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student smiled warmly at Laura. He stood up from his chair and dusted off his suit.

"I'll let you get some well-needed rest, Ms. Lawn," he told her, extending his hand in her direction. "I wish you a speedy recovery."

She shook his hand with some hesitation, but the peaceful expression on his face made her relax. Everything seemed easier around him as if his hope was contagious. She vaguely recalled him saying something of the kind during his Killing Game. His words were a way of life, a source of inspiration.

"T-Thank you, M-Mr. Naegi…"

"Don't worry about it. Well, take care, Ms. Lawn."

With one last smile, Makoto took his leave, closing the door and leaving Laura alone. However, contrary to before, she didn't feel alone anymore. She could feel the warmth of Makoto's presence still close to her, and his reassuring voice echoed in her mind.

I know what I want to do now… what I need to do to make sure I don't fall into despair like Tony did…

Laura closed her eyes and fell asleep, but instead of her previous nightmares, the young woman headed off towards some sweet dreams, making her come to the subconscious realization that all hope wasn't lost yet.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Six:  Opposite Sides, Same Methods

"Director Kirigiri. What, pray tell, brings you here?"

Kyoko entered the room and noticed Munakata and Tengan discussing something. Kizakura was there too, although he was on the phone a few feet away.

"Good morning," the Former Ultimate Detective greeted. "I have come regarding an incident that has happened yesterday during the joint mission. I indicated it in my report, so I suppose you're familiar with it, Chairman Tengan."

The old man tapped his chin in thought. "Yes, I believe I remember that; you're right. What is it that you wanted to report, Director?"

"Well…" two agents entered the room, dragging her attacker from the day prior. "This individual tried to assassinate me yesterday. If it had not been for Special Agent Naegi's quick reaction, they would have succeeded," Kyoko explained factually, pointing at her attacker. "Following the instructions you have given me should such an incident occur, I have brought them here."

"You did well, Director Kirigiri," Munakata assured her, walking over to her and her attacker. "I don't believe there are any doubts to be had, are there?"

"None whatsoever." There were only the three of us counting Makoto, so there can be no doubts. "Special Agent Naegi could testify, should it be needed."

Munakata dismissed her words with a wave of the hand. "This won't be necessary," he pulled out a tablet from inside his suit and tapped on it a couple of times. A second later, three agents entered the room. "Bring this individual to be executed right away."

Kyoko's eyes widened in surprise. E-Executed…? The question she was asking herself threatened to leave her mouth, but she managed to keep it to herself. Without even a trial…? What kind of kangaroo court is this…? It's fortunate I know for a fact that they're guilty, or…

While Munakata's three subordinates saluted and dragged them away, the young woman heard Tengan slowly walk over to her.

"I understand your surprise, Director Kirigiri, but an attack against a Division Director can only be punished by death, I'm afraid," the old man said, sighing. "Of course, I wish it was different, but Vice-Chairman Munakata made a good point when he suggested this to me."

"What do you mean, Chairman?" Kyoko asked. If we stoop as low as using Junko's methods… "I don't quite follow."

"By executing those who try to kill our Branch Leaders, we ensure that these attacks are limited in number, you see?" Kazuo told her, beginning to head out of the room. "If you could follow me, I'll explain more on the way."

Kyoko narrowed her eyes suspiciously but nonetheless nodded and followed after the Chairman with her two agents. Kizakura - who was still on the phone - did the same, leaving Munakata alone inside the room.

"So what is it that you meant, Chairman Tengan?" she questioned, not entirely satisfied with the reason he had provided her. "I understand that you want for fear to change side, but if I was attacked, doesn't that mean that it's not working?"

"Well… No decision is perfect, Ms. Kirigiri. But fear not: the laws established by the Future Foundation have allowed reducing the crime rate and the number of attacks on both agents and civilians, although there's still much to be done," Tengan explained, walking ahead in the hallways. They could still vaguely hear Kizakura's voice behind them. "We take what we can get, Director."

The lavender-haired woman nodded. She understood his point, but that didn't mean she agreed. Perhaps it was Makoto rubbing off on her, but Kyoko didn't think that you could eradicate violence with violence. Though she was not a fool either. It was better for the Future Foundation to have the monopoly over violence rather than letting the despair worshippers do whatever they wanted.

"Well, here we are," Tengan said, opening a door and showing Kyoko inside. "This is the main execution room, where those who have committed severe crimes are sent. These cover murder and murder attempts on specific individuals, terrorism, or even treason, although we never had to execute anyone for that reason yet."

The room was definitely on the plain side. It was split into two, with one side occupied by agents and guards with a guillotine, traces of blood still visible. The other, where Tengan, Kyoko, and Kizakura were standing, looked more like a supervision room.

"I understand that, sir, but why exactly did you bring me here?" she wondered, not hiding her doubts. "If you want me to witness an execution, I apologize, but I have seen enough to last a lifetime."

The old man sighed. Meanwhile, her attacker was brought inside the room.

"I had a feeling you would say this… I only brought you here so you'd realize that our organization is not as cruel as Junko Enoshima was during her Killing School Life," he explained, seeing the agents prepare the attacker, locking their head under the sharp blade. Seeing Kyoko narrow her eyes, he understood she was not convinced. "You don't have to watch if you don't want to, of course. It was just to dissipate your doubts, Director Kirigiri."

Hm… This only makes me realize that you and Munakata have a right of life or death over anyone who would go against your orders… The young woman thought, though this was obviously something she didn't voice. "Then I'll be leaving if you do not mind. I did what I came here to do, so I'll be taking my leave now, except if there's anything more you needed to tell me."

She bowed her head respectfully in front of the old man before leaving the room.

I don't doubt that they lead a just fight, but my detective senses just can't accept that someone's just been sentenced to death without a fair trial…


The Former Ultimate Detective walked down the halls, trying to be back to Division Fourteen Headquarters as early as possible. She would have liked to be there before lunchtime so she could eat with her Special Agents, but that idea was quickly shot down by someone calling her out from behind.

"Kyoko! W-Wait up!"

The young purple-eyed woman sighed before turning around and noticing a running Koichi Kizakura heading her way, hanging up his phone.

That was a long phone call he was in… Kyoko thought, deciding to wait for the scout. Whatever it was about, it must have been something important. "Kizakura," she simply said when he reached her, panting. "What is it?"

"G-Geez, I'm too old for running like that…" the blonde stated, taking out his customary bottle of alcohol. "H-Hey there, Kyoko! Sorry if it felt like I was stalking you, but I needed to talk to you after this phone call, and I didn't want to lose track of you in this maze."

"Well, here I am," the Former Ultimate told him, resuming her walk. "What did you want to tell me? It better be important."

"So cold…" Kizakura sweatdropped. "I just wanted to catch up a bit with my best friend! No one gave me your number, so I couldn't even text you!"

Kyoko wasn't sure if she wanted to murder him or pity him right now. Odds were, she really was his best friend, though the reverse was hardly true. At best, Kizakura was an unlikely friend. At worst, he was an idiotic bother.

"I'm not sure this qualifies as important, Kizakura," said Kyoko, matter-of-factly.

"Oh, c'mon, it'll be fun! I'm sure you've got all types of adventures to tell me about!" the older Division Director insisted, taking a sip of his bottle. "We can have lunch at the cafeteria if you want. Your old man never passed an opportunity to have lunch with his buddy."

Oh, he was friends with my father, wasn't he…? That had slipped my mind for some reason. Kyoko sighed. I guess my work is taking too much of my thoughts. "I know stubborn people enough to know that you won't take no as an answer, so I might as well accept now."

"Hehe, I knew that would work!" the blonde laughed. Kyoko rolled her eyes.

"You're an idiot, Kizakura. Well, show the way now," she told him, trying to hide her frustration. "Honestly, the quicker I'm done with you, the quicker I can get back to my Division."

"Hey, your agents aren't toddlers; they can manage without their boss for a few hours, can't they?" Koichi rhetorically asked her, almost scolding her. "You really need to take a moment off from time to time, or you'll just burn out from working too much."

"Advice on how to organize my working schedule is rich coming from you, Kizakura," Kyoko deadpanned, traces of a smirk appearing on her lips. "But point taken." If only so you don't bother me endlessly…

The two Division Directors walked side by side, the Former Ultimate Detective following her father's friend in the halls towards the cafeteria. This was only her second time coming to Central Headquarters, her first as Division Fourteen's Director.

"Hey, if you have nothing to say, you shouldn't have told me you wanted to catch up," she said, giving the man a disapproving look.

He laughed again. "I wanted to know how you were doing, missy! C'mon, you know me: I work quietly, and I drink alcohol. That's not gonna change any time soon!"

I think you meant "I slack quietly," but alright… Kyoko thought amusingly. "Well, there isn't much to be said, I'm afraid."

"Really? By the way, what brought you here today?" he asked, looking genuinely curious. "We don't see you around usually. I saw you with a couple of agents and a shady-looking person, but I didn't hear why you'd come."

"Ah, about that…" Kyoko sighed. "I was attacked during the joint mission yesterday. I just followed the rules and brought my attacker here. I did not expect Munakata to send them to the guillotine with a trial, however."

"You've been attacked?" the Former Hope's Peak Talent Scout seemed surprised and somewhat worried. "You alright, Kyoko?"

"I'm alive and well if that's what you want to know."

Kizakura sweatdropped. "Thanks for telling me; I would never have figured otherwise."

"You're an idiot, so I preferred to make sure," she said, smirking mockingly. "Anyway, Makoto saved me just in the nick of time, so there's no need to worry."

"Makoto, huh?" suddenly, Kizakura's smile turned into a teasing grin. "I guess that made you extra happy, didn't it?"

"Cut it, Kizakura. I know where this is going, and I'm telling you again that you've got the wrong idea about Makoto and me."

Her words were clearly spoken and assertive. However, they didn't seem to convince the blonde man for some reason that Kyoko couldn't begin to understand.

"Yeah, sure."

I'll never understand why he's always so sure he's right… especially when he's not! Between him and Hina, this is getting old…

"Well, whatever. You'll figure it out eventually; I'm sure," Koichi said, moving on. "Nothing else? That can't be the only thing that's happened in your Division in a month, right?"

"Well…" I suppose he's not wrong on that one… The young woman mused, adopting a thinking stance as she walked. "Makoto got even unluckier than me. He was attacked twice during his first two missions, and I'm afraid his very first mission will leave him with trauma for a long time."

"Oh. What happened to the little guy?" Kizakura asked, visibly concerned. "For an Ultimate Lucky Student, he sure is unlucky. Well, here we are."

Kyoko looked up and noticed a sign reading "cafeteria" above a door. She nodded and followed after her father's friend inside, where she quickly understood that the place was already crowded. The Former Ultimate Detective didn't like big crowds much, but she would have to do herself violence.

Besides, the entire world had seen her on television, so it's not like she could keep who she was a secret. At least, she had managed to keep the Kirigiri line of detectives hidden since she'd mentioned it only to Makoto, somewhere where Junko had not placed cameras.

"Well, I don't even know if I would say that Makoto's lucky or unlucky. On the one hand, he seems to be a magnet for trouble, but on the other…" she thought her words through, trying to get them right. "It always ends relatively well, and he gives hope back to people. In a way, he's unlucky, but people are lucky to have him around, making him lucky in turn."

"That seems awfully complicated for an idiot like me…" Kizakura joked, staring playfully at Kyoko. "No, but more seriously, as long as he doesn't get hurt, I think he'll be fine. You went through a Killing Game, and you're still here, after all."

He's right on that front. We've gone through a living nightmare, and he almost died on that conveyor belt back after Mukuro's trial… The thought sent shivers of guilt down her spine. But that doesn't mean I can let anything happen to him now. That would be making our victory against Junko useless…

"Though now I'm curious, I can't lie. What exactly happened to the guy?"

"Hm…" Should I tell him? I'm not sure Makoto wants this story to spread, although I do trust Kizakura… She sighed. Sorry if this wasn't what you wished for, Makoto, but I'd like his take on this… "The story with the zombie aside," Kizakura's eyes widened as she said that. "He witnessed someone who had fallen to despair trying to kill their younger sister. After stabbing her and putting her in a coma, they went after Makoto. If it had not been for Byakuya's quick trigger, Makoto would be dead as we speak."

The scout seemed to ponder her story for a few seconds.

"I've heard that the young woman who was stabbed was to be discharged from the hospital soon. I have no doubt that Makoto will want to pay her a visit before then," she added. "If he hasn't done so already, that is."

"I… Man, that left me kinda stumped…" the fedora-wearing man admitted as they got into line. "I'm not sure something like this ever happened to anyone from my Division. We might not be on the field as much, but still…"

"Well, things are what they are. Makoto is one of my Special Agents, so keeping him safe is one of my top priorities, both physically and mentally," Kyoko explained, taking a tray. "But he insists that he wants to be on as many missions as possible. He feels like he's only useful when he's close to people."

"Makes sense, if you want my opinion," the man said with a shrug. "You wouldn't have given him the title you gave him if he'd stayed inside his room at Hope's Peak, doing nothing."

"Yes, I suppose that's true. I understand Makoto, though, and I have to take his feelings into account when I make decisions regarding his working schedule. Although… everyone in the Division says that his enthusiasm helps them work, so I'm grateful."

Subconsciously, a small smile appeared on Kyoko's lips. She didn't even notice Kizakura looking at her funnily, a teasing and happy smirk plastered on his face as they grabbed their food.

They went to have a seat at a table where they could be left in peace, both with their tray. Kyoko always ate healthily and was surprised to see Kizakura seemed to be the same. She figured out that his unhealthy habits stopped when the bottle was inside his pocket.

"Well, bon appetit, Director Kirigiri," he said as he dug in his food, going at a slow and civilized pace.

I'll never know if he acts like an idiot just because he's one or wants people to think that he's one… Kyoko wondered, nodding and beginning to eat as well. Suddenly, a cellphone beeped. Hm? Maybe I have a text.

She took her phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen, only to realize that there was nothing new. At the same time, Koichi finished taking a sip of his bottle and took out his own cellphone.

"Geez, they won't leave me alone!" he complained, typing on the little device.

"Who is 'they?'" Kyoko asked, seeing him as focused as he was when he was on the phone earlier.

"My agents, actually," he answered, putting the phone back on the table. "Someone called them earlier because they wanted to join the Future Foundation. They were pretty insistent, too."

"Ah, I see."

Kyoko returned to her food, satisfied with the answer. It made sense, after all; he was a scout in charge of recruitment for the entire organization. After a while, though, she noticed him looking at her.

"Aren't you going to ask me for more info?"

"Why would I? For once, you've answered a question clearly and in full." What is he up to again…? "What do you want me to ask?"

"Well, I just thought your detective senses would push you to be a little more curious, that's all."

"Alright, I'll bite," Kyoko said, understanding that he wanted her to ask. "Could you tell me more about that since it appears to be so important?"

"Glad you asked!" he chuckled, making the young woman sweatdrop. "The thing is, I've already met the person who wants to join."

"Oh, you have?" Why the hell would I care about that…? Kyoko wondered, seriously starting to feel like the former talent scout was wasting her time. "And what do I make of that piece of information, hm?"

"Hey, you didn't let me finish!"

"Apologies, then. Go ahead."

"Well, this person has a title, which is what I think you'll find the most interesting. I never thought I'd see it come up now, though."

"A title, huh…?" Now, this does sound interesting… "You've caught my interest, Kizakura."

"Haha, have I, now? Well, enough suspense. Their title is…"

He paused one last time for good measure and waited until Kyoko glared at him and tapped her foot impatiently on the floor to continue.

"The Ultimate Copywriter."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven:  The Unremembered Ultimates

"The Ultimate Copywriter…?"

"You heard me right."

"Does that mean…?" Kyoko brought her gloved hand to her chin, thinking deeply. "Are we talking about an alumnus of Hope's Peak Academy…?"

Kizakura chuckled. "Close, but not quite, actually. It was quite a shock for me when I heard about it, but this person is one of the sixteen so-called Unremembered Ultimates."

"T-The… Unremembered Ultimates…?" the Former Ultimate Detective couldn't hide her surprise. "Who… Who are they…?"

Suddenly, Koichi's expression turned much more serious. "I understand your curiosity, Kyoko, but not here. I'm losing my job if anyone hears about it here."

The lavender-haired young woman matched his expression, expectantly narrowing her eyes with suspicion. Kizakura sighed and stood up.

"Finish eating. I'll call my Division to get us a helicopter. I'll be waiting for you outside."

Before Kyoko could protest or even say anything, the man was walking out of the room, leaving her surprised like she rarely was. She realized that Kizakura knew many more things than he let on.

One thing was for sure, however: her detective instincts were telling her that something mysterious was wrong and that she would have a role to play in righting them.


"I take it you've never entered this room, Kyoko?"

"No, I haven't. Honestly, I never really had time to."

Kizakura smiled, which had become a rare occurrence ever since they had left Central Headquarters. For some reason, the Former Talent Scout's carefreeness had evaporated the moment the Kirigiri Detective had asked about the Unremembered Ultimates.

The two Division Directors were in Kyoko's office, but it was quiet, and for a reason, as Koichi had asked her to send all of her agents home while he was here. It had surprised the young woman, but when she'd seen how serious her father's friend was, she had immediately complied.

They stood in front of a door that Kyoko had never opened: the secret room. The only thing she knew about it was from what Munakata had told her, which wasn't much.

"I just know that if I enter this room, then something is going on that I shouldn't get involved in," she told him, giving him a cold stare. "And it appears that whatever this is, you want me to get involved in it."

Koichi crossed his arms. "Yeah, I actually do," he admitted without difficulty, taking Kyoko by surprise. "Because I need an Ultimate Detective to help me on this one. Turns out, out of the two I ever scouted, you're the only one here."

The two you've scouted, hm…? Kyoko looked away for a second, glancing at her gloves. Not now, Kyoko. Forget about her for now. "Go on."

"Could you open this door first, please?" he asked, pointing at the magnetic card scanner. "I'd rather not say a word of this story before we're inside. Walls have ears, after all."

"Understood," Kyoko said with a nod. She walked over to the scanner and pressed her magnetic card against it, opening the door. "There. Let's enter."

They entered the secret room and heard the door close behind them. Kizakura sighed in relief.

"You're usually not the paranoid one, so I take it that this is an important story?" she wondered, looking around the room and noticing that it was very empty. Weird. There's only this one file in the middle of the room…

The blond man crossed his arms over his chest again, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, it is. And I'm bound up with it way more than I'd like to. Now, about these Unremembered Ultimates…"

Kyoko's eyes left the mysterious file to focus on what Koichi was going to say.

"Before your class was sheltered and the Future Foundation was founded, your father tasked me with one last mission, you see?"

"M-My… My father…?" What has my father got to do with anything…? The Former Ultimate Detective wondered, frowning. "What did he task you with doing?"

"Well, you know what I was the Talent Scout for Hope's Peak Academy, right?" Koichi stated and continued upon seeing Kyoko nod. "When the Tragedy began, and your old man took you inside the shelter, he asked me to do my job one last time."

"Your job? Scouting, I take it?" Just where is this going…?

"Exactly. I was sent to scout the Ultimates for Class 79th, in case…" he paused, hiding his eyes and his look with his fedora. "In case the sixteen of you would die. These new Ultimates were supposed to continue the legacy of Hope's Peak, should anything happen."

Kyoko hmphed. "I think we'll agree that something did happen, Kizakura. What happened to that plan?"

"I found them, Kyoko. All sixteen of them," Koichi said, taking a sip from his bottle. "I carried Jin's message to them that they could be called to become the world's new hope at any given moment. However…" he sighed with regret. "Vice-Chairman Munakata heard about what I was doing and ordered me to stop, saying I needed to focus on recruiting for the Future Foundation. And thus, Class 79th was never formed."

"But… that's not all, is it?" Kyoko questioned, pulling out her organizer and beginning to take notes. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be standing here inside a secret room, and you wouldn't have asked me to send all of my staff home, losing a precious day of work in the process."

"No, it's not… You see… just before Junko's Killing Game began, Munakata and Tengan noticed that some of the terrorist attacks organized by her worshippers were failing completely, and without any visible reason."

Kyoko frowned. "Couldn't they have just been prevented by agents of the Future Foundation?"

"That's what we pretty much all thought at first, but after asking all the Branch Leaders about it, we determined that it wasn't the case," the man explained, taking another sip. "Which means that there was another force at play, fighting against the Ultimate Despair."

"Ah, interesting. But that's still not all, am I wrong?" the young purple-eyed woman deduced from the way he didn't seem convinced.

Koichi laughed. "You read me like an open book, Kyoko!" he exclaimed and smiled. "You're right; there's still more. Soon enough, things changed. The Ultimate Despair's attacks weren't prevented by anyone anymore, and instead… we were the ones being attacked more than usual."

They were attacked more than usual, and the worshippers of despair regained their strength…? Kyoko wrote as quickly as she could, trying to think at the same time. "And why was that?"

"I'll get to that in a second. The thing is, these attacks weren't the same as the ones conducted by Junko's brainwashed worshippers: they only targeted infrastructures and agents, not civilians. It didn't take long for Munakata and Tengan to understand that a new force had entered the battle. People talented enough to stand against the alumni of Hope's Peak Academy and the Mastermind of the Tragedy…"

The Former Ultimate Detective's eyes widened in shock as she understood where this was going.

"Class 79th… The Unremembered Ultimates!" she exclaimed, surprise showing all across her face. "They're the only ones that could have done it!"

Koichi clapped, tipping his hat to his best friend's daughter. "Bravo, Director Kirigiri. Indeed, Tengan received a letter signed by the Unremembered Ultimates threatening the Future Foundation of total destruction if they didn't admit to being responsible for the Tragedy."

Right there and then, Kyoko thought her ears were playing tricks on her. She tried to give meaning to Kizakura's words, but even her Ultimate Detective abilities couldn't make sense of that.

"Take this file and read it, Kyoko. It'll tell you all you need to know about the Unremembered Ultimates," the Former Talent Scout told her, pointing to the file resting on a lectern. "There's stuff about the origins of the Tragedy, too, which you probably knew about before Junko took your memories."

Kyoko nodded hesitantly, walking over to the file with shaky steps. Once she had reached it, she took it and glanced at the cover. It read "The truth about The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History," prompting the young woman to glance at Kizakura before opening it. He nodded.

She opened it and immediately stumbled across a list of names. Her heart skipped a beat, and she looked at Koichi with a panicked look in her eyes.

The file was quickly closed and put under one of her arms. After a deep breath to recompose herself, determination filled her eyes again as she clenched her fists.

"I'm going to stop them even if it's the last thing I do, Kizakura. Mark my words."


"Whaaaaat?! You're leaving?!"

The three Special Agents reacted with different degrees of surprise. Byakuya kept his reaction discreet, though he seemed as surprised as Makoto and Hiro were. Still, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student and Ultimate Clairvoyant were much more vocal than the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny was.

"That's right. Something important has come up, and I must take a leave of absence," Kyoko informed them, a grave expression on her face. "Byakuya, I want you to take over while I'm gone. The rest of the Division has to operate as normal."

"I… don't mind that, but an explanation would be appreciated, Director Kirigiri," Byakuya told her, pushing up his glasses. "What could be more important than our fight against the Tragedy?"

"That…" she paused and glanced at Makoto, guilt filling her eyes and heart. "I cannot say. The three of you would be in danger if I told you. I don't want that."

"W-We… We'd be in danger, Kyoko?" the Luckster echoed, unhappy about it. "B-But why?!"

"I'm sorry, Makoto, but I can't tell you that. You, in particular, might be in even greater danger. But if you knew why, it would make you even more vulnerable," Kyoko assured him, seeing the betrayed look inside his hazel eyes. "But I promise I'll tell you once the danger has been averted."

Kyoko… What are you up to, exactly…? The young man recalled the detective's investigations in the Killing Game and how they had almost killed her. He didn't want her to take risks like that again now that they had escaped Junko's grasp. But at the same time… I trust Kyoko. I know that if she's not telling me, it's because it's sensitive information.

He smiled at his boss, coming to the realization that she knew what she was doing. She was Kyoko, after all.

"Before I get going, there's something else you need to know," Kyoko told them, waiting until she had their attention to continue. "In a few days, Kizakura's Division is going to allocate a new agent to our Division. Byakuya, I want you to make them a Special Agent right away. Then, you are going to temporarily move to my office on the floor above yours. Hiro, you take Byakuya's office. Makoto, you'll be working with the new Special Agent, but make sure to keep the same desk as usual, alright?"

The Togami heir narrowed his eyes at the odd request but nodded nonetheless, as did his two former classmates and colleagues. "Alright… This is all really strange, but I suppose you have another secret motive for that."

"I do," she admitted. "But it's crucial. As long as you do everything I asked you to do and do it right, you'll be safe, I promise you. And in case anything happened, you call Munakata or Tengan and tell them that something's wrong with Director Kirigiri's orders. They'll understand what it means."

"T-This is so creepy, for serious!" Hiro exclaimed, definitely scared. "Y-You're not great at reassuring people, Kyoko!"

The young woman sighed apologetically. "My apologies, but I'm walking on thin ice right now. Well, I need to go now. I hope to be back in less than three months, but that might not be the case," she gave a hollow laugh. She muttered her next words, but they were clearly heard by her three subordinates. "And to be back alive, too…"

Makoto bit his lip worriedly. What does that mean, Kyoko…? What the heck happened that you need to leave so suddenly…? Is it related to the day off we got yesterday…?

The questions piled up in the Luckster's mind, but he didn't have any answers for them. The only thing he had was the fear that Kyoko was clearly trying to hide from them. It was discreet, and it didn't seem that the Former Ultimate Detective was extremely worried, but for her to be even remotely scared proved something.

Whatever she's going to do, it's dangerous. Possibly even more than the Killing Game was.

Kyoko bowed her head in front of the three Special Agents. "For now… I suppose this is goodbye. Be good, the three of you," she turned around, and they heard her sniffle. "I believe in you… so please believe in me."

And with that, Kyoko left the room, leaving Makoto, Hiro, and Byakuya stunned. Everything was so sudden, and now, they were without their leader.

The last thing the Former Ultimate Lucky Student noticed was the tear escaping Kyoko's purple eyes as she walked away, making him grimace.

I believe in you, Kyoko, but… Please stay safe, I beg of you…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight:  Kyoko's Will

"I'm glad that you're willing to help me, Kyoko, but…" Kizakura paused, looking genuinely confused. "You seemed way more disturbed by what you saw inside that file than I thought."

Kyoko sighed as she fiddled with her ponytail, the file in question resting next to her. The two Branch Leaders were headed back to Central Headquarters only a few hours after having lunch there, but this time, with a request.

"One of the names I saw on the list on the first page was one I didn't expect to see there, that's all." I still cannot believe it… But would this person really hurt the Future Foundation if they had the chance…? Could they hurt… Makoto?

She still had many questions, and she knew her answers were in the file. The young woman was hoping to have enough time to read it thoroughly during the helicopter ride.

"I see. Well, I'll let you read it before I ask for your opinion," said Koichi, relaxing on his seat. "I think a detective would rather have all the details before being asked too many questions, right?"

Kyoko nodded. "That's right."

It was only the two of them inside the helicopter, save for the pilot in their cabin. They had left for Central Headquarters very discretely so no one would come to disturb them. The Former Ultimate Detective turned to the file and took it in her hands, staring at it pensively.

What exactly do you have to tell me, file? Should I expect to see my name appear in this? How much had I investigated the Tragedy before I lost my memories? How close to figuring out Junko's role was I? What part do the Unremembered Ultimates have to play in all this? And why do they say that the Future Foundation is responsible for the Tragedy?

So many questions… Kyoko opened the file with resolution. And now, hopefully, some answers.

When Kyoko and Kizakura came out of the helicopter, the detective's head hurt. So much information in so little time was giving her a headache. And she also had the feeling that some of the things she had read were things she'd known before.

It didn't take her long to deduce what had happened to these memories.

I'll never thank you enough for taking my memories away, Junko… Kyoko deadpanned, walking behind Kizakura with the file safely tucked under her arm. But this was definitely helpful to understand a few things… Now, I have some leverage to force Munakata and Tengan to comply, although it will still be difficult.

They took the elevator to Tengan's office, not bothering with making an appointment beforehand. After all, the mission they had decided to take on could be crucial for the Future Foundation's… future, so they thought they could make an exception.

"You're the smart one, Kyoko, so I'll let you defend our case, alright?" the man asked her, crossing his arms as the elevator went up floor after floor.

"Nothing new under the sun, Kizakura," Kyoko told her fellow Division Director with a smirk. "More seriously, I will do my best to convince them. I have to."

"Good, good. With you around, I have hope that I can finally get the truth of this case. I'll sleep more soundly afterward."

The Former Ultimate Detective nodded. The elevator reached the second-to-last floor where the Chairman's office was located. She followed after her colleague to the office and realized they were there when they faced a pair of giant doors. Kizakura asked the guards to see Kazuo urgently, and a minute after, they were in.

"Oh, Directors Kirigiri and Kizakura. I didn't expect to see you again today," the old man said, sitting at his chair.

"Why are you two here?" they turned and noticed Munakata standing not far away, Chisa and Juzo close to him. "Don't your Divisions have work to do?"

Kizakura was about to speak up when Kyoko interrupted him by stepping up. She noticed the Vice-Chairman's eyes drift to the file under her arm.

"Director Kizakura and I came with a request, Vice-Chairman Munakata," Kyoko plainly said, her voice not betraying hostility. "About…" she took the file and held it for the other four to see. "This file here. Most precisely, its contents."

Tengan didn't move, and neither did Chisa. However, Juzo and Kyosuke seemed surprised, as shown by the fact that the white-haired young man reacted.

"I assume you read it, didn't you?" he asked Kyoko, stepping forward and leaving Chisa and Juzo behind. He hmphed unsurprisingly. "Of course you did."

"I am the Ultimate Detective, Vice-Chairman Munakata. It is my job to investigate suspicious cases," she reminded him, raising her head to look at him in the eyes. "I'll make it quick, so I don't waste anyone's time. I want you to grant Director Kizakura and me the right to investigate the case of the Unremembered Ultimates."

"H-Hold your horses! W-We can't let a kid like her investigate this case!" Juzo objected, looking shocked. "The longer it stays dormant, the better!"

"Well, I think the young rotten orange is really determined, Juzo," Chisa added, smiling sweetly at Kyoko. "Maybe she could solve it?"

"The day you'll be as useful as the kid, Sakakura, you'll tell me, will ya?" Koichi chipped in with a snicker. "For you've got muscles, but when it comes to the brain department…"

"W-What did you say, you punk?!"

Kizakura smirked as the Former Ultimate Boxer looked about to kill him. Munakata raised his arm in front of the boxer, stopping him dead in his tracks.

"I will not have a fight in this room," he calmly stated. "Now, back to Director Kirigiri's question… the answer is no. This case has been put to rest for good. I won't allow it to be reopened."

"I have to concur with Vice-Chairman Munakata. I don't see a point in reopening this case now, Ms. Kirigiri," Kazuo agreed, resting his hands on top of his crossed hands. "We already have enough on our plates with the Ultimate Despair to focus on the Unremembered Ultimates."

So far, everything is going as expected… Kyoko mused. "Except that the Future Foundation will not win a war if it has to be fighting on two fronts, Mr. Chairman. The Remnants of Despair will prove to be too much in the long run with the Unremembered Ultimates getting in the way."

Four pairs of eyes suddenly widened in surprise. Kyoko smirked. She knew that using this terminology would get them to react. This piece of information was confidential, after all.

"The students of Class 77-B might be troublesome with how talented they are, as Ms. Yukizome could probably attest to, but Junko Enoshima's been defeated, so their goddess is no more," she stopped, noticing the Former Ultimate Housekeeper shocked. "But when it comes to the Unremembered Ultimates… their motivation hasn't wavered yet. Aside from Izuru Kamukura, I would argue that they are the biggest threat to this organization."

"H-How…?"

"I've read the file, Mr. Chairman, that's how," Kyoko cut him before he could finish wording his question. "As I said: I am the Ultimate Detective. There isn't a case I won't solve, especially not one like this. But I have one question that this file didn't answer…" she brought a gloved hand to her chin in thought. "About this threatening letter sent by the Unremembered Ultimates… why do they say that the Future Foundation is responsible for the Tragedy? And why would they even care?"

After Kyoko had asked this question, the four Branch Leaders looked at each other, evidently surprised with how knowledgeable their younger colleague had become. And Kyoko could swear she saw both Juzo and Chisa panic for a second.

"I couldn't answer the first question, Kirigiri, but as to the second…" Munakata seemed genuinely unable to provide her with the truth, considering how clueless he looked. "We assume they are disappointed that their chance to enroll at Hope's Peak Academy was taken away from them. This is why they attacked Enoshima's worshippers first, before inexplicably turning their attention to us."

That does make sense. If the Unremembered Ultimates found something proving the Future Foundation's link with the Tragedy, the organization would inevitably become a target… Kyoko deduced, taking out her organizer and writing. "But you don't have any clues as to what would cause the Future Foundation to be incriminated?"

"None. Our role is to terminate despair, not to reinforce it," Kyosuke assured her, looking even colder than usual. "The ones who allowed Enoshima to begin her little play was the Steering Committee of Hope's Peak Academy when they let the Kamukura Project begin; no one else."

That was something she knew. Yes, I read that in the file… The group of men that had influence even over the Headmaster of Hope's Peak Academy… my father… She sighed. All along, there was nothing he could do about the Tragedy…

"What we know is that if the Headmaster had not been a failure, this never would have happened in the first place," Juzo said sneakily, glaring at Kyoko. "Had it been Vice-Chairman Munakata, for example, the Tragedy would never have begun!"

The words reached Kyoko's ears, and she immediately knew what to make of them: dismiss them.

"If you thought you would get to me with this lame taunt, Sakakura, you might want to think about it again," she assured him, her expression not showing an ounce of anger. "That being said, I read in this file that you used to be the Security Chief for Hope's Peak Academy, so you should apply the word you just used to yourself before applying it to others."

Kizakura had to hold back a laugh, and Chisa looked at her colleagues and shook her head amusingly. Tengan sighed while Munakata remained silent.

"Moving on…" Kyoko declared, not wanting to give the boxer a chance to say anything. "Something is seriously amiss with this case, and I can find out what it is. The decision is ultimately yours, Chairman Tengan, but know that if you use my detective skills, the case of the Unremembered Ultimates will be solved."

"Hm… I hear your argument, Director Kirigiri. However, I would like to know what Vice-Chairman Munakata's opinion is before I make a decision," Kazuo announced, looking split on the subject. "To weigh the pros and cons, let's just say."

The Former Ultimate Student Council President looked hesitant, although he tried his best to keep this discrete. Kyoko could see it, but she was pretty sure that only she could, thanks to her experience.

"Give her a chance, Chairman. If Director Kirigiri is as good as she claims, she'll solve it. If not, then she'll just die, and it would be good riddance," the white-haired man stated coldly. He turned in Kyoko's direction. "The Future Foundation doesn't need incompetents, so this is a good chance to prove your worth, Kirigiri."

Good to know that Vice-Chairman Munakata is still as friendly as ever… The girl deadpanned, inwardly sweatdropping as she took in the not-so-backhanded insult.

"Very well, then. You have my authorization to work on this case, Director Kirigiri," Tengan decided. "Starting tomorrow, you will temporarily leave your position of Director of Division Fourteen to focus on your investigation. Your objective is to learn more about the Unremembered Ultimates' motivations and to capture them."

"Five elite agents from Division Two shall accompany you, as well as a pilot and a helicopter," Munakata added. "However, Divisions Three and Fourteen are expected to be as productive as usual. Otherwise, the two of you will simply be excluded from the Future Foundation. Organize your agents however you want; that's not my problem."

"Yes, indeed. You should know, however, Ms. Kirigiri, that this is a difficult mission you're about to go on," the old man warned her, his tone worried. "I would like for you to come back alive, so please exert caution."

"I will, sir." We risk death at every turn. I can't let it worry me now. "Thank you for your trust, Chairman, Vice-Chairman. The Unremembered Ultimates shall be brought here in the shortest delays."

She gave Sakakura a cold glare for a split second before her eyes turned back to Kizakura, who simply nodded.

If you would excuse us, we have a secret mission to prepare," she gave a quick bow and turned away. "Have a nice day."

"Goodbye, amigos!" Koichi cheered, following the Former Ultimate Detective out of the room.

The door slammed as the two Division Directors exited the Chairman's Office with a new mission. However, they still had as many questions.

The answers, whatever they were, were just waiting to be found.


"So, what's the plan, now?"

"We have a few clues in this file, so we'll follow this lead first," Kyoko explained factually, sitting inside the helicopter again. "Then, I will need the help of your Division."

"Oh, you will?" Kizakura smiled. "Whatever you need, Director Kirigiri, I'll be happy to provide. I could even go on a date with you if-"

"Thank you, but I haven't fallen this low, Kizakura," she cut him. I'm not dealing with his nonsense now. "I will need you to allocate one person in particular to my Division. If I give clear enough orders to Makoto and the others, we should be able to learn more."

Koichi grinned with excitement. "Now we're talking! And I bet I know who you're talking about, too!"

The young woman sweatdropped. There's really only one person it could be, you idiot… "I'm glad, Kizakura," she said ironically. "But more seriously, this is crucial if I want my friends to be safe. Who knows what they could do without monitoring…"

"Yeah, you're right. But wouldn't it be better to just go after that person, instead of letting them infiltrate your Division and putting your Special Agents at risk?" Kizakura wondered, finishing his bottle. "Well, I bet you have a reason for that, too."

"I actually do, yes." I will be so mad at myself if it puts anyone in harm's way, but at least, we should have a semblance of control over the potential threat… "If I want them to potentially reveal something, I need them to roam free. Besides, they could also not be our enemy. I disagree with the Future Foundation's way of sentencing people without proof, Kizakura, so I'll do things differently. If they prove to be a genuine ally, I don't see why we would go after them."

"But what do you make of the Chairman's orders…?"

"I don't care about these, Kizakura," she told him firmly, her expression hardening. "I'm a detective. My job is to figure out the truth."

She clenched her fists.

"But one thing's for sure: I won't let them hurt any of my agents." Especially not Makoto. "That is why I want to track these Unremembered Ultimates down, Kizakura. I stand as Division Fourteen's Director to fight against the forces attacking the Future Foundation. They are one of them."

The Former Ultimate Detective stared ahead, her glare showing her determination and will. Kizakura observed her with curious eyes.

"But that's not all, is it?"

The Former Talent Scout laughed when Kyoko's eyes turned towards her gloved hands.

"No, it's not. These Unremembered Ultimates shall pay… for spitting on my family name."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine:  Broken Wings

"Hey, what's the long face for?"

Byakuya entered the cafeteria and noticed Makoto staring at his cup of coffee, sitting alone at a table, even though Hiro and Toko were also there. Also, the Luckster's brown eyes that usually showed so much optimism were, today, surprisingly empty.

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student looked up. "Oh, it's you… Hey there, Byakuya."

"Hm…" The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny frowned as he took a seat in front of Makoto. "It is rare for me to be in a better mood than you, actually. What's wrong?"

"N-Nothing. I'm fine, Byakuya," he assured him, smiling weakly. "Nothing's wrong."

Byakuya hmphed. "You are a terrible liar, Makoto Naegi," the Togami heir informed him, looking at him disapprovingly. "So, what's wrong? You should consider yourself lucky that I even care, honestly."

The young brown-haired man sighed. "I told you I was fine, didn't I…? Can you please drop it now?"

Whatever's wrong with this fool, it is making him irritating… Byakuya thought, his composure not wavering. He grabbed the newspaper Makoto was reading and balled it up in his hand. "Enough nonsense now. You are so evidently not doing as fine as you claim, even that idiot Hiro could notice it."

"H-Hey, leave me alone!" Makoto suddenly exclaimed furiously, getting the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy and Ultimate Clairvoyant's attention. "Did you consider that I might not want to talk right now before coming to bother me?!"

The Vice-Director crossed his arms and looked at his temporary subordinate with unimpressed eyes. "Then you're free to leave if you do not wish for people to interact with you. This cafeteria is free for us to use, and we also have the right not to deal with your bizarre mood!"

"Fine, then!" Makoto stood up and looked at Byakuya with the angriest expression the heir had ever seen on his face. "Damnit, I never complain, and the only time I do, I have Mr. Byakuya Togami on my back!"

"H-Hey, what did you say about my M-Master, y-you…!"

Toko's voice reached both Makoto's and Byakuya's ears but did nothing to defuse the situation. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student powerwalked out of the room with the temporary boss starting to see red.

"Come back here this instant, Naegi!" he shouted, walking behind the Luckster. He heard Hiro and Toko following him, although he would have none of that. "The two of you do not move! I've had enough of his nonsense to deal with yours now!"

The Special Agent and the novelist gulped as Byakuya followed Makoto out of the cafeteria, only to see the elevator doors closing before he could reach it.

"C-Curse!" he swore, hearing the elevator leave the thirty-seventh floor. "Just what the heck is wrong with this commoner today?!"

Byakuya took a deep breath. Temporarily being in charge of the Division was no trouble for him as he was destined to become the leader of the most powerful family in the world. However, he quickly realized that it also came with something he wasn't used to: dealing with his subordinates' moods.

And Makoto can be stubborn! It can have its benefits, but now, it makes him someone totally different. And someone I won't stand for long. He thought, walking to the other elevator. I have all of Kirigiri's powers for now… Had it been anyone else, they would already be fired and on the streets, but…

He recalled holding up this gun and firing twice without hesitation through the head of the one who had dared to attack Makoto. The person who had attacked his friend.

