-Scrap of Paper
Mondo left it before he stepped out for the recess. “Hey, I have an idea about a thing, but I don't think it's really important yet? So uh, I'm just gonna leave this here. So you can remind me. Because let's be real, I'll probably forget if you don't.”
Kiyotaka couldn't bring himself to exit the courtroom.
He remained for the recess, observing the ruckus as just about everyone else left to stretch their legs and maybe grab a snack from the weird courtroom-brand vending machine.
June kept... sneaking up on him. Surprising him. Destroying his plans for the trial.
He had this gnawing fear that if he stepped away from his desk, June would take something else of his. Would compromise the rest of the day.
He's already almost done it so many times...
Kiyotaka's mind had blacked out when the guilty statement washed over him. He really thought... He couldn't believe... a photo. A photo had almost sent him to his death.
He shook in place. June was incredibly skilled...
As he resorted his evidence, he found a little balled-up paper in Mondo's scrawl. Something about pestering him later for advice. He added it to his record for later.
For now, Makoto was getting some fresh air outside with his partners. They could only hope he'd find the emotional fortitude to testify about his experience.
The poor guy... whatever it was, he'd seen it. Seen it all.
And it had destroyed him...
He jolted up.
The very man he'd been thinking of had materialized.
“Where are your partners?” he asked, half-expecting one of them to come sprinting down the hall to ensure Makoto was not on his lonesome.
The secretary shrank into his hoodie, only stepping around the desk to Kiyotaka's side when he indicated that Makoto could. “They're getting food. And some stuff from home. A lot of things, actually... I maybe snuck away while they weren't looking.”
Kiyotaka blinked. “Why?”
Makoto stopped in front of him, pensive. He kept trying—failing—to meet Kiyotaka's eyes, then awkwardly held out his arms, mumbled, “Can I hug you?”
He—He couldn't stop his entire face from catching fire. “S-Sure. Go ahead.”
Makoto clutched him gingerly, rested his head on Kiyotaka's chest. His hold was careful, tentative, but in no way weak. He practically melted into Kiyotaka. Flustered, the attorney laid his arms around Makoto's back.
“This sucks,” Makoto said, quiet. Muted. “All of this really sucks. I'm... really sorry you got arrested. And I'm—” A wince.
“I'm really sorry I didn't speak up. I... I should've spoken up sooner... That's my fault. I should've spoken up on the first day...”
Kiyotaka sighed. “Why didn't you?”
“B-B-Because it was all my fault...” Makoto peeked up at him, gaze liquefied by everything they had gone through these last few days. The trauma, the trial, the almost-guilty verdicts. “Everything was my fault. I-If I just hadn't shown up, then Mr. Jin wouldn't have suffered...” He bit his lip, cut off Kiyotaka before he could interject. “I know, maybe it's not really all my fault, but... at the time—you don't understand—I was wholly convinced it was. It didn't matter if I hadn't actually strangled him, or d-done any of all the other things. It didn't matter if I was convicted. Because I...”
His brow furrowed. He shut his eyes, trembled.
“I'm... gonna tell you everything I can soon. I'll do my very best. But I... I don't know how to get the words out. So I'll need your help, yours and Mondo's. So, please...”
His eyes reopened, luminous. “Please, help me.”
His hold was soft, but sure. Overwhelmingly gentle.
Kiyotaka found himself brushing his fingers over Makoto's hair. Despite its spiny, disheveled look, the locks were sweet to the touch. “We'll get through this,” he whispered. Makoto's pink cheeks warmed.
“My, my, Taka. What have we here?”
Kiyotaka's soul threatened to eject from his body. An overpowering flinch suppressed him—until—craning his neck—he managed to look back—and there. Trundling down the stairs, his heeled shoes clicking in that familiarly posh manner, came Prosecutor Byakuya Togami: Makoto's boyfriend.
Makoto didn't even bother to move. He said, “We're trying to come up with a plan for the rest of the trial.”