The Togami heir had never had any friends before. He grew up competing for the title of Chosen One and didn't have time for frivolities such as friendship. However, the more he interacted with the Luckster, the more he understood that having friends could bring him something new.

He just had to notice how different his boss was now to convince himself of that.

Let's try diplomacy and see where this leads me… I've never been good at it, I'll admit, but I can't fire him, as annoying as he is today. He shook his head and entered another elevator, and pressed the button for the last floor. He probably went back to his apartment.

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny had noticed that his usually optimistic and smiling friend had been a little down the last few days. He wasn't as talkative as he usually was, and while Byakuya appreciated that it came with the fact that he stopped babbling nonsense half the time (which was always better than Hiro), it was odd for him.

Now, the Vice-Director knew that something was wrong. And he also had a pretty good idea of what it was.


Makoto leaned against the windowsill of his bedroom, staring into the nothingness. He sighed, unable to find the will to do anything productive. The Luckster wished he had not snapped at his friend in the cafeteria, but he also wished that people would be a little more careful about his feelings.

"Should I just go back to bed…?" he wondered aloud as a thunderstorm began outside. They had not yet seen a blue sky since their escape from Hope's Peak, and it did nothing to help with his mood. "I'm not in the mood to work or give orders today…"

*driiiing* *driiiing*

"Hm?" Someone's at the door… Guess I'll answer and hope they don't bother me… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student walked out of his bedroom and towards his front door. He opened it and noticed Byakuya on the other side. His shoulders slumped. "Oh, it's you."

"Indeed. I'm glad you opened your door, Makoto," the Togami heir told him. "May I enter?"

Makoto shrugged. "Go ahead. I usually wouldn't have the strength to prevent you from entering, and today's no exception, anyway."

He noticed Byakuya frown but nod and enter. Makoto showed him inside his small living room and gestured to a chair. The Luckster turned on the TV and put the official channel of the Future Foundation in the background.

"I'm sorry I threw a tantrum out there, Byakuya," Makoto apologized with a sigh. "I've just not been feeling well these past few days, and it's nerve-wracking for me."

"It does seem like it, indeed," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny agreed, glancing at the TV. "But you do not look sick, so I assume the issue is somewhere else, isn't it?"

Makoto stared down at the floor. Even his clothes were a mess: his suit wasn't ironed properly, his shoes weren't laced… His signature ahoge pointed downwards, and his eyes betrayed fatigue.

"I wish I was sick, believe me… It wouldn't be as bad," the Special Agent told him and let out a hollow laugh. "And maybe I'd be useful. Hmph, look at me, doing nothing while the entire Division is doing its best… For an Ultimate Hope, I truly am pathetic."

"Do you want me to be bluntly honest with you, Makoto?" Byakuya asked him, looking at his temporary subordinate with a perfectly neutral face. Makoto nodded nonchalantly. "You do look pathetic right now. There isn't that glimmer of hope in your eyes anymore, as if you had lost something important. A sort of bird with broken wings, if you'd like."

Makoto raised his head and looked at his friend in the eyes.

"And I think I understand you, believe it or not," he added, standing up from his chair and pacing around the Luckster's living room. "But you're not doing yourself any favors by acting like that, Makoto."

"I… I know…" the shorter of the two said, though the confession didn't seem to bring him any spirit.

"It's about Kyoko, isn't it…?"

"H-Huh…?"

"Don't look so surprised; anyone could have figured it out, Makoto," Byakuya noted, shaking his head. "You're afraid that she won't come back from her secret mission, and it's putting you in this annoying and unusual mood."

"Y-Yeah…" the Luckster admitted. "I try not to worry too much, but… after what happened in that armory, I can't not think that there's a possibility that she won't come back."

"Well, the possibility does exist, of course, but I don't think you're giving her enough credit, Makoto," Byakuya argued. "She's a skilled investigator and appears to be a strong fighter. She'll be fine."

Makoto sighed. "I… I know that…" Byakuya's right… Kyoko's absolutely amazing as a detective, so I know I shouldn't worry about her, but still… "But it's tough for me not to worry at all, Byakuya. I love all of you guys, so to know that I could lose one of you… I can't stand it."

"Hey, you aren't going to lose anyone any time soon, you idiot," Byakuya assured him, putting his hands in his pockets. "Besides, while I appreciate the compliment, don't even try to tell me that I matter to you as much as Kirigiri does. I don't believe that."

Makoto sighed. "You truly can't handle getting a compliment, can you…? I care for the five of you, and I don't want anything to happen, whether it's to Kyoko, to you, or to anyone else."

"Fine, then. But as I said: nothing's going to happen," the Togami heir insisted. "Trust me, if one of you had to die first between you and Kirigiri in this apocalyptic world, it would be you, Makoto."

"Thanks for that, Byakuya," the Luckster said with an amused chuckle. "Way to motivate me."

"You know what I mean by that, Makoto. Well," Byakuya's eyes narrowed on the Special Agent. "I think you must understand something, though. It is simple, so even a commoner like you should be able to get it."

Makoto nodded, prompting Byakuya to go on.

"The way you're acting right now… there is no way in hell that Kyoko would appreciate it. You showed her a better side of yourself than that, and the person she so obviously madly fell in love with was the Ultimate Hope, not the crybaby!"

"H-Hey, hold on a minute! K-Kyoko's not in love with me?!" Makoto said with disbelief. "Geez, I can't imagine Kyoko being in love with anyone, so definitely not with me!"

"Hmph. I don't have much trouble seeing it if you want my opinion," the Togami heir disagreed, crossing his arms and looking at him unimpressively. "And based on what I heard from Hiro and Hina, they don't either."

"Well, the three of you are imagining things. I am not in love with Kyoko, and she is definitely not in love with me either, Byakuya," he insisted.

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny shrugged. "Whatever you say. Just keep what I told you in mind and stop worrying. Come on, you're going back to work. An associate of a Togami can't allow themselves to slack off, especially with the title of Special Agent."

"Fine, fine," Makoto smiled. "I guess I've got to catch up on the work I missed these past few days…" he got up and tied his shoes. "Hey, Byakuya?"

"Hm?"

"I know I said it already, but… I'm really sorry for being so aggressive earlier. That was unlike me."

"Don't mention it. Just get to work, and I'll forget it."

The Luckster giggled. At the end of the day, it might not have been Byakuya's forte, but he had managed to reassure Makoto enough. And at least, it made the Former Ultimate Lucky Student realize something.

If he let his belief in his friends waver, he wouldn't be able to fight for hope as much as he wanted to.


Geez, couldn't Byakuya have asked someone else to fetch files for him…?

Makoto headed towards the archives in the basement, passing by a couple of agents and security members. There was some activity around, showing that the workforce of Division Fourteen was motivated and doing well.

And while any agent in the Division could have done it for him (which would have allowed not to take away a Special Agent from his work), Byakuya had insisted that the Luckster was the one to do it.

"That's your punishment for your misbehavior, let's just say."

The young man shook his head amusingly. This was a very Byakyuesque thing to say.

"Special Agent Naegi!"

"Huh?" Makoto turned around and noticed one of his agents running towards him. "What's wrong?"

"S-Someone's… asked to talk to you… at the front desk…" the agent said, panting. "A-Apparently… they're a new Special… Agent…"

"A new Special Agent?!" Makoto's eyes widened in surprise. "R-Really…?"

"Y-Yes, sir! T-That's how they introduced themselves, a-at least!"

"In a few days, Kizakura's Division is going to allocate a new agent to our Division."

Kyoko's words from a few days ago echoed inside the Luckster's mind as he quickly understood what was going on.

"Okay. Thank you for telling me."

"Y-You're welcome, sir! H-Have a nice day!"

With that, the agent saluted and walked away, leaving Makoto a little surprised and curious. Since the front desk wasn't far away, he decided to head there right away. It was strange that he'd been the one the new agent had asked for and not Byakuya.

Although I mainly wonder if they've got anything to do with the reason Kyoko left… He thought, walking pensively in the hallways. She left and gave Byakuya clear orders about them, so there must be a link there… But what exactly is it…?

He entered the front hall and noticed a person standing near the front desk. Most likely, this was the person who was looking for him. Their morphology looked somewhat familiar from afar.

Makoto walked over to them. "Good morning. I've heard that you needed to talk to me…?"

The mysterious person turned around, and upon noticing the Luckster there, smiled at him.

And there, Makoto had to take a step back to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him.

"Y-You… Y-You're the new Special Agent?!"

To be continued…

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty:  The Kirigiri Axis

Kyoko held a note and stared at it. Her eyes darkened as she went over it for the umpteenth time.

"May those responsible accept the truth. Once upon a time, Hope's Peak Academy was a sanctuary of hope, but you perverted it. Upon seeing what has happened because of your selfish intentions, it is only righteous that we take action. Never again will your greed and evil cause such disasters. Today is the day when things change, and the Future Foundation falls from its self-made pedestal.

Fear not, as those who have not been able to prevent such an easily preventable ending shall not be spared either. Ultimately, the Kirigiri axis might not have caused The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History, but it has failed to prevent it when it should have been its one and only mission. Junko Enoshima's plans would never have come to fruition if father and daughter had shown competence worthy of the Academy of Hope. Indeed, you shall disappear along with the Agents of Despair, whatever the cost for that might be.

Class 79 th  of Hope's Peak Academy, the Unremembered Ultimates."

The Former Ultimate Detective scanned every detail, read every word again and again, inspected the penmanship of every letter… But the note still mocked her. She clenched her fists in anger, trying to decipher whatever the hidden meaning of this note was.

There's got to be something! Think, Kyoko, think!

"You probably shouldn't focus on this letter too much, Kyoko. It's only going to harm you."

Division Fourteen's Director looked up and noticed Kizakura there, standing next to her temporary desk. A handgun rested in a holster that made the Former Talent Scout look a lot more intimidating than usual.

"But I've got to, Kizakura! We read through that file together, and there was nothing!" Kyoko exclaimed, banging her fist on the desk. "This note has to be hiding something!"

The two Division Directors had been gone for two days now. Kyoko couldn't help but wonder how things were going for her friends and subordinates, but she also knew that she couldn't let it distract her. Right now, she had made one of the rooms of the helicopter her office, where she spent countless hours trying to find a lead on the Unremembered Ultimates.

"Well, that's our hope, at least," Kizakura said with a shrug. "If there's nothing, either we search on the whole globe, or we stop there. I don't think Vice-Chairman Munakata would be happy about that."

"No, that's out of the question," the young woman said with resolve. "I said I would get to the bottom of this case, and I will. After being… insulted like this… this has only furthered my will."

Koichi chuckled as he took out his bottle. "I can see that, yeah. But honestly, don't let the contents of this note bother you, Kyoko. I remember your investigation into the Tragedy of Hope's Peak Academy, and you were doing a heck of a job."

Kyoko sighed. "But it wasn't enough. We wouldn't be here otherwise. I must have failed to figure out Junko's role as the Mastermind."

"Hey, no one's perfect, Kyoko. Besides, you would probably have died if you had kept at it for too long," Kizakura reasoned. "Junko had her sister as her bodyguard, and she could have harmed you."

The lavender-haired woman's purple eyes darkened into a glare. "I hope you're not insinuating that I couldn't have defeated Mukuro Ikusaba in a fight, Kizakura."

"I'm just saying," the blonde said with another shrug. "Your old man took you out of the investigation for your safety. Maybe you would have cracked it with more time."

"W-Wait…" What did he just say…? Kyoko wondered, giving her father's friend a curious look. "Did you just say that… my father is the one who took me off that case…?"

"Hm, yeah, that's what I just said," Koichi told her, confused. "Why?"

So that is how it was, is it…? Kyoko took a deep breath. Didn't you trust my abilities, Father? Did you think that I wouldn't have been able to do it? She looked at the darkened skies through the window. How much did you trust the title you yourself gave me, Jin Kirigiri? "Nothing. Do not worry about it."

"If you say so…" it was clear Kizakura was far from convinced. "So, are you gonna take another look at that note?"

"Yes. I won't rest until I've inspected every nook and cranny of that note, Kizakura," she told him, turning back towards her desk. "Not finding the clue hidden in it would be proving them right."

"Alright. Do you want a hand? I might be an idiot, but maybe I could help?"

"You are an idiot; that much is true," Kyoko smirked at him amusingly. "Although… I suppose they do say that the more, the merrier."

Kizakura laughed as he took a seat next to Kyoko. "Haha, a wise decision, Detective Kirigiri! Let's do this thing!"

There are literally no odds that you'll find anything when I didn't, Kizakura… The young woman sighed. At least, he was enthusiastic. "I've tried everything. I counted the number of letters to see if it made any sense. Does the number 971 ring any bells?"

The scout brought a hand to his chin in thought, running his fingers through his goatee. "Nothing that comes to mind, I'm afraid. Maybe the number of times I got rejected by women, but that's it."

"I said 971, not 971,000," Kyoko mocked, making Koichi sweatdrop. "More seriously, perhaps 170 is more familiar? That is the number of words in the note."

"Nope, nothing either."

As I thought, the basic tricks won't work… The Former Ultimate Detective stared at the note once more, recalling all the secret messages she had had to decipher in her past cases. But I just can't see it… Could they really have left a note without another meaning? If they wanted to test me, that seems unlikely…

"Hey, I was thinking… Isn't it possible that there's a link with only certain words or letters?" Kizakura suggested suddenly, fiddling with his fedora. "I mean, you've been looking at the note as a whole, but maybe the whole picture isn't actually the whole picture? Maybe we need to think outside the box."

"Hm…" To think outside the box… Things are usually not as complicated, but… Think, Kyoko… You're close, and you know it! She focused on the note, rereading parts of it. What would *she* do if she had to find something…? What would Grandfather do…?

Wait… Kyoko's analytic purple eyes stopped suddenly. She turned towards Kizakura. "Get the pilot and tell them we're leaving right now."


"I… I don't know what to think right now."

Jin stared at the screen with a worried look in his eyes. He felt a soft and warm hand on his, making him relax a bit.

"Dear, it is alright for you to be worried for our daughter," his wife assured him. "But our Kyoko is really good at what she does. Besides, your good friend Koichi is there with her."

The deceased Headmaster of Hope's Peak allowed a smile to appear on his lips as his body released some tension.

"You're right… Koichi might not look like it, but he can be reliable when he wants to be…" Jin chuckled after a sigh. "I just wish that there weren't Ultimate students I never even got to know that want our daughter's death, Ayame…"

"Jin…" she took his second hand and looked at him in the eyes. "Let's not be pessimistic, alright? Our princess is going to be just fine. She has her friends' hope with her, remember? Also… she has our hope with her."

The dark-haired man nodded. "Yes, you're right, darling. I would never have expected this mission I gave to Koichi to lead to this, but if anyone can make things right, it's Kyoko."

"Indeed. Kyoko is the Ultimate Detective, after all," Ayame smiled when Kizakura smirked at her daughter in the world of the living. "I know you were not on good terms with your father, and while I wish he had opened Kyoko to the world more, he did make her a wonderful detective."

"That's because she inherited your brain, darling," Jin laughed. "The Uzuchi name would fit Kyoko's intellectual and physical abilities much better than the Kirigiri name, believe me."

"Oh, do not say that, Jin. Your family is as worthy of being Kyoko's family as mine is, and you know that," she told her husband, giving him a disapproving look. "We all had a part to play in raising her, even if I will forever regret that I could not see her more than I did."

Jin sighed remorsefully. "I do, too. However, I had a chance to, and I wasted it. I don't think I will ever be able to make peace with this part of me, especially now that I have learned about this note."

"What do you mean, dear?" the deceased woman asked, a curious look in her eyes.

"Well, these Unremembered Ultimates have clearly incriminated me as being partly responsible for letting the Tragedy happen. And while I know that I could not have done much, I should have least tried," he explained, getting up and going to stare through the window. "I let the Steering Committee hand the world over to Junko on a silver platter, and I forbade Kyoko from possibly solving the mystery."

"You did it to make sure she would not get hurt-"

"I didn't believe in her enough, Ayame," he cut her with force. "I admittedly didn't think that she could solve a case that was getting so out-of-hand back then. I was probably wrong, and the world paid the price. Deep down, this must have been something that crossed my mind."

"Jin, our daughter is alive and well. This might sound uncharacteristically selfish coming from me, but this is what matters the most," she assured him. "The mistakes you might have made do not matter as long as they didn't put Kyoko in harm's way."

"She had to go through a Killing Game, Ayame!" the deceased Headmaster exclaimed. "And if she wasn't born a genius, Kyoko would probably not have survived! I've told Junko that I would never totally forgive her for that, but I'll never totally forgive myself either."

There was a moment of silence inside the room. Only Kyoko and Kizakura's voices could be heard from the other side of the screen. At last, Ayame sighed.

"I have one certainty, Jin, and it's that while there are people responsible for this Tragedy other than Ms. Enoshima, you and Kyoko aren't among them," she said, her voice naturally soft. "These Unremembered Ultimates wish to avenge the future that was taken away from them, but neither you nor our daughter are responsible."

"What we think does not matter, Ayame. If they believe that Kyoko had a role to play, she'll be one of their targets, anyway," he said, pacing around the room. "And while I trust her and Koichi to solve this case, the mere thought that some people blame my daughter for something she did not do angers me to no end."

"I can certainly see that you are angrier than you usually are," Ayame agreed. "And I have to admit that this idea doesn't fit well with me, either, but let's believe in our daughter to bring this case to its best conclusion, alright?"

There was another silence. Jin went back to his seat and shook his head. He glanced at the screen before turning back towards his deceased wife and smiling at her.

"You've always been the wisest one of us two, haven't you?"

"Let's just say that I don't let myself be swayed by my emotions as much as you do."

She grinned at him, making Jin's heart melt. He didn't know how he had managed to spend so much time apart from her. He still loved her as much as he did on the first day, back when they were young adults, back when they were still alive.

They shared a passionate kiss, and the deceased Headmaster let his worries dissipate in his wife's love for him. He truly believed that she had always been the better parent. Their daughter had always been so happy around her mother, and Jin recalled these moments with fondness.

Now, all he could hope for was that their reunion would take place in as long as possible, even if the Former Ultimate Detective had (involuntarily) made some potentially dangerous enemies.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-One:  The Ultimate Copywriter

"Y-You… Y-You're the new Special Agent?!"

Makoto's surprise showed all over his face. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student looked at his new colleague with wide eyes, trying to know if he was really seeing the person he thought he was seeing.

"Hee-hee! Didn't expect me, Mr. Naegi?"

N-No way… "M-Ms… Ms. Lawn…?"

"In the flesh! Laura Lawn, reporting for duty!"

So it is her… Makoto thought, staring at the young woman who was saluting playfully. "I… I would never have expected it to be you, to be honest."

Laura smiled at him. "After a speedy recovery, I thought I needed to do something so that what happened to my brother wouldn't happen to others! Applying to join the Future Foundation was evident for me! I just needed the professional look, and I was good to go!"

"I… I suppose so…" the Luckster said, still surprised. She does look a little different than the last time I met her at the hospital… And not only because she's much more energetic…

Indeed, Makoto could spot two main differences about the orphan he had promised to protect once she was discharged from the hospital. She had cut her long black hair so that it didn't reach below her neck when it used to go down her back. Also, a pair of round glasses framed her blue eyes that had regained their shine.

Overall, she did look more professional, although she still lacked the suit almost the entire Division was wearing (save Toko, although Makoto didn't know why). And also… he had to admit she was pretty good-looking, maybe as much as girls like Hina or Kyoko could be.

That thought came with a blush.

"So, what should I do, Mr. Naegi, sir?" Laura asked with enthusiasm. "I'm so hyped up and ready to work! Just tell me what to do, and I'm getting started!"

"H-Hold on, M-Ms. Lawn…!" Geez, she's excited, that's for sure… "I need to introduce you to the other Special Agents before anything."

"Oh, I see. I can't wait to finally meet Kyoko Kirigiri!" she said, keeping the smile on her face. Makoto wondered how she had recovered so quickly. "The two of you were such a power duo in the Killing Game!"

"A-Ah, I'm afraid Director Kirigiri is out for the moment, Ms. Lawn," the Luckster informed her. "She's been on a mission out of the Division for a few days now."

The young woman looked a little disappointed. "That's a shame… I really wanted to meet her! Well, I guess I'll meet her eventually."

Makoto nodded. It appears that Kyoko's got a fan… Good for her. He smiled. "Are you following me? Vice-Director Togami's in charge for now, so I guess I should bring you to him."

"Yeah, totally! I'm following you, Mr. Naegi!"

With that, the Luckster and his unexpected new colleague headed towards the elevator. The files Byakuya had sent him to get would have to wait.


"I hope you've got the files I asked for, Special Agent Naegi."

Makoto scratched his head as he entered Byakuya's office. "Hm… No, but I've got an excuse?"

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny sighed. He was about to make a remark; Makoto could see it. However, he looked up and noticed that his friend and temporary subordinate was not alone, prompting him to think twice about it.

"And who might this commoner be, hm…?" he asked, pointing at Laura quite impolitely. "You cannot bring random plebians into the Future Foundation, you know?"

"H-Hey, I'm not a plebian, thank you very much!" the young woman complained, placing her hands on her hips and pouting. "You really are just as mean as you were during the Killing Game, Mr. Togami, sir!"

The Togami heir seemed caught by surprise before Makoto intervened. He tapped Laura on the shoulder to stop her before she said something regrettable.

"This is the new agent for the Division, Vice-Director Togami. You've actually already seen her," the Luckster explained. "This is Laura Lawn, the victim of the attack during our mission together."

"Oh…" Byakuya's expression showed surprise and the slightest bit of discomfort. Makoto quickly understood why. "Interesting… I had not recognized you. Out of curiosity, what prompted you to join the Future Foundation?"

"Well… I wanted to be useful so that what happened to me wouldn't happen to anyone else," the young woman explained, unfazed. "There was no better option for me than to join this organization."

"I see. So you're the person Kirigiri told us would be joining…" Byakuya muttered, nodding. "Very well, then. I've been ordered to make you a Special Agent by Director Kirigiri, and while I don't understand this decision completely, I have no choice but to comply."

"Thank you, sir," Laura said before bowing respectfully. "I'm ready to get to work, whatever you need me to do!"

Byakuya hmphed. "Hold your horses, will you? Naegi will show you around the building first, then you will report to me again so I can fill a file about you, and only then will you get to work. Standard procedures."

The enthusiasm on Laura's face took a visible hit, making Makoto sweatdrop. At least, she was eager to get to work. He just hoped that she wouldn't be discouraged once she realized that half of their work was filling paperwork and the other was being in mortal peril.

"O-Oh, okay…" she said with disappointment in her voice, although it didn't last long. "Well, let's go, Mr. Naegi! This building is gigantic, so we should begin now!"

Makoto and Byakuya exchanged a look of disbelief, and with much less passion than his new colleague, the Luckster left the Vice-Director's office.

I'll give her my paperwork if she's so eager to work…


"Hey, Hiro!"

The fortune-teller looked up from his crystal ball and smiled upon noticing the Luckster standing at the door of his new office, which used to be Byakuya's.

"Hey, that's Makoto! Doing better, man?" he asked and got a reassuring nod from Makoto. "Oh, and who are you, miss?"

"Hello, Mr. Hagakure, sir! My name is Laura Lawn, and I am the new Special Agent working for this Division!" Laura greeted the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant and introduced herself. "Glad to meet you in person! You were so funny during the Killing Game!"

Hiro laughed as he got up and shook her hand. "I've got a fan, Makoto man! My mom would be so proud of me, for serious!"

Uh… Makoto rolled his eyes. I'm not sure she meant it this way, Hiro… He kept that to himself, as to not depress his friend, and instead just nodded.

"So, what do you do in this Division, Mr. Hagakure, sir?" Laura asked with both curiosity and enthusiasm. "Maybe you make predictions to guess where enemies are going to attack?"

Hiro scratched his head embarrassedly. "A-Actually… no, not really… Director Kirigiri asked me to be in charge of resources and all. It's kinda fun!"

Yeah, maybe because you spent half of our time here fooling around and talking to me instead of working, Hiro… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student sweatdropped. It's a miracle Kyoko never barged in to admonish him…

The two Special Agents chatted for a bit, leaving Makoto aside for a moment. The Luckster listened to them for a little while. However, when he noticed the time on the clock hanging on the wall, his eyes widened.

"Hm, I hate to be the one to ruin the fun, but… we've gotta go, Ms. Lawn…" he said, cutting Hiro during one of his explanations about fortune-telling. "I've got other places to show you, and then we need to pay a visit Vice-Director Togami again."

"Oh, sorry! I'm following you, Mr. Naegi!" Laura exclaimed, smiling one last time at Hiro. "Well, gotta go, Mr. Hagakure! I'm glad I could meet you!"

"Sure, you're welcome! Have a nice day, you two, for serious!"

Makoto gratefully nodded as they exited his office. The Former Ultimate Clairvoyant waved at them in a friendly manner, making the Luckster and his new colleague smile.


"And this is my office where you'll be working, too," Makoto explained as they entered the room. It felt emptier now that the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant had left. The Luckster was happy to know he would soon have somebody to chat with again. "The desk over there is mine, so you'll need to take the other one. I don't know what Byakuya will ask you to do, but you should have everything you need there."

"Okay, cool!" she cheered with a smile. "I'm looking forward to working with you, Mr. Naegi, sir!"

"O-Oh, um… Me too…" I just hope your enthusiasm will not always be so… loud… Makoto sweatdropped. "By the way, something you should know… you can call me Makoto when we're alone at the office, but during meetings or missions, it's better if you said Special Agent Naegi. Director Kirigiri's orders."

Laura nodded. "Sure, Makoto!" she said comfortably. "I'll keep that in mind!"

The "veteran" Special Agent (if one month worth of experience qualified to be one) had done as he'd been asked and had shown the young woman around the HQ. Since all four apartments on the last floor were taken, she would need to take a dorm, but she apparently didn't mind. He had shown her to the cafeteria, the training rooms, the game room… She had taken some time to get changed into a Future Foundation suit, completing her professional look.

Finally, she had brought her back to Byakuya's office so she could sign a few papers to make it official. They were now four Special Agents in Division Fourteen, counting the acting Vice-Director.

Makoto couldn't help but wonder why Kyoko had asked him to make sure to keep the same desk once Hiro had moved but decided to leave this question unanswered for the time being.

"Alright, so the computer at your desk's been reset after Special Agent Hagakure left it, so you'll have to set it up again," Makoto said, walking over to Laura's new desk. "It's pretty quick to do, honestly. After that, maybe you'll get some paperwork to fill or something."

"Sure, that sounds good to me!" Laura told him, sitting in her chair. "Oooh, this chair is comfy!"

"Ah, um… Yeah, I guess so," Is Ms. Lawn going to comment on every single detail…? The Former Ultimate Lucky Student wondered, sweatdropping. "Well, I'll let you do this, okay? You call me if you need any help, alright?"

"Got it, Makoto! Thanks!"

Makoto smiled and returned to his desk. "You're welcome, Laura."

He sat there in silence and took out some paperwork he and his agents had to fill. With the time he had lost being unproductive in the last few days, Makoto needed to catch up quickly, or he would fall behind.

However, the young man quickly found himself unable to focus. He glanced at Laura on the other end of the room and noticed her humming a song while working at her computer. It shouldn't have caused him any problem (especially since Hiro was way louder than that), but it did.

For some reason, something did not feel right.

Can the fact that the first person I've ever visited as a Special Agent become my new colleague simply be a coincidence…? He wondered, a pensive expression entering his face. But then what about Kyoko's orders…? I know her, and I know that she didn't say that by coincidence. Could Laura be related to whatever she's doing…?

The Luckster tapped his pen against his desk in thought. This would be oh-so-simple if the Former Ultimate Detective had given them more details, but alas, she had not. Makoto had no idea where she was, what she was doing, or even what the consequences of whatever she was doing could be.

"I'm sorry, Makoto, but I can't tell you that. You, in particular, might be in even greater danger."

Kyoko's words echoed in his mind as another part of the puzzle. What danger was she referring to? And why would it be more dangerous for him than for his friends? It was all very confusing. He found himself wishing he could read thoughts.

What are you up to, Kyoko…? Why was your departure so sudden…? How did you know that someone would join the Division, and especially, why did you give us such precise orders…?

Unable to answer these questions, Makoto sighed and turned back to his paperwork, hoping to finally get some work done.

Whatever the mystery was, he had his own obligations.


Someone knocked on the office's door, surprising Makoto. He looked up from his paperwork and noticed Laura still on her computer, staring at the screen.

"I'll go get it," he said, standing up from his chair and yawning. I wonder who it could be… Byakuya, maybe?

Walking over to the door with haste, he opened it and smiled in surprise when he noticed an unexpected individual on the other side.

"Hina!" the Luckster exclaimed at the sight of the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro. "I didn't expect to see you here!"

"Hehe, glad I could surprise you!" the always cheerful young woman told him with a smile. "May I enter, Special Agent Naegi?"

"Yeah, sure!" Makoto said, gesturing inside to her. Her smirk made him chuckle. "Hina, this is Ms. Laura Lawn; she's a new Special Agent for our Division with whom I share this office. Laura, this is Special Agent Aoi Asahina of Division Thirteen, the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro and one of my closest friends."

"Hi, Ms. Asahina! I'm so glad to meet you in person, too!" Laura greeted, quickly getting up from her seat and bowing in front of the slightly older woman. "You were so cool during the Killing Game, too! Always enthusiastic and cheerful!"

Seeing Hina a little surprised, Makoto chipped in. "Yeah, Laura followed the Killing Game closely, and I'm under the impression that she's become our fan…" he sighed amusingly.

"Hey, how wouldn't I be, Makoto! You were all so great out there!" Laura argued, smiling. "And I'm not the only one who thinks that, believe me!"

"Well, thank you, Ms. Lawn. That's really kind of you to say," said Hina, smiling in return. "I didn't expect Makoto to have a new colleague when I came to visit, honestly! Weren't you working with Hiro the last time you all called me?"

"Yeah, I was, but Laura's integrated the Division today, and she's working with me now," the Luckster explained, making Hina nod in understanding. "Hiro is in Byakuya's former office, and Byakuya's in Kyoko's."

"Ah, I see," there were a couple of silent seconds during which the swimmer seemed to be deep in thought. "Wait, but then… where's Kyoko?"

Oh, right. We never got a chance to tell Hina about that… "Yeah, about Kyoko… She actually left the Division a few days ago to go on a secret mission we know pretty much nothing about. Byakuya's in charge right now."

The Former Ultimate Swimming Pro's eyes widened in shock. "R-Really?! She didn't even tell me!"

"Well… Kyoko was being really secretive and all, so I'm not surprised," Makoto noted. Upon seeing the disappointed look on his friend's face, he sighed. "Don't take it personally, Hina. She barely told us anything either, and we're her direct subordinates."

"Okay, thanks for telling me, Makoto."

"You're welcome, Hina." I can see that Hina's worried for Kyoko, too… I can't blame her. I'd say that since Sakura's death, Kyoko's been her closest friend, apart from me… Sakura… I hope you rest in peace, along with everyone else…

"So, what brought you to be Makoto's colleague, Ms. Lawn?" Hina asked as she went to sit in Makoto's chair with a grin, making him pout. "I'm sure there's a crazy story behind all of this!"

After she said that, the atmosphere inside the room rapidly dampened as Laura stared at her feet and Makoto fiddled with his tie.

Hina's enthusiasm is appreciated, although… there are times it's uncalled for… Makoto mused, taking a step back to let Laura talk. He didn't want to explain her story, although he could have.

"H-Hm, well…" the new Special Agent began with hesitance, making the swimmer frown. "Special Agent Naegi visited my house on a mission when… an incident happened. I had to be taken to the hospital, and after he visited me, I realized that I needed to do something so it wouldn't happen again to anyone else. I called the Future Foundation, and they told me to come work here," she paused for a second. "I think it's only a coincidence that I'm working with Makoto."

"O-Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Ms. Lawn," Hina apologized with genuine sadness. "We know what it's like to go through tough times, so I can sympathize."

"Thank you, Ms. Asahina. I'm slowly but surely moving on," a smile reappeared on Laura's lips. "And Makoto's words have really comforted me and made me feel better."

"That's Makoto for you! Always the best at comforting people!" Hina added, smiling fondly at her friend.

The young man blushed cutely at the collective praise he was receiving. It made the two female Special Agents giggle.

"Anyway, I don't remember if you're the one who told me, Makoto, or if it was the person I got on the phone, but I heard that this Division was in charge of being close to the public and all, so this was really the Division for me!" Laura added.

Hm? "I might have told you about it, yeah," Makoto said with surprise. "But how come you thought it was the Division for you?"

Laura suddenly gasped. "W-Wait, I never told you?!"

The two Former Ultimates glanced at each other before turning back towards Laura. For some reason, Makoto had a hunch of where this was going.

"Told me… what…?" he asked, his hazel eyes narrowing on the girl. No way…

"Well, it's not really official or anything, but I actually have a talent!" Laura exclaimed with pride. "Had the Tragedy not happened, I would have been known as the Ultimate Copywriter!"

At this moment, there was a second of silence. Makoto's brain needed some time to process the words as if he couldn't really believe them.

"WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!" both he and Hina yelled, eyes threatening to come out of their orbits. "D-Did you say… ULTIMATE?!" S-So… So I was right!

"U-Um… Yeah, I did…?" Laura scratched the back of her head, visibly wondering where all of that surprise was coming from. "If the Tragedy had not happened, I would have become a student of Hope's Peak Academy. That's why meeting you all is so special for me! You would have been my upperclassmen!"

"W-Wow, I never would have guessed…" the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro muttered. "That's one heck of a coincidence!"

"Y-Yeah, you tell me about it… Why didn't you tell me when I first visited you, Laura?" Makoto asked. So Laura's an Ultimate, then…? Hm…

This left the Luckster with even more questions.

"I, uh… kinda forgot?" Laura said, looking quite embarrassed. "I was so surprised to meet you, and with what happened right after, I never thought about telling you until now."

I guess that makes sense… Having your brother try to kill you would probably take most of your thoughts, yeah… Makoto thought, nodding. "Okay. Well, it's really a shame that we never got to attend Hope's Peak together! I would have loved to meet you and your classmates back then!"

"Yeah, me too!" Hina agreed with fervor. "Do you even know who would have been your classmates, Ms. Lawn? Or what their talents are? If they're still alive, that is."

Laura frowned. "Well… when the scout for Hope's Peak Academy visited me at the beginning of the Tragedy, he told me that I was the last one and that we were being scouted in case something happened to Class 78th."

The two friends and classmates winced. Something had definitely happened to their class, and they both could still see their fellow Ultimates' corpses when they blinked.

"However, I never got any news from him, so I assumed that the plans had been canceled," she continued, going back to sit on her chair. "But then… the people who would have been my classmates reached out to me! They told me that they wanted to form a group to fight against the Tragedy and those responsible for it!"

"Woah, really? Kinda like the Future Foundation then, right?" Hina wondered.

The youngest of the two women shook her head. "Well, yes and no, actually. At first, they told me that they wanted to fight Junko Enoshima's worshippers, but I was too afraid to fight, so I didn't reply. After that, I received another letter from them, and well… they told me that they wanted to fight the Future Foundation!"

"T-The Future Foundation?!" Makoto exclaimed. "B-But why?!"

"H-Hey, I don't know, Makoto!" Laura told him, waving her hands around. "I didn't join them because I didn't want to fight anyone back then! Now… I want to make myself useful, but I was too much of a chicken back then! I'm just good at copywriting, not fighting! They never contacted me after that, so I don't have a clue."

So there are Ultimates who want to fight the Future Foundation…? And we don't even know why…? Could it be…? Making sure to keep his theories to himself, Makoto kept on listening to Laura.

"I remembered that they signed their letters by calling themselves the Unremembered Ultimates, although I don't know why that name," she said, tapping her chin in thought. "Well, I guess we will kinda be a forgotten promotion of Hope's Peak Academy, so it makes sense."

"Yeah, but fighting the Future Foundation?! That's not cool at all!" Hina protested, crossing her arms over her breasts, visibly not happy about the situation. "We're the good guys! Why didn't they continue to go after the members of Ultimate Despair?!"

"I… I really don't know, Ms. Asahina…" Laura sighed. "And honestly… I prefer not to know… There's one more thing I remember, and it's making my blood run cold every time I think about it…"

There's something else?! "What is it, Laura? If you're comfortable telling us, of course," the Former Ultimate Lucky Student asked her, frowning worriedly yet wanting to respect her feelings. At this point, I'm kinda expecting anything…

"Well… One of the invitation letters I received came with a list of the talents my future classmates were Ultimates at," the young woman stated tiredly. "I can't remember them save for one."

A tension quickly built itself inside the office as Laura took a deep breath.

"They were the Ultimate Mercenary."

"T-The Ultimate… Mercenary…?"

When the Luckster heard this title, one person came to mind. They weren't really a mercenary, but it was close enough to be disturbing.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Makoto…?" Hina wondered, biting her nails.

Makoto nodded. "I think so, yeah… Just like Mukuro Ikusaba was Junko's armed wing, this Ultimate Mercenary could be dangerous…" The bad news keeps on piling up… If this person is allowed to roam free and that they target the Future Foundation… We could all be in danger!

"The three of you would be in danger if I told you."

"That's all I know about this. Seeing that I wouldn't join a fight, the Unremembered Ultimates never sent me anything again after that," Laura said, ignoring the silence from the two former classmates. "I just wish that everyone could be alright…"

"Yeah, me too…" Makoto looked at Laura in the eyes, getting Hina's curiosity. "But I'm starting to realize that our struggle is only getting harder by the minute, Laura."

And unfortunately, I have a feeling that you being here won't make it any easier…


"Hey, everyone! It's good to see you again!"

Byakuya, Hiro, and Toko had different reactions when Makoto entered the cafeteria alongside the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro. The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny sighed, the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant smiled, and the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy grimaced.

"Hina. What brings you here?" the Togami heir asked flatly.

"Roh, can't a friend visit every once in a while?!" Hina said, glaring at the Vice-Director. "You're really no fun, Togami!"

He chuckled and shook his head amusingly. "Fine, I apologize. You are on a day off, I assume?"

"Yeah, sure am!" she confirmed, going to sit with the Luckster where their other friends were having lunch. "Just thought it would be nice to pay you a visit!"

"It's good to see you, Hina, for serious!" Hiro cheered, high-fiving the swimmer. "It's too bad that Kyoko's not here!"

Makoto nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you're right. Although… I think I know what she's up to, now."

"A-And h-how do you k-know that…?" Toko wondered, her usual stutter not subsiding. "I-If even M-Master doesn't know…"

"Actually, I have an idea, too. It's about Special Agent Lawn, right?" Byakuya suggested, pushing up his glasses. The Luckster nodded once more. "That is what I thought. There were too many coincidences for it to actually be coincidental."

"Definitely," Makoto added. "And with what I learned from Ms. Lawn when Hina was there, it just makes it obvious."

"Oh. What did our new Special Agent have to tell you, Makoto?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student went on to explain everything in as much detail as he possibly could. From her being the Ultimate Copywriter to the story about the Unremembered Ultimates, finishing with the Ultimate Mercenary… he covered everything. He left his fellow survivors quite stumped and speechless.

"A-And why c-can that s-suspicious girl e-even become a S-Special Agent w-when I can't?!" Toko wondered angrily, pointing at Makoto. "I-It's because you h-hate me, i-isn't it?!"

"Hey, it's not my fault!" Makoto protested. "Geez…"

"You're right; it's not your fault, Makoto," Byakuya said in his defense. "However, I do understand Toko's point of view for once."

"M-Master…?!" the novelist's eyes shined with hope as the Togami heir spoke.

He hmphed. "Don't get overexcited. I simply agree that it is unfair for this Ms. Lawn to become a Special Agent when you have been making noticeable efforts that have not yet been rewarded. However, I cannot go against Kyoko's orders."

The Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy looked down at her plate sadly without anything more to add.

"What disturbs me the most is what Kyoko said about us being in danger," Byakuya continued, adopting a pensive stance. "Most likely, she was referring to the new agent, who we know to be Special Agent Lawn."

"She didn't seem dangerous to me," Hina offered. "Well, I feel like there's something off with her, but I don't think she's dangerous."

"Yeah, I agree with Hina, for serious! She's a bit of an oddball, but I don't think she's dangerous!" Hiro worded his agreement, leaving Makoto deep in thought.

An oddball, eh? Sounds like a pretty nice way to describe yourself, Hiro… He sweatdropped. "I don't know what to think. When I went to visit her at the hospital, she was genuinely not doing well. I have this feeling that being associated with her will cause us trouble, but not because of her. Do you see what I mean?"

"Hm, you might not be wrong…"

"Yeah, I think I get you."

"You're totally right, man!"

"W-Whatever…!"

Laura… Just how connected to Kyoko's secret mission are you…? And was she suggesting that you could be dangerous when she left…?

One thing was for sure now: the Former Ultimate Detective's mission had something to do with the Unremembered Ultimates, whoever they could be.

"I advise that we be cautious," the Vice-Director suggested, crossing his arms and looking at his friends seriously. "I trust Kirigiri not to be a fool. If she took the risk of having Lawn enter the Division, I'm willing to believe that we're not in direct danger."

"Let's hope so… I don't think Kyoko would take such a risk without being sure of what she was doing, honestly…" Makoto said and got funny looks from Hina and Hiro. "D-Don't look at me like that! I'm just giving my opinion!"

The two Former Ultimates shared a laugh while Byakuya simply smiled.

"Well, whatever it is, I do plan for us to figure it out," the Togami heir added. "The question now is… should Vice-Chairman Munakata and Chairman Tengan know? Considering Kyoko's words, they know about these Unremembered Ultimates, but should they know that one of them is among us?"

Hm… "Given Vice-Chairman Munakata's personality… I think this would be unwise," Makoto told him, biting his lip. "Since the Unremembered Ultimates are enemies of the Future Foundation and that Special Agent Lawn is technically one of them, he could consider her an imposter among the organization."

"Right. Then we will keep this to ourselves as to not attract any unnecessary attention."

Yeah, that's probably the best solution for now… I don't want to distrust Laura, anyway. She's just another victim of despair, and I promised her that I would do my best to protect her.

While his four friends continued to chat, Makoto unpinned his Future Foundation pin from his suit and stared at it in the palm of his hand.

The question now is… where will my trust lead me…?

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Two:  Deadly Encounter

"Mount Fuji, huh? I guess it is a nice setting."

"The first letter of each sentence," Kyoko simply said, checking to make sure she had her handgun in her holster. "There were two paragraphs, forming two words. I am ashamed I didn't figure it out earlier."

The two Division Directors stood near the door to the helicopter, their elite agents with them, getting ready. The squad was about to land in the middle of nowhere in the forest surrounding the famous Japanese mountain.

"Don't beat yourself over it, Kyoko," Koichi assured her, giving her a kind smile. "You've more than proven to me that you're an amazing detective, so I knew you'd figure it out eventually."

"Kizakura…" begrudgingly, and after a sigh, the Former Ultimate Detective smiled at her father's friend. "Thank you. I appreciate it. Are you ready to go?"

The Former Talent Scout nodded with energy. "Yeah! This should be fun!"

I'm not sure if this is the word I would use for a mission that could potentially leave us dead, but it could just be me… The girl thought, facepalming. "I'm glad you're enthusiastic, Kizakura. Well, let's go."

The door to the helicopter opened, revealing the foggy atmosphere of the forest. However, breathing fresh and pure air did wonders for Kyoko's lungs.

I thought I would never breathe some normal air again in my life… It's a shame that we cannot see five feet in front of us. She mused, looking around. "I can vaguely discern a path this way," Kyoko said, pointing a gloved finger in front of her towards a path of dirt. "Follow me, and be cautious. Danger could come from everywhere."

Kizakura and the five elite agents nodded, following the young woman with careful steps. The unfavorable visibility added to the possibility of a threat made it even more necessary to move forward with care.

The Former Ultimate Detective made sure to pay attention to every sound, even when it was just that of the wind blowing. When the trees made it too dark, she turned on a flashlight so they could still see something, especially where they were walking.

Wherever this path leads, it is pretty well-hidden… We were lucky to find it so close to our landing spot. Kyoko thought, sighing. At least, having a weapon and elite agents with me is reassuring. I know martial arts, but these would only get me so far against an assault rifle…

She was more worried than she usually was during her cases, though her own situation wasn't the source of her fears.

The list of the Unremembered Ultimates… this Ultimate Mercenary is the most evident threat, but the fact that one of them will be so close to Makoto and the others makes me uncomfortable…

"Kyoko?" Koichi whispered to her ear, speeding discretely to catch up to her. "Don't you think we should plan our next move just in case we found something… or someone?"

"O-Oh, hm… Y-Yes, you're right…" the youngest Branch Leader agreed, nodding hesitantly.

Kizakura frowned. "You sure? That was a pretty hesitant answer for you. Everything alright, Kyoko?"

The Former Ultimate Detective's shoulders slumped. "I am… I'm just worried."

"Worried?" he echoed. "That's unlike you."

"Not worried for us," she elaborated, shaking her head. "I'm worried for my subordinates. Especially… for Makoto."

The man seemed intrigued. He walked next to Kyoko, making sure to remain mostly quiet as they continued to follow the path.

"What's wrong with the guy…? How come you're more worried about him than you are about you?" Koichi wondered curiously, fiddling with his fedora. "I think we're in the most danger if you want my opinion."

"Believe me, Kizakura, I would love it if it was the case…" Kyoko sighed. "Do you remember the list of names I found inside the file?" she saw him nod. "Well, you read it, too, so you know that it's the list of the Unremembered Ultimates' names and talents."

"Yeah, sure do. I'm the one who handed the list to Vice-Chairman Munakata and Chairman Tengan, after all," he said, shrugging. "But what about it? Now that you mention it, you had a pretty strong reaction when you first read that list."

The lavender-haired detective nodded. "You're right. It's because… one of the names on that list was familiar. Too familiar."

"Oh," Kizakura's expression morphed into one of worry. "And… how did you become familiar with it…? And whose name is it, anyway?"

"Laura Lawn, the Ultimate Copywriter," she answered, making his eyes widen the slightest bit. "When you first told me about this Ultimate Copywriter, I was surprised, but I didn't care so much. However…"

Kyoko could still see the fear and sadness inside the Luckster's eyes after Byakuya had brought him back to Division Fourteen Headquarters on that fateful day. He had been so close to death, and just trying to imagine the scene made Kyoko understand why her close friend was disturbed.

The fact that she was used to corpses and bloody scenes didn't make it the case for everyone, even after a Killing Game.

"This Laura Lawn popped up in Makoto's first mission, in which he almost died," she confessed, feeling a bit of the pressure lifted from her shoulders. "Byakuya saved him from Lawn's brother, who had fallen to despair and had previously stabbed his little sister."

"Wow, talk about a lovely family tale…" the scout deadpanned, wincing. "And you're worried that this Laura Lawn might be an active Unremembered Ultimate who would harm Makoto or your other subordinates?"

"Yes, exactly. I know Makoto trusts her because she went through a lot, but yet…" Kyoko paused, thinking for a second. "When I learned that the Unremembered Ultimates were on the offensive against Future Foundation agents, it worried me. So I took a gamble."

"A gamble? You? Kyoko Kirigiri?"

"Indeed… I am usually not one to leave things up to chance, but I did not have a clone or a twin at my disposal to stay at the Division while I investigated with you, Kizakura," she told him quite coldly. "This is why I asked you to allocate her to my Division, so I would be able to learn more about her… and the Unremembered Ultimates."

"Woah, b-backtrack a little there!" he said, waving his hands around. "You did what? This is too dangerous! If you say Makoto trusts her, she could backstab him at any moment!"

"What wouldn't I do without you…" she rolled her eyes. "Of course I thought about that, idiot. This is why it is a gamble. If everything I've prepared works, they will most likely be safe. Otherwise…"

She didn't finish this sentence, although her fellow Division Director understood what she meant. His expression turned graver.

"I would never have thought that this was your reason for asking my Division to do that, to be honest," Kizakura said, baffled. "And do you think that what you've prepared will work?"

"If Makoto and the others follow my instructions to the letter, I don't see how it could fail," Kyoko stated, palming her breast pocket reflexively. And hopefully… Makoto will have the foresight not to tell her about the instructions I gave them… Things could go sour if he does. "I am a meticulous person, Kizakura. I try to account for every possibility, although I am no Junko Enoshima, either. Not that I would ever wish to be."

"Yeah, you tell me about it!"

A part of her didn't want to let go of her worries, but Kyoko had to remain focused on the task at hand: chasing after the Unremembered Ultimates.


The small squad went on walking for a little while until the path stopped suddenly, and they found themselves facing a clearing.

"I think this must be the place we were looking for," Kyoko noted, looking around carefully. She pointed at a sole building in the center. It almost seems too obvious, actually… "Let's proceed with even more caution than before as we move in, alright?"

"Yes, ma'am!" the elite agents said with a salute while Kizakura simply nodded.

"Then let us get going. The quicker we are done here, the better," the young woman added, walking ahead at a cautious yet decisive pace. Even if… this will depend on what we find inside this building…

The building looked out of place in a clearing. It was a typical warehouse, although it left the Former Ultimate Detective wondering what it could be used for. She sincerely doubted that she would find the Unremembered Ultimates inside, handed to her on a silver platter.

Considering that Laura Lawn clearly didn't live anywhere near here, it could mean that they are all on their own… But then… She kept one gloved hand not too far away from her holster. Why did the note guide me here of all places…? What or who are we going to find in there…?

Once they were close enough, the squad stopped, standing only a few feet away from the entrance. Kyoko lent a close ear to try to pick up a sound, but she heard nothing else than the sound of the birds singing and of the wind blowing.

"Okay, we will storm in, so be ready to defend yourselves, alright?" she ordered, taking out of her handgun and checking that it was loaded. "Only fire if you are directly threatened or if I give the order, understood? We need whoever is inside alive."

After one last nod and everyone checking their own weapons, the detective quietly opened the door to the warehouse, frowning when it creaked. This wasn't good for their cover.

Once they had entered, however, Kyoko's eyes widened.

What the hell is that…? There was a sort of stage at the back of the warehouse. What Kyoko noticed first, however, was the banner hanging from the ceiling. It read 'CONGRATULATIONS DETECTIVE KIRIGIRI!' in multicolored capital letters.

"Haha, there you finally are! You sure took your sweet time, dear Detective Kirigiri! I thought you would never show up!"

"And who might you be…?" the young woman asked, keeping her gun raised. "Decline your identity at once."

"Oh, no need to be so hasty, my beloved detective! Besides, I'm sure you can figure it out, nee-heehee!"

Kyoko grit her teeth. They were facing a young man who was so small he could have been way younger than what he probably was, as a (probable) Unremembered Ultimate. He had his hands behind his head and showed a relaxed smile, even with more than half a dozen pointed at him.

His hair and eyes were purple, but what Kyoko noticed the most was his bizarre clothing. Recalling the list of names she had read, she did deduce who they were.

"Saiuso Ouma. The Ultimate Prankster," she simply said, glaring at the short boy. "Let's keep this quick: you are under arrest for leading attacks against the Future Foundation. Surrender at once."

Kizakura nodded, visibly remembering the boy. Saiuso cocked his head, and his smile turned into a frown before he began to cry.

Crocodile tears, of course. "Waa-waa-waa…! Y-You're so mean, K-Kyoko!"

"Cease this fake crying at once and cooperate. We won't hesitate to use force if needed," Division Fourteen's Director threatened, putting her finger on the trigger.

The crying immediately stopped and made space for a mocking grin. It made Kyoko worry just a little bit.

He's not supposed to be grinning right now… He's cornered!

"For some reason, I don't think you're going to fire at me, Detective Kirigiri, dearest," the Ultimate Prankster told her, stepping down from the stage. "After all, you told your very scary fellows not to use force, didn't you?"

"H-How…?"

"Security cameras, Detective Kirigiri," he cut her, looking at Kyoko with disappointment. "Well-hidden, I'll admit, but I thought you would spot them, y'know? Guess you didn't."

Grr… How could I not even think about it?! Our cover was blown even before we entered!

"You're a clever boy, aren't you?" Koichi chipped in, giving an exaggerated bow. "I tip my hat to you, young man! Nice to see you again!"

"Oh, you're that funny guy again! Yeah, good to see you again, too!" the Unremembered Ultimate greeted back, smiling at the scout. "And yeah, I'm pretty effing smart if I do say so myself. Smart enough that you probably won't arrest me, at least!"

Koichi shook his head. "Most interesting! And how do you plan on doing that? We could always shoot one of your legs and stop you, right?"

What are you doing, Kizakura…? That look on your face tells me that you have something in mind, but what…? Are you trying to get to him…? Kyoko wondered, opting to let her elder take the lead… for now. He had used the same trick against Sakakura during their argument with Munakata, after all. Stay focused, Kirigiri… Something is fishy here…

"Good question… Maybe like that, nee-heehee?"

Suddenly, the boy snapped his fingers, making Kyoko's eyes widen. She watched with horror as a cage appeared from under the floor, engulfing the Former Talent Scout next to her in a second. And as an added bonus, tens of men and women with clown outfits suddenly appeared inside the warehouse, carrying pistols and aiming at the squad.

"W-What…?" H-How…?! "K-Kizakura!"

The five elite agents also looked slightly panicked as they were quickly surrounded with no way out. From inside the cage, the detective could hear the muffled sounds of Kizakura's voice, although she could hardly do anything to help him.

"Nee-heehee… don't worry, my dear Detective Kirigiri!" Saiuso said with a mockingly calm smile. "Only ten of them have real weapons! The others have water guns, so that's not so dangerous. They won't fire if you don't, but since one of them has the remote to free your friend…" he grinned at her. "So, you can leave, but I don't think your friend here will live for very long if you did, y'know? Well, I'll let you make a decision as to what you should do… Until then," he bowed and waved at Kyoko. "Farewell, beloved! Until we meet again… if you can come out of here alive, that is…"

Y-You little! Kyoko clenched her fist as the prankster's little army closed out on them until they had encircled them completely. He walked away, leaving the Former Ultimate Detective to bit her lip. Meanwhile, Koichi continued to shout from inside the cage, banging his fist on the walls of the metal cage. "Shut up, Kizakura! I'm trying to come up with something!"

If we fire, they will, too… If we get lucky, we can kill those with the real guns, but that's unlikely… The fabric of the young woman's gloves threatened to sever as she clenched her fists as hard as she could. But if we don't… then Kizakura will be stuck and at their mercy…

She blinked once. Before her eyes flashed the memory of Makoto Naegi on that conveyor belt.

No… never again will I leave one of my friends to die… I can't allow myself to! Makoto… give me your luck…!

The Former Ultimate Detective took a deep breath. What she was about to do wouldn't end well. But Junko had made it that there were never good decisions. Only the lesser of a goddamn high number of evils.

"FIRE!" she shouted, raising her gun with shaky hands. In the end, she couldn't bring herself to press the trigger, but the elite agents definitely could. S-Shit, I said it!

And very quickly, Kyoko realized that something was wrong when none of Saiuso's men and women fired a shot. Their bodies dropped to the ground like flies as Munakata's agents fired without mercy.

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

There were water guns, that was for sure, but there had never been any dangerous weapons. And soon enough, the warehouse had been turned into a bloodbath, with bodies laying on the floor and cries of pain echoing painfully in Kyoko's ears.

She dropped her handgun and let it clatter on the floor, watching the scene with empty eyes. The Ultimate Prankster had bluffed: there had never been any threat at all. And Kyoko had fallen for it. Her orders had led to tens of deaths.

T-This was for the sake of the Future Foundation, Kyoko… T-They were at war against us, a-after all… She stood shakily, only being snapped out of it by the sound of Kizakura's shouts.

"Goddamnit, what happened there?! Y-You alright, Kyoko?!"

"Y-Yes… I'm… I'm going to get you out of here…"

Her pale skin paled even whiter than usual. Kyoko had gone through her fair share of trauma in the past, but this was new. Never had she seen so much blood. And never had she felt so responsible for it.

"P-Please search them to find the r-remote…" she asked the agents, finding herself unable to help. "G-Give it to me once you've found it…"

"Yes, ma'am!" they said, immediately putting their rifles away to begin their search. They didn't look bothered at all by what had just happened.

A few minutes later, one of them handed Kyoko a plain black remote with a red button in the middle. Not even considering that it could be another trap, the Division Director pressed it and sighed in relief when the cage Kizakura was trapped inside of was lifted, liberating the scout.

"Damn, fresh air again- EEEEEEK!"

He screamed at the sight of the blood, jumping in shock.

"Let's just go," Kyoko told him emotionlessly. "No use staying here."

The young woman walked away, staining her sneakers with blood (boots were a no-no, of course), and only mindlessly picked up a note she found near the entrance. She looked up to the skies and noticed a colorful engine flying high and away in the air.

Saiuso Ouma… Why did you do this…? Didn't you have anything other than a bluff to use against us…? You thought I would sacrifice Kizakura for fear that I would die…? Did you have to take the risk of tens of your men dying…? Are these the Unremembered Ultimates' methods…?

"This was a disaster," she mused aloud. "It couldn't have been worse."

"You said it… So… what now?" Kizakura wondered, taking out his bottle and drinking a sip from it, trying to act cool, although it was clear he was also shocked. "We going home?"

Kyoko closed her eyes in thought.

Going home…? We cannot do that. I swore I would stop the Unremembered Ultimates, and I will. She glanced at the five elite agents, standing there and waiting for further orders. If I don't… then I know who will. And I can't in good conscience let that happen.

Leaving behind the bloody warehouse, Kyoko walked back towards the path of dirt. Kizakura wordlessly followed, as did Munakata's agents.

This is warfare. No holds barred now. I just don't think I had really realized it until today… This is the truth of the Tragedy.

Junko Enoshima… just what have you started…?

However, the Ultimate Detective would never be able to leave behind the blood of these young men and women who had died that day because of her orders.

This only furthered her determination.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Three:  Words of Wisdom

"Be careful, sir! Don't hesitate to call us immediately if anything happens!"

Makoto smiled gratefully. He couldn't be happier to have such amazing subordinates working for him. They were always doing their best, and they had formed a real team spirit, allowing them to complete their work at a really efficient pace!

And also, they were dedicated to protecting their boss, and it was really heartwarming for the Luckster. He didn't think he deserved it, but he definitely appreciated it.

"I will, thanks. I'll be back soon," the Former Ultimate Lucky Student said, getting off the helicopter. Now, it's a little hard to get your bearings when most of the buildings are destroyed, but I think I'll remember the way…

The young man walked in the empty streets, and seeing the glass half full instead of half empty, noticed some slight improvements. Some buildings were being repaired, and there was no more additional damage compared to last time. Eventually, he reached the door he was looking for and knocked.

"Hm…? Who is it?"

"Good afternoon, sir," Makoto greeted, bowing in front of the old man. He looked at the Special Agent with surprise over his face, prompting Makoto to smile. "I promised you that I would come back, didn't I?"

"Mr. Naegi…" Shouta shook his head. "So a young man such as you really does like to waste his time with an old man… I don't know whether to call it kindness or foolishness."

The Luckster giggled. "I'll choose the former, Mr. Hanzou. May I come in?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, of course…" the grey-haired old man said, letting Makoto walk by before he closed the door. "People who do not make only empty promises are rare, nowadays. I am impressed, Mr. Naegi."

Is that how people are these days…? I haven't interacted with many people other than Future Foundation agents, so I wouldn't know… Makoto mused, adopting a pensive pose. "Well, I think I am a man of my word, Mr. Hanzou. I probably wouldn't be here otherwise, honestly."

Shouta nodded in understanding. "Can I offer you a glass of scotch or of wine, Mr. Naegi?"

"O-Oh, hm…" the Luckster scratched his head embarrassedly. "I-I'm afraid I'm still underage, Mr. Hanzou… I can't drink."

"Ah, I see," the old man chuckled. "So you haven't discovered the wonders of a good drink yet, have you?" seeing Makoto shake his head, Shouta laughed more loudly as he opened his minibar. "This bottle here is some of the best French wine you'll find, dating 1905! Losing it would be an even worse tragedy than what is currently going on!"

"G-Good to know…" Makoto sweatdropped. I just hope that I won't ever have to find consolation inside the bottle… "So, what have you been up to since last time, Mr. Hanzou?"

"Well, I've been doing some tinkering to repair my windows, my bed, you see?" he said, pouring himself a glass. He raised it in the air. "Cheers, Mr. Naegi!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student smiled. It's pretty impressive that he still can do some handiwork at his age… "Is there any equipment you need, maybe? And what about food? The nearest protected store isn't anywhere close to here, after all."

"You're a good man, Mr. Naegi, but I assure you that this old man isn't in need of anything," he walked back to the couch and sat. "If anything, I only need a friend to talk to and who would listen to me. I've grown past the need for material goods, you know?"

"I'll listen to you," the young man blurted without thinking. This was as genuine a reaction as possible. "I-I mean… if you'd be willing to talk to me, of course… D-Don't wanna force you or anything…"

Shouta sighed. "I'd talk to you, my boy, but I'm afraid you would find my story depressing. For people like me, this Tragedy isn't the only disaster I've witnessed, you see? I'm not sure a young man like you has anything to gain in this."

"It's okay. Anything that can distract me is appreciated, Mr. Hanzou," Makoto said, frowning. One of the reasons I was excited to come here was that not think about Laura's situation for a moment… or about Kyoko's mission…

The bearded man gave him a suspicious look but nonetheless nodded. "Very well, then… Have a seat, Mr. Naegi. I could talk to you about my personal life, but that's not so interesting… I'll give you a history lesson based on how I lived it instead, in case you were slacking in class."

Makoto blushed embarrassedly. Caught red-handed… It didn't go unnoticed by Shouta, who shook his head and chuckled.

"Very well, then, let us begin in 1941 when the Japanese army was getting ready for war against the United States…"


"And this is how, in 1969, mankind first set foot on the Moon, my boy," Shouta said, wrapping up his ninth or tenth story in about an hour. "Do you have any questions?"

You've gone into so much detail, I don't know how I COULD have any questions… Makoto thought, discretely rolling his eyes. "No, I don't think so. This was crystal clear, Mr. Hanzou."

"Good, good… I haven't lost my storytelling abilities, then. Hopefully, you learned a few things listening to me."

The Future Foundation agent nodded. "Yeah, definitely! It's great that there are still people like you who can tell these stories, or they'd be lost! My grandparents died when I was really young, so they didn't get to tell me all of this."

"Then I'm glad. I suppose an old man like me hasn't become utterly useless yet," Shouta said ironically, taking another sip of his drink. "History is not something you can forget, or you risk repeating it. I'm afraid this is one lesson humanity has yet to learn."

The look in Shouta's eyes turned worried. He had told Makoto about everything that had happened in the world during his life: the wars, the scientific discoveries, the famous events, the social improvements… It wasn't all pretty, but it made the Luckster realize that even after tragedies, happier days always came.

Unfortunately, these were apparently quickly forgotten. This was the lesson that humanity had not yet learned.

"My boy… I am no fool: I know that I don't have many years to live and that I probably won't see the end of this Tragedy…" he paused, taking a deep breath. "So, please, remember this… fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to suffering. You can only end suffering by sending a strong message of rallying."

"A message of… rallying…?"

"Indeed, my boy… Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won with people," he elaborated, resting one hand on his cane and one on the side of the couch. "No weapon will ever be able to defeat the will of the people. You can't fight despair with rifles or bombs, my boy. Those who say that are fools who will go nowhere."

He paused, and Makoto swore he could see a tear in the old man's eyes as he looked up to the ceiling.

"You can only fight despair with hope, and it is granted by the belief of the people. Well, these are only the words of an old man without much longer to live. Only give it thought if you think it's worth your time."

The belief of the people, huh…? What do people believe in…? Makoto wondered, closing his eyes in thought. It could be despair… or it could be hope… But which would they fight for…?

"It is worth my time, Mr. Hanzou. I might have gone through hell on earth with my friends, but… I know nothing of what the world really is like. The people…" he shook his head. "I was certain that they wanted hope and just couldn't reach it, but maybe it's not as simple as it seems. Maybe people are trapped in despair, and we're fighting the wrong fight!"

Shouta gave a weak smile, the signs of his advanced age showing. However, it was a genuine smile that seemed to put him at peace.

"You are quite extraordinary, Makoto…" he said, and the use of his first name caught the Former Ultimate Lucky Student by surprise. "I thought you were a bit naïve when I saw you on that television program, but I now realize that I was wrong. You are a quick learner, and your heart truly is in the right place. Keep it up, and… maybe even I will be able to see hope again…"

"Mr. Hanzou…" the Special Agent teared up, emotional that the man in front of him was opening up to him. "I'm so glad…" It doesn't seem like Mr. Hanzou always had an easy life to live, especially these past few years… But he deserves to be happy.

The two men stayed in comfortable silence for a little while. Makoto wiped his tears away with one tissue from his pockets and allowed himself to relax. It had already been more than ninety minutes since he'd arrived at Shouta's house, but he didn't want to leave yet.

"So, you've listened to my stories, but I didn't get a chance to hear about you, my boy," the old man said, pouring himself another drink. Makoto thought it could be wise to stop him soon, although he showed no signs of being drunk. "Is everything going well? Well, as good as they can go, at least."

"I… suppose so," the Luckster answered, without much conviction. "I'm worried about something, but other than that, I'm fine."

"What are you worried about?" Shouta asked, running a shaky hand through his beard. "Is it anything worth worrying about?"

Makoto sighed. He didn't want to tell anyone about his problems, not because he didn't trust them, but because he didn't want to depress them. "It's… about a friend of mine. The young woman who was with me the first time I came here, actually."

"Oh, yes, I vaguely remember you being with a young lady… She has purple eyes and lavender hair, right? And I think she was on that TV program, too?"

The Former Ultimate nodded. "Yeah. She's my boss at Division Fourteen of the Future Foundation and one of my former classmates," Makoto's shoulders slumped. "Kyoko's probably my best friend, too, and she's someone I care about a lot."

"I see… And why are you worried about your friend?" Shouta wondered, seeing the young man's mood dampening quickly. "You can tell me. I won't go and tell anyone, mainly because with my bad memory, I might honestly forget…"

"She left my other friends and me to go on a secret mission recently, and we've figured out that it was dangerous," he explained, trying unsuccessfully to improve his mood. "I absolutely trust her, but I know there's a chance she doesn't come back, and… if this happened…"

He couldn't finish this sentence.

"I understand. It makes sense that you would be worried for your friend, but as you yourself said, you should trust her to come back in one piece," the old man assured him. "Do you think she'll come back?"

Makoto pondered the question for a few seconds. "I do. I know her, and I know she won't die so easily."

"Then there you have it, my boy. Your friend will be back alive and well, and before you know it."

The Luckster appreciated Shouta's enthusiasm, especially considering that he didn't appear to be a naturally enthusiastic guy.

"Thank you, Mr. Hanzou," he smiled at him to show his gratefulness. "And you're right. Besides, if I can't stop worrying, I won't be useful to my Division at all."

The grey-haired old man nodded. "Indeed… Say, my boy, could you go fetch me the TV remote over there on the counter?" he pointed his cane towards a wooden counter near the television screen.

"Yeah, sure," the Luckster walked over there and grabbed the black remote. "What channel should I put it on, Mr. Hanzou?"

"The information channel, please," Shouta asked. "I cannot go out of the house much these days, so I have to watch a lot of television to keep myself informed. Now that the Future Foundation has regained control of the airwaves, I can at least see something else than programs meant to get people to fall to despair."

"I guess so, yeah…" So the members of Ultimate Despair used the airwaves for their propaganda, too… It does make sense… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought as he pressed the button for the first channel. He knew it was the Future Foundation news channel. "There you go."

"Thank you, my boy."

"You're welcome."

Makoto watched along with the old man as the Future Foundation reporter explained how Vice-Chairman Munakata's achievements were going to put a quick end to the Tragedy.

"Hmph, my ass!" Shouta exclaimed, his voice assertive. "They keep on praising this Munakata guy, but I haven't seen much improvement! Acts speak louder than words! I'm sure they're just using video editing for these reports! They all do that!"

Yeah, I kinda noticed that this was Vice-Chairman Munakata's propaganda channel, too… But it makes sense, considering he's really the one at the head of the Future Foundation… The Special Agent thought, staring at the screen. Although it seems that Mr. Hanzou is not buying it…

Suddenly, the screen went black, and the TV started sizzling. Makoto and Shouta exchanged a surprised look.

"Oh, it seems the satellite dish is acting up again…" he sighed. "Ah, the wonders of technology!"

That's odd… It went out really suddenly, and the weather isn't worse than it usually is… The Luckster frowned. "Do you want me to check it out, Mr. Hanzou?"

"Don't bother," the old man told him. "It'll work again tomorrow, I bet-"

"And we interrupt your boring program for something more interesting!"

"Huh?" the two men looked to the TV and noticed the screen had turned back on, but the Future Foundation channel was gone. "What's that?" Makoto asked.

"I haven't got a clue, my boy…"

"Man, hacking the airwaves was a pain! Anyway!"

Who's that…? Makoto narrowed his eyes on the screen as a short, purple-haired boy disguised as a clown appeared on the television. And did he say "hacking"…? W-Wait, don't tell me…

"All this Future Foundation propaganda is cool and all, but I've got something that should arouse your curiosity a little more than that," the boy said, smirking at the screen. "The Future Foundation pretends to be fighting against despair, but… Is that really the truth? *We* say it's a little more complicated than this, believe it or not. Well, you'll see what I mean in a moment. I hope you like the short break in your program, nee-heehee…"

The TV turned off again before a video started playing. Shouta seemed unfazed. However, after not more than a second, the look on Makoto's face went from curious to shocked.

"FIRE!"

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

The Luckster couldn't help but wonder if his eyes weren't deceiving him when he saw a familiar lavender-haired woman with five heavily armed agents firing at will against unarmed young men and women. He did notice that the familiar woman had not fired, but the result was still the same.

Both men gasped at the sight of a giant pool of blood and the tens of bodies on the ground. The video faded away, and a message appeared on the screen.

"The Future Foundation massacres innocents. Is that hope for you?"

"Just what was that…?" Shouta wondered, sighing with frustration. "So many young people murdered so cruelly…"

"N-No…" This can't be… Just what the hell was that?! Makoto felt a shiver run down his spine. K-Kyoko…? W-What the…? "I… I gotta go, Mr. Hanzou!" he rushed towards the door, taking his phone out. "I-I'll see you in a week!"

He threw the door opened and slammed it shut on his way out, dialing the helicopter pilot's number as he ran.

T-This can't be! S-She… she wouldn't slaughter innocents like this!

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Four:  Looking Past Spilt Blood

"So, what's our next move, Kyoko?"

The Former Ultimate Detective sighed as she noticed Kizakura enter her office. She was getting tired, but she couldn't allow herself a minute of unnecessary rest until the Unremembered Ultimates had been captured and brought to justice.

"I cracked the hidden message left by Ouma in the note he dropped when he escaped," she explained, handing him a piece of paper. "It is daring us to come to Fukuoka, although I can see the trap coming from a mile away."

"But we don't have the luxury of having a choice, do we?" the Former Talent Scout asked rhetorically. Kyoko shook her head. "Then let's go, right? We haven't moved for almost a week now."

They had stayed hidden near Mount Fuji for a few days, deciding to plan their next move carefully to avoid another disaster like the one with Saiuso Ouma. Perhaps they had not suffered any losses, but it didn't mean it would get so "lucky" the next time around.

"Yes, you're right. Get the pilot and tell them that we're leaving for Fukuoka," the young woman requested, stretching her arms. How are things going on your end, Makoto…? She wondered before a lightbulb appeared over her head. Actually… Is there a chance that…?

She palmed the breast pocket of her suit before retrieving a tablet while Kizakura left the room. The red LED at the top was glowing, which got Kyoko's attention immediately.

This gamble of mine might turn out to be successful, then… Kyoko mused, allowing a small smile to appear on her lips as she turned the device on. Let's see…

After pressing a few buttons, a video feed appeared on the tablet screen, showing a young man with a brown ahoge and two young women, one with a chestnut-colored ponytail and the other with short black hair and a pair of glasses.

She sighed in relief. So far, so good… I'm glad to see Hina again, even if she has no idea that I'm watching her right now… The detective turned the volume up so she could hear something and noticed after reading the room that whatever they were talking about wasn't a happy story.

"I remember that they signed their letters by calling themselves the Unremembered Ultimates, although I don't know why that name. Well, I guess we will kinda be a forgotten promotion of Hope's Peak Academy, so it makes sense."

Kyoko stared at the screen and listened really closely. On the other side of the tablet was Laura Lawn, the Ultimate Copywriter. She had, for some reason, decided not to tell the Luckster up until now. This is what made her so suspicious to the Former Ultimate Detective's eyes.

So she's finally arrived at HQ. And it seems that Makoto brought her to his office, as I had asked, too. Apparently, she didn't consider the possibility of a hidden camera on her laptop… The young woman smirked, happy that things were going smoothly, at least on one front. I hope you're ready to be monitored, Laura Lawn, because if there's anything you're hiding, I will definitely know about it…

The Division Director had asked Division Fourteen's top software scientist to place a bug on the laptop that would record video and audio feed once the computer was rebooted. They weren't Chihiro, but they had done some great work. Kyoko was looking forward to potentially getting new clues about the Unremembered Ultimates from her (clueless) new subordinate.

"They were the Ultimate Mercenary."

Kyoko fiddled with a strand of her hair as she listened to Laura. And she also knows about the Ultimate Mercenary, then. I'm afraid they could be an even more dangerous threat than Ouma is, so we'll need to be careful if we ever face them. But I wonder if Ms. Lawn knows more about the other Unremembered Ultimates than she lets on…

She noticed her two Former Ultimate friends look at each other, apparently having the same idea. Of course, a soldier and a mercenary weren't the same things, but the Former Ultimate Detective could only hope that the Ultimate Mercenary wouldn't be as dangerous as Mukuro's file indicated she had been.

They had enough on the plates already, at this point.

I still can't help but wonder if I could have beaten Mukuro Ikusaba in a fight… She was a soldier, so she probably could have gotten the better of me with a weapon, but in hand-on-hand combat… She looked up from the electronic device for a few seconds. Well, it hardly matters right now.

The copywriter empathized that she had not wanted to join a fight. Whether this was true or not was what Kyoko needed to determine. Of course, the risk was that she was playing double agent for both the Future Foundation and Unremembered Ultimates. But Kyoko had a plan if she found out about it.

As long as we don't leave Japan, we can come back to Headquarters quickly and catch her with her hand in the cookie jar… Kyoko sighed, turning the tablet off as the three Special Agents left the office. Although I hope it won't have to end this way.

"Okay, I'm back. We'll get going as soon as possible, although we'll have to make a stop to refuel the helicopter, apparently," Koichi said, entering back inside Kyoko's office. "What do you wanna do in the meantime?"

Kyoko pondered the question. "Hm… I think I will go and take a nap. I feel tired, and I'm afraid it will make me less effective."

"That sounds cool!" the man said, smiling at his friend's daughter. "I'll wake you up if anything happens, alright?"

The detective nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Kizakura," she yawned, betraying her exhaustion. "I appreciate it."

"Sounds like you really need the sleep, doncha?"

"I sure do…" Kyoko sighed and went to lay down on the couch next to her desk. "Well, see you later, Kizakura."

The two colleagues shared a smile. "Yep! Sweet dreams, Kyoko."

She chuckled and noticed him leaving the room once more. The purple-eyed young woman felt her eyes close on their own, and her muscles relax as she slowly drifted off to sleep.

He can be unreliable sometimes, but… Kizakura's presence does make me feel safer… Is it because he was my father's friend…? Hm… Just sleep, Kyoko… you'll think about this later.


Koichi yawned as the credits of the movie rolled. He grabbed his bottle from the table and took a sip from it. He had to be careful not to drink too much while on the job, but just a bit was fine. It helped him calm his mind, just like watching a good movie did.

The last time he had checked, the detective was still sleeping, and her nap had turned into a good night's sleep.

I'm impressed with how mature Kyoko has grown… Kizakura thought, smiling proudly. You can tell that she's an adult now, whereas she was still a teenager with lots to learn when she was a student. He looked up, and his smile widened. You can be damn proud of your daughter, buddy…

He stretched his arms and grabbed the remote to the TV. His "office" inside the helicopter wasn't anything he would like to live in for an extended period of time, but it had to suffice. He recalled with fondness his time as Talent Scout of Hope's Peak Academy, especially scouting Class 78th.

Back then… we would never have thought that anything like this could happen… Not Jin, not me, not Munakata or Tengan, and not even the Steering Committee… He frowned at that. Junko really fooled us all… but the Tragedy isn't about her anymore.

The man pulled out his phone and scrolled through his saved pictures. Class 77-B isn't the main threat right now; as odd as this might be… Kizakura looked through the profiles of fifteen young people, sighing. He would never have thought things would turn out this way. Hope I don't jinx us with that… Can't be on two fronts at the same time…

The Remnants of Despair had lost activity after the Ultimate Fashionista's defeat, and there was hope at the Future Foundation for better days soon. However, if the Unremembered Ultimates were back to being trouble, the fragile state of approximate peace that had been found would quickly falter.

One of his eyes drifted towards the TV screen, and he shook his head. The day Munakata understands that people don't give a damn who saves them, we'll finally make progress… He sighed. Vice-Chairman Munakata this, Vice-Chairman Munakata that… Doesn't help that Sakakura's brutalizing everybody who goes against him…

Division Three's Director had… a troubled relationship with the Former Ultimate Student Council President, to say the least. He disagreed with pretty much every decision Kyosuke Munakata could take, although he made sure to keep quiet about it. Well, at least he could tolerate the white-haired young man, and their disagreements were kept cordial. Koichi didn't want to finish under the guillotine, either.

However, he sure hated Sakakura's guts! He wasn't the type to publically showcase his disliking of someone, but the entire organization knew that he did not want anything to do with the boxer. Koichi found his arrogance and boot-licking insufferable, and he knew he wasn't the only one.

Chisa was a friend, although… the Former Ultimate Housekeeper had grown colder and more distant since the beginning of the Tragedy. The scout knew that it was taking a toll on everybody, so he didn't blame her. He just wished he would get back the playful, cheerful Chisa who had taken over for him as a teacher back then.

These three had a firm grip on how the organization ran, even if Tengan still had a semblance of power over the whole thing.

"Ah, good old Future Foundation… They built it upon the same things that made Hope's Peak so flawed that the Tragedy began there," he chuckled ironically. "I needed the break, so good thing we went on this little escapade with Kyoko… Just wish it wasn't so bloody!"

The scout stood up and grabbed his fedora on the table. He opened the blinds covering the windows and let a bit of natural light inside. Ah, how he missed seeing the sun…

Let's see… is there more propaganda on the agenda, or can people finally get some reliable news…? He wondered, watching the TV screen without many expectations.

"And we interrupt your boring program for something more interesting!"

"…!" Kizakura's eyes widened suddenly at the sound of an unexpected and familiar voice on the television. T-This voice…!

"Man, hacking the airwaves was a pain! Anyway!"

N-No way… The Branch Leader was very surprised to hear the voice of Saiuso Ouma, the Ultimate Prankster, on the other side of the screen. T-They hijacked the airwaves…? Damn, so they can do that, too…

"All this Future Foundation propaganda is cool and all, but I've got something that should arouse your curiosity a little more than that," Koichi frowned at the sight of a grin on the short boy's lips. This couldn't be good. "The Future Foundation pretends to be fighting against despair, but… Is it really the truth? *We* say it's a little more complicated than that, believe it or not. Well, you'll see what I mean in a moment. I hope you like the short break in your program, nee-heehee…"

"The hell's that…?" curious (and a bit worried), the man watched as the screen turned black before a video started to play.

"FIRE!"

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

"WHAT THE HELL?!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, immediately recognizing the scene being aired on the waves. "Goddamnit, there were cameras in there?!"

The video of what had happened inside the warehouse played, and it allowed the scout to have his first look at it since he'd been trapped back then. A detail quickly caught his attention as the bodies piled up on the floor.

It doesn't match up! They might have been water guns, but they still had guns! So why aren't they on this video?! The scout wondered before finally putting the pieces together. Wait… It was so that people wouldn't see that! They'll only see Future Foundation agents and a mysterious woman slaughtering unarmed innocents! Damn, so that was his plan all along!

He just wanted to make us look like the bad guys!

He didn't even pay attention to the message that played at the end of the video and instead ran towards Kyoko's room. He didn't even bother to knock and pushed the door open before entering.

Koichi noticed Kyoko standing still near her desk, staring at her own television screen.

"K-Kyoko!" he exclaimed, not knowing what to say next.

"I have seen it," she told him, sighing. When she looked at him in the eyes, he could see a mix of anger, disappointment, determination, and something new for her, a bit of hatred. "You know what this means, Kizakura? What it means to edit a video of me to make it look like I would call for the massacre of innocents? What it means to make me look the part of a heartless killer?"

Koichi gulped as the room was engulfed in silence. He didn't know what to tell her. He had no idea what Kyoko needed to hear right now. The Former Ultimate Detective walked straight past him, and the cold aura around her made Kizakura shiver.

"This means no mercy."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Five:  Fifty Shades of Hope

"B-Byakuya!"

Makoto entered Byakuya's office, panting. The Luckster noticed that a small crowd had already assembled inside the room.

"There you are, Makoto. Maybe you'll have an answer to a question we're all asking ourselves right now," the Vice-Director paused for a second before slamming his desk and pointing at a screen. "What the hell is this?!"

"C-Calm down, Byakuya! Why would Makoto know?" Hina asked, walking over to him and tapping him on the shoulder. "He's probably just as confused and shocked as we are."

"Y-Yeah, for serious!" Hiro added, his eyes filled with as much terror as during the Killing Game. "M-Maybe I'm not so brave, but I'm scared to death right now!"

"I-I agree with t-the idiot, for o-once…!" Toko stuttered as she bit her nails. "W-What the h-heck was that…?! I-I almost passed o-out at the s-sight of the blood, and it w-was only on the s-screen…!"

Lastly, Laura nodded, her expression more depressed than shocked. "I… I wasn't ready for that… for the Unremembered Ultimates to show something like this…" she sighed.

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny stood up from his chair and glared angrily at everyone around the room individually. "Before any of you plebians gets any ideas, a little warning…" his eyes rested on Makoto in particular. "You do not get involved with this more than I order you to. Kirigiri is an adult and will deal with her own mess. We'll deal with ours. Understood?"