Kiyotaka was trying to figure out a way to extricate himself from Byakuya's secretary, but he—but Makoto was sort of leaning into him—and all tied up around him and—everywhere—and—uhhhh—
Byakuya snorted, watching him struggle. “He's... very comforting, isn't he? That's how I fell in love with him.”
“That's not what this—That's not—” But what did he say? His cheeks were doused in blush.
Makoto squeezed him a little tighter, then tentatively stepped out of his reach, turning to Byakuya. “How are you holding up?” Kiyotaka all but collapsed.
Their smarmy prosecutor—stilled, surprised. “Whatever do you mean? I'm worried about you, Mako—”
“B-But what about you? You must be really stressed out, having to worry so much for my sake...”
Byakuya tittered, drew his hand up against Makoto's downcast chin. “I just want to make sure you're comfortable. Okay? You've been through a great deal. I can't imagine how much it's hurt you...”
Makoto pouted. “But Byakuyaaaaa... How can I feel any better if you're not taking care of yourself?”
“My god. You both are ludicrous.”
Taeko marched back into the courthouse, her black dress swaying to her sharp gait. She met Byakuya's sneer head-on and said, “Stop embarrassing Kiyotaka with your frivolities. He almost fucking died today!”
Byakuya growled. “Well Makoto almost died yes—”
“Blah, blah, blah.” Taeko rolled her eyes, sidling up against her attorney. “Kiyotaka did a fantastic job defending him. He was in no such danger.”
“Except for the part where the guilty verdict almost went down had Makoto's sister not materialized,” Byakuya shot back.
“Well, shit. I guess you are tied, then.” Taeko brushed back a strand of her waist-length midnight hair. “Now go away. I do not want to see your stupid face any longer.”
“I'm not leaving the witness's side,” he snapped.
Taeko shooed them. When that failed to move them, she procured her favored rude hand gesture. Taking the hint, they made some space between themselves and the defense's desk.
When they were far enough out of earshot, Taeko snuck a hand into her purse and retrieved a small item in a clear wrapper. She sort of tossed it onto the desk and scooted it over to him. “Um. Here.” Her ears reddened. “For you. Since I doubt they served you anything yummy at the precinct this morning.”
He squinted through the bright wrapper.
...a cinnamon roll. She'd gotten him a cinnamon roll. It was courtroom-brand, “The Sweet Taste of Innocence.”
His stomach pinched, and he recalled the amount of food that was in it. (None.)
He unwrapped the crinkly plastic and grasped the roll. Flaky sugar powdered his fingers. When he bit into it, the sweetness of it caused an aching in his mouth. It wasn't all that good—just a vaguely stale off-brand pastry—but the fact that he'd hardly eaten since yesterday flavored it wonderfully.
Ravenous, he tore into the rest of it, then brushed off his hands. “Thanks, Taeko.”
She made a glance at him, then glanced away and said something very quiet.
“What was that?”
She jolted. “Um. Mondo started, um. Mondo started calling me by, um, by Tae. And I think, and I think that I should also make it available to you. Because it is only fair.”
Kiyotaka snorted. “It sounds like someone wants me to call her Tae.”
“Why would I want that.” She shoved her hair into her face.
Stifling his chuckle, he said, softer, “Thank you, Tae.”
“Hmmmm.” She bounced on the balls of her feet. “I am not always very good at contradicting the evidence and the testimony, but I... but I still want to help somehow.”
“You do. A lot. Mondo told me about how you found that proof of ownership. Without you, I...” He drew off, his heart racing at the thought.
He didn't want to know where he'd be without Taeko. It'd never matter.
Around them, the courthouse had resumed its bustling activity once more. The members of the gallery were refilling their seats. Ikusaba and Blackquill materialized like two dangerous orange shadows at the edge of the witness podium. Makoto politely made room for them as Byakuya fought away his scowl, muttering something about criminals standing too close to Makoto, what if they corrupted him.
A familiar lumbering gait loped down the stairs, and—when Kiyotaka turned—the smile launched across his face. “There you are,” he murmured, taking Mondo's warm, rough hands into his own.
“Sorry. I was, uh...” Mondo's gaze listed aside. “I was looking through some old court cases. I had, uh, I had a thought? About where this trial could be going. But—I don't wanna talk about that right now.” He shook himself, his ruddy wavy hair framing his face. “What's most important is getting you off.”
“Gross,” Taeko said.
“Shut up. You're the only person who took it that way.”
Taeko stuck out her tongue.
Ignoring her, Mondo wrapped an arm around Kiyotaka's side. “How are you feeling? What do you think about... Makoto showing up and stuff?”
“I just hope he can find the willpower to tell us what he saw.” Kiyotaka blew out a breath. “He said he'll need our help.”
“Is it wrong that I'm kinda proud of myself for being able to help out? Even though the only reason I'm useful is cuz Makoto got abused?”
“Mondo...” He curled up into his partner's side. Mondo shifted closer to accommodate him. “You and Taeko both. Why do you keep doubting yourselves? I need you each here.”
Mondo mumbled something indiscernible and nuzzled against his cheek. They held close for one long heartrending moment before separating.
The opposite stand was reclaimed by the chief prosecutor. She'd done her hair up with a pair of scrunchies, black and white, and her new outfit—a massive, tiered dress—matched.
Taeko gagged. “It's no fun when the bad guy has style too.”
“Don't say that too loudly,” Kiyotaka muttered.
“So much black and white in here. Fucking monochrome-ass court.” Mondo rolled his eyes. “Only person who stands out is Makoto in that olive green hoodie of his. It's not even a good color, it's just... him and the kids from prison.”
The Judge had risen to his throne once more. Kiyotaka straightened, his heart squeezing.
“Court is now resumed. First off, our eyewitness appears ready to finally testify about his experience on the night of the murder.” The Judge's brow furrowed. “Ms. Ikusaba and, ah... Mr. Blackquill, I believe your services won't be—”
“I would like to stay,” Ikusaba quietly said.
Makoto's eyes widened. “Is that allowed? B-Because she can stay if she wants to.”
The Judge had to think really hard on that one.
June's fist slammed into her desk. “You no longer contain any useful testimony. You are dismissed from th—”
“B-But I'm not... ready to...” She started to say something, but her words got all jumbled together.
Kyoko Kirigiri stepped into the room, boots gunning across the ground. “It took a great deal of my time and effort to sneak this man out of prison just for him to show up in court today. Surely there yet remains more use to be gleaned out of him and his companion.”
June's expression was carefully unreadable. “That is not a reason to—”
“I would...” Makoto made a wary little glance at the previous chief of police. “I would like them to stay. I think she still has more to tell us, more that we don't yet know. And I... needed a little support to talk, too, so it's only fair to give her another chance.”
Blackquill shared a smile with the soft secretary. Byakuya all but fainted, his cheeks deathly white.
June snapped, “That is not how the law—”
“Oh, why not?” The Judge tapped his gavel. “Let them stay. I haven't seen Prosecutor Blackquill in so long. Always felt a little guilty about that ruling. Not sure why. It'd seemed to clear at the time that he was the murderer, but even now, as I think about it...”
Blackquill loudly cleared his throat. The sound seemed to activate a switch in the Judge's old brain that redirected him from wherever his wayward mind had gone off to now.
Taeko's head fell into her hands. “I hate the law,” she whimpered.
He'd argue that the law was what kept their world from falling apart if they hadn't proof right in front of them that such was directly not the case.
(And he could already hear her rebuttal: Kiyotaka, you are under arrest for a crime that you do not even know how to commit! And you dare refer to the law as something good in this ridiculous world?)
“Let us move on to the trial at hand, shall we?” June flashed a smile. It was the same as it had always been—vaguely charismatic, on the verge of well-meaning. Its intentions now sent a chill arcing up Kiyotaka's spine, the way it lit up June's angled complexion. “Name and occupation, witness.” If she'd previously attempted to dissuade the Judge from letting Makoto testify, she did not show that failure now.