The Togami heir's words made the room go quiet. Makoto looked at his shoes, as did Hiro. Toko looked frightened, and Laura seemed disturbed. Only Hina managed to look somewhat calm, in parts because she was used to butting heads with Byakuya. He got a series of weak nods.

"Whatever the hell she got into with these Unremembered Ultimates, I'm starting to be fed up with it!" the Vice-Director added, raising his voice another tone. The phone on his desk ringed. "Grr… Whoever that is better have a good reason to bother me!"

He grabbed the phone furiously and put it on speaker while keeping the glare for the other agents.

"Vice-Director Byakuya Togami speaking," he said, not bothering with hiding how frustrated and angry he was. "Who is this?"

"Chairman Tengan, calling from Central Headquarters. You are ordered to come immediately for an emergency meeting."

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny looked on the verge of exploding. "I have my own issues to deal with right now. Your meeting will wait."

Makoto and Hiro gasped. H-He'll get in trouble if he talks back to Chairman Tengan like this! I've never seen Byakuya so angry, even during Sakura's trial… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought, thinking of walking over to his friend to stop him. However, the stare he got from Byakuya dissuaded him immediately.

"I understand that your Division, in particular, might be troubled after what has happened, but this is an order," Kazuo stressed, his voice firmer. "Division Fourteen is already causing us enough issues as it is."

"H-Hey, don't talk to my M-Master like t-that, you…!"

"Shut up! You are the last person I need to hear right now!" Byakuya shouted at Toko, his eyes darkening even more. "I'll be here, Chairman, but don't hold me accountable if Division Fourteen crumbles in my absence!"

They heard a sigh on Tengan's end of the line. "I'm afraid the damage's already been done, Vice-Director Togami. Well, we will discuss it further during the meeting."

With this, the Chairman hung up, leaving a fuming Byakuya. No one dared to say a thing until the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro gave it a shot.

"Why are you so angry about it, anyway?!" she wondered, looking at the young man with incomprehension all across her face. "We're all surprised and wondering how this video was taken, but you're the only one who's angry!"

"I'm angry because our task is to fight Enoshima's worshippers, not to pay the price of Kirigiri's foolishness!" he shot back at her. "Tens of plebians are already at the entrance of the building asking about what they saw on TV! I didn't join this unreliable organization to deal with that crap, you commoners!"

Byakuya powerwalked to the door and slammed it shut behind him as he left, leaving the others to exchange looks of disbelief and discomfort. The Luckster took a deep breath to recompose and think more calmly about the situation.

I know there's something wrong with this video! Kyoko would never do that! And if someone laid a trap for her, I need to know who they are to stop them! I won't let anyone drag my best friend's name through the mud, or my name isn't Makoto Naegi!


"P-Please, calm down, ma'am…!"

Hina sighed as she effortlessly dodged another one of the old lady's weak and slow punches. The swimmer and Hiro had decided to try to calm the people in front of the tower. They were asking for an explanation, and while the Special Agent from Division Thirteen would have loved to grant them one, she didn't have it.

She just wished that these civilians weren't so violent… even if she understood them.

"Y-You bunch of thugs! Y-You're no better than these despair addicts!"

The Former Ultimate Swimming Pro rolled her eyes with some frustration as the old lady carried on. There were accusations, insults, assumptions… Hina didn't care, but she knew it would become annoying at some point.

"Ma'am, there's an investigation going on to find the truth about this video," Hina said, trying to stay as calm and polite as possible. "The people will be informed once this is done, believe me. Please don't force me to arrest you, ma'am… I think we both have better things to do."

"G-Give it a try, you dirty snake!" the old lady shouted, trying to launch a kick Hina's way. The swimmer dodged with ease and lightly pushed the lady just enough so that she would give her some breathing room. The old lady panted, but she still glared at Hina. "I-I've seen you on that d-dumb TV show! I-I hope you die like that ugly and treacherous f-friend of yours!"

Hina's eyes snapped open, as wide as they had ever been. She gaped for a second, trying to make sure she had heard the old and rude lady correctly.

"W-What… What did you say…?" the Special Agent asked, feeling the same thing she had felt back then when Byakuya had mocked her best friend so cruelly. She took a couple of steps forward, and her usually so kind blue orbs turned as dark as the sky. "What did you say about my best friend, you old hag…?"

Suddenly, the old lady's expression turned from bold to terrified. She took a step back, but Hina immediately grabbed her by the wrist and didn't let go. The Former Ultimate purposefully applied pressure on her arm so that it would hurt a bit.

"Sakura Ogami was the kindest, prettiest, most honorable girl I've ever met," Hina stated, looking at the old woman with eyes so intimidating that she gulped. "Filth like you couldn't even dream of being as good a person as she was, so now…" she tightened her hand again. "Either you apologize right now, and I'll make sure you only end up in a jail cell, or I punch that wrinkly face of yours so hard it'll put you six feet underground!"

There were many things Aoi Asahina could tolerate. People could say whatever they wanted about her, and she would never get angry. However, anyone who dared to attack one of her friends would suffer her wrath.

Right now, her closest female friend was in the middle of a controversy without anyone to help her, and a frustrated old lady had just insulted the memory of her deceased best friend. Back then, Byakuya had only received a slap because killing someone wasn't an option and because the swimmer still had hope for her Sakura.

But at this moment, Hina genuinely had murder on her mind. She had forgiven the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny because she knew the pressure he had also gone through. However, it was as if this old fart had put a "punch me" sign on her face.

"F-Fine… S-Sorry…" the old lady said begrudgingly. "N-Now, let go of me!"

"I'm not so sure about that," Hina told her, her hateful glare not receding. She turned around while still holding the old woman and walked over to an agent. "Lock that old hag away for assault on a member of the Future Foundation, will you?"

"H-Hey, you cannot do that! D-Didn't your parents teach you to respect your elders, you d-dirty-!"

"Shut. It." the swimmer twisted the old woman's arm, making her cry in pain. "Put her away before I'm tempted to kill her!"

Hina sighed as the agent saluted and took the old lady away. The young woman heard her complain in the background, but she couldn't have cared less.

This made me lose all of my motivation… The Former Ultimate thought, growing depressed. I know I shouldn't let my emotions take over like this, but I can't just… let people insult Sakura! Not then, and not now!

Ignoring the shouts of the other civilians protesting, Hina walked back inside the Headquarters of Division Fourteen. She didn't feel like going home yet, especially not before she heard some news about Kyoko's situation.

"Hey, Hina! There you are!"

The swimmer looked around for a bit, trying to find where the voice had come from. After a few seconds, she noticed Hiro walking in her direction, waving at her.

Oh, it's Hiro… She forced a smile onto her face as the fortune-teller stood in front of her. "Hiya, Hiro. How are things going on your end?"

"Well, with all these people shouting and all, I'm kinda overwhelmed…" he scratched his head embarrassedly. "That's why I'm taking a break now. Besides, I'm sure the other agents will be fine on their own!"

He looked at her with a broad and confident smile. Hina knew it was just his excuse to take a break, and she also knew that if she asked what made him so sure, he would say that he had predicted it.

She just shook her head, trying to hide her depressed mood. "Okay."

The Former Ultimate Clairvoyant frowned. "H-Hm… Are you alright, Hina…? I know I'm not so smart and all, but… you look down, you know? Something wrong?"

Hina sat on one of the chairs of the main hall, meant for the people visiting the Fourteenth Division.

"I… I'm depressed because of that old woman out there…" she admitted, looking down at her sneakers. "She was protesting and trying to get through me, which was fine, but…" a tear rolled down her cheeks. "T-Then she told me she wanted me to die like Sakura!"

These words took Hiro by surprise, who gasped in shock. "W-Woah, that's totally not cool, for serious!"

"Y-Yeah…" the swimmer dried her tears away, although she didn't look cheerier at all. "I-I got furious and told her I would have her p-put in jail, but… It still hurts so much!"

"H-Hina…" the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant looked at his former classmate with sadness on his face. "I-I'm so sorry this old bag told you that… That's so mean!"

He sat next to her and looked at his friend worriedly. Hina sniffled her cries and was invaded with unpleasant thoughts. Of course, she thought back to her best friend all the time, and she wished that things were different and that Junko had not taken Sakura away from her. To be reminded of what had happened to the Ultimate Martial Artist so cruelly…

That was just too much for her.

"But you know that none of us think that, right? I mean, I know I'm a chill guy, but even Byakuya wouldn't ever think that of you, Hina," he added, placing a hand on her leg. "So don't let her get to you, for serious! I don't wanna see your enthusiasm fade because someone was just mean to you!"

"H-Hiro…" *sniffle* T-That's not the Hiro I'm used to…

"Please don't cry, okay? I totally predict everything will be fine, for serious!"

That's not so reassuring… Hina thought and giggled. Hiro pouted for a second, although seeing a smile back on his friend's face made him smile in turn. "T-Thanks, Hiro. I appreciate this."

"Sure! Glad I could help! I know I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, so I try to help any way I can!" the young man said, high-fiving the girl. "A-And well… the thing is… I also need to apologize to you, H-Hina."

"Oh? What do you need to apologize for, Hiro?" she wondered, looking at him with surprise instead of sadness.

The fortune-teller looked ashamed as he fiddled with his suit. "I… I've been really mean to Sakura too when she was alive by calling her Ogre and attacking her with that bottle, so… I wanted to apologize for that."

Hiro bowed his head in front of the young woman. She looked at him with wide eyes, and the gesture touched her. The swimmer placed a hand on his shoulder, prompting him to look up.

"I've forgiven you long ago, Hiro. You're one of my friends, and I can't hold a grudge against you," Hina looked up and smiled. "And I know that… up above, Sakura's forgiven you for everything, too."

The two Former Ultimates shared a smile before hugging each other in a friendly and warm embrace. It lasted for a little bit, making Hina realize that there were still lots and lots of good people in this apocalyptic world.

Maybe Sakura isn't with us anymore, and Kyoko's in hot water right now, but… with people like Hiro, Makoto, and all my other friends, I know I don't have to be depressed! Hina pulled away, and with energy, dragged Hiro with her. "Let's do this!"

"E-Eeeek, s-slow down…!"

And with that, the two friends went back to work, hoping to get some good news of their detective friend soon.


"This better not be a waste of my time."

Byakuya entered the Reunion Room and noticed eleven Branch Leaders sitting around the table. He gave them all a glare, caring very little from the intimidating stare he was on the receiving end of from Sakakura.

"Ah, Vice-Director Togami," Tengan spoke up, seeing the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny penetrate inside the room. "You were quick, as I ordered. Good."

He said nothing as he went to sit down on one of the two remaining chairs. He quickly picked up on the fact that, other than Kyoko, Kizakura was also absent. All of the other Directors were accounted for, however.

In particular, one he had never met before.

Who is this plebian? Byakuya wondered, staring at a short and shy-looking boy. And more particularly… how did he become a Division Director…? Hmph, no need to focus on a commoner like him.

Munakata stood up from his chair, and a screen turned on behind him. "You all know why you've been called here, so I'll get straight to the point. I will tell you how your Division will be handling the situation regarding the video of Director Kirigiri that has been broadcasted on television a couple of hours ago."

"Hey, we're big enough to make our own decisions," Great Gozu cut him. "Besides, how the Divisions work is to be decided by the Division Directors themselves, not anyone else."

"Nonsense! This is the type of weak and politically correct policy that has brought us in this struggle!" the Vice-Chairman rebutted. "The Future Foundation is in need of a strong leader in these dire times-!"

"Hmph, cow man's right, though!" Ruruka interrupted. "I don't give a shit about this bitch's situation, but I'm sick and tired of receiving orders from the likes of you!"

Sakakura punched the table (and startled a few) before standing up and pointing at the Former Ultimate Confectionner threateningly. "Shut your trap! Do you want me to break your face, shrimp?!"

"I'd like to see you try," Sonosuke said as he swiftly stood up and withdrew a blade from within his coat. He pointed it towards the boxer. "Touch a hair of Ruruka's, and I'll turn your body into swiss cheese."

"H-Hey, stop fighting, everyone!" Usami, on Miaya's screen, demanded. "This is a big no-no!"

"Damn, can't you shut it for a second, you fucking rabbit?!" Juzo threatened, powerwalking through the room until he faced Miaya's wheelchair. The Former Ultimate Therapist looked unfazed, though. "Well, aren't you gonna answer me?!"

"Stop this right now, Sakakura," Gozu said, stepping in and in front of the unemotional girl. "You will not pick on a woman on a wheelchair on my watch."

As the wrestler and the boxer got into it, Byakuya looked at the scene with unimpressed eyes. Chisa was trying to calm things down, although she was doing a terrible job at doing so. Sonosuke was still shielding Ruruka, and both Seiko and Daisuke were visibly too scared to chip in.

This isn't worth my time. The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny thought, standing up from his chair. "I've come here hoping you Division Directors were not as idiotic as civilians, but it appears I was mistaken," he told the entire room, getting the attention from the others. "I'll be taking my leave now, Chairman. I won't stand commoners like you any longer."

Kazuo looked unable to defuse the situation and didn't even try to stop Byakuya.

"Vice-Director Togami," the Togami heir heard Munakata's voice as he left the room. "The mess Kirigiri's caused can't be solved by Division Fourteen alone. You don't have it in you."

The young man vaguely heard the Former Ultimate Boxer say something along the lines of "you got that right!" although Byakuya barely cared.

"Except there's something you didn't quite understand, esteemed Vice-Chairman Munakata," he said, his voice mocking on purpose. The Vice-Director continued to walk away as he next spoke. "What Kyoko Kirigiri does is none of my business. She'll do her job, and I'll do mine."

With some complaining and others trying to calm things down before all hell broke loose, Byakuya left the Reunion Room with the feeling that he'd lost a lot of his valuable time. However, he left with a satisfied smirk on his lips.

He picked up his phone when he heard it buzz in his pocket and looked at the text he'd just received.

Perfect. These idiots have no idea what will be coming for them if they dare to bother me. And once Kirigiri's secret mission ends, my plan will go on to its next step… My one dream… my one hope…

No one will ever take it away from me!


"It sure does look fake to me, Makoto," Laura said with a shrug as the two Special Agents stared at the computer screen. "I'm specialized in creating ads, and I often have to use editing. There are lots of details in the video that don't look natural, that's for sure."

"R-Really…?" the Luckster was glad. "Then could this mean that…?"

The Ultimate Copywriter seemed to understand where he was going with this. "There's definitely a chance that Director Kirigiri's not as guilty as she looks. Although," she looked at her colleague. "I don't think you're the one who needed to be convinced."

Laura's not wrong… I know Kyoko would never do something so horrible, so… The young man frowned. "Yeah, you're right. But do you think there's a way for us to explain these inconsistencies to the people? Like… I dunno, with a live broadcast or something?"

"Hm…" the Unremembered Ultimate was deep in thought. "Explaining the details would be really difficult, I'm afraid. And if we try to justify every little detail, the people might think that we're trying too much, you know?"

Makoto was hesitant. Laura's logic made sense to him. It would look suspicious if they tried to convince too much instead of going step by step. However, with Kyoko's status unknown, the Luckster was split.

"I… I actually don't," the Former Ultimate Lucky Student admitted, sighing. "I don't want to do anything that could potentially endanger Kyoko even more."

"Well… It's definitely not something that's easy to judge, that's for sure," the new Special Agent agreed with a nod. "But…" she paused, visibly trying to gauge her words. "Maybe you also need to let Director Kirigiri do what she has to do on her own. I… really don't want to sound mean or anything, but I'm sure the Division needs you to be focused on what's happening here right now, you know?"

"No, it's okay, Laura," Besides, you're not entirely wrong… I keep saying that I don't have to worry about Kyoko, but I keep worrying… Makoto gave a weak smile. "I just hope we can find a way to put this scandal behind us quickly so we can all go back to work as soon as possible."

The black-haired young woman nodded again and smiled. "That's the spirit! I prefer to see you with a smile rather than a frown, Special Agent Naegi!"

Makoto giggled. "Haha, you're not wrong!" the two shared a smile before the Luckster stood up from his chair. "Well, I'll go see what I can do to help outside, okay? Maybe you can work on trying to find a way to smoothly inform people that the video was edited?"

"Yeah, sure! I'll give you a call if I come up with something, alright? Well, good luck out there, Makoto! If you could give me hope back, you can make anyone see the truth!"

The hazel-eyed young man chuckled as he left the office, leaving his new colleague and friend to work on her own.

Yeah, Laura's right. We'll do what we have to on our end to help Kyoko, and then it's up to her to wrap up her mission… I'm glad she was able to guide me there… Laura is really turning out to be a great colleague so far!


Toko sighed with frustration and tossed her pen on her desk. The noise around the office added to her high level of stress made it impossible for her to do anything productive, even filling her paperwork. To know that her Master Byakuya was being put under so much pressure because of something he wasn't responsible for… it made her nervous.

Actually, she was even worried about him. The Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy knew there was no need to worry about the heir of the great Togami Empire, but she couldn't help it. Toko knew how Byakuya considered her, even now, but she genuinely cared about him. Unfortunately, there was also that side of her that couldn't stop fantasizing about him, although she tried to restrain herself.

I-I need to do something that M-Master Byakuya is g-going to appreciate…! The novelist thought, wracking her brain to find an idea. C-Come on, T-Toko, you can find something…! O-Oh, I know…!

The writer smiled excitedly. She pulled out a sheet of paper from her desk and picked up her pen again. Very quickly, she felt the same calm she usually did when she drafted her novels. Without any doubts, she began to write.

"Dear Master Byakuya,

I know that the current predicament might seem difficult to overcome, but you are the great heir of the Togami Family, and I am most certain that you will not let it get in your way. Please rest assured that you can count on my help whenever you may need it!

- Toko"

She thought of drawing a little heart next to her name but decided against it. After all, Byakuya had clearly asked her to try to change for the better from the stalker she was, and she wanted to honor the promise she had made him.

Toko picked up her note and stood up. This was obviously nothing compared to the novels she was used to writing, such as So Lingers The Ocean, but the simple fact that she could write again made her heart flutter. Besides, the Former Ultimate Writing Prodigy knew she could be socially awkward, so writing allowed her to express herself freely, especially to the Togami heir.

I-I'll put this on h-his desk, so he s-sees it when he c-comes back… She mused, walking towards her boss's office before her grey eyes widened with a great idea. A-And I can m-make him c-coffee, too…! H-He'd like that, I'm s-sure…!

The novelist hurried to the elevator then to one of the cafeterias to brew her Master a cup of the best coffee available. Making sure not to trip on the way back, she reached Byakuya's office and opened the door. She recalled how harsh he'd been with her earlier when she had tried to defend him. It hurt, but Toko understood that she shouldn't have intervened. This was what Byakuya meant by changing for the better.

She put the note on his desk and held it still by placing the cup of hot coffee on top of it. Hopefully, Byakuya would be back before it turned cold. Still, considering how much steam was coming out of the cup, she wasn't too worried.

L-Let's hope he enjoys the g-gesture… Toko exited the office on her tiptoes, trying not to attract too much attention. She returned to her desk not too far away, giving her the perfect angle to see Byakuya's reaction once he came back. I… I d-don't ask for much… j-just for M-Master's recognition…

"I-I should g-go back to m-my paperwork…" the intern thought aloud, sighing. "I-It would be b-bad if I-I didn't finish in t-time…" she took out the pile of work and went back to it.

A few minutes later, Toko noticed the Vice-Director coming back into the office, which prompted the entire floor to go silent. He looked somewhat frustrated, but it was far better than his earlier mood.

The Togami heir entered his personal office and went to his desk. The novelist could see his eyes narrow on the coffee and the note. He picked up the cup and took a sip from it, making him smile. She could almost hear him sigh in pleasure.

Then, she saw him take the note with intrigued eyes and giving it a thorough scan. She was awaiting his reaction and shook with pressure. When she noticed him shaking his head with a small smile, the purple-haired young woman felt her heart fill with joy.

H-He liked it…! M-Master Byakuya a-appreciated something I d-did for him…! She smiled like an idiot at the thought. T-There's no one that c-could make me f-feel that b-but Master…! R-Right…?


"I must say, Hina's loyalty is most honorable," Celeste said, fiddling with a strand of her hair clips. "Don't you agree, Sakura?"

The class turned to the Former Ultimate Martial Artist, who couldn't hide her satisfied smile. "Indeed… I could not have asked for a better friend than Hina. I… I knew she would not forget me, even if I asked her to, but to see her defend me like this… I am grateful."

Most of Class 78th was sitting inside the Afterlife Theater, watching their friends among the living from Above. There was some wholesomeness, although they were also worried, especially about Kyoko.

"You think Kyoko'll be alright?" Mondo wondered, keeping his fingers intertwined with Taka's. "Makoto sure worries about her!"

"I tend to think that she will be alright, yes," Mukuro answered with a nod, holding Sayaka's hand. "As someone who fought with her when I was alive, I can say that she is resilient. This incident will only serve to make her even more determined."

"Yes, Miss Ikusaba is right!" Hifumi agreed with enthusiasm. "And she has Mister Naegi supporting her, too! Their friendship stat will protect her!"

Somebody inside the room laughed. Well, this somebody cackled, to be more precise. "Ha, like friendship's gonna change anything!" Junko exclaimed, making everybody else sweatdrop. "Though I'm not even sure I want anything to happen to her, honestly…" she went to her depressed persona. "These Unremembered Ultimates are stealing the show! What are my worshippers doing?!"

"I hate to agree with her, but Junko's right," the Former Ultimate Pop Sensation said, getting everyone's attention. "The members of Ultimate Despair have been quiet for a while now! I'm not sure if we should be happy or worried about it, to be honest."

The deceased classmates all knew that their fashionista rival/enemy/captor/ex-classmate had more plans. No one knew what they were, except for some small bits Mukuro had told them about. The Mastermind herself refused to say anything, claiming that it was better to keep them all in suspense.

"Well, let's take what we can get for now, classmates!" the Former Ultimate Moral Compass and former Class Representative told them. "We need the best to happen to Professor Makoto and the others! Two groups fighting them at the same time would be too dangerous!"

They all seemed to agree with that after a while.

"Still, I hope these Unremembered Ultimates will soon stop to cause problems…" the Former Ultimate Programmer muttered. Mondo ruffled Chihiro's hair, making her smile. "What they're doing to Kyoko is so mean!"

"Yeah, that's right!" Leon agreed. "I know she ain't the type to break down or anything, but she'll have a hard time working if they use underhanded tactics like that!"

"And this holds even more if this Laura Lawn is a spy," Mukuro said, her voice betraying doubt. "I personally don't trust her. I know Makoto does, but I think this is a mistake."

"Want my opinion?" the blonde asked.

"No."

Junko sighed. "Why don't you ever listen to me…? This is too despair-inducing…" crocodile tears appeared under her blue eyes. "Anyway, I have this feeling that ad girl will have a surprise in store for our luck boy! Maybe not the one you're expecting, too!"

"Ad girl…? Oh, because she's a copywriter…" the Former Ultimate Soldier sighed. "Moving on," Junko chuckled as her sister facepalmed. "I know this is a pointless attempt, but couldn't you elaborate, Junko?"

"Nope! Leaving you to wait before you can find out would create much more despair, wouldn't it?" the Former Ultimate Fashionista said with a smirk. "This'll be a fun distraction before my beloved worshippers finally get back into action!"

"You're the only one finding any of this funny, Junko."

"Hm? I beg your pardon?"

The class turned towards the entrance of the theater room and noticed Jin walking in their direction.

"Hi, everyone. You wouldn't mind if I joined you, would you?" the deceased Headmaster wondered.

Mukuro shook her head. "Not at all. I was actually going to suggest we watched what is happening on Kyoko's end. It's a good thing that you decided to come, Headmaster Kirigiri."

"Alright, thank you," the man said, taking a seat at the end of one row. "I have this uncanny feeling that we're going to see blood again soon…"

His sigh was shared by almost everyone else in the room as the screen switched to the Former Ultimate Detective's point of view. They all focused again as the lights went out, ceasing all chatter to watch their classmate.


"We're about to land, Director Kirigiri, ma'am! It appears we're not alone, however!"

"Alright, thank you," Kyoko said, reloading her handgun. "Are you ready, Kizakura?"

"Want an honest answer?" the scout asked her. She nodded. "Absolutely not. But I don't have a choice, do I?"

The lavender-haired young woman shook her head. "No, you don't. And neither do I. I'm afraid there are no escape routes for us right now."

Both Division Directors shared a sigh. They were about to land in Fukuoka, where Saiuso's note had guided them. Kyoko had guessed this was a trap from the very beginning, and it appears that she had not been wrong: five other helicopters and a crowd were waiting for them outside.

It didn't take long to realize that they weren't allies. And flying away was not an option, considering the rifles that were aimed at their helicopter. If it crashed, they were done for.

There weren't any other choices for the two colleagues but to land and see what they could make of this perilous situation. After all, the young woman was pretty certain that coming back to Central HQ without completing her mission wouldn't lead to a much different fate than what they were currently risking.

Besides, Kyoko was determined, and there was no doubt in her mind: their blood would spill before hers did.

"I don't plan on killing them, but I hope for their sake that they won't dare me to," she said, putting the gun in her holster and tying her long lavender hair. "I won't hesitate if it means saving our skin."

Koichi looked at her with suspicious eyes. "Let's hope it won't come to this, hm? I'd prefer not to shoot anyone, you see? And I'm sure your friends at Division Fourteen Headquarters would rather not learn that you've killed anyone, too."

Kyoko didn't respond. Makoto would despise the thoughts I'm having right now, but I can't die here. If I die now, I'll never be able to see him and the others again! Besides… to the world's eyes… I've already killed way too many people. I won't improve my public image anytime soon…

The door of the helicopter opened, revealing the despairingly dark skies of the city of Fukuoka. The Former Ultimate Detective took a deep breath and stepped out, observing the scene. Kizakura followed suit, and so did the elite squad of Munakata's agents.

They stood encircled, weapons drawn, in a scene very similar to that one back in the warehouse. Kyoko dearly hoped it wouldn't have to end in the same way.

The fact that the Unremembered Ultimates have so many supporters worries me, although this can't be on top of my priority list right now. She thought, seeing the rows of armed men and women leave a path open for them. "We're severely outnumbered. It seems they were waiting for us."

The scout seemed to agree. Kyoko walked ahead carefully, knowing extremely well that she was playing in the enemy's hand. From afar, she could see the city's town hall, and this was where the rows of enemies stopped.

This is where they want us to go. And it means that there is someone waiting for us there. In all likelihood, I also know who this someone is.

The small group followed the path they were forced onto until they stood in front of the stairs of the town hall. There stood a mysterious individual, who - this is what Kyoko noticed first -, was alone. For some reason, they had been led somewhere where they could regain the advantage.

"Kyoko Kirigiri. I have been waiting for you."

Kizakura was about to speak, but the Former Ultimate Detective stopped him immediately, holding her weapon in the mysterious person's direction. "And you are?"

"Hmph, a toy like this won't intimidate me, Kyoko Kirigiri," they drew a gun of their own before Kyoko could even react. "And to answer your question…"

Purple eyes met red orbs in a battle of deadly stares.

"I am known as the Ultimate Mercenary."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Six:  Facing the Hired Gun

"It appears that I was right, then."

"As expected of the Ultimate Detective, I suppose. Your title isn't so undeserved, it seems."

"Tell me what you want. I know you didn't prompt us to come here for no reason."

The two Ultimates looked at each other right in the eyes, weapons drawn and ready to fire. Kyoko kept a firm grip on the handgun, with a finger ready to pull the trigger at any moment.

In front of her was a tall young woman with brown-greenish hair that reached her waist. Her eyes were a blazing red, as were most of her clothes. Her figure was slender, and she appeared to be extremely swift and agile.

"You're right; I didn't," the Ultimate Mercenary said, keeping the gun aimed at the detective. "I asked Saiuso to force you here so we could have a little chat, Kyoko Kirigiri."

"I'm not sure anyone would want to have a chat with you, you know?" Kizakura chipped in, his expression unusually serious. "At least, you stopped with your ridiculous act of playing midwife. You always seemed more the type to kill people rather than help them give birth."

The brown-haired Ultimate turned her attention to Koichi while keeping her gun aimed at Kyoko.

"A mercenary is never as effective as when they can perfectly hide," she told him, her voice naturally cold. "But the cat is out of the bag. There is no need for me to hide my true talent anymore." Her eyes darkened, turning crimson. "And I have to make our enemies pay, now."

"I couldn't agree more," Kyoko said, her finger pressing lightly on the trigger. "Enough fooling around! You are under arrest for rebellion against the Future Foundation! Surrender now or suffer the consequences, Kira Harukawa!"

The five elite agents of Vice-Chairman Munakata's Division quickly moved to surround the young woman, leaving her alone against seven opponents.

"Hmph. I said I wanted to have a chat with Kyoko Kirigiri," she stated, closing her eyes for a split second. "Not anyone else!"

Kyoko and Kizakura's eyes widened in shock as the Ultimate Mercenary quickly turned around and began to fire at the elite squad. In a matter of seconds, all five of them were down and bleeding, unable to hold their rifles anymore.

It had been so quick, the detective and the scout had not even been able to fire a single shot in response. Kira stood unimpressed before turning back towards Kyoko and her father's friend.

"I care very little for human life, Kyoko Kirigiri. I hope this makes it clear."

Crystal. "I didn't need to be told, Harukawa." Kyoko's glare hardened even more after a gasp. "But it doesn't change a thing. Surrender immediately, or we will open fire. I don't wish to chat with a terrorist."

"How ironic. I will not receive lessons in morality from the Future Foundation, Kyoko Kirigiri," Kira told her, her voice even colder. "We are fighting to expose the truth of the Future Foundation's misdeeds and stop Junko Enoshima's worshippers. You are the terrorists."

"Expose the truth? Don't make me laugh!" the lavender-haired detective exclaimed, her frustration almost making her pull the trigger. "Ouma's lies might ruin my reputation, and you dare tell me about the truth?! You have some nerve, Harukawa."

"Calm down, Kyoko," Kizakura told her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Frustration won't lead us anywhere."

He's right… Harukawa wants me to make a mistake… The Division Director thought, taking a deep breath and releasing some of the pressure on the trigger. "Well, it doesn't matter. My orders and my morals require that I stop you and the other Unremembered Ultimates. And I will not fail, Harukawa."

"You can't beat me in a fight, Kyoko Kirigiri. And even if you did, your helicopter is surrounded by my people. You won't get away from here before you have listened to me."

Kyoko wanted to test that. She knew the only person she couldn't have had a chance of beating was dead. And with Kizakura with her… getting the better of the mercenary seemed doable.

*BANG*

She fired a shot to the ground, purposefully missing her and trying to judge Kira's reaction. However, there was none. The Ultimate Mercenary just stood there, emotionless.

"Do you want to die, Kyoko Kirigiri?" she asked, moving one step closer. "I suggest you refrain from doing this again."

"Your orders matter very little to me, actually," Kyoko retorqued, also taking one step forward. "The next one will be between your two eyes, Harukawa."

"Hm… I'm not so sure about that."

"H-Huh?"

The detective had time to fire one more shot as the youngest Ultimate dashed towards Kizakura and grabbed him from behind, using him as a human shield. Her gun was replaced by a knife which was held against the scout's throat threateningly.

"Hey, that's not nice!" Koichi complained, keeping his cool. "I preferred Ouma's cage, y'know!"

"Shut it. You're not the one I'm interested in."

The man's shoulders slumped. "That's not the first time I've been told that… Oh, how cruel can life be, huh?"

Damn it! I wasn't quick enough! Kyoko thought, biting her lip. "Let him go, Harukawa. I'm the one you wanted, am I not?"

"I'll use him as leverage, so you listen to me, Kyoko Kirigiri," Kira told her, keeping Kizakura stuck in place. "And you're actually wrong: I have no intention of killing you, at least, not right now. The thing I'm looking for… is your cooperation."

The scout laughed. Kyoko had to think for a second to be sure that she wasn't hearing things. After that, she also wanted to laugh.

"I've heard bad jokes, Harukawa, but this one takes the cake," said the Former Ultimate Detective, narrowing her eyes on the duo of Koichi and Kira. "I don't even want to imagine what you would need my cooperation for."

"Well, believe it or not, but we Unremembered Ultimates actually believe in your abilities, Kyoko Kirigiri," Kira stated, her voice somewhat warmer. "However, we knew that you wouldn't be interested enough to investigate us if we didn't taunt you. This was Saiuso's idea, not mine."

T-They… just wanted to make sure I would investigate them…? "And you did that by insulting the name of my family?"

"Indeed… There is an Ultimate Investigator among our group who learned everything there was to know about you and your family, Kyoko Kirigiri. We also learned of your investigation of Junko Enoshima and her little tragic play before it actually began at full force," the mercenary added. "This was the best way to make sure you would be drawn to us."

"Damn, I guess that makes sense…" Kizakura said from his uncomfortable position. "You must have written the first note during the Killing Game, so it didn't make much sense to mention Kyoko and her father when you didn't know whether or not she'd survive."

"Exactly," Kira confirmed. "You are an intelligent woman, Kyoko Kirigiri, so we knew you would figure out the message behind the note. Then, we made sure you would have a motive for pursuing us here. This was provided by the video we broadcasted to the world."

"Y-You little…!" Kyoko grit her teeth frustratingly.

"Do not worry. If we manage to reach an agreement, I'll ask Saiuso to clear your name." Kyoko didn't care so much about that. Most likely, the damage had already been done. It would take her some time to prove that she wasn't a cold-blooded murderer to the world. "For now, my request is simple, Kyoko Kirigiri. We know that defeating the Future Foundation is impossible as it is, and even if we did, we wouldn't stand a chance against the Ultimate Despair with reduced forces."

I fear I know where this is going… "Elaborate."

"Kyosuke Munakata isn't known to be a reasonable man. We risk total extermination if we try to attack the Future Foundation head-on," the youngest woman said. This was something Kyoko could agree with. "This is why we need someone who understands that the Future Foundation is responsible for the Tragedy to betray them."

"The answer is no."

This was an easy one. Kyoko might disagree with Munakata's way of doing things, but she wouldn't betray her own organization for a shady girl who was holding her colleague hostage. Besides, it would mean betraying her friends.

Kyoko would die before she even thought of betraying her former classmates.

"I knew you would say that. However, you are in no position to negotiate, I'm afraid," the Unremembered Ultimate held the knife closer to Kizakura's face, making him wince. "If you refuse, he dies. Plain and simple."

"Don't bother with me, Kyoko. I suggest you actually run away before she kills the two of us," the scout told her, trying to sound unbothered, although there was fear in his voice. "You can do without me, can't you?"

The Former Ultimate Detective stood there, unable to do anything. If she did anything Kira would consider suspicious, Kizakura would lose his head. If Kyoko fired, it would pierce them both. If she ran, Koichi would die, and there was a chance that the Ultimate Mercenary could catch up to her.

Whatever she did, Kizakura was a goner. There were no good options, just like inside that warehouse. However, this time, the threat was even more dangerous.

W-What should I do…?! Kyoko wondered, trying not to panic. Betraying the Future Foundation is out of the question… Makoto's face flashed through her mind. He believes the organization can change things! This is reason enough for me not to betray them! B-But then…

He was a friend to her. His advice always helped her, even if she didn't say it. She was cold to him, but it was more a habit than anything else. All in all, Koichi Kizakura was someone who mattered to Kyoko, and she couldn't leave him to die at Kira's hands.

"Well, what's your choice, Kyoko Kirigiri? Do you want him to die?"

Time's up, apparently… What do I do…? The young woman took a deep breath. I have no need to think about it too much. I went into this mission knowing what the risks were.

"I've made a decision, Harukawa," Kyoko told her. "I'm going to-"

"This is boring. Is this what a battle of hope against despair is supposed to be…?"

"H-Huh?"

The two Ultimates and the scout turned around at the sound of an unexpected fourth voice.

"Whoever you are, get away from this. Do you want to die?" Kira asked, holding another knife with her second hand.

Who is this…? The detective wondered, analyzing the tall man who stood there, peering at the scene. They look… dangerous… and somewhat familiar, for some reason…

"W-Wait, y-you are…!"

"Who I am does not matter," they said, cutting Kizakura. "However, I need to ensure that hope and despair can both reach their highest potential so that they might finally offer me some entertainment."

He turned towards Kira.

"You are in the way."

In a split second, the mysterious man basically teleported towards the Ultimate Mercenary and disarmed her. She tried to stab him but missed him completely. The Unremembered Ultimate was tossed away like a leaf, painfully holding her arm on the ground.

"Go away now. I've eliminated the threat near the helicopters."

The man turned around and walked away. "W-Wait!" Kyoko called out. However, he jumped away, disappearing into the background in a heartbeat. "They're gone." The Former Ultimate Detective scanned her surroundings. "And so is Harukawa." I've lost my chance to capture her… But at least… She heard Kizakura breathe several sighs of relief. He's alive. "Are you alright, Kizakura?"

"Not gonna lie, I've seen better days," he said with a chuckle. "This was way too close to call, but I guess I made it… somehow. Did Harukawa get away?"

"Yes," Kyoko replied sharply. "And so did this mysterious man who saved you."

The scout nodded in understanding as he readjusted his fedora. "I see. Hey, do you remember the file about the Unremembered Ultimates, the Remnants of Despair, and all of that?"

"Hm… Yes, I do. But what about it? Why are you bringing this up now?"

"Well… the person who saved me… you probably noticed that they had superhuman abilities, didn't you?"

To so easily defeat the person who killed five elite agents like this… That is pretty impressive. Division Fourteen's Director thought, glancing at the corpses of Munakata's agents. "Indeed. Not even my classmate Sakura could have fought against this person, it seems."

Kizakura told Kyoko who they were. The detective showed the slightest bit of surprise at first, although she quickly realized that it made sense.

"And what do you think he was doing here?" she asked him, seeing him still recovering. "I doubt it could have just been a coincidence."

"Nah, probably not, you're right," Kizakura agreed with her. "Either somebody tipped him off, or he has a way to follow us. I don't know which is more likely."

"Hm… This was an unexpected ally, anyway. But the most important is that we are both relatively unharmed." Kyoko began to walk away, which Koichi took as his cue to follow next to her. "However, we're on our own now. And we don't have any idea of where to go now."

"Yeah, you're right…" he sighed before adding, "Do you think going back to Headquarters would be a good idea? I'm not sure if we'll find anything else, to be honest."

Going back to Headquarters…? Munakata and Tengan probably wouldn't like this decision, but we don't have any leads left on the Unremembered Ultimates… And I'm starting to seriously miss Makoto and the others… I know I told them I'd be gone for a few months, and it's only been about two weeks, but I didn't expect this mission to take this turn…

"I'll think of a decision once we reach the helicopter."

The two colleagues reached their landing spot and came to a stop once they realized what the mysterious man from earlier had meant. None of the Unremembered Ultimates' followers were left standing, all of them being unconscious on the pavement.

"He… did that all by himself…?" Kizakura muttered, looking at the grim scene.

"It appears so. This man is dangerously powerful. It worked to our advantage this time, but who knows what could happen if we met him again. Well, they'll wake up eventually. Let's get back inside the helicopter and get away from here."

"Sure. Right behind you."

And as the two colleagues and friends reentered their helicopter and flew away, they left Fukuoka with some answers, but even more questions. However, they knew one thing.

A crucial battle would happen soon, and the Ultimate Mercenary was bound to be one of their opponents.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Seven:  Our Enemy is Despair

"Your mission will be to meet civilians and make them realize that this video showing Director Kirigiri in this massacre is fake. Also, give them hope if you can, although I don't think this will be a problem for you."

Makoto and Laura nodded. The two Special Agents stood in front of Byakuya's desk, listening closely to the Vice-Director.

"The whole Division is overwhelmed right now, so I need the two of you to set an example," the Togami heir noted, turning back towards his computer screen. "You have… an hour to prepare yourself and your squad. If you run into any difficulties, call Special Agent Hagakure or me immediately. We will be pretty close."

"Alright, will do." Makoto's expression was relaxed. The Luckster was actually looking forward to being back on the field to destress from the recent events. He noticed his colleague clearly less confident. "Are you okay, Laura? You look shaken up."

"I, uh…" The Ultimate Copywriter fiddled with the legs of her round glasses. "I guess so… I'm just really nervous, is all."

"That is understandable, Special Agent Lawn," Byakuya assured her, pushing back his own glasses. "However, Special Agent Naegi is starting to have experience and will be able to guide you. And as long as you stick to your instructions and don't do anything unwise, everything will be fine."

"Yeah, Byakuya's right!" The young man's enthusiastic agreement made both his colleagues smile. It was a nervous smile from Laura and a more confident one from Byakuya. "You'll see, it's so much better than filling paperwork, too!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student could read the hesitance on his younger colleague's expression, although his words seemed to reach her somewhat. It wasn't the cheery countenance she usually displayed, but Makoto thought it was an improvement.

"Okay… I'll do my best."

"Good," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny told her, standing up from his chair. "Then I'll leave you to prepare. I have to go meet up with this idiot Hagakure because I know for a fact that he won't be able to prepare on his own."

"Sounds good!" Makoto walked over to the door and exited the office. He looked around and noticed that the floor was basically empty save for them. He allowed himself to drop the formalities. "We'll talk to you later, Byakuya. Good luck!"

"Yeah, good luck, sir!" Laura added, bowing in front of her boss.

The Vice-Director hmphed as he closed the door of his office behind him. "I'd say the same to you, but you don't need it, do you, Makoto?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student blushed cutely and scratched the back of his head. Laura giggled while Byakuya shook his head.

"Alright, I'll see the two of you later."

With that, the Togami heir walked away, leaving the two partners of the day alone. Makoto's blush receded, but the copywriter's giggles didn't.

"You really are cute when you're embarrassed, Makoto." She smiled at him as she said that, following him as they headed towards the elevator. "Director Kirigiri is lucky to have you as her close friend."

D-Don't say that… This is so embarrassing… The Luckster thought, trying his hardest to control the heat coming to his cheeks. "Y-You're exaggerating."

He pressed the button for the floor where they were expected and began to hum the elevator music that played. Anything not to feel the embarrassment of the younger Special Agent's remarks would have to do.

"Hey, I really am not!" she insisted, her voice sounding genuine to Makoto. "You showed it a few times during the Killing Game, and I noticed it! So now that I got to know you for real, I realize that it's even more true!"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student turned away to avoid her playful blue eyes. He could still see her in the reflection of the mirror, though, until she began to shake her head and laugh.

"Whatever, it's not the most important right now," Laura said, stepping out of the elevator when it had reached its destination. She giggled a few more times at the sight of Makoto's flustered face. "If I keep on embarrassing you, you'll do something silly and get us both killed out there. That wouldn't be any good."

You bet it wouldn't… The man thought, sweatdropping. Between Laura calling me cute and my classmates teasing me 24/7 about Kyoko, I keep getting embarrassed! I wish they'd stop!

Keeping that to himself, the Luckster and the Ultimate Copywriter entered the preparation room where the mission squad was already waiting to receive its orders.


"Geez, making these took me time! The people better like them!"

Makoto chuckled as Laura pointed at her laptop screen. The two Special Agents were sitting inside the helicopter on their way to their mission location. The Ultimate Copywriter was currently showing her older colleague the ads she had created for the mission.

"This is pretty impressive, Laura," Makoto said, smiling at his colleague. "They're colorful and inspiring… I'm sure the people will react positively to them."

"You think so?" she asked expectantly. The Luckster nodded. "Thanks, Makoto…" She blushed a bit and turned back to her screen. "The key to making a good ad is to catch the viewer's eye immediately, you know? That's why it's better to have lots of colors, instead of a black and white background, for example. Having a few catchphrases that people can remember is good, too."

That makes sense… I may not be an Ultimate Copywriter, but that's what I would have said instinctively, too… The Luckster thought, listening to the young woman's explanations. But these are very well designed… I can see that she worked on every detail to make it as good as possible…

"Making these ads is pretty much the only thing I'm any good at, so I'm glad I can do that for the Future Foundation." Laura tugged a strand of her short hair behind her ear. "I would never have thought I'd need to make ads in this context, though."

"Yeah, I suppose this was unexpected," the Former Ultimate Lucky Student agreed. "What made you specialize in creating ads, anyway? That doesn't sound like something anyone would just pick up like that." Although… when one of your best friends is a "specialist" in fortune-telling… He sweatdropped.

Laura shrugged. "I dunno, honestly. I guess seeing them on TV all the time made me wonder how they were done. I quickly understood the main principles and made sure to respect them. There's a lot of psychology in there, you know?"

"Sounds like it, yeah." While Komaru and I were just switching channels during commercial breaks, Laura was studying the ads… I'm starting to feel like I was even more of a slacker compared to my friends… Makoto scratched his temple. "And do you think you could make ads for TV channels and all after the Tragedy?"

"Hey, don't underestimate me, Mr. Naegi!" Laura pouted, giving her colleague a disapproving look. "I've done that tens of times already! How do you think Hope's Peak found out about me?!"

"O-Oh, sorry…" Should have thought twice before asking… Makoto mused, regretting his poor wording.

The copywriter giggled, smiling at the boy. "Don't worry about it, Makoto; I'm joking. I know it sounds pretty unlikely that a girl my age would have been making ads for national television, yeah. My first one was for a brand of clothes, actually." She smiled fondly, though more to herself than to the Luckster. "I don't think I'll ever forget that one. I was really nervous! With millions of people watching, I couldn't make a single mistake, or the brand would have fired me right away!"

Makoto took that in. He couldn't remember his school life with his classmates, but he was pretty sure that Laura had not been the only Ultimate in this situation.

People like Sayaka, Leon, or Chihiro must have felt tremendous pressure on their shoulders at some point… He thought, recalling the Former Ultimate Pop Sensation's will to escape from the Killing Game that had led to her demise. And I guess Byakuya had it the toughest, with all his "Chosen One" talk…

"But I suppose all of that is in the past, now," Laura added, smiling nostalgically. "Maybe my career will continue after the Tragedy, but for now, I must focus on helping the Future Foundation. And I think these are some of my best ads, actually."

She pointed to her screen, prompting Makoto to look. The Unremembered Ultimate had the digital version of her main poster opened. It had a contrast of colors that caught the eye, with the Future Foundation logo in the middle and the figures of the thirteen Division Directors on either side.

Damn, that's a pretty one… Makoto thought, quite impressed. "That's awesome work, Laura. I know I'd definitely stop to look if I spotted a poster like that on the street."

"Thanks, Makoto. The catchphrase for it was the toughest thing to come up with, actually. It's simple, but it works. Sometimes there's no need to make things more difficult than they need to be." She crossed her arms over her breasts before readjusting her glasses. "But I'm glad you like it. I think you understood that, but it's meant to convince people regarding the broadcast incident."

"Yeah." Let's just hope that it works and that we can stop the bleeding… The young man reread the catchphrase a few times. "For a bright and hopeful future."

It was simple enough, as she had said. And Makoto couldn't disagree, either. It was what he had signed up for, after all. And he knew it was what the organization as a whole was fighting for, too.

That didn't mean he agreed with how everything was being handled, but he didn't doubt the genuineness of the leaders' actions.

"It's kind of a lie, though, don't you think?" Makoto asked, noticing something on the poster. "I mean, we see the Division Directors standing together and all, but… they're not so united in reality."

"Well," Laura shrugged. "There's always a part of propaganda in ads, you know? Especially when it starts to get political and all."

"I suppose so…" Is it better to tell people the truth that won't help them or the lie they want to hear…? This was a question the Luckster couldn't find the answer to. He wished to tell people a truth they would be glad to hear, but it wasn't always possible.

"Special Agent Naegi, sir? We are about to land."

The two Special Agents looked up and noticed an agent saluting in front of them.

"Alright, thanks. We'll get ready," Makoto replied, smiling at the agent. "Are you ready to go on your first mission as a Future Foundation Special Agent?"

"Yeah, I think I am!" the young woman said, getting up from her seat. "Dunno what it'll have in store for me, but I think it'll be good!"

Well, she's less nervous than she was before, at least. "That's cool. Let's get going!"

With a nod from the Ultimate Copywriter, the two colleagues waited for the helicopter to land before walking out for their first mission together.


"And… one last poster here! Done!"

Makoto smiled as he watched Laura putting up her posters around the streets. The Ultimate Copywriter seemed to be having the time of her life right now, doing what she did best. She had brought a bag full of her adverts that would hopefully soon be convincing people of the Future Foundation's reliability.

"Good work, Laura. I'm sure the people will love them," the older Special Agent told her. "And if the other agents put up all the posters you gave them as well, it could have some influence pretty quickly."

"I really hope so, yeah." Laura took a few steps back and looked at her work. "Well, at least I can be sure that people will see it!"

With how many you've put up, you're not taking many risks saying that… Makoto sweatdropped as the copywriter grinned proudly. "Indeed. I think we should start visiting homes to meet people, don't you agree?"

"Yeah, sure! I'm right behind you, Makoto!" Laura said with gusto. "I can't wait to see you do what you do best! You're just so awesome when you give hope back to people, you know?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student blushed slightly. "T-Thanks, Laura." He walked with his mission partner along the streets until they had reached a house that looked inhabited. "Let's knock here, okay? Wanna do it and introduce ourselves to the people living here?"

Laura pondered the question. "Hm, sure? I don't mind doing it." Makoto nodded as the young woman knocked twice on the door. "Anybody home? Future Foundation, open up!"

That sounded intimidating… Not sure I'd open after hearing that… The Luckster thought, rolling his eyes.

The door opened after some time, revealing a middle-aged woman on the other side. She looked at the two colleagues with curiosity.

"Hello? What can I do for you?" she asked.

"Good day, ma'am. My name is Laura Lawn, and I am a Special Agent working for Division Fourteen of the Future Foundation," the Unremembered Ultimate said, introducing herself. "With me is Makoto Naegi, one of my colleagues and participant in the Killing School Life. We're here to check up on civilians. May we enter?"

"Yes, of course!" the lady laughed, gesturing inside her home with her hand. "Shinsuke! Kids! We have some company!"

So a family lives here, huh…? Interesting… The Former Ultimate looked around the house as he and Laura entered. It was a rather plain house without many distinctive features. Something surprised Makoto, however: there was nothing to fight against the Tragedy inside. Hm… The young man frowned. Shouta had weapons at his home, even if they were probably relics from earlier wars.

Heck, even Laura's house had been equipped! It made Makoto suspicious, but he decided to leave it aside for the time being.

However, the Ultimate Copywriter was having none of it. "You are aware that there is a Tragedy going on, right?" she asked, giving the lady a suspicious look. "It surprises me that you have nothing to defend yourselves at the ready."

"Ha, do not be concerned, young lady! It's not today that anyone will be able to harm Momoko Mitsuaki!" the lady said, introducing herself at the same time. "I've beaten lots of shrimps like you, I'll have you know!"

Laura narrowed her eyes while Makoto tried to ignore the uncomfortable atmosphere around the room.

"Here we are, Momoko." The two Special Agents noticed a middle-aged man and two kids arriving inside the room. "These two are the guests?"

"Indeed. These two shrimps come from the Future Foundation." the wife told her husband. "Wonder what they wanna tell us." She turned back towards Makoto and Laura. "So, what can we do for ya?"

Hm… I don't like being called a shrimp, that's for sure… Makoto thought, becoming more and more uncomfortable. "Well… we have to check up on civilians, so we pay these visits. How are you faring, ma'am?"

"Hold on." Laura's voice cut her colleague even before the other woman could say a thing. The Unremembered Ultimate walked over to one of the kids and kneeled. "What has happened to you, poor thing? That's a mean scar you have on your cheek!"

"Oh, he played with a knife and cut himself when he was younger, that's all," the father quickly answered, moving over in-between the copywriter and his son. "Nothing else."

Laura hmphed. Makoto understood where this was going and began to feel nervous. "Nothing else, huh? Then how about we ask him, right?" A serious stare penetrated the man's eyes. "I suppose he'll be telling us the same story, right?"

D-Does Laura think that… The Luckster gulped in realization. G-God… We need to do something!

The man refused to get out of the way to let Laura talk to his son. Makoto decided to act and grabbed his phone from his pocket, typing a quick text to the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny.

"Could you come here pretty quickly? We might have a problem soon. I'll send you my location." he typed, trying to be discrete.

"Sir, I am not leaving this house before you let me talk to your son," Laura insisted, her glare darkening. The man didn't move. "I'll be clear and concise: I suspect child abuse, so if you don't want us to take you away, you should cooperate."

Geez, Laura can stand her ground! A small smile appeared on the young man's face. Reminds me of another girl I know… "I have to agree with my colleague, sir. I don't want to suspect you, but the best way to prove your innocence is to let your son speak."

The father looked at Makoto in the eyes. Suddenly, he smirked.

"Fine, fine… I think we've played for long enough now." He stepped forward and towards Makoto. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student tried to take a step back but realized he was backing up into the man's wife's body. "Yeah, we're doing some bad things to our children, shrimp! And you know why…?"

Makoto's hazel eyes widened quickly. N-No…

"Because of that sweet despair!" He grabbed a knife out of his jacket. "Now, you're going to die for Goddess Junko!"

The Luckster took a step to the side as the man charged at him. He vaguely heard Laura gasp in shock while the mother cackled.

"D-Don't you even try!" the Ultimate Copywriter shouted, jumping at the man. She punched him from behind, making him yell in pain. "D-Despair… has killed all of my family! I won't let it take away my friend from me!"

Just like that, the young woman struggled for the knife and knocked it away, decking the man repeatedly. Makoto didn't have time to be impressed, however, finding himself attacked by the woman instead.

"You fucking dick! You just had to stab him, you idiot!" she violently exclaimed at her struggling husband. "Damnit, I have to do everything in this fucking house!"

She tried to punch Makoto, who barely managed to avoid it with a side step. The Luckster backed up until he was stuck with Laura and the man fighting.

"I'm dealing with him, Makoto! Go take that knife!" she told him, twisting the man's arm. "As for you… I hope you like the handcuffs!"

The Luckster quickly nodded and ran for the weapon, jumping on the floor to get it. He quickly regretted it, however, as it put him at a disadvantage.

I-I don't wanna stab her… He thought, securing the knife. It'd be good if Byakuya could arrive-

"Future Foundation! Put your hands on your head, or we'll open fire!"

All action immediately ceased as the Luckster heard the familiar and welcome voice of the Togami heir, making the woman's eyes widen.

"Hiro, go move that ugly commoner out of Makoto's way, will you?" Byakuya asked the other Special Agent. "You!" he shouted, pointing his gun at the man. "Surrender to Special Agent Lawn immediately!"

The woman sighed and was apprehended by Hiro safely. Makoto got up from his butt and dusted off his clothes, keeping the knife close for safety.

"Thanks, Hiro. That was good timing!" He smiled at the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant.

"You're welcome, man!" Hiro told him, returning the smile. "And you… attacking my friend is totally uncool!"

The woman grumbled as her husband was handcuffed and handed over to Byakuya. Laura nodded thankfully.

"Are you alright, Makoto?!" the Ultimate Copywriter wondered, hugging him. "T-That was too close!"

The young man smiled into the hug and patted his younger colleague on the back. "I'm alright, Laura, don't worry." He pulled back and smiled at her. "And thanks. You're the one who saved me out there." Poor Laura… Seeing someone attack me like that must have been painful for her…

She blushed adorably, making Makoto shake his head. He walked over to the kids. "I'm sorry you had to witness that, little ones." He ruffled their hair. "But you're safe now, okay? We're going to bring you to somewhere where you don't have to suffer, alright?"

The two quiet kids nodded. "Hiro, take these children outside and bring them to the helicopter. We'll deal with these two worthless commoners."

"Okay, man! Can you follow me, kids? I won't hurt you, I swear!" The two kids giggled at Hiro, making him sweatdrop. The three exited the house.

Byakuya took hold of the woman while Laura dragged the man outside of the house. They tossed them to other agents (who weren't soft with them). The Togami heir sighed.

"How come you always get in these situations, Makoto…?" he demanded. "I won't be able to save you every time, you know? You're lucky Special Agent Lawn did some good work against this despair-addict."

"H-Hey, I just did what I had to!" Laura said, unable to hide a proud smile. "B-Besides, I wasn't going to let my friend be attacked without doing anything!"

"Well, I don't care which it is," Byakuya said harshly. "The two of you go back to Headquarters. I have a mission to finish. You know, the one you interrupted?"

Makoto sweatdropped. You didn't have to come if it bothered you so much… He thought, knowing this was just Byakuya being Byakuya. He didn't really mean it. "Okay. See you later, Byakuya."

The Vice-Director didn't add anything and just walked away back to his agents.

Laura let out a long sigh of relief. "Geez, I thought we were goners for a moment!"

"Yeah, me too, honestly," Makoto added, taking a few deep breaths of his own. "You were impressive in there, Laura. You stood your ground better than I could have hoped to do."

"Well, I couldn't let them harm their children for some despair, could I?" He couldn't (and wouldn't) argue against that. "I'm lucky I retained some of that martial art training my parents forced me to go through when I was younger!"

"Yeah, it definitely saved us out there." That's something Kyoko and Hina would have done with ease, but I didn't know that Laura was so skilled, too… "Well, how about to we go back to the helicopter? I don't feel like visiting another house today."

"Me neither!" the copywriter exclaimed. "I need to have a rest and check up on these kids. Poor things, their lives have just changed completely… And all that for despair… this is absolutely horrible and sick."

Makoto nodded in agreement. And as the two Special Agents for Division Fourteen walked back to their helicopter, it made the Former Ultimate Lucky Student think for a moment.

Kyoko's investigating the Unremembered Ultimates… but we must not forget that there is another threat… Blonde hair and blue eyes flashed through his mind. The Ultimate Despair… they're the ones we joined the Future Foundation to fight against… we absolutely cannot forget that!

He cast a glance at Laura, who seemed more at peace the more they walked.

And to have Laura with me today reminded me of that… I'm just glad she's there with me right now.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Eight:  Some Sweet Time Together

Makoto yawned as he entered the cafeteria and noticed Laura reading a newspaper at a table with a cup of coffee. He had not come for breakfast (he usually ate in his room so the mess he would make wouldn't bother anyone but himself) but to chat with his colleagues.

It appeared that only the Ultimate Copywriter was present, though.

Looks like Laura's an early riser… The Luckster chuckled. Well, earlier than me, at least. For my defense, it's my day off, so no one will mind.

"Hey, Laura!" he greeted, smiling at the copywriter.

She looked up from her newspaper and waved at him. "Oh, Makoto! Good morning!"

"Good morning to you, too." He sat down in front of his colleague. "How are you?"

"Oh, I'm good, thanks," the Unremembered Ultimate told him comfortably. "It's my day off, so I've got to be fine, right?" She grinned at him.

It's her day off, too? Talk about a coincidence… "Yeah, I suppose so. It's also my day off, actually. Lucky coincidence, right?"

"Really? That's cool!" The youngest Special Agent smiled, visibly happy to learn that. "We could hang out a bit if you want to! Ever since you visited me in the hospital, we've almost always been working, so we haven't had much of a chance to just chat and chill."

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student nodded. "Sure. I never get my days off with someone else, so I wouldn't mind." He glanced at her newspaper. "What does your newspaper deal with, Laura? Anything interesting?"

She handed him the newspaper and pointed at the article on the front page. "It's an interview of the Chairman about the state of the world. Basically, he says that the Future Foundation gets small victories but that there's still much to be done. I don't think it's wrong, but it's just not anything we didn't already know."

"Ah, okay. Does Chairman Tengan mention about the Unremembered Ultimates at all?" he asked, hoping to get any piece of information that could be related to Kyoko's investigation.

Laura shook her head, making him sigh. "No, not really. He does mention that there are more threats to peace than people believe, but not anything else. I guess he meant the Unremembered Ultimates."

It makes sense… It's kept secret, even from Special Agents… It's only thanks to Laura and some deductions that we realized that Kyoko was investigating them… Makoto thought, bringing his hand to his chin pensively.

"Well," she quickly finished her coffee. "Whatever the Chairman meant, I think he wanted people not to worry too much, especially after the incident with Director Kirigiri."

Makoto nodded. It might be better if they don't know about the Unremembered Ultimates, after all… Although some are probably wondering where that broadcast came from because the Ultimate Despair didn't claim it… Hijacking the airwaves isn't something just anyone can do, I don't think…

"So, what do you wanna do, Makoto?" Laura asked, standing up from her chair and dusting off her clothes. She was wearing casual clothes on her day off. Namely, she wore a black skirt, a white blouse, and a pair of pink sneakers. "We could hang out in my room if you want. I've borrowed some board games from someone who put them in the game room. We could play that."

"Sure, that sounds good," Makoto answered, also standing up. He was still wearing his working clothes, just in case an urgency happened, and he was required to go back to work in a hurry. I wonder what the Ultimate Copywriter's room could look like, honestly…

With that, the two colleagues left the cafeteria en route towards the young woman's room, a few floors below.


He didn't know what her room would be like. However, upon seeing it, Makoto couldn't say he was surprised. In fact, there wasn't anything that would have fit the Ultimate Copywriter any more than that. Indeed, the Luckster looked around and noticed poster upon poster pasted on the walls for different brands.

"Geez, are all of these your works, Laura?" he asked, unable to count the number of ads on display. "There are so many…"

"Yep, this is years' worth of work! Well, what I could find on the Internet, at least." Laura sighed, some regret entering her cheery voice. "Unfortunately, my other posters were on my laptop at home, and I haven't been able to go there since I was sent to the hospital. Either it's still there, or some agents went there and took it."

I'm not sure if this is good for you, though, Laura… Makoto thought, biting his lip. You're technically part of a group the Future Foundation is after, so… We just have to hope that neither Munakata nor Tengan ever make the link between the ads our Division is producing and Laura's Ultimate talent…

"But well, c'est la vie, right ?" She shrugged. "Besides, I can still make some new ones, so I'm not too disappointed. I prefer to lose some of my work rather than my life, honestly."

Makoto nodded in agreement. "That's true, yeah. Life is the only thing you can't get back when you lose it, so I'm glad to still be alive right now." I lost my friends… and they won't come back. They're the one thing I lost forever, unfortunately…

The Unremembered Ultimate seemed to agree with that. She quickly showed her colleague around the small dorm - although the visit was short. She had a small kitchen with the bare minimum if she wanted to avoid the cafeteria (which she seldom did). Her living room was smaller than Makoto's, as was her bathroom.

But still, it was decent enough to live in, and since there were no apartments left on the last floor, it was all she could get.

"So, do you wanna play UNO or something?" Laura asked once they were back inside the living room. She turned on the TV and put it on the Future Foundation official news channel. "I think I've put the deck in my room. Wait for me here, okay?"

"Yeah, sure." Makoto stood and watched the television screen absentmindedly. Not to change, the reporter was talking about another one of Vice-Chairman Munakata's heroics and how he had rescued the Chairman himself during a mission.

Of course, Makoto was admirative of Munakata's strength. However, he found him to be a little too authoritarian around the edges. The one thing he knew is that he didn't want to get into trouble with the Former Ultimate Student Council President.

Laura quickly came back, a deck of UNO cards in hand. "There, I got them! We can sit around the table and play now!"

"Okay," Makoto said with a smile. He sat on the chair opposite the Ultimate Copywriter and waited for her to deal the cards. "Let me warn you, though: I've played UNO with my parents and sister so many times, and I've almost never lost."

The young woman giggled and grinned. "Then bring it on, Makoto Naegi! I'll kick your butt!"

Makoto laughed and waited until Laura had finished dealing the cards to look at his hand. He hid it well and looked at the other Special Agent to see her reaction.

He smirked behind his cards as he realized that his friends weren't calling him a Luckster for absolutely no reason.

Hm… I like my chances with that hand… You're in trouble, Laura!


"Grr, I'm sure you cheated!" Laura exclaimed, throwing her cards on the table and grumbling. Makoto merely giggled at the sight. "A-And you're mocking me, too! You just got lucky!"

"Oh? And weren't you supposed to kick my butt, Special Agent Lawn?"

This made the young woman go red as she tapped her foot on the floor in frustration.

"That's not funny!" she complained, making the Luckster chuckle some more. "You're a Former Ultimate Lucky Student; that's why I lost!"

Makoto smiled. She sounds exactly like Komaru, pouting like that after losing… It's kinda cute. The young man shook his head amusingly. "It's alright, Laura. It's just a game, after all." And not the type of game in which you and your friends die…

"Yeah, I guess so…" The copywriter sighed. "Why did I think it was a good idea to play against you in a card game, huh?"

"Well, I'm usually not so lucky, believe it or not, but I guess I have my moments, yeah." I don't even know whether I should consider myself lucky for everything that's happened…

This was a question Makoto doubted he would ever find an answer to. After all, he could have just lived peacefully with his family like the average Joe. Instead, a lottery had put him in the shoes of the protagonist, quite against his will.

The deaths of his classmates made him feel despair, but the need to carry their memories made him feel hope. In the end, it was all about things balancing each other out. However, Makoto had to admit that seeing someone like Laura, who had seen the pits of despair, enjoying life like this, put a hopeful smile on his face.

Laura took a deep breath. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry, I'm such a sore loser. Always has been, always will be, I'm afraid." She chuckled.

Makoto ran a hand through his brown hair, glad that his colleague was laughing. "You're just like my sister on that front, Laura. She always got mad at me whenever she lost to me at anything."

They exchanged a laugh. Makoto missed Komaru dearly, but he didn't want to bring it up with Laura. Contrary to her, the Luckster knew he had a chance to see his sister again, but the Unremembered Ultimate would never see her brother again.

The two colleagues spent the following minute in comfortable silence, listening to the television. It was broadcasting an interview of Division Five's Director, Chisa Yukizome, about counterespionage inside the Future Foundation.

"Hey, Makoto?" Makoto turned towards Laura, not expecting her to call him out like that.

"Yeah?"

"You need to do something about that, you know?" She pointed at the top of his head. "That's not a hairstyle anymore; it's a real mess!"

"A-Ah, um…" I guess she isn't wrong… I can't recall the last time I got a haircut… It was before the Killing Game, so at least a couple of months ago… "I don't know if there are any hairdressers around here… Besides, my mother used to always trim my hair when I needed it, but that's not a possibility anymore…"

"Then let me do it!"

"H-Huh…?"

Laura smiled at him. "I used to cut my brother's hair all the time, and it was always just fine!" She looked at him pleadingly. "Pleeeease, Makoto? I'm sure I could do a great job! Besides, I cut my own hair when I joined the Future Foundation, and I don't think it looks too bad!"

What's up with her all of a sudden…? The Former Ultimate Lucky Student wondered, sweatdropping. But I guess it could be worth a shot…

Indeed, the Luckster's spiky brown hair had grown quite a lot ever since his escape with his friends from Hope's Peak Academy. It was almost reaching his shoulders by now, and it sometimes covered his eyes a bit. Even his famous ahoge was starting to fade with the rest of his growing hair.

And while Toko, Hina, and Kyoko had their hair long enough for no one to notice a change, Makoto had also noticed that the Vice-Director's blonde streaks were also getting quite long. As for the Former Ultimate Clairvoyant… that was another story.

"Fine. Just please don't mess it up too much…?" Why do I feel like this is going to be something I regret rather sooner than later…?

"No, I promise it'll be great!" Laura said with enthusiasm. "Follow me to the bathroom, okay? I think I've got all I need!"

Still slightly unsure, the Luckster nevertheless stood up and followed after his friend, hoping that this wasn't a big mistake…


Makoto relaxed and had to suppress a moan as Laura massaged his head. If you had told the Luckster that the thing he had missed the most was a head massage and shampoo, he wouldn't have believed it.

Damn, that feels so nice… The Special Agent smiled and felt his whole body relax as the copywriter's hands ran through his thick brown hair. "If I didn't know you were the Ultimate Copywriter, I would have thought you were the Ultimate Masseuse!"

"Glad to know you're enjoying it!" she replied, smiling, although he couldn't see it from his position. "Well, I'll wash your hair now before cutting it, okay?"

He nodded and quickly felt the foam fall from his head and inside the basin. Whatever shampoo Laura used, it smelled incredibly good of strawberries.

Laura wrapped a towel around his head and dried his hair a bit, still doing it expertly. She pulled it away once this was done and grabbed a pair of scissors.

"So, since you won't be able to get regular haircuts, I think it would be better if I cut it relatively short," the improvised hairdresser suggested, taking a strand of Makoto's hair between her fingers. "Cut maybe this short. What do you think?"

The young man shrugged. "I trust you not to mess this up, Laura. Do as you think is best, honestly."

"Sure!" The Ultimate Copywriter took the scissors and pressed them against a strand of hair. "Ready, Makoto? No turning back after this."

"Yeah, go ahead," Makoto replied. I pray to whatever God is up there that I'll look somewhat okay after this…

With a final nod, Laura got to work and snip-snipped Makoto's hair with methodic movements. The first locks began to fall, making the Luckster stress a bit more. Now, there was really no turning back, at least not for a few weeks or even months.

"Hey, relax, Makoto," she told him, seeing his worried look in the reflection of the mirror. "You're cute. Even if I messed this up, that wouldn't change." They both blushed after that remark. "N-Not that I'm going to mess up, of course!"

That's not so reassuring… The Luckster sweatdropped. And I don't think anyone would call me cute if you mess up too much, Laura… He kept that to himself not to offend her.

Makoto did his best to relax, just like he had done when she had given him this head massage a few minutes before. On her end, the young woman continued to work, looking confident enough in her abilities for her colleague not to panic too much.

I'll close my eyes and let her work… I guess trusting in my friends can also be this, after all…


"There, all done!"

Makoto opened his eyes with some fear. However, when he saw his reflection in the mirror, he couldn't help but look surprised.

"So, what do you think?" Laura asked, setting her scissors aside. "Looking good?"

"Yeah! Thanks, Laura; this looks awesome!"

In fact, the Ultimate Copywriter had shortened his hair by a few inches and styled it so that his antenna stood out more. It looked more professional, less messy, and overall better than before.

The young woman's cheeks reddened slightly. "Y-You're welcome, M-Makoto…" she muttered, looking slightly away. "I-I'm glad you like it."

She's got an Ultimate talent, she knows martial art, how to do massages and cut hair…? Laura's awesome!

The Luckster smiled as he stood up from the chair and ran a hand through his trimmed hair. The strawberry scent of the shampoo was still there, embalming the entire room.

"I appreciate it, Laura," he told her, grinning like an idiot. "Your skills probably rival my Mom's, honestly."

"You're exaggerating, Makoto."

"No, I don't think so, really!" Makoto insisted. "If you ever get bored of creating ads, I think you've found yourself another career!"

She let out a loud laugh. "Thanks, Makoto, but I'll stick to copywriting! I'm glad you think that, but I don't see myself finding a calling in cutting hair any time soon."

The hazel-eyed man shrugged. "Well, that's just my opinion." And I feel freer already… I know who I'll be asking from now on…

"Well, how about we go grab ourselves lunch at the cafeteria, Makoto?" Laura suggested, walking out of the bathroom with the Luckster following right behind. "The others are probably there already."

"Yeah, sure." His stomach growled. "Lunch does sound good right now." Laura giggled.

The two Division Fourteen Special Agents left the apartment and headed back towards the cafeteria to meet their Ultimate friends. On the way there, they continued to chit-chat a bit about many things. When the elevator door opened and they faced the entrance to the cafeteria, Makoto stopped and turned to Laura.

"Thanks for spending some time with me, Laura. I had lots of fun."

"Y-You're welcome, Makoto. I had fun too."

With that, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student opened the door and waved at his friends already inside, missing the cute red blush of embarrassment on Laura's cheeks.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine:  The Right Kind of Wrong

"Phew, I thought she never would stop crying! Good work, Makoto!"

Laura high-fived the Luckster as they walked away from the house. The two Special Agents had just finished their mission together and helped a woman on the verge of falling to despair.

For once, they had not been attacked, trapped, forced to witness violence or abuse of any kind… It had been what Future Foundation agents were supposed to do: giving hope back to people.

And Makoto was particularly good at that.

"All in a day's work," he told her, walking along the street. "Helping people in despair is actually not as difficult as it might seem, Laura. You simply need to find the right words."

"Hey, it seems easy to you because you're the Ultimate Hope!" Laura noted. "Not everyone is as good as you are, believe me!"

The young man shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. What matters is that these people have someone by their side to help them. I've seen my friend Hina fall to despair because she felt lonely. Trust me, loneliness is the worst thing you can put someone through, Laura."

The Ultimate Copywriter nodded in understanding and didn't add anything. They continued to walk for a few minutes in comfortable silence. Makoto looked up to the skies and frowned when he noticed that they were even darker than usual.

He wasn't superstitious or anything (he left that stuff to Hiro), but that didn't bode well, although he didn't know why.

At some point, the Luckster stopped in front of a house. "It's here. I'll go knock."

"Oh, okay."

Laura watched from a few feet behind as her colleague knocked and waited for an answer. The door eventually opened after a minute of waiting, and the Unremembered Ultimate could see a relieved smile appear on Makoto's lips.

"Mr. Hanzou!" he exclaimed, almost throwing himself in the man's arms. "I've missed you! How are you today?"

"M-My boy, y-you're going to break my bones if you jump on me like that!" Shouta warned him, padding the Luckster's shoulder. Laura giggled from behind. "I am fine, but I won't be for long if you keep this up!"

"S-Sorry." Makoto scratched his head embarrassedly. I guess my enthusiasm can be overwhelming sometimes… "I'm just glad to see you again after last time. I'm sorry I had to leave in such a hurry, Mr. Hanzou!"

"It's quite alright, my boy," the old man assured him, tapping his shoulder. He watched behind Makoto and noticed Laura standing there. "And who are you, young miss? I don't believe I've ever seen you before."

"Oh, this is my friend and colleague for Division Fourteen Laura Lawn, Mr. Hanzou!" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student immediately explained. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce you sooner." He turned towards Laura. "Laura, this is Mister Shouta Hanzou, the first person Kyoko and I met on our first mission together."

"Good day to you, sir," the copywriter greeted, bowing in front of the bearded man. "It's my pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Shouta nodded. "Likewise, Ms. Lawn." He quickly dismissed her and turned back towards Makoto. "Please, come inside."

"Okay, thanks!" The Luckster and his colleague entered Shouta's house. Makoto allowed himself to sit on the couch as Shouta headed towards his bar. "Still no alcohol for me, Mr. Hanzou!"

The old man chuckled. "You don't know what you're missing on, my boy…" he sighed and shook his head. "A drink, young miss?"

"Hm… I am still underage, sir. I'm afraid I must decline," Laura said, standing near the couch where Makoto was sitting.

"Then I'll be drinking alone again. Not that I mind, actually." Shouta poured himself a glass of scotch before going to sit on the other couch. "So, how did things go with the emergency last time, my boy?"

Oh yeah… I should have known Mr. Hanzou would be curious… Makoto thought. He didn't want to bother Shouta with Kyoko's story, but he didn't want to leave him in the dark, either. "Well, you probably remember the video that was broadcasted with my friend and boss Kyoko, right?"

Shouta nodded, prompting Makoto to continue.

"Well, I rushed back to my Division Headquarters in a hurry, and we had a…" he recalled Byakuya's fury, sending shivers down his spine. "Talk, let's say, about it. Then, Laura here used her skills to determine that the video that was broadcasted was fake."

"Ah, so that's how things are, I see." Shouta seemed to ponder something. Makoto noticed him glancing at Laura. "So, what is it you do, young miss? Making such an assumption would require particular skills, would it not?"

The Ultimate Copywriter appeared to be surprised to be brought up in the conversation. Whether she was lost in thought or simply not paying much attention, that Makoto didn't know.

"Oh, I'm the Ultimate Copywriter, sir," she told him. "My job is to make ads for different brands and analyze how people react to them. I've learned how to detect video editing by making edits of my own."

"Hm, I understand. This stuff is not very familiar for an old man like me, though." Shouta turned his head away from the young woman and took a sip of his drink. "Anyway, how are you doing, my boy? Good, I hope?"

I feel kinda bad for Laura… It doesn't seem like Mr. Hanzou's got anything to say to her… "I'm good, Mr. Hanzou, thanks. We're working at the Division to regain people's trust and make them realize that our boss Kyoko didn't do anything wrong."

Shouta nodded again. "And how's that going?"

"Well…" Makoto paused. "I guess it could be worse. People are reluctant to believe us after what they've seen, but some do understand us," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to convince them eventually. Otherwise, I fear the higher-ups won't be resorting to dialogue for long."

"Indeed. I don't know the Vice-Chairman as much as Makoto does, but he definitely isn't the type to hesitate to use violence if needed," Laura added, cutting Shouta, who was about to say something. "But Makoto is also right that we're slowly convincing people. I can only hope that we can clear Director Kirigiri's name soon, of course."

"Hm…" the old man stared inside his drink, apparently thinking. "I see."

He and Makoto continued to talk about various things, such as what had happened between today and the last time the Luckster had visited. Shouta paid close attention to the young man's story, but the Luckster was sorry that Laura was left aside.

Makoto tried to bring her up so that she wouldn't be alone, but the old man didn't seem interested. Every time, he would prompt Makoto to change the subject. Makoto always did, but he was beginning to wonder if Shouta was doing it on purpose.

"H-Hm, I-I apologize, but…" the Unremembered Ultimate chipped in, looking embarrassed. "I need to use the bathroom… Could you tell me where it is, sir…?"

Shouta pointed at a corridor with his cane. "Second door on the left."

Laura nodded in understanding and left the room temporarily. As he watched her go, Makoto couldn't help but wonder if she really needed to go to the bathroom. If his usually clueless self could notice that Shouta was ignoring her, then she most likely could too.

"As much as I hate to say that to you, my boy, you can have a questionable taste in friends sometimes. Your pink friend seemed like a fine young woman, but…"

Makoto turned to Shouta and noticed a slightly disapproving look in his eyes.

"H-Huh…? W-What do you mean…?" the Luckster wondered. That was sudden…

"This girl." He pointed at the corridor Laura had just walked through. "She literally has 'suspicious' written on her forehead, my boy. Haven't you noticed it yet?"

"L-Laura…?! B-But… but why, M-Mr. Hanzou…?"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student was left stunned. He knew that Byakuya and his other friends were suspicious of the Ultimate Copywriter, but it was because she was an Unremembered Ultimate. However, Shouta didn't know that.

The fact that he was telling Makoto this without this piece of information made the Luckster wonder.

"Call it a hunch, my boy. This old man has seen enough suspicious people in my life to identify them quite easily," Shouta explained, playing with the ice cubes inside his glass. "I can't exactly tell what it is, but this girl is either hiding something or wanting to take something away from you. I can see it in her eyes."

L-Laura's… doing what…? "M-Mr. Hanzou…"

"Apologies, sir. I am back."

Makoto and Shouta turned and noticed that the copywriter was back with them inside the main room. The Luckster gulped in surprise. He had not expected her to be so quick.

"Think about what I just told you, my boy. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am."

"O-Okay…" What do I make of that…? Sure, I had some doubts at first, but Laura's not done anything suspicious since then! She's been a perfect colleague… I don't wanna distrust her… I didn't distrust Sakura back then, after all, when she could have been a traitor… "I'll keep it in mind."

*driiiing* *driiiing* *driiiing* *driiiing*

Makoto's cellphone suddenly ringed. "Oops, sorry!" He grabbed it from his suit pocket and stared at the caller's ID. Byakuya… "I have to answer, Mr. Hanzou."

The grey-haired man nodded as the Former Ultimate brought the phone to his ear.

"Special Agent Naegi speaking?"

"Makoto? You and Special Agent Lawn are asked to come back to Headquarters as soon as you can," the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny said. "I have received a message from Vice-Chairman Munakata. He will be making a speech for the whole organization soon, which Special Agents have to listen to online."

"Ah, alright. We'll be there soon. Thanks, Byakuya." A speech, huh…? I wonder what Vice-Chairman Munakata wants to tell us…

"You do that. I'm hanging up."

With that, the Vice-Director hung up. Makoto placed the phone back where it was just before. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hanzou, but Ms. Lawn and I will have to leave. My boss just called, and we're needed at our Headquarters."

"Very well. I won't take any more of your precious time, then," Shouta said, standing up with his cane. "I'll be looking forward to seeing you next week, my boy." He turned towards Laura. "Have a pleasant day, Ms. Lawn."

"Thank you, sir." Laura moved to the door as she shook the man's hand.

"See ya next week, Mr. Hanzou!" Makoto called out as he opened the door in a slight hurry and exited the house. "Have a nice day!"

As he stepped out, however, Makoto couldn't help but frown. Laura walked next to him at a quick pace.

"The two of you seem really close," she simply noted.

"Well, I promised him I would help him regain hope. We've bonded over that." The Luckster sped up a bit. He didn't want to be late. "Seeing him gradually get better is good motivation for me."

"That makes sense," Laura stated, matching his fast walk. "He sounds like a sensible man. It might be a stereotype, but I'd say he's a wise old man."

Makoto nodded in agreement. "Yeah, he definitely is. He taught me many things in the few times I visited him. He's lived a long life, so he knows better than I do." However… I'm not sure his wisdom is a good thing for you, Laura…

Clueless as to her colleague's thoughts, the Ultimate Copywriter simply followed the Former Ultimate Lucky Student to the helicopter. Makoto's brow furrowed, and he couldn't shake the feeling away.

Don't think about it, Makoto… There's no reason to panic! Laura's been nothing but joy so far! He briefly recalled their off day together, as well as the enjoyable atmosphere at the office, working with the Unremembered Ultimate. Hunches can be wrong… Even Kyoko was wrong on a couple of occasions!

The Former Ultimate Detective's face briefly flashed through his mind. Makoto could remember her deductions that had saved the group more than once. The pencil trick in Sayaka's trial. The reveal of Chihiro's crossdressing in the second trial. Finding Hiro stuck in that locker in the case revolving around Celeste. Figuring out Sakura's suicide in that dreadful trial.

All of these were reasons why she was the Ultimate Detective and the Director of Division Fourteen.

He could also recall her mistakes. Thinking that the Headmaster was the Mastermind. Believing that Mukuro had orchestrated the whole game. Using him as a way to get to their captor.

But these mistakes were also part of her, and Makoto didn't think any less of her for them. However, the more he thought about her, the more he realized something.

He was forgetting things.

On which side of her hair she used to wear her braid and ribbon. The exact pitch of her voice. Which hand she brought to her chin when she was deep in thought.

These were little things but things he was proud to know about his best friend. But now, he was slowly forgetting about her. She'd been gone only for a couple of weeks, but he was already slowly and cruelly forgetting about her.

He looked to his side and noticed Laura there. Makoto put two and two together at that moment. What Shouta meant, or at least, what he thought he meant… the Luckster understood it.

It's Laura's presence in my life that is making me forget about Kyoko. The thoughts I used to have for Kyoko… now that she's gone on her mission… I have them for my closest colleague… Laura.