She must have, right? But the Judge loved Makoto like a grandson, so of course she would have failed in that regard.
“Makoto Naegi,” said the small boy at the stand. He stood up a little straighter, but he practically shrank with the tall and imposing Ikusaba and Blackquill at his sides. “I'm... a prosecutorial secretary. I think the official term for it is... paralegal?” He sort of squinted at the far wall. “But we always just said secretary.”
Byakuya hugged close to Makoto's side, unable to step back.
Kyoko, meanwhile, lounged against Kiyotaka's desk. Her keen eye examined her pink-cheeked boyfriend in a new and painstakingly careful stare.
Letting out a slow, languishing sigh, June said, “Now why don't you tell us about the night in question, Makoto.”
Makoto bobbed a nod.
Testify: “That Photo Was Wrong!”
“It... It looked completely different from the crime scene.
“F-First off... I didn't... I didn't see the defendant there at all. Not once.”
(A wake of relief crashed down Kiyotaka's spine.)
“I-I don't know who took this photo, or where, but as realistic as it appears, that part really, really stands out to me... a-as wrong!”
Too nervous to continue, Makoto's gaze drooped.
“Well that was sweet of him,” Mondo whispered, “but how does it prove that you didn't kill Jin. I mean you didn't kill Jin. But how the fuck do we say that.”
Kiyotaka groaned into a hand. “We'll just have to press him and see what comes of it...”
“Nicely,” Kyoko said. “Be gentle to him. He's had a hard week.”
Taeko snorted. “Oh, he has, has he.”
Kyoko flashed her a warning glance. Tae ignored her, focused on painting her nails.
With the Judge's signal, Kiyotaka cried, “HOLD IT! You state that the photograph doesn't look anything like the crime scene. Are there any other examples you can point to in this picture that are incorrect, other than my presence?”
“U-Ummm...” Makoto kept glancing at the prosecution, then wavering at the photo.
“He's lying,” posed June—
“OBJECTION! Give him a chance to think!” Kiyotaka shouted.
Makoto stifled a whimper and took the photograph Kyoko held out to him. He stared at it for a long moment, his eyes watery.
Oh, he wasn't seeing any of it, was he...
Kiyotaka cleared his throat. “May I direct your attention to certain parts of the photograph that strike me as potentially suspicious?”
Makoto managed to bob his head.
“Okay.” He approached the witness stand. The convicted criminals made room for him beside Makoto. Gingerly he rested his hand on the photo. “There... are legal documents on Jin's desk. What do you make of those?”
“N-Not much...” Makoto awkwardly blinked around his tears. “If they were anything important then, I-I don't remember them very well now...”
Oh, dear. He didn't remember much at all, did he... He was just stalling while his mind whirled, struggling to keep up with the pace of the trial...
“Um... how about here?” He pointed to Jin's corpse.
“Looks about the same as it did before, actually. That I know for sure.”
Great. Great. What else was there... “The bookshelves?”
Makoto shook his head. “They weren't knocked over during the scuffle.”
“How about these blood—”
“Mr. Ishimaru, we have established that our witness does not remember the night as well as he thought. I believe it is time for him to—”
“NO!” Kiyotaka glared at the prosecution. “Th-There must be something to...”
“Not the bloodstains,” Makoto mumbled into the resulting silence. His gaze skewed. “But, wait, but...” His curious eye had wandered over to the documents again, but he paled when he glimpsed the broken mug atop them. “That's not right! I w-watched Mr. Jin pick up that mug. I r-remember, it smashed against the—”
Letting out a sharp gasp, he covered his face with his hands.
“M-Makoto?” Kiyotaka gently touched his shoulder.
Makoto slowly recovered his bearings; then, blinking, he said, “That mug was all over the floor. It was in pieces. Mr. Jin, he um... he plunged it into their face when they weren't... and it got...”
Mr. Jin... Mr. Jin had used his mug as a weapon.
No wonder the murderer had tried to dispose of it. Their blood may have lingered in the pieces.