I… I wouldn't be able to bear forgetting about my best friend, but… I don't want to betray my friendship with Laura, either! They're both my friends!

As the two Special Agents boarded the helicopter back to Division Fourteen Headquarters, the Luckster was left conflicted.

Whatever I do, I face two wrong choices… What I need… is to have both of my friends close to me… but… are things really meant to be this way…?

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty:  Stressed Out

Makoto sat in front of his laptop, plugging in a pair of earbuds and staring at the screen. On the other side of the office, Laura was doing the same, as Byakuya had ordered.

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny had told the two other Ultimates that he didn't know what Munakata planned to say. However, he was sure of one thing: it wouldn't be a pleasant announcement. The simple fact that it was the Vice-Chairman and not the Chairman speaking made Makoto realize that he was most likely right.

Vice-Chairman Munakata usually isn't a man who comes with many surprises… but this was definitely surprising. The Luckster thought, opening the software required. Could it be about the Ultimate Despair…? Or maybe… He turned his head to the side and towards Laura. About the Unremembered Ultimates…?

"Special Agents and Directors of the Future Foundation." Makoto was startled when Munakata's voice suddenly echoed inside his ears. "I am live streaming this message today to inform you of something of major importance. It could be said without exaggeration that the survival of the Future Foundation is on the line."

The white-haired Former Ultimate's face got even more solemn than it usually was. This confirmed it for the young Special Agent: whatever was up next wouldn't be fun.

"Months ago, a threat declared war on our organization. Ever since then, they have been attacking our forces, trying to get us to give up our fight against despair." Munakata paused for a moment. "These forces are *not* Junko Enoshima's, however, but something else entirely."

So that's what it's all about… Makoto glanced discretely at Laura, who appeared to be focused. They've decided to reveal the secret, then…

"These forces are led by those who were supposed to become the 79th Class of Hope's Peak Academy. They go by the name of Unremembered Ultimates." Munakata's eyes darkened. "They are sixteen, but their army is composed of thousands of fools ready to defy our authority. In order to fight against this group, it had been decided that the Future Foundation would act discretely, trying to defeat the enemy swiftly and without arousing suspicion."

The Luckster knew this was when it began to matter. The rest was nothing he didn't already know.

"For us to accomplish this, Division Three's Koichi Kizakura and Division Fourteen's Kyoko Kirigiri have been sent on a secret mission to eliminate the threat," the Vice-Chairman added. "For their own safety and that of their mission, they left with no means of communicating with anyone. Thus, their current status is unknown."

This made a shiver run down Makoto's spine. Of course, it didn't have to be bad news, but the Luckster wished he could know more.

"However, you are well aware that the airwaves have recently been hijacked by this group in order to broadcast edited footage of Director Kirigiri ordering to fire at enemies. This has caused tremendous distrust amongst the public, which we have been fighting against for more than a week." The Former Ultimate Student Council President's voice became harsher. "This was the last straw. Thanks to Division Five's Director Yukizome, we've obtained information of an attack on Central Headquarters in two days."

A-An attack?! Makoto's hazel eyes widened suddenly. A-And in two days, too?!

"This will be this organization's opportunity to put an end to the Unremembered Ultimates once and for all. I order you Special Agents and Division Directors to put your missions on hold and to prepare for a total fight in two days." The screen switched to a different mode. Munakata was only visible on the left side of the screen, and a list of orders appeared on the right. "All armed forces, save for elite troops, shall be sent to the battlefield to fight. There shall be *no* mercy for the enemy. They wanted warfare, and they'll get it. Blood will be shed for the sake of this organization's future."

Makoto's eyes met the Ultimate Copywriter's. It was brief, but they seemed to be thinking the same thing.

"We are also aware that a certain number of spies have infiltrated the Future Foundation. Division Directors are asked to run background checks on their agents after the end of this message. All traitors found must be sent to Central Headquarters for immediate execution."

"W-Woah, what the hell?!" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student heard Laura shout. "E-Execution?!"

Damn, this isn't good for Laura! If they learn that she's not even a spy but an Unremembered Ultimate, Munakata will have her be executed! He thought. B-But they'll definitely find out if they run background checks!

"The goal of this battle is to get rid of the enemy, once and for all," Munakata said coldly. "Those arrested shall be brought to Central Headquarters without exception where Division Two will be sure that they receive the punishment they deserve."

Makoto watched as Munakata looked to conclude his speech.

"Against this enemy, as well as Enoshima's despair worshippers, the Future Foundation will be triumphant. Our fight for hope will be won on the day despair has been eradicated, and this starts in two days. Division Directors will receive detailed instructions in the minutes to come. Special Agents and Division Directors of the Future Foundation… stand ready to fight for hope. The Future Foundation shall prevail."

With that, the live feed cut out, leaving the Luckster flabbergasted. The man's job was to humbly help people in need… not to fight in freaking battles! He was also worried for his friend. Looking in the young woman's direction, he could see her defeated expression, staring sadly at her desk.

Poor Laura… she only wanted to help, and she will soon be considered a traitor… Makoto stood up and walked over to his colleague. "I'm sorry for what Vice-Chairman Munakata said, Laura. I… I don't know what else to say."

"I-I'm going to die… Munakata will consider me a traitor, and I will be executed… Of course." She looked at Makoto with pleading eyes. "Tell me why, Makoto. Just… please tell me why I can't ever get a break in life."

The Luckster wracked his brain for something to say but came up empty. He usually always had something in mind to help his struggling friends, but there, it was all too clear-cut. There was nothing the short young man could do to stop the Vice-Chairman of the Future Foundation.

"I…" I can't promise her that things will get better soon if I don't believe it myself. I can't lie to her about something so important. "Please… don't lose hope, Laura."

The Unremembered Ultimate wiped some tears away. "Hope won't matter to me once I'm dead, Makoto. And it can't save me now. It's too late for me."

Unable to come up with an idea, Makoto just watched as his friend tried to remain calm. However, he knew it was only a façade and that Laura would break down if he wasn't here.

What do I tell her…? I don't want to lose her, because she's been my friend, Unremembered Ultimate or not! "W-We'll find something, Laura-"

"Naegi! Lawn!"

The office's door was slammed loudly, prompting the two Special Agents to turn in that direction. They noticed their Vice-Director entering the room, apparently not very content.

"O-Oh, Byakuya." Makoto scratched his head. I don't know if I should be glad that he's here or the exact opposite… He thought.

"I believe you two plebians can guess why I'm here right now, can't you?" the Togami heir rhetorically asked. "It's time we cut the crap, Special Agent Lawn: I don't know what your intentions are, but you cannot be a member of the Future Foundation anymore. We both know it should be this way, and had Director Kirigiri not ordered me to enroll you, you would be in the streets."

"V-Vice-Director…!" Laura gasped in shock. "Y-You can't do that to me! I-I've done my job as well as I could ever since I joined!"

"Perhaps you have, but I do not care. You are an Unremembered Ultimate, and you could very well be playing double agents, even at this moment." Byakuya glared at the copywriter, making her gulp. "I have had my suspicions on you ever since you joined this Division, and I believe that these are founded, especially after Vice-Chairman Munakata's message."

B-Byakuya… that's harsh… Makoto thought, saddened that one of his best friends was being so cold to another of his friends. It was usual for the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny to be blunt, but there, it was genuine, not just Byakuya being Byakuya. "B-Byakuya… You don't have to be so cold-"

"Makoto, let me finish." He turned his scolding glare towards the Luckster for a second before turning back to Laura. "Special Agent Lawn, as of this moment, you are fired from Division Fourteen of the Future Foundation. Furthermore, you shall be sent to Central Headquarters as per the orders I have received."

"N-No! P-Please, Vice-Director, I-I beg of you!" The Ultimate Copywriter literally got on her knees, begging Byakuya. "I-I'm not a spy! I-I could never betray the Future Foundation! D-Don't do this to me…! I-I… I don't want to die!"

Laura broke down at that moment, crying her eyes out in front of the Togami heir. Makoto took pity on her.

"L-Laura…" he muttered. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student looked at Byakuya with immense sadness in his hazel eyes. "We can't do that to one of our own, Byakuya. We've seen our friends be executed; we know what it is! We can't let it happen again now that we've escaped Junko's grasp!"

Byakuya sighed. "I know that Makoto, I do. However, as much as I would like to believe Ms. Lawn, this is a risk I cannot take."

"Come on, Byakuya! I've worked with Laura ever since she got here! If she'd done anything suspicious, I would have noticed it!" Makoto exclaimed. "I know I can be clueless sometimes, but I would have noticed a spy working fifteen feet away from me!"

"And what if you had not?"

"H-Huh?"

"I think I figured out Kyoko's motives for giving such precise orders when she left, Makoto." He pointed at Laura's laptop. "The reason she insisted you didn't change laptops when Hiro moved out… was so she knew who would be using this one."

Makoto's eyes snapped open in a split second. "W-Wait, you don't mean…?!"

"I do. Kyoko has most likely been monitoring Ms. Lawn ever since she has entered this office thanks to that computer." Byakuya's words made both Makoto and Laura gasp. "And I don't think I need to remind you that Kirigiri is the Ultimate Detective. If she did that, it must have been for a reason."

K-Kyoko's… been monitoring Laura for that long…? The Luckster recalled Kyoko's orders as precisely as he could. I-It… it does make sense… B-But what would have made Kyoko so suspicious…?

"Ms. Lawn, my belief is that you are a spy for the Unremembered Ultimates. You pretend not to have contact with them, but that is a lie. In fact, you have been providing them with information, isn't that right?" The Vice-Director looked down on her without any mercy. "Talk now!"

"N-No! I-I… I haven't!"

"Enough now! I trust Kirigiri's choices more than I do a mysterious woman!"

As Laura continued to cry and claim her innocence, Makoto couldn't see the Ultimate Copywriter as a threat. Sure, he had also had his suspicions, but to call her a traitor and a spy… he couldn't do that.

She was one of his friends. They had met in peculiar circumstances, but he could not imagine that one of his friends was a spy. Laura Lawn was the girl Makoto had spent most of his free time with recently. They had chatted, played games, eaten together… she had cut his hair, shown him her talent…

The Ultimate Copywriter was not a spy. Makoto feared that she was hiding something, but she was not a backstabber.

"Laura, get up." He extended a hand her way, waiting for her to take it. She quickly did, and Makoto pulled her up. The Special Agent handed her a tissue and watched as she wiped away her tears. "I know you're not a traitor." He placed his hand on hers and looked at her in the eyes earnestly. "You're one of my friends, and I always believe in my friends."

He gave the Vice-Director a half-pleading, half-disappointed look. "I understand your point of view, Byakuya, but we can't do that. I know you've got lots of pressure on your shoulders, but I also know that you don't want to send a person to death when you can't prove that she's guilty of anything."

Byakuya pushed his glasses and thought for a few seconds. He sighed again, shaking his head. "You're lucky to be stupidly convincing, Makoto Naegi." He stared back at Laura. "And you should be grateful that this commoner is your advocate. Now, what we'll do is simple. You are still fired; however, I will make sure you avoid the background check. You are to stay confined inside your room and to only come out in the presence of another Special Agent. Am I understood?"

Laura's tearful blue eyes filled with hope again as she beamed. "R-Really, sir?!" Byakuya nodded, looking annoyed. "T-Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Makoto smiled at his temporary boss. Good call, Byakuya. "And what about the battle against the Unremembered Ultimates, Byakuya?"

"Since there will be no Special Agents to check on her then, she will be going with you. I know you can't use a weapon, so I'll task you with keeping an eye on her instead. Does that seem doable, even for a commoner?"

"Yeah, sure!" Makoto smiled. "Thanks, Byakuya."

"Hmph." The Togami heir turned around and headed for the door. "Don't thank me yet. If Munakata somehow finds out about this, the two of you are probably goners. And so would be Director Kirigiri."

With that, the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny left the office, leaving Makoto and Laura surprised, relieved, scared… The young man's emotions were a real mess.

"Makoto…" the Ultimate Copywriter muttered, holding back some more tears. "T-Thank you… T-Thank you so much."

He tapped her on the shoulder reassuringly. "You're welcome, Laura." He wrapped his arms around her back and brought her in a friendly hug. "I'm just glad you're going to be safe. It's what matters most."

The Luckster stroked her back in a soothing manner so his friend would stop tearing up. Not that he didn't understand why she was crying, but he didn't want to see or hear her cry.

As he pulled away from the hug, Makoto was glad to see Laura smile again. She looks a lot prettier with a smile on her face rather than with sad tears in her eyes. "It's gonna be alright, Laura. After this is all said and done, you'll be able to forget everything about the Unremembered Ultimates for good."

"Yeah, I hope so. Having to face them… it will be tough for me, but I have no choice but to prove my worth now."

"Yeah, that's the spirit!"

The two friends relaxed in comfortable silence for a few seconds. This could have really not ended well… I'm just glad I managed to convince Byakuya…

"I-I'm gonna go back to my room now… Vice-Director Togami is going to get angry at you if I don't." Makoto nodded at Laura's words. She tucked a strand of her short black hair behind her ear and walked over to the door.

Before following her, Makoto turned to the computer on her desk. So you were listening to us this whole time, Kyoko, weren't you…? I can't believe it… Well, I hope you're doing well… "Come back to us soon, okay?"

He waved at the screen with a cute smile, hoping that his detective friend would see and hear him before joining his other friend and now former colleague.

"Well, let's get going."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-One:  Someone Like You

Damn, being at the office is boring when I'm all alone…

Makoto sighed as he stretched, spinning around his chair without anything to do. All of his paperwork was completed, and his agents were busy being prepared for the upcoming battle. Since Byakuya had not tasked him with fighting, the Luckster was just waiting for something interesting to pop up.

I'd like to go see Mr. Hanzou again, but all of the helicopters are being requisitioned… And since it's on the other side of Tokyo, walking there would take hours…

As the Luckster whined and tried to come up with something he could do, he heard his phone buzz inside his pocket. Surprised and curious, he took it out and noticed he had a new text.

Laura Lawn: "Makoto? Think you could come see me in my apartment? Can't go out with a Special Agent."

Makoto quickly read the text. Oh, yeah, Byakuya did forbid her from leaving her apartment without either Hiro or me being with her… I wonder what she wants…

Makoto Naegi: "Sure. I'll be there in a few."

Laura Lawn: "Thanks."

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student put his phone back inside his suit pocket and adjusted his tie. The office was mostly empty, so he didn't bother with locking the door behind him. After all, he trusted his (currently busy) employees not to come steal inside their superior's office.

It was strange to hear the floor being so silent at this hour of the day, but Makoto didn't mind the occasional peace and quiet. With thousands of people working inside the tower, it was getting buzzy quickly, and it could tire one out.

He still did pass by a couple of agents who saluted and greeted him. Makoto smiled and said hello back, glad that they had established a relationship based upon mutual respect between employees and boss. This might have been what motivated Makoto the most to come to work every morning with a smile on his face.

Otherwise, the walk over to the elevator then to the door of Laura's dorm was silent. The action was happening in the training rooms, a few floors below. Makoto would have paid handsome money to see Hiro preparing for a fight. The mere motion made him giggle.

Well, let's refocus. Makoto thought as he stood in front of the door. *knock* *knock* "Laura? It's Makoto."

The Luckster waited for a few seconds before the door opened, revealing the Ultimate Copywriter on the other side. She yawned and waved at Makoto.

"Thanks for coming, Makoto. It kinda sucks that I can't go out, but I don't really have a choice," she said with a shrug. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks. What about you, Laura? Doing better than yesterday?"

Makoto quickly realized that his friend and former colleague was doing better just by looking at her. Still, she didn't quite look like the energetic Laura Lawn he'd come to know, with bags under her eyes that make-up couldn't completely hide.

"I guess I'm okay. Alive and okay."

The Luckster nodded. "That's what matters most." He smiled at her, and she smiled back. "So, what did you need me for, Laura?"

"W-Well… I was just wondering if…" A slight blush appeared on her cheeks. "W-We could share a stroll outside or something…? I-If you want to, of course!"

Makoto giggled. It seems the apocalyptically dark skies aren't deterring Laura… "Sure, I don't mind. I was actually getting bored to death."

"Cool! Let's go, then!" Laura said with enthusiasm, closing the door behind her and locking it. "So, where do you wanna go? I personally don't mind!"

Geez, talk about a 180… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought, sweatdropping. Actually… "I think I have an idea of where we could go on a walk, Laura."

The Ultimate Copywriter looked at her friend with surprise and expectation. Makoto took the lead with an idea in mind, followed by the young woman.

Going back there… it had to happen eventually, didn't it?


"W-Wow, is that…?"

Makoto nodded. "Yeah, it sure is. This is the one and only Hope's Peak Academy. Where I probably lived the best moments of my life… and the worse ones, too." You haven't changed at all since we escaped, have you?

The former student glanced at the main building and took a step forward. He knew the memories were there, but he just couldn't grasp them. The only things he recalled were the despair of that Killing Game and the hopes the six survivors shared as they escaped it.

"I… I'm sorry, Makoto. For everything that's happened to you, I mean," Laura said, seeing him stand in front of the gate with tearful eyes. "You didn't deserve that."

He shrugged. "No one would deserve that, Laura. I wouldn't wish it even upon my worst enemy. That's actually why… I asked Junko not to kill herself." I'll never understand Junko… maybe she actually wasn't meant to be understood… The Luckster looked up to the darkened skies. I wonder if you're laughing at us right now… We're alive, but we've certainly seen better days… "Every night when I go to bed, I wonder what the heck actually happened during these two years, you know?" He chuckled. "I sure hope it's worth it!"

"I'm sure it is, Makoto. Two years at Hope's Peak Academy of all places must have been fun for you and your classmates." The copywriter sniffled tears of her own. "It's ironic when you think about it… our situations are similar yet completely reversed."

"Huh? What do you mean, Laura?" Makoto wondered.

"I mean that we've both had our memories at Hope's Peak Academy stolen from us. The difference is that you had the time to make them, and I didn't. I don't know which is sadder, honestly."

Makoto gave these words some thought. She's actually not wrong… Laura was supposed to be one of my underclassmen with the other Unremembered Ultimates… They lost that chance because of the Tragedy… because of Junko…

"I wonder what my life would be right now if I had actually entered Hope's Peak, you know? The school's reputation was more than tempting," Laura added, smiling bittersweetly. "Well, my family would still be alive, that's for sure. I would have met you and your classmates sooner, and they wouldn't be so suspicious of me, though I can hardly blame them. I'd consider myself suspicious if I were in their shoes."

"L-Laura…" Makoto muttered, listening to the girl's theories.

"Instead, the Tragedy happened, and things went downhill from there. I'm an orphan now, and the whole world pretty much wants me dead." She let out a hollow chuckle. "As an Unremembered Ultimate, I'm technically a traitor to the Future Foundation, and as a Future Foundation member, I'm an enemy of both the Ultimate Despair and the Unremembered Ultimates. Just great. Things couldn't be any better."

"Well, they could be," Makoto said, understanding that she was being ironic. "But I've learned during my Killing Game that you can't keep on thinking of what could have been; you've gotta make sure the future can be better than the past was." He scratched his head. "Well, that's my personal philosophy, at least. I may be foolishly optimistic, but it keeps me happy. That's all I can ask for."

Laura looked at Makoto with a fond smile. "That's admirable of you, Makoto… To keep a smile all the time like you do… you really are endowed with an Ultimate Hope, it seems like."

The young man blushed a bit, unable to meet her eyes completely. "T-That's not so true…" he cutely muttered under his breath. Laura giggled and turned her attention back to the gates.

There were a few moments of silence after that. Both Makoto and Laura stared at the inside of the campus they could see from beyond the front gates. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student didn't know what to think, but he knew one thing for sure: the spirits of his deceased friends were there, and this was as close as he could be to them.

"I'd like to go in, but I don't think the guards are going to allow us to do that, unfortunately," Makoto said, looking over at the Future Foundation soldiers standing near the gates. I should have asked Byakuya before coming… damn.

"You could always ask, no?" Laura suggested, wiping away her tears. "There's always a chance they'd let you in since you were a student there and all."

Makoto nodded and approached one of the guards. With some luck, it could indeed work. "Excuse me, sir, I am Makoto Naegi… do you think it would be possible to enter the former campus? My classmates have died here, and I'd like to pay tribute to them if that's possible."

The soldier shook his head, replying, "My apologies, Mr. Naegi, but Hope's Peak Academy is a strategic spot, and Vice-Chairman Munakata has forbidden us from letting anyone in without his written consent. I am very sorry, sir."

Bummer… "Don't worry about it; that's not your fault." He smiled at the soldier. "Have a nice day."

Returning to the Unremembered Ultimate's side, the young brown-haired man shook his head.

"He said no?"

"Yeah. Maybe I'm the Former Ultimate Lucky Student, but my luck's run out for now, it seems." He shrugged it off, understanding why the epicenter of the Tragedy was a strategic spot for the Future Foundation. "Well, guess I'll have to remember to ask Vice-Chairman Munakata in advance next time."

The two former colleagues stared at the destroyed Academy of Hope for a few more silent minutes before Makoto eventually suggested they go somewhere else. The Ultimate Copywriter followed without complaint, leaving Hope's Peak behind for the time being.

I don't know if you're watching, everyone, but I'm not forgetting about you. I love you all, guys.


"This spot is beautiful… You say you never went there before?"

"No, I never did… I guess… it's my gut feeling that told me to come here," Makoto said as the two sat down in the grass. "It seems like my instincts weren't wrong."

"No, they definitely weren't; you're right," Laura agreed, watching the scenery in awe. "It's like this place wasn't even affected by the Tragedy! Everything's so peaceful…"

The Luckster nodded and smiled. The two friends were sitting on a hill that stood above nearly all of Tokyo. It was made special by the prosperous nature surrounding them, which both weren't used to anymore. The butterflies were flying around, the air was fresh, and they could even see some colorful flowers all around them.

It was like the tiniest bit of paradise in the middle of hell.

But why did I instinctively go here…? It's almost like I was attracted to this location without having gone there before… This is so odd…

"What do you think is going to happen during the battle tomorrow, Makoto?"

Makoto sighed. "Let's not talk about that right now, Laura. Just relax, alright?" And I'm not only saying that because I haven't got a clue what to expect!

The Unremembered Ultimate did as she was told and laid down on the grass, although it was clear she was still asking herself questions. The young Special Agent didn't blame her, though. After all, tomorrow was going to be an important day, especially for Laura.

I just hope that everyone will be alright. Hopefully, Munakata and the Unremembered Ultimates will realize that violence won't lead anyone anywhere.

Makoto stared at the skies before closing his eyes and simply listening to the sound of the wind blowing. He could have fallen asleep right there and then.

He didn't even hear Laura taking a deep breath next to him with how relaxed he was.

"M-Makoto?"

"H-Huh?" Startled, Makoto flinched. "W-What is it, Laura?"

"H-Hm, well…" She blushed, fiddling with a strand of her hair. "I just wanted to ask you a question…"

"Sure, what is it?" Why is she so hesitant…? She usually isn't the type to ask for permission like that…

"Well… I-I wanted to know what you thought of me." The copywriter looked to the ground. "I've told you many times that I admired your hope, your friendliness, and all of that, but… you've never told me what you thought of me."

"Oh, so that's what it is." Makoto smiled carefreely. "Well, I think you are a good person with her heart in the right place. You're a hard worker with lots of impressive skills, too. Working with you was a pleasure, really."

Laura said nothing for a few seconds, deep in thought. Makoto looked at her curiously, wondering where all of that hesitation was coming from. Finally, she broke the silence.

"Do you really mean that, Makoto?"

He nodded. "Yeah, of course I do. I wouldn't lie to one of my friends about that!"

"Thanks, Makoto." She paused, fiddling with her hair some more. "I-If I ask that, it's because… t-there's something I need to tell you…"

"Really? Well, I'm all ears." There's something odd with Laura… What could she want to tell me…?

"W-Well…" Laura blushed even redder, her legs shaking a bit with nervousness. "T-This is gonna sound so sudden, but… y-you deserve to know…"

"Oh." Oh.

"I… I think I like you, Makoto… Like… as more than friends."

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student sat there, eyes blinking repeatedly. He stared at Laura with a perfectly neutral face, processing her words.

At some point, it finally hit him.

"W-What…?"

"E-Ever since you came to check up on me at my house…" She smiled at the thought. "I-I've always been looking forward to seeing you again… So when you came to visit me at the hospital, I felt like the happiest girl in the whole world."

"You'll be alright, Ms. Lawn; believe in me."

"I wish you a speedy recovery."

"Well, take care, Ms. Lawn."

"Y-You were so kind to me after I thought I had lost everything…" New tears appeared in her blue eyes. "T-This kindness you showed me… I-I'll never be able to thank you enough for it… A-And then… I decided to join the Future Foundation s-so that I could get to know you more… E-Ever since then… t-there hasn't been a moment when I haven't thought of you, Makoto. I-I would never have thought that there was someone like you in this world, and now that I've met you, I realize that I'm the lucky one of us two. Makoto, I… I really like you a lot…"

The Luckster noticed his friend was even more tensed now. Out of everything he could have heard, this was what he expected to actually hear the least.

"L-Laura…" I should have known… all these moments she blushed, or called me cute… I didn't pay much attention to that at the time, but maybe I should have… "I-I don't know what to tell you…"

"I-It's okay…" The blue-eyed woman placed her hand on his. "Y-You don't have to say anything… I just needed to tell you. A-And I hope that… maybe… maybe you like me, too…"

Makoto perked up at the touch of Laura's hand on his own. Her skin was incredibly soft, and the way her fingers were brushing against his made the young man relax.

I-Is Laura… asking me out…? He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This is the first time a girl's ever asked me out… A guy as average as me… "Laura… you should have told me sooner, you know? If you think I would have judged you for it, you should know it's not true."

They looked at each other in the eyes. Makoto could see it now. In fact, it seemed so obvious now that the Ultimate Copywriter had told him. He was mad at himself for not seeing it sooner.

"M-Makoto…" she whispered, leaning closer to her crush. She sat only mere centimeters away from him and they could feel each other's breaths. On her wrist, Makoto could feel her heartbeat. It made him realize just how nervous she was.

However, the surprise he could have felt couldn't possibly compare next to what she told him next.

"I… I'm going to kiss you, Makoto."

The young man's eyes widened as the copywriter leaned even closer and placed her other hand behind his back, her lips almost brushing his…

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Two:  Wonderwall

When Laura's lips almost brushed his own, Makoto began to panic. The Ultimate Copywriter was his friend - that he knew - but did he want her to kiss him?

Did he also see her as more than a friend?

"L-Laura, hold on."

The answer was no.

He gently pushed her back so that they weren't so close. Once he had some breathing room, he looked at her in the eyes and noticed some disappointment.

"It's nothing against you, Laura, but I just don't see myself entering a romantic relationship right now, you know?" the Luckster told her, trying to sound as understanding as possible. "I'm flattered that you think that of me, but I'm not ready to commit so soon after my Killing Game and all. I hope you understand."

The young woman sighed disappointedly. "No, I understand… And I shouldn't have tried to kiss you without your consent. I'm sorry."

"No, don't be, Laura." He smiled at her, wanting to show her that he wasn't upset. "It's okay; I didn't feel like you were violating me or anything. Actually, I'm glad you told me about your feelings, Laura. And I hope we still can bond closer together, even if it's just as friends."

Laura nodded, once, then twice. "Alright. Thank you for being so understanding, Makoto." She smiled back, having removed her hand from his. "Besides, your friendship is way more than enough for me. And it won't get you into trouble with Munakata, at least."

Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about that… The no-relationship rule… Makoto remembered, thinking back to that moment when Chisa had told him about it. "Yeah, good point. Although… it's not what matters most to me. I just don't want to rush things while we're in this mess with both the Ultimate Despair and the Unremembered Ultimates. Especially since I've never been in a relationship before."

"Yeah, that makes sense, don't worry about it," Laura assured him, getting up and dusting her skirt. "Well, I think we should go. You don't know when they'll need you at the office, Makoto."

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student giggled. "I don't think they need me to prepare a battle, honestly… or they'd be making a serious mistake!"

The Unremembered Ultimate chuckled as Makoto stood up also and stretched his arms. He looked towards the few rays of sunlight he could see one last time before the two former colleagues left the hill.

It was definitely not what he had expected, but the Luckster was not coming back to Headquarters disappointed. If anything, it gave his self-confidence a boost, something which Laura had always been able to do.

"Thanks again for being honest with me, Laura. I appreciate that."

"Don't worry about it. Being honest is the least I could do, even if you didn't return my feelings."

With one last nod, Makoto and Laura headed back to Division Fourteen Headquarters.


"Man, not many boys would have rejected a girl that pretty, that's for sure."

No one inside the projection room could deny what Mondo said, even if they were almost all in a relationship.

"Yeah, you're right," Leon agreed. "But Makoto's not a player at all, so I'm not surprised either. He genuinely doesn't look ready to be in a relationship."

"Unlike ya, yeah?" Sayaka teased, punching him in the shoulder. The Former Ultimate Baseball Star shook his head amusingly. "No, but more seriously, it's good to at least know that this Ms. Lawn doesn't mean harm to Makoto. Even if Kyoko would be furious if she knew that a girl had confessed to Makoto before her."

Jin frowned. "Knowing my daughter, that might not be so true, Sayaka," he said, looking in the pop sensation's direction. "Before the Killing Game, it was clear to everyone that Kyoko liked Makoto in more than a friendly manner. Now, however, I'm not sure she does. Besides, I think she respects him enough to let him have the love life he wants."

"You're in denial, Headmaster," Junko chipped in, chuckling. "Your girl might be dead-ass serious, but she'd be mad if she knew. If there's one thing she is, aside from a pain in my ass, it's jealous."

The deceased Headmaster seemed to disagree, but the rest of the room… not so much. For them to agree with their captor was so rare it almost meant that the Former Ultimate Fashionista was entirely right. After all, what she said rarely received a consensus.

"I'm not debating that. Still, there exists a chance that Kyoko truly does not feel anything romantic for Makoto… yet," Celeste suggested, fiddling with a strand of her natural hair. "I have watched her in the Afterlife Theater quite often recently to try and understand her thinking process. I doubt she cares for romance very much right now, all things considered."

"Well, if there is one thing I know, it's that you cannot fight your feelings." Mukuro's voice got all the attention on her. "I had a crush on Makoto when I was alive, and even if it was getting in the way of what I had to do, I couldn't do anything against it. Kyoko's not a superhuman, so if she was liking Makoto that way, we would have noticed."

"I-I think I agree with Mukuro…" the Former Ultimate Programmer said. "T-Today's Kyoko is different from the Kyoko in the shelter… A-As long as there's a threat like the U-Unremembered Ultimates roaming around, I don't think she'll develop any feelings for Makoto."

This appeared to create more of a debate among the deceased students and their former Principal. Everyone gave their opinion, leading them to turn away from the projection screen.

Little did they know that they were missing something important. Apart from the blonde who kept a close eye on the screen, that is…


"I, um…" Makoto blushed as he was forced to stop in the middle of the street. "I might need to use the public restroom just there. Can you wait for me here, Laura?"

"Oh, yeah, sure." She nodded. "Take your time."

"Thanks." I've been needing the bathroom for over an hour now… but I couldn't really say that while Laura was trying to kiss me… He sweatdropped, accelerating towards the restroom. Good thing there are still some infrastructures out there…

The Luckster opened the door, did what he had to, washed his hands, and got out. Feeling better, he headed for where he had left Laura a couple of minutes before.

"Hey, Mister!"

"Huh?" Surprised at being called out like this in the middle of a random street, Makoto looked all around him before noticing a short boy not far away. "Sorry, I didn't see you there. Do you know me?" I certainly don't know who this is…

In fact, the boy had purple hair tied in a small ponytail behind his head. He wore casual clothes (jeans, t-shirt, all that jazz), although something stroke the Former Ultimate Lucky Student as odd: the boy's mustache.

It looked like the kind of mustache you'd wear for a disguise. At least, it looked off on the face of a boy that seemed younger than he was.

"No, but you've won!" the boy exclaimed, hopping around. He handed him a ticket. "Or, well… maybe you'll win if this ticket is the winning one, at least!"

"H-Hold on… could you tell me who you are, please?" Makoto asked, taken aback by the stranger's straightforwardness.

"Oh non non, I'm sorry! It seems I forgot to introduce myself!" The boy bowed classily. "My name is Amuo Osuias, my good sir! My friends and I are currently holding a lottery for a billion yen! What I just gave you is a ticket! Tell me, sir… are you known for being lucky?"

Amuo Osuias…? That doesn't sound Japanese… The hazel-eyed young man thought. "A lottery for one billion yen, you say?" The other boy nodded. "That's a lot of money!" Even if money has lost some of its worth with the Tragedy, apparently… "And well… I suppose I can be lucky sometimes, yeah." I am supposed to be the Former Ultimate Lucky Student, after all…

"That is great, Mister!" the other boy said, smiling at Makoto. "Then you are sure to win the prize! Good for you, good for you!"

The Special Agent looked at the ticket, which didn't look suspicious. The situation was fishy, but at least, this looked real. Still… something was bothering him, although he couldn't place his finger on it.

"Well, I'll be leaving you now, sir. You will receive your prize in the mail if you win!" With that, the shortest boy began to run away. "Adios, amigo!"

Makoto frowned. I haven't even given him an address… How will he send me the prize if I win…? This is definitely odd… He closed his eyes, trying to figure out what was really wrong with this Amuo. In his mind, letters appeared and tried to make a word. Hm… O-Oh, I've got it!

His eyes snapped open once more as he reached his conclusion. It's the voice! I've heard it before, I'm sure of it! But where was it…? I can't seem to remember that… Well, it probably doesn't matter.

With that, Makoto returned to where he had left Laura, feeling a little bad he had left her alone for so long. He would have to explain the strange encounter, or she would start thinking he had trouble peeing.

However, as he reached the crossroads where they had separated, he noticed she was not alone anymore. The Former Ultimate Lucky Student cocked his head to get a better view of another young woman. She had long brown hair and red eyes.

"I'm back, Laura. Sorry I took so long." He approached them. Does Laura know that girl…? "Hello miss-"

"Goodbye, Ms. Lawn."

Quickly, the other woman was gone, leaving Laura and Makoto alone once again.

"Who was she, Laura? Somebody you know?" Makoto asked curiously. "She looked in a hurry."

Laura shrugged. "No idea who she is. She just needed to know the way to the closest supermarket. I don't know this part of the city on the back of my hand, so I couldn't really help her."

"Ah, okay." He nodded, rolling his eyes and showing the Ultimate Copywriter the ticket he had gotten. "An odd boy gave me this after I exited the restroom. It's a ticket for a lottery. I thought it was suspicious, honestly."

The Unremembered Ultimate glanced at the ticket and giggled. "Whoever it was, they probably pulled the wool over your eyes, Makoto. The date on the ticket shows this lottery happened more than five years ago. You won't be winning it any time soon, I'm afraid."

"Oh." Damn, really? The Luckster looked at the ticket more closely before realizing that the blue-eyed was right. "Yeah, you're right. Bummer." But why did they give me this ticket in the first place, then…? It wasn't a scam since I didn't pay for it… Weird. "Well, let's go."

"Yeah, let's."

The two friends resumed walking towards Headquarters.


Makoto yawned as the two watched the movie. He didn't think it was entertaining, but Laura seemed to like it, so he said nothing.

The two had grabbed dinner at the cafeteria before going to eat at Makoto's apartment. Byakuya and the others were still preparing at this late hour, so it was basically only the two of them on the upper floors.

After that, the Ultimate Copywriter had suggested they watch a film together. Makoto had not bought any since becoming a member of the Future Foundation but was lucky enough to find some inside one of the drawers of his bedroom. Since he was the first occupant of the apartment, he assumed they had been left there during construction.

The movie was romance, a genre Makoto had always found a bit cheesy. Right now, the two main characters were at a café together, beating around the bush. It was clear that they liked each other, but neither dared to admit it. It was kinda cute.

Laura sat in a chair not far away from Makoto's bed, where the Luckster was lying. They were mostly quiet, listening to the movie.

Suddenly, the Ultimate Copywriter looked at him. "Would you mind if I sat on your bed, Makoto? No offense, but that chair is as hard as bricks, and it's not comfortable to sit on."

"Oh, sure." I never thought the chair was hard, but okay… He patted the spot next to him on the mattress. "You should have said so earlier, you know? Sorry if you were uncomfortable."

"Don't worry about it," she assured him, silently standing up from the chair to sit on the bed. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

They continued to watch the movie for a while, although Makoto was having more trouble muffling his yawns. He was starting to get tired now, but he wanted to last until the movie's end.

"Tired, Makoto?" Laura asked at some point. "I can go if you want so you can get some sleep."

"No, no, it's okay." He smiled at her. "I can manage until the end of the movie."

"Okay." The Ultimate Copywriter nodded, her hand slowly getting closer to Makoto's, until her fingers were brushing his.

Makoto's eyes widened just a little bit as he felt her touch but didn't say anything. He thought he was imagining it, honestly. However, he was aware of it enough to intertwine his fingers with Laura's digits.

Near the end of the movie, the two protagonists were forced to separate. It was a classic plot twist in romance movies, and of course, something happened soon after so that they could actually stay together.

The end result was a well-deserved kiss for two lovers who had been in denial for way too long, in Makoto's opinion. He felt Laura's hand leave his own to touch his thigh. The feeling was pleasant.

The credits rolled. None of the names rung bells for Makoto, which confirmed his suspicions that none of the actors were famous. The young woman's hand went up and down his leg in a soothing rhythm. He acknowledged it but didn't protest. He yawned again.

Of course, there was a post-credits scene, like in almost every movie. The two main characters were shown years after, happily married together and with a pair of twins on their laps. Makoto smiled at the cute scene.

"I dream of a life like this."

He registered Laura's voice more than her hand inching closer to his waist, in-between his legs.

"Yeah? Well, I think we all do," he argued with a shrug. "I mean… they're married, and they had children. I don't think anyone would complain in their situation."

She nodded. "Yeah." She rolled around so she could look at him in the eyes from above him. "I know you don't see me as a lover, so it doesn't fit with the movie, but… do you think I'm as pretty as the girl in the movie, Makoto?"

"H-Huh?" Where did that come from…? He wondered. "Well… Yeah, I guess you are." What a weird question to ask at this moment… The Luckster thought.

She placed a hand on her blouse and removed the first two buttons. "And do you think these are pretty, too…?"

Makoto's hazel eyes widened in shock. "W-W-What…?"

Laura placed a hand on Makoto's chest, stroking where the young man's pecs would have been if he wasn't too lazy to work out. She then unbuttoned the rest of her blouse, revealing her pink bra to the Former Ultimate Lucky Student. He didn't even notice the nasty scar she had near her stomach, his attention drawn to a pair of round breasts.

"L-Laura…" His gasp did not leave his mouth. He stared at the girl in both shock, admiration, and now, a bit of lust. "W-What are you doing…?"

"I just want us to share a cool moment before the battle…" she explained as she continued to caress his chest through his t-shirt. "If you don't wanna, it's fine, of course." Her eyes trailed to her crotch. "I somehow feel like you're more than okay with it."

"L-Laura…" he repeated. He had not even realized it, but he could have gone camping with the tent inside his boxers.

Tomorrow would be a stressful day, whether he wanted it or not. After all, as a Future Foundation Special Agent, a battle like this could be one he didn't come back from.

Yeah, if I die tomorrow… I'll die happier knowing I didn't miss any opportunities. The young man nodded at Laura. His eyes turned towards his bed table's drawer to retrieve something, but the feeling of Laura's hand palming his crotch made him turn his attention back to the copywriter.

And all too soon, lust and carnal desire took over the two young friends. The Tragedy, the Ultimate Despair, the Unremembered Ultimates… all of these things were temporarily forgotten as Makoto and Laura just enjoyed the moment that life had presented them with.

The Luckster fell asleep spooning with the Ultimate Copywriter.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Three:  The Final Countdown

"Makoto? Could you please pay attention…?"

"O-Oh, sorry! Can you repeat, please?"

Makoto scratched his head as Byakuya glared at him disapprovingly. On his end, Hiro laughed, visibly happy that he was not the one the Vice-Director was picking on today.

"What's wrong with you today?" the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny asked, crossing his arms and looking at his temporary subordinate curiously. "Even Hiro is more focused than you are."

"Hey!"

"I-It's nothing… don't worry about it," he assured the Vice-Director. I can't get what happened last night out of my head… but I've gotta focus. Today's the day of the battle, after all…

The Luckster had woken up that morning with a furious blush on his face as he felt Laura's naked body pressed against him. Still, he played it cool, as did the Ultimate Copywriter. They had taken their shower (alone) before Laura discretely left his apartment, not saying a word about the experience they had shared the night before.

Makoto was grateful for that. He didn't need to think about it all day long, especially not today.

"Very well, then. So, as I was saying… Hiro, your group will be fighting in this zone," Byakuya circled a place on the map on the wall. "Mine will be close, so don't hesitate to send me a signal if you need reinforcements."

"Okay!" The Former Ultimate Clairvoyant seemed uncharacteristically ready, in Makoto's opinion. "And I'll help you if you need it, too!"

Byakuya hmphed. "Please, don't spout nonsense. My agents are elite, and they are led by a Togami. We'll be just fine." He turned his attention back to Makoto. "Now, as for you, since you won't be fighting, you'll be standing guard instead."

Makoto nodded. "I can do that." I can actually do *just* that… He sweatdropped.

"If they try to attack our front, we'll need you and your group to warn us, so be careful," Byakuya added. "The agents with you have been trained and prepared, so it shouldn't be a problem. You also have to keep watch of Ms. Lawn, remember?"

"Yeah, I do." More than you'd think… The Luckster mused, doing his best to prevent a blush from appearing on his cheeks. Any mention of the copywriter's name flustered him, although he made sure it didn't show.

"If anything happens to our troops, we must retreat towards Division Thirteen's troops." He circled another zone of the map. "I've talked to Hina, and she told me that if something happened to them, they would retreat towards us, so be on the lookout for them, just in case."

Both Special Agents nodded in understanding. Byakuya pushed his glasses up.

"Then we're ready to go. The helicopters are waiting outside. From there, we're mostly on our own. Remember: the objective is to capture the Unremembered Ultimates. We'll leave the pointless slaughter to Munakata."

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny turned off the projector displaying the map before heading out of the war room with his two friends and colleagues. He sighed.

"Good luck to the two of you," the orphaned Togami heir finished. "And stay safe, whatever happens. You're pretty useful commoners."

"Yeah, good luck to ya, too, Byakuya man!" Hiro said with enthusiasm. "And I totally predict that we'll be fine!"

"Talk about reassuring!" Makoto joked, chuckling. The fortune-teller pouted. "I'm kidding, Hiro. Besides, I also know we'll be fine! We have to, and we'll do everything we can so it goes well!"

The Luckter's optimism seemed to put a spring in both Byakuya's and Hiro's steps. However, the person it gave the most confidence to was himself.

And it would perhaps save his life.

Yeah… our survival matters most than anything… I can't lose any more of my friends today!


"Special Agent Naegi! We've proceeded to check the equipment one last time! Everything is working correctly!"

Makoto nodded at the agent saluting at him. "Alright, thanks. You can go relax before we land, okay?"

"Yessir! Thank you, sir!"

The soldier left and joined their partners, leaving the Luckster alone with the Ultimate Copywriter sitting next to him. She was not a Special Agent anymore, but it appeared that nobody except him knew that. She was wearing her working clothes for the sake of not being suspicious.

"So, this is it, right?" Laura asked casually, prompting Makoto to nod again. "Are you okay, Makoto? You seem really nervous."

"Yeah, I'm a little bit of both. Okay, and nervous, I mean." He fidgeted with the end of his lime tie. "We won't be in the middle of the battlefield, so I'm not too worried for us, but this battle will probably be an onslaught, which is what scares me most." Innocent lives will be lost… I hope Munakata knows what he's doing…

Being a pacifist, Makoto was naturally opposed to any form of armed conflict. Still, he wasn't that naïve either and knew that if you were attacked, you had to respond, or you would just die a pointless death. The Luckster chose to trust the Vice-Chairman and his decisions, at least for the time being.

She placed a hand on his shoulder. "I understand, Makoto. And I agree, too. But I'm there, okay? I know I don't officially have a right to partake in the battle, but I will if I have to."

"Thanks, Laura." He smiled at her. "I appreciate it. But you have to stay safe, too."

"Yeah, I will, don't worry," she assured him confidently. "I don't plan on dying today, that's for sure!"

That sounds like Laura, alright… Makoto was having trouble looking at Laura right now after what had happened the night before. Of course, when you had seen your friend naked and had had sex with her basically on a whim, it changed things, whether you wanted it or not. Last night was amazing, regardless of whether I want to admit it or not… but last night was last night, and today is today. Better put it behind us right now.

"By the way…" he blushed a cute color of red. "Thanks for last night, Laura. I'd like us not to talk about it again in the future, but it was fun."

She showed him a broad smile. "I'm glad. I was worried you wouldn't enjoy it. And don't worry, I don't want this to define our friendship either. I won't talk about it if you don't want me to. It was just a one-time thing to destress before today."

With an agreement, the two friends returned to waiting for their helicopter to land. Makoto looked through the window and noticed tents and hideouts being set up under them, meaning they were getting close. Other helicopters landed and allowed thousands of Future Foundation to enter the battlefield.

To think that this could be a bloodbath in only a few hours made shivers run down the Former Ultimate Lucky Student's spine.

And, of course, a thunderstorm had begun, if only to add to the dramatic atmosphere.

The battle hasn't even begun, and I already wish I'd be able to go home… As he watched at the dark skies, his eyes watered just a little bit. Kyoko… you can't imagine how much I wish you were in one of these helicopters right now…


"So, what's the game plan today? Not dying is part of it, I assume?" Kizakura ironically asked, pacing around the helicopter.

It was bothering Kyoko a little bit, but she refrained from complaining.

"That would be best," she answered, sitting still and quietly. "However, our first goal is to put an end to this folly. Whatever happens, the Unremembered Ultimates must be stopped, and I have to get to Makoto before Laura Lawn hurts him. I know she will try."

The scout nodded understandingly. "Is Munakata's message the reason you're worried about that?"

"Partly." The Former Ultimate Detective sighed. "I was worried from the moment I learned an Unremembered Ultimate was so close to my best friend. Learning from Munakata that spies were roaming among Future Foundation agents only confirmed that I was right to be worried."

And of course, Makoto managed to save the person who wants to hurt him… She thought bitterly. Can't you sometimes know what's good for you, Makoto Naegi…? You just had to let Byakuya take her away, and everything would have been settled…

The duo of Kyoko and Koichi had witnessed Vice-Chairman Munakata's live message thanks to the bug planted in the Ultimate Copywriter's laptop. As soon as they had heard about the upcoming battle, they had started preparing.

I now realize how good an idea it was to monitor her… even if Byakuya found out about it, which is rather impressive… The detective had been stunned when her direct subordinate had revealed her trick. However, it had done what it had been planted to do. And she couldn't hide a smile when Makoto waved at her.

She was starting to miss him dearly.

"The good thing is that the element of surprise is on our side," Kyoko noted, traces of a smirk appearing on her lips. "Neither Munakata nor the Unremembered Ultimates will be expecting us, meaning that as long as we stay relatively hidden, we can do pretty much what we want."

"Yeah, good point. And I imagine that you've already figured out a plan to utilize this element of surprise to our advantage, right?" Seeing Kyoko nod, the blonde man laughed. "Of course you have."

Well, I'm fortunate not to count on you to figure out things, Kizakura… She deadpanned, shaking her head. "We will land in the forest near Central Headquarters and make our way to the battlefield from there. This way, we should be able to outflank the Unremembered Ultimates and get to them before the rest of the organization can."

The lavender-haired Director wanted two things: for the Unremembered Ultimates to be stopped and for this battle to make the least amount of victims possible. She knew that Munakata could accomplish the first objective, but she would be damned if she trusted him with the second.

"That sounds good to me. Still," Koichi frowned, stopping and looking at Kyoko curiously. "It's just the two of us. We won't be able to defeat armies without help."

"Indeed. This is why we will be stealthy and target only Ouma and Harukawa, preferably Harukawa." I'm still bitter about what happened at Mount Fuji and in Fukuoka… I don't want this to be revenge, but the kids' gloves are off, metaphorically speaking… "If we can capture her, the others will follow."

How they would do that after the debacle that had caused the death of the elite agents with them, Kyoko didn't know. They would figure it out later.

Luckily for her, Kizakura didn't seem to have any objections.

"Well, I'm going to tell the pilot where we will be landing." She stood up and readjusted her ponytail. "Look through the window and come find me if you see anything wrong or suspicious, alright?"

"Yes, ma'am!" He saluted, making Kyoko roll her eyes.

"Idiot…" she muttered, walking past her fellow Division Director friend.

Well, let us hope that everything goes well, even if I sincerely doubt it. When has anything gone well during this mission, honestly…?

Sighing, Kyoko entered the pilot's cabin.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Four:  Monster Men

Makoto and Laura exited the helicopter and looked around. The Future Foundation agents were acting quickly, setting up tents and barricades everywhere around the gigantic tower of Central Headquarters.

I used to see these things in history books… To be there myself is kinda intimidating… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought, hesitantly taking a few steps forward. This is a battlefield… there's no other way to put it.

He noticed his friend stare in the distance, visibly lost in thought. He cocked his head to try to get her attention, although it was fruitless.

"Laura?" he tried. She flinched. "Sorry. Are you ready to go?"

"A-Ah, yeah." She scratched her neck. "Right behind you."

The two friends walked to a nearby shelter, where a couple of agents were already waiting. It was far from spacious, but Makoto knew he had not stepped inside a five-star hotel.

"Ah, there is Special Agent Naegi! Here is the console you must use to communicate with Vice-Director Togami and Special Agent Hagakure!" A soldier immediately handed him a telephone-looking console, which Makoto took with surprise. "Just press the button of the person you need, and it'll automatically reach them. It is safer than using cellphones in case communication is interrupted."

"O-Oh, okay…" I wish somebody would have told me about that before, but okay… "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

The agent turned towards Laura and saluted. "Special Agent Lawn! I was not given a console for you, so please warn Special Agent Naegi if you notice something suspicious!"

The Ultimate Copywriter froze for a split second before awkwardly replying, "Sure, will do. Thanks."

So Byakuya didn't tell anyone that Laura's not a Future Foundation member anymore… That might be best… Makoto thought, noticing Laura trying to act natural.

"You're welcome, ma'am!" The soldier saluted again before leaving the tent, assault rifle in hand. "Good luck to the two of you, sirs!"

They watched as the small squad left the shelter to patrol outside, effectively leaving the two former colleagues alone inside. Makoto placed the console on a table and glanced through a window. He noticed soldiers in every direction, getting ready. The Luckster didn't know when the Unremembered Ultimates would arrive, but it was bound to be soon.

Laura walked over to him. "I'll be facing the people who should have been my classmates. Please understand that it won't be easy for me, Makoto."

"H-Huh…?" Makoto frowned. I never disagreed with that… "Yeah, of course, I understand. It wouldn't be easy for anyone." He showed a smile. "Hang in there, alright?"

She nodded with a barely audible chuckle. "I will, don't worry."

Alright… so where will they be coming from…? He looked to his right. From the forest, maybe…? Then, he looked to his left. Or from the nearby cities…?

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

Startled, the Luckster flinched and fell on his rear. Laura gasped and ran to his side.

"Damn, that surprised me…" he said with a wince. He grabbed the hand the copywriter gave him. "Thanks, Laura." He quickly refocused. "I guess this means it's started now."

"You're welcome," Laura answered, also looking through the same window. "Look there, Makoto! They're coming from the forest!"

Quickly, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student grabbed a pair of binoculars and peered towards the woods nearby. He noticed battalions running towards their position, firing ahead at the Future Foundation troops on the way.

"Wow, they're more than I thought they would be!" Makoto exclaimed with surprise, his eyes widening. "And in this direction… they're approaching Byakuya's position!"

Knowing what she had to do, Laura grabbed the console from the table and gave it to Makoto. "You should warn him. They've most likely seen it, but you never know."

The Special Agent nodded before pressing on the button linking him with Byakuya's squad. It beeped for a couple of seconds before Makoto could hear sound on the other side.

"Vice-Director Togami speaking." The voice of the Togami heir was partly covered by the sound of gunshots in the background.

"Byakuya?! It's Makoto! We've noticed that the Unremembered Ultimates are quickly advancing towards your position!" He tried to sound calm, although it was not so effective. "They're exchanging shots ahead for now, but be prepared to retreat, just in case."

"Noted. Ahead are Munakata's elite troops. They should be able to deal considerable damage to the enemy," Byakuya explained. "But I will call Hina just in case we need to move. I will warn you if they push through and advance towards you."

"A-Alright, thanks…" As Byakuya said, Munakata should be able to hold his own for quite some time… and leave dead bodies in his wake, too… "Good luck."

"Same to you. I'm hanging up."

Makoto sighed and replaced the console on the table.

"So they're getting closer?" Laura asked. Makoto nodded in confirmation. "So the border near the forest is gonna be where things go down… We're lucky to be far from that."

"Yeah… Although…" the young man paused, frowning. "I hope Byakuya and Hina will be okay. They're much closer than we are, after all."

In the background, the sound of the gunshots was one they were slowly getting used to. But Makoto knew that it wasn't only the sound of gunshots.

It was the sound of death.


"Well, ahead is the forest, alright."

Kyoko nodded as they looked at their surroundings. Kizakura was standing next to her, checking his weapon. The Ultimate Detective had made sure it was ready for use before leaving, knowing she might not have enough time to do it after that.

"The Unremembered Ultimates are pushing forward towards the tower. They are probably hoping to win quickly, as they have no chance if the battle drags on." The detective stopped, pointing in the distance. "Look over there."

Kizakura also stopped, looking where his colleague was pointing. "Hm? What do we have here?"

Right ahead was a makeshift shelter that appeared to be unprotected. There were only a couple of armed troops on the way.

"One of our Unremembered Ultimate friends, most likely," she deadpanned with a hollow chuckle. "I don't think they have the resources to build many shelters, so I would be willing to bet that either Harukawa or Ouma is in there, as their most important members."

"Ooooh…! That's pretty interesting, wouldn't you say?"

The fact that the scout seemed amused by their situation frustrated Kyoko a little bit. She knew it was within his character, but she would have liked to see him be a little less silly during such a crucial moment.

He had shown her he could do it, after all.

"Yes, indeed," she agreed with a nod. "The question is… will they be alone…? And also… which of the two are we going to find there…?" I'd like to find Ouma first… he'd be easier to defeat… Memories of what Kira had done to the elite agents with them made Kyoko worry.

Koichi shrugged. "We won't know until we go there to find out, huh?"

"Correct." She took a deep breath and a step forward. "Let's get going." The detective glared at him. "Discretely."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Shaking her head, Kyoko began to walk towards the forest, Kizakura in tow.


"Special Agent Asahina, my troops are currently fighting against a good part of the enemy army. We will hold our ground, so be prepared to assist Special Agent Togami if they try to go around and attack there."

Hina was surprised to hear the voice of the Vice-Chairman on the console. She listened to what she was being told to do, but before she could reply anything, Munakata had cut the transmission.

Couldn't he have at least let me say something…? She wondered, rolling her eyes. So Byakuya could possibly be in danger…? Well, we discussed it, and he told me he'd retreat my way if he needed to…

The swimmer quickly looked through one of the windows of her shelter, noticing Munakata's troops just ahead were fighting intensely against the Unremembered Ultimates' forces. It indeed did appear to her that if they tried to go around on the left, the Togami heir could be endangered.

"Better call Byakuya…" she thought aloud, looking on the console to find the Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny's name. It beeped. "Oh, well… I guess he called me before I could." She shrugged and began the transmission. "Hina speaking?"

"Hina, it's Byakuya. Makoto warned me that the enemy was making progress my way. You're supposed to be relatively safe with Munakata fighting ahead of you, so I'll prepare a move your way." His voice was focused, and she could imagine him, standing straight and not wavering. "If they push enough to put Makoto in danger, I'll call him so that he retreats towards Hiro."

"Okay, sounds good to me!" He's already planning steps ahead… This is definitely a moment I'm glad to have Byakuya on my side and not against me… "I'll be waiting for you, and we'll cover you while you move, okay?"

"Thank you. I'll be there soon."

With that, Byakuya hung up, leaving the Former Ultimate Swimming Pro with a couple of things to do. She checked that her weapon was charged before running outside. The troops were not yet fighting, so giving orders would be relatively easy for now.

"Everyone, listen for a second!" she yelled, getting everyone's attention. "Special Agent Togami and his troops will be retreating here to avoid an attack on the side! We need to cover for them while they move, alright?!"

"YES, MA'AM!" they all answered, immediately getting into position to fire. "FIRE! FIRE!"

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

For good measure, the young woman fired a couple of shots of her own, although they were not really intended to hit anyone.

She hoped that the battle would be over quickly, and she knew that with Vice-Chairman Munakata and his ruthless troops fighting on the frontline, it was definitely a possibility.

Well, let's wait for Byakuya now…


"Byakuya just called back to tell me to move towards Hiro if the Unremembered Ultimates attack from the side."

Laura nodded.

"Also, he's apparently retreating in Hina's direction, as planned." Makoto placed a hand on his chin in thought. This means that Munakata is holding his own on the frontline… Let's hope he can contain them enough that we don't have to move at all… "Well, let's continue to be on the lookout, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," the Ultimate Copywriter answered. "It'd be cool if we didn't have to be involved at all, honestly. The quicker this is all done, the better."

The Luckster had no choice but to agree with that. "You're right." He sighed. "It's probably wishful thinking, but that's all we have right now."

Seeing his shoulders slump a bit, Laura frowned and looked at him with a reassuring smile. "Your wishful thinking has already saved lives, Makoto. If anything, it makes me feel safer."

The young man chuckled. "Thanks, Laura. I'm glad you're there with me right now."

"No problem, Makoto. You're the person I'd rather be close to at the moment."

Both Ultimates shared a smile before returning to their positions and waiting for something to happen on their end.


"We're close now, right Kyoko?"

"Shush!"

The Former Ultimate Detective placed her finger on her lips to shut Kizakura up at the sight of soldiers patrolling around the woods.

"Don't move until I tell you to, alright?" she whispered, earning a nod from Koichi. "We're close, but we need to be even more cautious if we want to make a stealthy entry."

Kyoko tiptoed a couple of steps ahead to see where the soldiers were heading. The shelter they were targeting was only a few hundred feet away.

"Yeah, these pigs from the Future Foundation are going to pay! They're not reliable enough to fight against despair!"

"You can say that again! We're lucky to have Ms. Harukawa and Mr. Ouma on our side! They'll save the world, and then we'll rebuild it flawlessly together!"

Maybe I don't specifically disagree with you… but that doesn't mean I agree, either… This battle is just about monsters ordering to kill other monsters… The lavender-haired young woman thought, hiding behind a tree as the soldier literally walked in front of her.

They could easily take them out, but this had two flaws. Of course, it would ruin their cover, and they would not be able to surprise the Unremembered Ultimate inside the shelter. Also, Kyoko had never directly killed someone, and she would have liked to keep it that way.

A couple of minutes after, she deemed that the enemies were far enough that she and the scout could move safely again. She gestured to Kizakura to get closer, which he did.

"Okay, we're going straight to the shelter," she instructed. "Weapons ready, but we do not fire unless we're in immediate danger. Whoever we find inside, you let me handle it. If there is anything wrong, I want you to take care of it, and we retreat straight to the helicopter."

"Got it." Koichi replaced his fedora so that it wouldn't fall and followed Kyoko.

They resumed walking for a few (long) minutes. Once they were only a couple of feet away from the undefended shelter, they glanced at each other and nodded. Division Fourteen's Director drew her handgun before barging inside.

"Hands up!" she ordered, aiming her weapon ahead. "Don't move, or we'll shoot!"

There was a second of silence before she heard a sigh. Her eyes darkening, she put her gloved finger on the trigger, having to convince herself not to just shoot right there and then.

"I expected you, Kyoko Kirigiri. Maybe not so soon, but I knew you would find a way to be here. You couldn't miss this important battle, after all, could you?"

Kyoko did not waver as her enemy stood up from a chair, hands surprisingly raised in the air.

"No, I couldn't have. Not when there's one of your own so close to my friends," she said, remaining a hundred percent focused on her target. "I promised I would hunt you down until you were no longer a threat, and I will."

"Hmph. I should have gotten rid of you in Fukuoka instead of trying to get you to cooperate with us."

The detective smirked. "You don't get rid of the Ultimate Detective so easily, I'm afraid. I have an inspiration, and when their mind is set on something, they just don't stop until they can reach it." Her smirk widened. "I'm becoming more and more of the same, Harukawa."

To be continued…

Battlefield 44

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Five:  No Surprise

"We both know I can disarm you in a second, Kyoko Kirigiri. Your tough act might have seemed impressive during the Killing Game, but we both know you don't stand a chance in the real world."

"Do you want to try me, Harukawa? You would regret it."

Both women stared at each other, the Ultimate Mercenary still with her hands up and the Ultimate Detective still with her gun aimed. Kizakura stood next to his colleague, also ready to fire.

"Well, it doesn't even matter," Kira said. "Whatever happens in this shelter, it won't affect the outcome of the battle."

Kyoko frowned, her purple eyes darkening even more. "Explain yourself," she ordered.

"I'm not stupid, Kyoko Kirigiri. I know for a fact that we will not be able to win a long-lasting battle against the full force of the Future Foundation." She turned around, hands still up. "However, we have a trick up our sleeve that will bring us to victory."

A trick up their sleeve…?

"Vice-Chairman Munakata has been a hindrance for far too long because of his abilities as a war chief. He has stood in our way since the very beginning, countering our every move against the Future Foundation." Kira's tone was bitter, and Kyoko could hear her anger. "But even he won't be able to do anything against what we have prepared. And neither will you."

"You better tell me what it is now, Harukawa, or I'm putting a bullet inside this brain of yours," Kyoko warned, taking a step forward. "Now."

She heard the Unremembered Ultimate sigh. "Very well, then. Since you won't be leaving this shelter alive, I suppose I can tell you."

"You really think that?" Kizakura chipped in, cocking his head. "You're confident for someone within the range of two firearms."

"Have I asked you to say anything, you idiot?" Kira turned around again and glared at Koichi. "I should have killed you in Fukuoka. May I remind you of the fate that befell your colleagues, by the way?" She turned her eyes back to the detective. "Now that your former classmate Mukuro Ikusaba is dead, no one in the world can stand up to me in a battle with weapons, Kyoko Kirigiri."

Kyoko hmphed. "The mystery person from last time would beg the differ, Harukawa." The brown-haired woman said nothing in response. "Now talk."

"Very well, then. The last resort we hold is…"


A couple of hours had already passed, but so far, the duo of Makoto and Laura was not in any immediate danger. They could see the troops of both the Unremembered Ultimates and the Future Foundation fighting in the distance, but they were not directly involved.

Byakuya was on his way towards Hina and Division Thirteen, and no further moves had been planned. Munakata and the elite soldiers were doing very well for themselves, holding back hundreds upon hundreds of enemies.

Of course, the Luckster could see the bodies pile up in the distance.

"We're lucky enough that both sides are humane enough to let the doctors do their jobs and treat the wounded," Makoto said with a sigh. "Junko's worshippers wouldn't give them this chance, I'm sure."

"Yeah, probably not," Laura agreed, standing next to her friend as they stared through the window together. "But the dead don't get the opportunity to be saved. And most likely, Muankata will care less and less about war laws as we move forward in the battle."

She's not wrong… Vice-Chairman Munakata can be ruthless, and he did say he wanted to exterminate the Unremembered Ultimates… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student thought, biting his lip in worry. He's not the type not to hold his promises, too…

The two former colleagues continued to look at the battlefield ahead with their binoculars. They noticed that the elite soldiers were gaining ground on the enemy, slowly but surely.

"Looks like Munakata is preparing for one final push on this side," the Ultimate Copywriter observed, setting her binoculars down and fiddling with her tie instead. "I just don't see how the Unremembered Ultimates could have many more troops on the other side, so the end of the battle might be nigh."

Makoto nodded, although he was not entirely convinced. Could it really be so "easy"…? I don't think the Unremembered Ultimates will go down without more of a fight… He dearly hoped he was wrong, but the Luckster felt that something was off. It's almost as if… there had not been enough underhanded tricks used so far…

"Makoto?"

"Huh? What is it, Laura?"

"Could you tell me what time it is right now?" the young woman asked. "I forgot my phone at HQ, so I can't read it there."

"O-Oh, hm…" the Special Agent quickly pulled out his phone and checked the time. "It's six past one in the afternoon." Why, though…? I doubt you have anything planned… He sweatdropped but let it slide.

Laura nodded. "Alright, thanks."


"A… neutron bomb…?"

The words echoed in both Kyoko and Koichi's brains, making their eyes widen in terror.

"That's right. A bomb created for the sole purpose of destroying any form of life near the epicenter of the explosion." Kira shook her head mockingly. "As such, landscapes and buildings are basically not altered at all, which can prove quite practical."

"Y-You're… You're mad!" the Ultimate Detective exclaimed, frozen in place in shock. "Y-You'd kill us all just to win this battle?! How different are you from Enoshima-?!"

"Quite different, Kyoko Kirigiri," the mercenary sharply interrupted. "I am not a heartless monster, but a leader who wants her people to stand victorious. The bomb's reach is not enough to kill everyone involved in the battle. It would not reach us, for example."

That's not a relief at all! Makoto and the others could maybe get caught in the radius! Kyoko mused, the thought making her panic for a split second. Still, she was aware of the importance of the moment and immediately refocused. "How do I know you're not bluffing, Harukawa?"

"There wouldn't be any point for me in bluffing, Kyoko Kirigiri. If I didn't have this last resort, I never would have launched my people in this battle." As her rival uttered those words, Kyoko pieced it out. "Why do you think I chose this place to attack, Ultimate Detective?"

The way she looked at her so arrogantly was obviously a challenge. But the Kirigiri Detective had the answer. It all made much more sense now. She understood why the Unremembered Ultimates had decided to attack near the Future Foundation's Central HQ and why the bomb was definitely real.

"It was all so you could have a base to settle in, wasn't it…?" The look on Kira's face prompted her to go on. "Your neutron bomb will annihilate the Future Foundation leaders but will conveniently leave the tower intact. You need it to seize power and prepare your own fight against Junko Enoshima's worshippers. In fact…" I cannot believe it… To go to such lengths… "Destroying the Future Foundation was only the first part of your plan!"

"Hmph. So you figured it out… You are definitely a threat to us, Kyoko Kirigiri." For some reason, the lavender-haired woman didn't feel like this was praise she should be proud of. "Yes, you're right. Our ultimate goal is to eradicate every trace of Junko Enoshima's influence from this planet, but this is not as simple as I wished it could be."

The Unremembered Ultimate sat back down on her chair, still with the two Division Directors aiming at her.

"We actually helped them at first so that they would weaken the Future Foundation," she explained. "This would allow us to use our neutron bomb to seize your Central Headquarters, giving us the necessary infrastructures to fight against Enoshima's worshippers. It is also the best way for us to take revenge on those who allowed her to bring her plot to fruition."

So the Unremembered Ultimates' goal is actually the same as Vice-Chairman Munakata's… "Whatever your intentions are, I will stop you, Harukawa." Kyoko's voice filled with determination. "Your plans won't eradicate despair."

"You can't stop us, Kyoko Kirigiri. The bomb is set to explode in two hours, and it cannot be deactivated."

"W-Woah, h-hold on!" Koichi interrupted. "T-Two hours?! A-And it can't be deactivated?!"

"Indeed. And even if it could, I don't plan on letting you leave, so any attempts to stop it would be fruitless." Kira's expression turned hateful. "In two hours… Makoto Naegi will be obliterated by the bomb, Kyoko Kirigiri. After all… he could be closer to the bomb than you think."

"Y-YOU!" Something snapped in Kyoko's mind at that moment. *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG* Both her and Kizakura emptied their weapons on the Ultimate Mercenary, who dodged every bullet with ease. "H-How dare you?!"

"K-Kyoko, no!"

In her fury, the detective carelessly jumped at Kira, barely missing punching her. The Unremembered Ultimate swiftly retaliated by kicking her in the stomach, making Kyoko cry in pain and fall on her knees.

"Hmph, it's about time I got rid of you, Kyoko Kirigiri." Seeing that Koichi was about to move, Kira threw a knife that missed him by millimeters. She took out another blade and placed it against the Ultimate Detective's throat. "You won't be forced to witness your friend's death, so you should be grateful."

S-Shit! "S-Somebody will stop you, Kira Harukawa!" Kyoko vowed, her Kirigiri glare being her darkest. "Kizakura… run away from here! Find a way to save Makoto!"

"I-I…!"

"Don't stand there!" Damnit, can't you listen to me just once, you idiot?!

"Enough!" Kira exclaimed. "It's time for you to shut up forever, Kyoko Kirigiri! Goodbye."

The purple-eyed young woman bit her lip to the point of drawing blood as the sharp blade got closer and closer to her skin before everything turned black.


"It's good to see you safe, Byakuya," Hina said with a relieved smile as the Togami heir entered her shelter. "I thought something had happened to you on the way! I was worried for you, you know!"

The Former Ultimate Affluent Progeny crossed his arms. "You should never bet against a Togami, Hina. Of course, I'm safe. How are things going here?"

"Well…" The swimmer took some time to think. "The troops from Division Thirteen that were the closest to the frontline joined Munakata's soldiers to fight. Other than that, it's been pretty calm."

Byakuya nodded. "I see. My former position has been compromised, meaning that Munakata will soon be surrounded." He frowned. "Let's hope he can still hold on for a while. If the need arises, we could come to his help with Makoto, Hiro, and Director Yukizome, who's not far away either."

"Yeah, you're right." The Former Ultimate Swimming Pro agreed. "Well, let's wait, then-"

*BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP*

Hina sighed. "So much for that…" She grabbed her console and answered it. "Special Agent Asahina speaking."

"It is Vice-Chairman Munakata again. We have reached a stalemate here, but parts of the enemy army have moved towards Special Agent Naegi's position." Kyosuke's voice on the other side of the console was stern and cold. "You and Special Agent Togami will move forward to lead the elite troops while I go meet Naegi. I have a feeling one of the Unremembered Ultimates will go there."

The two former classmates looked at each other with surprise. "A-Alright…!"

"Be quick. We do not want to lose the edge we have." With that, the Former Ultimate Student Council President interrupted the transmission, leaving both Hina and Byakuya baffled.

The blonde shrugged. "You heard Munakata, didn't you? We need to go."

"B-But… W-What about Makoto?" the tanned-skinned woman wondered. "It sounded like he was in danger! Can't we go and help him, instead?"

"I understand how you feel, Hina, but if the elite troops stay without someone to lead them, they could get pushed back." Byakuya reloaded his gun. "If this happened, we would basically all be doomed, Makoto included." He looked at his friend comprehensively. "As much as I dislike Vice-Chairman Munakata, we have to let him check on Makoto."

"O-Okay… Yeah, you're right… Let's go, then."

Without much enthusiasm, the young woman followed after her fellow Special Agent out of the shelter, dearly hoping that their Luckster friend would be alright.


Another hour and a half had passed, and there were still no clear signs of the enemy advancing significantly.

"Nee-heehee… Long time no see, Mr. Naegi!"

Makoto and Laura jumped in shock as they heard a voice coming from behind them.

"W-Who…?" The Luckster turned around and noticed a boy shorter than him and with purple hair standing there. "H-Hey, who are you?! A-And what are you doing here?!"

"Who, me?" the other boy wondered, pointing at himself. He quickly pouted. "Come on, you met me only yesterday! I'm disappointed that you don't remember who I am!"

"Y-Yesterday…?" Hm… He does look somewhat familiar… The Former Ultimate Lucky Student quickly recalled the events of the day before, apart from last night. "I-I remember now! Y-You're the weird guy who gave me the suspicious lottery ticket!"

The purple-haired boy placed his hands behind his head and smiled at the two former colleagues. "Indeed! And I've come to tell you that you've won, too, nee-heehee!"

"Yeah, I-I knew your mustache was weird!" Makoto exclaimed, frustrated with himself. "B-But who are you?! And why are you even here?!"

"Oh, who am I…?" The boy shrugged. "I could lie to you, but it would be very mean of me. Instead, let me do this!"

Makoto panicked as the mysterious boy pulled out a funny-looking gun and aimed it right at him.

"There. That should ensure that neither of you does anything funny." He giggled some more. "The introductions will wait for a bit, alright?"

H-He's pointing a gun at me! I-I'm going to die! The Special Agent began to panic, and it was only his survival instincts that allowed him not to move suspiciously and risk getting shot. "T-Tell me who you are!" he yelled.

"I'm the one whose friends your beloved Kyoko Kirigiri decided to kill, my dear Makoto Naegi," the purple-haired boy explained, very relaxed as he did so. "This hurt my poor heart, you know? So I decided to make an edit of the footage to make her look like the bad guy!"

"I-It was you?!" The nod he received made Makoto's usually kind eyes fill with anger. "S-So you're an Unremembered Ultimate! And you tried to make my best friend look like a murderer! Y-You heartless monster!"

"M-Makoto, calm down!" Laura implored, daring to place a hand on his shoulder. "H-He's just trying to get to you!"

"Nee-heehee… Is it a hard pill to swallow, Mr. Naegi?" he mocked, making Makoto see red. " And how funny it is to see you try to comfort him…" the Unremembered Ultimate told the Ultimate Copywriter, turning and grinning at her. "Coming here to see this… It was worth risking my life, honestly!"

"S-Shut it, Saiuso! And put that damned gun away! We both know it's only a toy!"

The world around Makoto stopped for a second.

N-No…

He knew he could be clueless, but right there and then, it didn't take him more than a split second to understand it all.

"I've finally found you!"

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Six:  Want You Gone

"I've finally found you!"

Everyone turned to the entrance of the shelter as a powerful and determined masculine voice made itself heard.

The Ultimate Prankster smiled as he left Makoto and Laura alone for a moment. The Luckster, on his end, was surprised to see that Kyosuke Munakata had just entered the shelter, adding to the chaos.

"Oh, if it isn't the esteemed Vice-Chairman of the Future Foundation!" Saiuso taunted, walking over to the much taller man. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you!"

"V-Vice-Chairman Munakata?!" both Makoto and Laura exclaimed. "W-What are you doing here?!" the Former Ultimate Lucky Student added.

Munakata replied by drawing out a long sword and forcing the purple-haired boy to take a few steps back. "I have come to rid the Future Foundation of this nuisance." The Vice-Chairman's expression turned into a much stricter one. "Saiuso Ouma… For getting in the way of the Future Foundation for so long… be prepared to die."

"Nee-heehee… How rude, Vice-Chairman Munakata!" Saiuso chuckled mockingly, avoiding the first swing of the metal blade. "I expected a warmer introduction!"

"W-Woah, hold on!" Laura exclaimed, although her pleas fell on deaf ears. Munakata charged again, forcing the Luckster and the Ultimate Copywriter to dodge too, or they would have been collateral damage. "M-Makoto, watch out!"

She pushed him out of the way when the prankster purposely ran in their direction. They barely dodged Kyosuke's attack, making Makoto sigh in relief.

"D-Damn, that was close…" he said as the battle between the white-haired man and his younger opponent continued. "Thanks, Laura." She nodded, but as she stood back up, he grabbed her wrist. "Hold on. Why did you know his name?"

The expectant glow in Makoto's eyes made Laura look away for a second. His lips formed a perfectly straight line, not showing any form of a smile.

"I-I, um… h-he was supposed to be one of my classmates," she answered, her voice betraying discomfort. "It makes sense I would know his name, right?"

The copywriter moved to stand up again, but the Luckster tightened his hold on her arm. "Don't lie to me, Laura."

"H-Huh? M-Makoto, let go of me! W-We're not safe here!" she reminded him, pointing at the fight a few feet away. "A-And I'm not lying to you!"

Laura…! Don't make this more painful than it needs to be! He thought, gradually growing more and more frustrated. "You wouldn't have known his weapon was fake without having met him beforehand, dammit!" he cursed, something rare for him. He lowered his voice just above a whisper. "Just… just tell me, Laura. Don't let doubts grow within me, I beg of you!"

The way he looked at her made Laura gulp. "I… I swear it's not what you think, Makoto," she managed to say. Makoto looked down with disappointment. "I'll tell you the whole story as soon as we're safe, I promise."

It's not what I think…? It sure does look that way to me… The Luckster told himself, refusing to look at the young woman in the eyes.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

W-Woah! Makoto's eardrums hurt a lot as a piercing scream echoed through the shelter. "W-What was that?!"

He looked towards Munakata and Saiuso to notice the Unremembered Ultimate panting… and missing one arm. The sight of the limb on the ground made him feel dizzy to the point of almost passing out.

"It's over, Saiuso Ouma." Munakata's sword was bloody, as was the ground of the shelter near the sectioned arm. "Those who fight against hope are doomed to die. May you finally understand that."

The Vice-Chairman took a deep breath as Makoto's eyes widened. The Ultimate Prankster didn't move, holding his shoulder where his arm had been cut, clearly in pain.

"D-Don't do that…" the shortest boy muttered, his voice filled with agony. "T-There's a neutron bomb inside this shelter, waiting to explode! If I die, it explodes with me!"

This stopped the Former Ultimate Student Council President in his tracks immediately.

"A-A bomb?!" the Luckster shouted. "Y-You've gotta be kidding!"

"I-I'm not!" Saiuso winced in pain, falling to his knees. "I-I have a dead man's switch on me! I-If my heart stops beating… a neutron bomb placed inside this shelter will explode and send us all straight to hell!"

"Stop this nonsense." Makoto gasped as Kyosuke raised his sword up high. "This was your last stunt, Saiuso Ouma. This hell you're talking about will be yours, and yours only."

Before they could say anything, the Vice-Chairman lowered his blade above the pained but grinning Saiuso, who simply closed his eyes.

"Don't do this, Munakata."

The weapon stopped at it grazed the Ultimate Prankster's skin. An assertive feminine voice filled the room as the white-haired man turned around. Makoto and Laura looked forward and saw a familiar figure standing at the entrance.

"What are you doing here?"

The woman looked at Munakata and took a step forward past him. She grabbed Saiuso by the collar without mercy.

"I'm doing what I've been tasked with doing, Vice-Chairman Munakata: stopping the Unremembered Ultimates."

Makoto blinked a couple of times. The scene in front of him couldn't be real. Before he could control it, a smile of relief appeared on his lips.

Long lavender hair, pretty purple eyes, athletic figure… There could not be a doubt about it.

"K-Kyoko!" the young man shouted. "K-Kyoko, it's you! Y-You're alive!"

The Former Ultimate Detective smiled at him. "Of course, Makoto. I told you so, didn't I?"

"I believe in you… so please believe in me."

He blamed himself for ever doubting it. He should have known that Kyoko Kirigiri, of all people, would come back. After all, she didn't need to impress him anymore.

He wanted to run and jump in her arms, not to care that they were in the middle of a crucial battle, and just hug his best friend he thought he never would see again. However, before he could do that, the detective herself got the shelter's attention.

"You can't imagine how much I want to take revenge on you, Saiuso Ouma," she said, and when the Ultimate Prankster smirked at her, she literally tossed him aside. "But before that… you." Her Kirigiri glare stopped on Makoto's right. "I would never have thought it would come to this, but now… I'm going to put an end to your deceit, Laura Lawn!"

Makoto gasped as Kyoko ran towards the Ultimate Copywriter and began to struggle with her. Laura, clearly surprised, needed a couple of seconds to react before she was able to push the Ultimate Detective away from herself.

"What are you doing, Kirigiri…?" Munakata asked, looking at the scene with suspicion. "And who is that woman, anyway…?"

"K-Kyoko! W-What are you doing?!" Makoto wondered with much more urgency and panic, but he didn't dare to step in when the detective went to strike again. "S-Stop it!" Why the hell is Kyoko attacking Laura?!

"Nee-heehee… How interesting!" Although in pain and losing blood, Saiuso giggled at the scene. "I couldn't have dreamed of a better last thing to see before I die!"

The two women stared at each other, Laura quickly recovering from the sudden attack. When the Ultimate Detective tried to punch Laura, her gloved fist was caught by the copywriter.

"What the hell are you attacking me for, Director Kirigiri…?" Laura asked, her expression one Makoto had never seen before. "First you run away, then you attack me…?"

Kyoko's purple eyes turned dark. "How dare you say I ran away…?"

"I'm not the one who left Makoto for weeks, Director Kirigiri. You are!"

"Good thing that it's the last time you're seeing him, then."

"Y-You…!"

Laura kneed the lavender-haired woman in the stomach before trying to punch her back. Kyoko grimaced but dodged that and swiftly got behind her opponent, wrapping her arm around her throat to choke her if need be. Makoto looked at the fight with wide eyes. Munakata kept his attention on Saiuso, although he had one eye on the two women.

"I expected more of a fight from you, Lawn." She looked at Munakata, then at Makoto. "Vice-Chairman, Makoto… I have the pleasure to introduce you to Laura Lawn, spy for the Unremembered Ultimates."

"W-W-What…? A-A spy…?" N-No… i-it can't be… Makoto's eyes watered as the seed of his doubt grew.

"She's been fooling you from the very beginning, Makoto." Kyoko's expression was stoic, very much like during the Killing Game. "Her only goal was to get close to you so she could harm you, knowing that your status as the Ultimate Hope would have major consequences if something happened to you."

Munakata put his sword away and crossed his arms, glaring at the Division Director, the Ultimate Copywriter, and the Luckster.

"You liar! You know nothing of what Makoto means to me-!" Laura protested, prompting Kyoko to choke her for a second, shutting her up.

"I intentionally let you infiltrate the Future Foundation so I would catch you red-handed," the detective told her. "I bugged your computer to monitor you, and I asked Special Agent Togami to keep an eye on you. When Vice-Chairman Munakata asked for spies to be executed, you panicked. And now, knowing you are bound to die, you decided to try to take us all with you. Vice-Chairman," she got Munakata's attention. "She has the neutron bomb. It is the only way it makes sense."

Both men seemed surprised, although Munakata didn't show it as much as Makoto. The Vice-Chairman got his sword back and approached Laura.

"We'll have to further discuss you intentionally letting a spy enter the Future Foundation without my permission, Kirigiri." Kyoko nodded in understanding, not showing any fear. "However… this was part of your mission. Drop her, and I will do what is needed."

"Very well," the lavender-haired woman dropped Laura to the floor, letting her catch her breath on her knees. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes, visibly uninterested.

Kyosuke raised his blade once more, preparing to end Laura's life. Makoto gasped in horror, although he was still vastly confused and lost. Was Laura just a backstabber? Were her feelings just something she had made up to earn his trust?

The young man's heart cried in pain as the face of a pretty bluenette flashed before his eyes. Not again, he thought, recalling his first heartbreak. He had learned the lesson not to develop romantic feelings for anyone too quickly. Laura was not a crush but a friend. It hurt just as much.

Makoto was tired of being betrayed. He only wanted to trust people and for them to honor his trust. If Laura turned out to be another traitor put on his path, after everything they had gone through… he wasn't sure if he would be able to stand up again.

L-Laura… W-Were you really a traitor…? He looked at the young woman, trying to judge the honesty of her feelings by the emotions on her face. "Y-You didn't betray me… did you…?"

His words were only muttered, muffled by the sound of the gunshots and explosions outside. But he knew they had reached her when she turned to look at him, tears filling her usually so pretty blue eyes.

She was looking like the same helpless girl he had visited at the hospital. She was so lost in despair… it made Makoto cry as much as she did. And these tears were genuine; he just knew it.

"V-Vice-Chairman-"

"I suggest you don't do anything reckless with that sword, Kyosuke Munakata."

The subsequent silence in the shelter threatened to take Makoto's sanity away from him. He had not even finished wording his plea that it was taken away from him. When he thought that things couldn't be more chaotic, the sight of another sword pressed against Munakata's back made him realize that he had been wrong.

"Who are you?" the Vice-Chairman asked, his voice not wavering. Kyoko's eyes popped open.

Makoto glanced at the long and brown-haired woman standing behind the authoritarian man. She was familiar, and he knew why.

"Y-You're the girl I saw chat with Laura yesterday!" Makoto exclaimed, although no one apart from Laura herself and Saiuso knew what he was talking about.

She didn't even pay attention to him. "It is time for the Future Foundation to disappear, Vice-Chairman. I vow to take your life and that of anyone who brought us in this mess."

"Hmph. I do not take lessons from rascals like you."

"The reason we're in this mess is that you've been helping despair, Harukawa," Kyoko said in a rare agreement with Munakata. "At this point, you're as responsible for the Tragedy as the people you keep blaming."

Kira glared at Kyoko with murderous intent. "It's time you learned how to shut your fucking mouth, Kyoko Kirigiri. Release her, Munakata. You have five seconds."

Munakata sighed. He complied, slowly moving up his sword so that it didn't threaten Laura. The Ultimate Copywriter made the best of that opportunity and stood up, running to a corner of the shelter where she would be safe.

"Good. I'm glad to know that you are as stupid as I thought you were," the Ultimate Mercenary told Kyosuke, her weapon still against the man's back. "I'm not going to let you go just because you released her, Munakata. It's time you also shut up forever and stop being a hindrance."

"Right." Makoto noticed him stare at Kyoko, then to her left, to a stack of weapons left there for the shelter's protection. Needless to say, Makoto had not made any use of them. "However, the one who will be going silent first isn't me, Kira Harukawa."

In a split second, Munakata turned around, and the sound of metal hitting metal filled the shelter. The leader of the Unremembered Ultimates stared with shock as she was faced with not one opponent but two.

"Let's settle this once and for all, Harukawa."

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Seven:  The Mercenary's Last Stand

"Enough! It's time for you to shut up forever, Kyoko Kirigiri! Goodbye."

The purple-eyed detective bit her lip and drew blood. Knowing that she was going to fail so close to her goal hurt. Even her inevitable death was less painful to Kyoko, who prided herself on the effectiveness of her work.

It appears I wasn't good enough… Tackling this mission proved to be too much-

"Hey, don't forget about me!"

Suddenly, the lavender-haired woman heard something clatter on the floor before everything went black. Someone ran in her direction and hooked their arm under her before carrying her away. Kyoko coughed as she was carried out, unable to make out anything with the smoke inside the shelter.

Once they were out, Koichi dropped Kyoko, allowing her to sigh in relief. "It appears my time hasn't come yet." She turned towards her friend. "Thanks, Kizakura."

"Later, Kyoko. We need to run before she catches up." With a quick nod from the Former Ultimate Detective, the two Division Directors ran at full speed towards their helicopter, noticing Kira come out of the shelter a few seconds behind them.

Once they were far enough not to be seen, the two colleagues caught their breath, looking around to be sure there wasn't any danger lurking nearby.

"You'll thank these beauties, Kyoko," Kizakura said, unhooking a smoke grenade from his belt. "We're fortunate I didn't use them before."

"Indeed. Good reaction time on your part, Kizakura," Kyoko admitted. "I don't think I had another second to live. I'm grateful for that, Kizakura."

She slightly bowed her head, making the fedora-wearing man chuckle. He ruffled her hair, making her pout. "Don't worry about it, Kyoko. I wasn't going to let you die, was I?"

"I… suppose not." Although I didn't think you would be able to save me, to be honest… Catching Harukawa off-guard is impressive, so coming from an idiot like him… "Well, we need to plan our next move. If we stay here, we're bound to get caught."

"You need to find your beloved, don't you think?" Kyoko rolled her eyes and sighed. "Alright, sorry… That might not have been the right time, yeah. But I'm not wrong, though. You need to go save him."

Saving Makoto… Yes, this is what I must do. The detective recalled the Unremembered Ultimate's words about the neutron bomb. If this bomb explodes too close to Makoto, I'll never forgive myself… "Yes. Meanwhile, you go get the helicopter and tell the pilot to move it closer to the battlefield. We must prepare for a potential escape."

"T-That's too dangerous, Kyoko! They're going to shoot it down!" the scout argued, his eyes widening. "That's folly!"

"Kizakura." She looked at him in the eyes. "Trust me with this, alright? You do not have to rush there, but make sure to be there if I need you. Finding Makoto will take time, and I cannot expose myself." Munakata sent pretty much all of the forces for this battle… There's no doubt that I will have to go around the battlefield if I wish to stay alive a little longer… "It will work."

Koichi didn't seem convinced, but he shrugged. "Fine, you're a smarter cookie than I am, so I better trust you." He smiled at her. "Go, then. I'll be there if you need me."

"Alright, thank you." She quickly bowed again before running off. "Let's hope I can find where Makoto is! There's not a second to waste!"

Kyoko looked back and noticed Kizakura also rushing towards the helicopter. She hoped that she could count on him one more time, or all their efforts would be wasted.


"Even the two of you don't stand a chance against me."

"You got in the way of the Future Foundation for far too long, Kira Harukawa." With energy, Munakata struck first, his sword hitting Kira's with a loud sound. "Those who fight against hope are doomed to lose. You'll learn this the hard way."

Not wanting to be left aside, Kyoko raised her own weapon up and added a strike of her own, only for it to be dodged with ease by the Ultimate Mercenary.

"I'll deal with you after, Kyoko Kirigiri," Kira said, attacking the Vice-Chairman. "Once I'm done with him, you'll get what you deserve."

The Ultimate Detective hmphed as she attacked again. "You do not make the rules, Harukawa. I'll stop you, even if it's the last thing I do."

The two Division Directors attacked fiercely and matched the Unremembered Ultimate's swordsmanship abilities. The lavender-haired woman didn't strike as much as Munakata did, and her inexperience fighting with a sword was to blame.

But fighting alongside somebody who could defend himself just fine was the thing Kyoko needed to potentially outmatch the Ultimate Mercenary.

She wished it had not been Munakata, but she didn't have the luxury of choice.

On his end, Makoto watched the scene unfold with increasing panic. No one could escape the shelter since the fight was happening right in front of the entrance. Saiuso was losing blood, and if what he had said before about a dead man's switch was true, it could go off at any moment.

And when he looked at Laura, the Former Ultimate Lucky Student just didn't know what to think. There was a chance that she had fooled him all along, but he didn't want to believe that. So, as she stood there, frightened, Makoto chose to trust that she wasn't who Kyoko was making her out to be.

As much as it hurt the poor Luckster to distrust Kyoko's words, he didn't have another choice.

"Your followers shall perish along with the rest of you, Kira Harukawa," Munakata said, going toe-to-toe with the incredibly skilled fighter. "The thirteen others have been dealt with, and it is only a matter of minutes before we get rid of this joke of an army you built."

The Unremembered Ultimate's expression hardened as she attacked more quickly, forcing Kyoko to intervene with a well-placed swing of her sword to help the Former Ultimate Student Council President.

"Do not ever underestimate us, Munakata!" Kira shouted, her strikes becoming stronger and stronger. Even when the blades were hit, Kyoko and Kyosuke were pushed back by her incredible force. "I'm going to kill you and get rid of those who destroyed our hope, you hear me?!"

Munakata didn't respond as they continued to fight, the sound of metal against metal filling the shelter and hurting everyone's eardrums. After a few minutes of intense fighting, it seemed that neither party was getting an edge over the other. Furthermore, Kyoko appeared to be spent.

"D-Damnit…!" she breathed, struggling to keep up with Munakata and Kira's pace. "T-The bomb will be going off soon, t-too…!"

"W-Whaaat?!" Makoto exclaimed, although his friend didn't have time to tell him anything. He turned towards the dying Saiuso. "W-When is it going to explode?!"

The Ultimate Prankster took deep breaths, fighting through the pain. "T-Tell me what time it is, and I'll tell you… P-Probably not much, though."

The Luckster urgently pulled out his phone and stared at the time. "I-It's 2:52 right now! W-When is it set to explode?!"

Hearing the conversation happening, Kira pushed Munakata and Kyoko back with one strong attack to build separation. All three fighters took deep breaths to recompose.

"It will blow up at three on the dot. And trust me, if anyone's close to it, even their bones won't be left," Kira explained. "And also… There's technically one way to deactivate it, but you would have to find it, which you won't."

"And why not?" Kyoko demanded, her Kirigiri glare returning in full force. "If it is inside this shelter, we're going to find it, even if we only have a few minutes left."

Yeah, Kyoko's right… But how could it have gotten inside the shelter without me noticing?! Makoto wondered before staring at Saiuso. Did he bring it …? That's unlikely because if he had not been able to reach the shelter, it would still have blown up… But then… who…?

"Then go ahead and start searching, right? Although you'll be leaving this guy there to die at my hands if you do." The mercenary aimed her sword at Munakata. "Besides, even you won't find it."

"Don't move, Kirigiri," Munakata ordered, seeing that Kyoko was thinking of doing just that. "We are not leaving this place before any trace of the Unremembered Ultimates has been eradicated."

"V-Vice-Chairman-!" Munakata's glare made Kyoko relent. "Then let's be done with it quickly. Makoto!" The young man perked up at the sound of his name being called. "Start searching this place, alright?! From top to bottom!"

"O-Oh, o-okay!" the Luckster replied. "B-But where should I begin…?!"

Kyoko winced as the fight resumed, and she was forced to stutter an answer. "W-Wherever you want! B-But do this quickly!"

"A-Alright-!"

"Don't bother."

"H-Huh?!" All fighting stopped once more as Kira got into a defensive stance. "Y-You bet I'm going to bother! I don't wanna die here, thank you very much!"

The Unremembered Ultimate stared unimpressively at the Former Ultimate Lucky Student. "Oh, I can understand that. But even if you knew where the bomb was, it wouldn't help you." Her glare darkened. "I'll even tell you where it is if you want that so much."

The Former Ultimate Detective grimaced. She knew that if Kira was going to tell them, it would probably indeed be inaccessible. This was not a risk you could take otherwise.

"Since you've grown so attached to our copywriter friend… then why don't you have a look inside her stomach, for example…?"


Damn, Makoto's taking his sweet little time in the restroom… Laura thought, tapping her foot. Does he have diarrhea or something…?

The Ultimate Copywriter waited at the intersection between the two streets, recalling her confession from a few minutes ago. She was obviously disappointed that the Luckster did not return her feelings, but she was glad he had been honest with her.

Besides, Laura had figured that even if he did not know it, his subconscious romantic feelings were elsewhere. There was nothing she could do about it.

"I've finally found you. It's been a while since we've last had a little chat."

"H-Huh…?" The girl looked ahead and noticed that someone was now in front of her. "Y-You are…!"

"Hello, Ms. Lawn," Kira greeted. "Kira Harukawa, Ultimate Mercenary. I'm also the leader of the Unremembered Ultimates. I suppose it's a pleasure to finally meet you face-to-face."

Laura frowned. Why is she here…? I smell something fishy going on… "Likewise. Why are you here?"

"Straight to the point, I see," the mercenary stated. Seeing the copywriter's unfazed expression, she carried on. "Very well, then. I've come to ensure your cooperation."

"My cooperation, you say?" She chuckled. "I've already declined. I don't want warfare, and you know that."

"But aren't you going to be a part of the battle tomorrow with the Future Foundation?" Kira asked, and her tone indicated to Laura that she knew what the answer was. "Special Agent Lawn?"

The Ultimate Copywriter chuckled again. "Not anymore, I'm afraid." Seeing Kira surprised, she explained, "Being an Unremembered Ultimate didn't please them so much. I've been fired. But yeah, I'll be there tomorrow. Not that I want to, but I don't have a choice."

"Brilliant. Then you're going to do your people a favor and betray the Future Foundation, alright?" the brown-haired demanded. "Everyone's done their part, so I think this is only fair."

"Hey, what part of 'declined' don't you understand?!" Laura exclaimed, growing frustrated. "And no, I'm not going to betray the Future Foundation! Well, I don't care about the organization, but I have a close friend there, and I won't betray him! Go away now. He'll be there any second."

"Oh, don't worry about this. I've sent someone to keep your lucky friend occupied," the Ultimate Mercenary told her. "And he won't be so lucky after this, believe me."

"What-?"

Suddenly, Kira grabbed Laura by the neck and forced the copywriter's mouth open, making her swallow something that had a disgusting taste and making her gag. Then, she tossed her, almost making her fall.

"H-Hey, what was that?!" Laura yelled, feeling something go down her throat and into her stomach. "Y-You didn't drug me, did you?!"

"No, I didn't," Kira answered immediately. "However, I suggest you avoid the bathroom for a little while. You could have an explosive surprise if you went there."

Laura's blue eyes widened. "D-Don't tell me…!"

"Yes, I've just forced you to swallow a bomb." Laura froze. "A neutron bomb, to be exact, set to explode at three in the afternoon tomorrow. It can only be deactivated by handling it, which is obviously not possible right now."

"W-What the fuck?! Y-You…!" She tried to punch her, but her fist only caught hair. "Y-You bitch!"

"Temper. It's only your retribution for ignoring us, Ms. Lawn. Your sacrifice will be the stepping stone for us Unremembered Ultimates to accomplish our dream." Kira chuckled. "To us, you will be remembered."

"A sacrifice?! You motherfucking bitch! This ain't a sacrifice! You forced me to swallow it, you dirty monster!" Laura tried to attack again, using her decent martial art skills. However, she was stopped in about half a second. "G-Grr…!"

"Don't complain. Most likely, you will die during the battle even before the bomb has a chance to kill you." The copywriter looked at her with eyes that wordlessly asked, 'that's supposed to reassure me?!' which made the mercenary sigh. "Anyway, there's not much you can do about it now."

The former Special Agent wanted to strangle her. Asking her to betray Makoto and then forcing her to swallow a bomb? That settled it for Laura: she hated Kira Harukawa with all her heart.

"Actually, I just know what I'm going to do about it." I could make myself vomit, but I'm scared that it will damage the bomb and make it blow up… Then, my only other option is to… She thought for a few more seconds. Yeah, that's my only shot. "You need to stop this folly, you know? It won't accomplish your dream."

"That's only your opinion-"

"It's the truth," Laura insisted, cutting her. "What are you going to do after the Future Foundation is defeated? Fight despair…? Hmph, the people wouldn't follow you, and Enoshima's worshippers would crush you. Even thinking of taking on the Future Foundation was absurd. You should have done what I did."

Kira shrugged and looked behind Laura. "Your friend is back."

"I'm back, Laura. Sorry I took so long." Makoto said before looking at Kira. "Hello miss-"

"Goodbye, Ms. Lawn."

With that, the mercenary was gone, leaving the Ultimate Copywriter with the desire to see her burn in hell. She had once thought that only Junko would be in this category, but she was apparently wrong.

Fucking bitch. She didn't want to sigh so that Makoto wouldn't worry. But now I've got to make sure I can keep Makoto safe. Even if he thinks I'm a traitor after this… the most important is that he survives.

"Who was she, Laura? Somebody you know? She looked in a hurry."

Laura shrugged. "No idea who she is," she lied. "She just needed to know the way to the closest supermarket. I don't know this part of the city on the back of my hand, so I couldn't really help her."

Makoto bought the lie without even thinking twice about it. He really could be clueless. But at that moment, it was for his own good.

And with probably only one more day to live, an idea flowered inside Laura's brain to make the best of it and allow the Luckster to relax a bit.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Eight:  Left (Un)Remembered

"WHAAAAAT?!"

All hell broke loose as five pairs of eyes turned towards the frightened copywriter, who could only take a step back.

"What the hell are you saying, Harukawa?!" Kyoko asked, her voice showing she wanted an answer and wanted it quickly. "You've put a neutron bomb inside her stomach?!" The quick nod from the mercenary almost made the detective lose it. "What is wrong inside your brain…?!" What a nuisance!

"In case you had not understood, Kyoko Kirigiri, the kids' gloves are off," Kira told her. "I'll do whatever it takes to make my dream come true. Blowing up an innocent's body is nothing to me."

"Hmph, and you claim to be different from Junko Enoshima…" the Ultimate Detective sighed and dismissed the leader of the Unremembered Ultimates. And people like her pretend to fight against despair…? Laughable.

Makoto's hazel eyes filled with tears as he looked at his friend. He remembered the feeling of her body being so close to his and how pleasant it had been. To think that there could be a bomb inside her stomach made him realize just how close to a catastrophe they had been.

And thinking about how calm she had been ever since her meeting with the Ultimate Mercenary made Makoto wonder if she was even aware of how grave the situation was.

"Y-You monster…!" he yelled, pointing at Kira. "W-What have you done to my friend?!"

He ran in her direction to attack her - not even aware of how stupid a decision it was - but was momentarily stopped by two assertive voices.

"Don't be stupid, Naegi," Munakata said, still in a battling stance. "You'll only get yourself killed if you attack her."

"Makoto, please calm down," Kyoko added, her purple eyes betraying some worry. "If you attack Harukawa, you'll only die, and nothing will change. That's what she wants you to do." That's not the Makoto I'm used to seeing… it reminds me of that time, when…

The Luckster remembered that feeling. He remembered how furious and hateful he had been when Monokuma had taunted him. He had liked Sayaka, and deep down, perhaps he still did. When somebody had mocked her death and her name, even Makoto had not been able to keep his anger in check.

Kyoko had saved him from punishment back then, and he was grateful for that. Junko would have killed him without hesitation if he had broken the rules.

But now, there were no rules.

"Y-YOU! Y-You're just like J-Junko!" With tears escaping his eyes, Makoto leaped at Kira, making Kyoko gasp in shock and Munakata sigh annoyingly. "I-I won't forgive you!"

However, when he went to punch the Ultimate Mercenary with all he had - whatever it would do - the Former Ultimate Lucky Student felt something stop him. The feeling of a soft hand on his arm stopped him immediately, almost freezing him in place.

"Please don't do that, Makoto. You're worth so much more than her lame taunts."

The voice reached Makoto, and his eyes widened. W-What… What was I about to do…? He wondered, realizing just how reckless he had been. He turned around and noticed Laura standing there, smiling at him.

"All she wants is to destroy anything remotely related to the Future Foundation, regardless of who they are or what their intentions might be," the Ultimate Copywriter told him, noticing his surprised expression. "And while the Future Foundation is probably not perfect, when I look at you, I don't see a member of the Future Foundation. I see a friend and a dear one at that. I won't let you do something so reckless, Makoto."

The whole shelter turned silent as all eyes turned towards the Luckster and his friend. Makoto looked at Laura then stared at Kira again. He noticed Kyoko give a discrete nod.

He sighed. Laura's right… I almost let my anger get the best of me… "You're right. I shouldn't have done that. However," His glare remained on Kira. "That doesn't mean you do not need to be stopped, Kira Harukawa! You're not Junko, but you're not much better. Once I'm done saving Laura, I'll make sure you stop hurting people!"

His words seemed to cheer the Ultimate Copywriter, but that was it. Munakata shook his head, and Kyoko bit her lip worriedly.

"Nee-heehee…! You're so naïve, my dear Makoto; it's almost cute!" the Ultimate Prankster teased, now not even trying to stand anymore. "How are you going to save anyone in only a couple of minutes? You'd need hours to get the bomb inside her stomach and deactivate it, and you don't have this much time, nee-heehee…!"

Ouma's right… Kyoko thought, angry that she was forced to agree with the Ultimate Prankster of all people. We don't have anything to stop the detonation, and we obviously do not have access to the contents of Lawn's stomach…

"I-I'll find a way!" Makoto exclaimed with determination. I-I don't know how, but I will-

"To all agents, this is Vice-Chairman Munakata!" The voice of the Former Ultimate Student Council President speaking through his transmission console cut both Kyoko's and the Luckster's trains of thought. "A neutron bomb is going to detonate around the battlefield in a few minutes. Evacuate the site with the helicopters and retreat towards your Headquarters immediately! Kill as many enemies as possible while doing so!"

He's given the order to evacuate… With only a few minutes left, we need to leave here, or we're just going to explode with the bomb-

"Y-You-!" Munakata and Kyoko blocked the swing of Kira's sword with their own, making the Ultimate Mercenary see red. "W-Whatever happens, I'll make sure to be the death of you, Kyosuke Munakata!"

"Go ahead and try," he dared her, matching her attacks before backing off. "But I have another duty to complete for now. Kirigiri," The Ultimate Detective frowned, feeling alone now that she had to fight back on her own. "You hold her off for a moment."

"U-Understood," Kyoko said, although the next few strikes put her in a tough spot. Damn, she's so… strong! "Please be quick about it, however… I don't know how long I can last…!"

The Vice-Chairman turned towards Makoto and Laura. The lavender-haired detective panted but held her ground against a frustrated mercenary. All Saiuso could do was stare at the scene, his blood slowly leaking out from his lost limb.

"I shall make it quick." Munakata turned towards Makoto in particular. "Your determination to save everyone is appreciated, but it realistically can't be enough, Naegi." He drew his weapon again. "And when optimism cannot be enough, victory is earned by those who do the right thing. My role is to find a way to stop this bomb, whatever it takes."

The Luckster's eyes widened in horror. "No, Vice-Chairman, don't-!"

Neither Makoto nor Laura had time to react as the long sword pierced the copywriter's stomach without any hesitation.

No.

No…

NO…

NO…!

NOOO!

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

The scream immediately brought Makoto to his knees. This couldn't be happening again. Fighting ceased as all turned with shock to see the scene, staring at it with varying degrees of surprise, whether they were enemies or allies.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"L-LAURA!"

"Eh… ehehehe… EHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE!"

Tony stood there over his little sister's pool of blood, knife still lunged inside her midsection. He laughed manically, and the sound threatened to take Makoto's sanity away.

"N-No… N-No, you didn't…!"

"Eheheh… such despair… SUCH GREAT DESPAIR!"

He had seen that before. Makoto's sanity was tested every night when he had nightmares of seeing the Ultimate Copywriter becoming one of the countless victims of despair. But his nightmares were only that: nightmares.

*cough* *cough* *cough*

But the nightmare was now in front of him. The boy missed the sound of the weapons dropping to the floor. Kyoko stared at the scene with distress, unable to hide her shock.

"You're fucking insane, Munakata!" Kira shouted, more with surprise than anger, moving to get Saiuso and putting him on her back, as painful as it seemed to be for the prankster. "We'll see each other again, you fucker!"

With that, the two Unremembered Ultimates ran out of the shelter and into the dangerous battlefield.

"You won't escape me!" the Vice-Chairman vowed, getting his bloody weapon and pursuing them without delay and disappearing from the scene, leaving Kyoko alone with Makoto and Laura.

The Ultimate Detective couldn't say a thing. Her gloved hands were clenched as she looked at an emotionless Makoto crying all the tears his eyes could shed.

"L-Laura… L-Laura…!" He shook her, staining his hands with his friend's blood. "L-LAURA! P-PLEASE ANSWER MEEEEEE!"

"M-Makoto, don't do that-!" Was Munakata trying to deactivate the bomb…? W-What the hell…?! How did he even think this could work?! We're lucky it didn't blow up on the spot!

"LAURAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

The Luckster continued to shake the copywriter, looking for any sign of life in her. His tears fell on her, and when he thought that there was no hope anymore, a miracle happened.

"M-Makoto…"

"L-LAURA! L-LAURA, STAY WITH ME!" Makoto begged, seeing her eyes open again, if only a little bit. "D-DON'T LEAVE ME, OKAY?! I-I'LL GET HELP, BUT PLEASE STAY WITH ME…!"

"M-Makoto… Y-You…" she muttered, raising her arm to take his hand with hers. "Y-You… d-don't need to do that…"

"W-What are you saying, Laura?! O-Of course I do! I-I'm gonna get help! I-I'm not going to let you die, I-I swear!"

Her hand squeezed his with as much strength as she could muster. "I-It's too late for me, M-Makoto… B-But… I-I knew things would end like this…" Her breathing was irregular. "I-It couldn't end differently… f-for me…"

"D-Don't say that, Laura!" Makoto yelled, his heart beating faster and faster to the point that he could hear it pound inside his chest. "I-I'm going to save you, whatever it takes! J-Just hold on for a few minutes while I get help!"

"I-I don't have a few minutes, Makoto!" Laura shouted back, her voice coming surprisingly clearly considering her dying state. "T-The bomb is going to blow up… I-It's too late for anyone to save me… n-not this time…"

The little bit of hope Makoto had left disappeared when he heard his friend's words.

"You'll be alright, Ms. Lawn; believe in me."

"B-But… I-I want you to remember… t-the time we spent… t-together…" she muttered weakly. "E-Even if they were not… m-meant to last…"

"B-But I can't move forward anymore, Mr. Naegi! I-I'm all alone now!"

"That's not true, Ms. Lawn. The Future Foundation is here. *I'm* here."

N-No… A-Anything but that…! N-Not again…! "L-Laura, no-!"

"M-Meeting you was… t-the best thing that ever happened to me… M-Makoto… I-I really was… t-the lucky one… B-But-"

"N-No, no buts, L-Laura! T-Things don't have to be this way-!"

"Y-You've got to go, Makoto… I-I'm going to die, but… y-you will still be there… a-and please… d-don't stop living, M-Makoto…"

"I-I don't care about that! I-I just wanna save you, L-Laura! W-Why can't you understand that?!"

"I-I understand, Makoto… b-but there are times when you… y-you just can't do anything…" She showed him a weak and pained smile. "B-But it's alright… t-the world is in good hands… w-with you… I-I was the victim of… t-the Future Foundation… t-the Unremembered Ultimates… a-and the Ultimate Despair… b-but you'll put an end to this folly, M-Makoto… I-I just know it…"

The Former Ultimate Lucky Student just could not say anything.

"B-Before I go… p-please know that… I-I never betrayed you… M-Makoto… F-From the moment we've met… m-my joy at seeing you… w-was always genuine…"

He knew that. He had always known.

"P-Please go now, M-Makoto… I-I'll be looking over you… f-from up there…"

"Makoto, we need to go. The bomb will explode in less than two minutes," Kyoko said, placing her hand on Makoto's shoulders. "If we don't, we'll blow up with it-!"

"N-NO! I… I-I won't go! I-I won't leave Laura here! I-I'll die here if that's what I need to do to stay with her!"

"M-Makoto…" To see him like that… I can't stand it… The Division Director tried shaking him a bit but to no avail. His hope is almost entirely gone… P-Poor Makoto…

Kyoko's pleas continued to go unanswered. The Luckster simply continued to cry as Laura's life began to leave her once so radiant blue eyes.

"L-Listen to her… M-Makoto…" the dying Unremembered Ultimate said. "Y-You still have a long life to live… d-don't let it go to waste because of me…" She painfully turned towards Kyoko. "M-Ms. Kirigiri… I-I'm sorry we never got to properly bond… p-please take care of Makoto for me, o-okay…?"

The detective bowed. "I promise I will, Ms. Lawn. You have my sincerest apologies for misjudging you, too. I carry the responsibility of my choices."

Laura weakly nodded. Kyoko grabbed Makoto's wrist, tugging at it to force him to move.

"M-Makoto… w-whatever happens to me now…" Her voice was getting weaker with every word. "P-Please know one last thing…"

Kyoko had to close her eyes, the emotion getting to her too. Makoto's crying increased even more as he knew what he would hear.

"I-I love you…"

Makoto broke down entirely as all strength left him. He didn't register Kyoko wrapping a strong arm around his waist and hurrying out of the shelter. He didn't register as they entered a helicopter, nor did he register the sound of Kizakura's worried voice as they flew away.

He could only hear the sound of Laura's voice. He could only see her smile when he had promised her that she would be alright. He could only see her smile when she proudly stood in front of him, Future Foundation pin on her suit. He could only see her smile when they had played cards, and she had cut his hair. He could only see her smile when they had saved these two children from their abusive parents.

He could only see her nervous but oh-so-cute smile when she had confessed her feelings for him.

But he knew he would never see this smile again. Laura was gone now, as were Sayaka, Leon, and all the others.

And a part of him was gone with her.

L-Laura… I-I'll never forget you…!

The Luckster lost consciousness as Kyoko sat next to him, hurrying to take care of him. The sound of an explosion barely reached his ears as the Unremembered Ultimates and their dream were crushed for the final time.

All life disappeared as Laura Lawn's body was turned to pieces, the traces of her existence only remaining within the heart of those who had known who she had been, leaving in her wake an unknown and unremembered life.

The Ultimate Copywriter had passed from the world of the living, and she would be remembered.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Forty-Nine:  A Pyrrhic Victory

"K-Kyoko! Are you alright?!"

"Yes, I am, but let's get going quickly. There must be less than a minute before the bomb explodes."

Kizakura nodded and rushed to the pilot's cabin with urgency. The young woman heard him give quick orders, and the helicopter left the ground in a few seconds, flying away from the dangerous battlefield.

Kyoko looked at Makoto in her arms and smiled painfully. "We're going to make it out alive… probably. But what matters now is that you recover. The Division needs you, Makoto."

She knew he couldn't hear her. He was still barely conscious but definitely in a world of his own. He was in no mental state to say anything nor to understand what she was telling him.

And she wasn't surprised in the slightest.

"You've gone through a lot, and it is partly my fault," she told his barely conscious form. "If I didn't make some of the choices I made, things probably could have ended better. But I also know that it would all have ended even more poorly if I had not done anything. For now, though," She placed him on one of the couches. "You need some rest, Makoto. I think we all do."

The Luckster drifted off to sleep as soon as she left him there, his body visibly weakened. His face was pale, and he was trembling. Kyoko figured it had come from the stress and the emotional shock of seeing Laura Lawn on death's doorstep.

I had misjudged her from the very beginning… I thought she was a traitor when she actually just was somebody who genuinely wanted to help… Kyoko bit her lip in regret. I'm not the reason she's going to die, but I didn't help her, either. My judgment was flawed, and I cannot run away from that.

*BOOOOOOOOOOM*

The detective was startled as the bomb exploded underneath them, a powerful light blinding her for a split second, if not even less. She sighed in relief when she realized she was, indeed, still alive.

"So there really was a bomb… Just how far would Harukawa have gone to win this battle…?" Kyoko wondered aloud, bringing a gloved hand to her chin in thought. "And what even happened to her and Ouma after they escaped the shelter…?"

"Hey, I don't think it's healthy for you to continue to focus on that, Kyoko." The lavender-haired young woman looked up and noticed Kizakura had come back. "You look tired. You should get some sleep and let me handle things from here, alright?"

"Do I… look so tired…?" she asked, yawning. I suppose I am… All this fighting drained the strength out of me… She ended up nodding in compliance. "Alright, I'm going to have a short rest here. Please wake me up once we reach Headquarters, okay?"

"Sure thing!" Koichi assured her, going back to drinking from his bottle. "Now join your beloved in his dreams so that he doesn't have nightmares, will ya?"

Kyoko sweatdropped. That's… not the right time for this, Kizakura… She thought. "Don't jinx him, Kizakura. The poor guy will probably have even more nightmares now than before."

"O-Oh, and why's that…?" the scout wondered, frowning.

"Because the bomb we just heard exploding was placed within his friend Laura Lawn's stomach and that Munakata thought it was wise to play surgeons at the last minute," she explained, letting out a long sigh. "And based on her last words, I don't think this is a loss Makoto will get over anytime soon." He is still grieving from our classmates' deaths, so now that this has happened… This must be overwhelming for him.

The fedora-wearing man looked surprised. "Damn, I never would have thought… Well, I guess you'll need to be there for him, huh? If he needs to grieve, he'll also need somebody to be close to him."

"Yes, I suppose you're right." She nodded in agreement. Even if… I'm wondering if they may have grown so close that no one could help him enough… Kyoko yawned again. "Well, I'll talk to you later, Kizakura."

Koichi smiled. "Alright, later, Kyoko. Try to have sweet dreams, even if I know it won't be so simple."

It probably won't… The detective agreed, closing her eyes. But at last, it's finally over. We can go back to what we joined the Future Foundation to do: fight despair.


"D-Director Kirigiri has come back!"

"W-Welcome back, ma'am!"

"We're all saved!"

Kyoko walked inside the Division Headquarters for the first time in a while, passing by the few Division Fourteen's agents that had not partaken in the battle. She was glad to know they were happy to see her again, but she had other - and more important - things to do.

With Makoto's unconscious form in her arms, the Division Director did not have any time to waste.

"Please go back to your respective offices and wait for further orders," she told them, walking towards the elevators. "And be prepared to tend to your injured colleagues whenever they arrive."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Good to know they are still respectful of my orders… Kyoko thought, opening the elevator door and stepping inside, thinking, I'll be curious to know how Byakuya treated them… I wouldn't be surprised if they missed me for that reason…

She giggled, pressing the button to the top floor where their apartments were located. In somewhat of a hurry, she walked over to Makoto's door.

I'm sorry for invading your private space, but I don't have another choice. Kyoko thought as she combed through Makoto's pockets to fetch his magnetic card. There. She opened the door to the Luckster's apartment and stepped inside with the young man still in her arms. On the bed you go, Mr. Naegi!

She placed the Former Ultimate Lucky Student on his bed and under his sheets in a more comfortable position. Kyoko hoped that it would make his rest a little better, even if it was still a stretch.

Let's wait for a bit… As long as Munakata doesn't call me to admonish me, I should be relatively free- Her eyes narrowed on Makoto's bed, and more specifically, on a stain there. What is this…? Ugh, if it is what I think it is, I'll need to wash my gloves after touching it…

The lavender-haired girl pressed her gloved finger to the spot on the bedsheets, sighing as she connected the dots.

Right, bodily fluids… Kyoko thought, noticing how crispy this spot was. And considering the size, it's been left by more than one person…

This made the already complicated situation even more complex. Hearing Laura tell Makoto that she loved him was one thing, but finding her bodily fluids on his bed was another.

"Let's just hope that…" Walking over to the bin under Makoto's personal desk, Kyoko facepalmed at seeing it empty. "Oh, please! You didn't empty it recently, did you, Makoto…?" she rhetorically asked him. "I don't care for Munakata's rules, but he didn't give us protection for nothing…!"

Imagining the worst, the Former Ultimate Detective sat down at Makoto's desk and watched him sleep. He was clearly not resting well, but she didn't think it would be wise to wake him up.

I understand why you were so shaken up now… Kyoko thought, looking at her favorite Special Agent with pity. Whatever you were feeling about Lawn, you trusted her and cared for her enough that you went that far… Poor Makoto…

Ever since the first Class Trial, Kyoko had realized that Makoto was the strongest person in the group. He had never given up, even when Monokuma had used dirty tricks against him. And while they all knew he was a human like all the others, Kyoko and the other survivors had almost forgotten that their lucky friend could feel despair.

He had been so brave for their sake that imagining him like this was almost impossible.

I don't think I've seen you in such a bad state since Sayaka's death… And even then, you didn't give up and never gave Junko an inch… However, I'm afraid this might have been one disaster too many…

Kyoko knew this battle would leave Makoto scarred. They were all scarred - mostly mentally - from the Killing School Life, but this was something else. They could share the trauma of the Killing Game, but Laura's fate would affect Makoto and Makoto only.

Of course, Kyoko was saddened that her best friend had lost someone dear to him, but she wouldn't have nightmares over it. This was something Makoto would need to carry alone, and while the detective was willing to help, she wasn't sure how to do that.

*driiiing* *driiiing* *driiiing* *driiiing*

The young woman sighed and pulled out her phone. So much for being left alone… She took the call. "Director Kyoko Kirigiri speaking."

"Good afternoon, Director Kirigiri. This is Chairman Tengan. Your presence is requested at Division Two Headquarters urgently."

"Mr. Chairman. May I ask why that is?" Kyoko asked. "My Division is quite busy, actually."

"I understand that, Director, but this takes priority over everything else," Kazuo told her. "Be quick."

The Former Headmaster hung up, leaving the detective unhappy. She glanced at Makoto, thinking out loud, "My apologies, Makoto, but I'll have to leave you alone for a bit. Get some rest for now, alright?"

She made sure to readjust his blankets so that he would be more comfortable before quietly exiting his apartment en route towards Vice-Chairman Munakata's Division Headquarters.


"Ah, there you are, Director Kirigiri. It's good to see you safe and sound."

"Likewise, Chairman Tengan." Kyoko bowed out of respect before stepping inside the improvised meeting room. "I hope I am not late."

"No, you're not," Munakata added. "Have a seat, and we'll begin this meeting."

The detective nodded and took the last remaining seat. All the Future Foundation Branch Leaders were assembled once more. The smiles from a few were clearly outmatched by the grimaces from the others, Kyoko first and foremost. Still, the young woman could see that everyone was exhausted, and Ruruka was already asleep in her boyfriend's lap.

"Well, first of all, thank you all for coming on such short notice and after such an eventful day," Tengan said, his voice betraying lots of relief. "Furthermore, I am glad to see you all relatively unharmed. Now, I think the topic we're going to be dealing with is fairly obvious. I am actually going to let Vice-Chairman Munakata explain the details."

Munakata stood up. "A couple of hours ago, the final battle against the Unremembered Ultimates concluded, leaving the Future Foundation victorious. We are assembled here to discuss the results as well as the casualties and this organization's future objectives."

Nobody objected, prompting the white-haired to carry on.

"I personally warned all agents that a neutron bomb was set to explode on the battlefield surrounding Central Headquarters. The explosion destroyed the enemy army once and for all. However, the tower is off-limits as long as an investigation of the battlefield hasn't been led. This is why we're assembled here and not at Central HQ."

That does make sense. I'm not an expert on bombs, but it's safe to assume that a bomb like this could possibly still be dangerous even after it has exploded. Kyoko thought, listening to the speech.

"This battle was a success, even if this explosion was not part of the original plans. The casualties were few on our side, and the enemy was thoroughly defeated-"

"Few?! What the hell have you been drinking, Vice-Chairman?!" Gozu objected, getting up from his seat and roaring. "I've seen hundreds of my comrades lying dead on this damned battlefield, and you dare say that the losses were few?!"

"Shut your fucking mouth, motherfucker!" Juzo warned, getting into the wrestler's face. "Know who you're talking to, got it?!"

The Former Ultimate Detective exchanged a glance with Kizakura, who chuckled. Here we go again… She thought, observing the two men trading threats and insults.

"Directors Gozu and Sakakura, this is enough," Tengan stated. "Please cease this childish behavior immediately. You are only delaying this meeting."

"Hey, Gozu isn't wrong, though," Sonosuke added, his arms crossed. "To you, members are just numbers. You don't give a shit about them. They're just animals to be sent to the slaughterhouse for your, Sakakura, and Yukizome's sakes. That's all."

"N-Now, I don't know why I'm being brought up into this, but that's not really nice," Chisa spoke up and said, pouting at the blacksmith. "I care for everyone here, and I know that both Juzo and Kyosuke do, too."

"Yeah, um… No," Kizakura added, playing with his fedora. "No one's gonna buy that, Chisa."

I can't disagree with Kizakura there… Kyoko thought, opting to remain silent for now. But I'm not sure that Munakata ever pretended to care for anyone here. As long as his goals are fulfilled, we're all disposable, Tengan first and foremost…

"Whatever, stop that bickering at once," the old man ordered. "Directors Mitarai, Gekkogahara, and Bandai are clearly uncomfortable, and I would hate to wake Director Ando up." He stared disapprovingly at Sonosuke, who sighed. "Now, I ask you all to be silent while Vice-Chairman Munakata is speaking."

All arguments stopped inside the room as Munakata crossed his arms and waited for the other voices to die down.

"Moving on, we need to discuss the Future Foundation's objectives in the near future," the Vice-Chairman stated. "Unremembered Ultimates Kira Harukawa and Saiuso Ouma have managed to escape, but one has lost an arm, and the other has been reported injured during their escape. As such, they are not a threat anymore."

Kyoko nodded in understanding. So Harukawa and Ouma got away… From now on, they'll be forced to hide lest Munakata's troops find them… I would almost pity them.

"This organization's first goal is to eradicate despair from the face of the planet, and it is time we refocused on that." Ruruka (who had since woken up) was about to say something, but a glare from Munakata dissuad