Kiyotaka swallowed a tight breath. His eyes shot to June—and he wondered—and he wondered—if, beneath her layers of makeup, there had always been another below it. One that concealed the burns, bruises and scrapes that may have resulted from Kiyotaka's mug.
He stared now, but he could not tell for sure.
His mind swam.
But the mug had been in June's office. And June's office had caught on fire.
When he made his way back to his desk, he whispered, “Are you certain the evidence at the office is lost?”
Taeko's gaze slid downcast. She said, “I am sorry.”
“No—” Mondo stepped in. “We thought we couldn't take any of it. We didn't wanna generate any more suspicion than we already had.”
Kiyotaka sighed. He understood—of course he understood—but...
Imagine if they had that trash bag right now. Imagine if they could hold it up and get those shards of his poor coffee mug analyzed.
Imagine if Junko Enoshima's blood was on those shards.
Kyoko caught his trepidation, whispered to him, “Should I go investigate?”
“I don't...” Kiyotaka hesitated, frowned. “It's very likely that that evidence no longer exists. Even if it does, I don't know if...”
Kyoko reciprocated his frown, nodded. “If it would prove our case irrefutably.”
“And we might yet find uncover more important evidence here.”
She bowed her head. “My driving skills are yours to command if a reason surfaces to search elsewhere.”
“Thank you,” he said softly.
Her curt nod.
Kiyotaka faced their witness again. “Makoto, have you anything to tell us about this exchange between the third party and the victim?”
“I'm... I...” He screwed up his lips, nodded firmly. “I'll try.”
June gestured for him to go on, eyes lidded.
Testify: “The Fight”
“It... It was horrible.
“The third party—Th-They wore a mask that partially concealed their face. But I can still tell you exactly what they were feeling.
“Joy. They reveled in watching Mr. Jin struggle. At... At first...
“Wh-When they came in through the window, they pinned Mr. Jin down b-by his neck to his desk. But Mr. Jin broke free, and he told me—and he told me—”
Makoto was trembling too hard to continue.
Mondo winced. When the Judge signaled them, he elbowed Kiyotaka, asked, “Can I..?”
Mondo wrapped his arm around him, then laid his free hand over their desk. “Makoto, I can tell this is really hard for you to remember.” Makoto's ashen face, frail nod. “And I get that. Of course I do. So how about we try and piece together what Mr. Jin was tryna tell you.”
Another nod. Mondo let out a curt sigh.
“Was the door to his office unlocked?”
Makoto stalled. “I'm... I'm not...”
“Not sure? Okay... okay.” Mondo's brow furrowed. “So he didn't tell you to run away.”
Makoto shook his head.
Kyoko blanched. “Didn't tell him to run away...”
“Then... for help. Did he cry for help?”
Makoto's face lit up. “He... He cried my name. Asked me to... Asked me...” His gaze slid over Kiyotaka's evidence—then he stiffened. “His evidence. He said, protect my evidence. Please.” His complexion chilled with this newfound knowledge, and he swallowed, trembling.
Makoto raised his head. “So I went to his filing cabinet, the one he was looking at. I was going to protect his evidence. B-But then—” He let out a cry and grabbed his hand with the other, flinching.
“The murderer attacked you,” Kiyotaka whispered.
“Th-They'd pinned down Mr. Jin with one hand, and their hammer went—their hammer...” Makoto shivered. “It broke the lock on Mr. Jin's cabinet. Almost hit me. While they were distracted, Mr. Jin broke free, but I...” His eyes squeezed shut. “I was petrified. I couldn't protect his evidence.”
Mondo took in a slow, steadying breath. He squeezed Kiyotaka's shoulder. “They took it?” he uttered.
Again, Makoto shook his head. “They were going to. Th-Their lips veered into this horrible smile. They were going to, but th-they saw Mr. Jin on his phone and stopped everything to h-hurt him. Mr. Jin... He must've been in so much pain, but his good hand picked up his coffee mug and smashed it into their face, and all the pieces fell onto the floor. The mask wasn't a very good shield.
“Then he grabbed his evidence, and he grabbed me, and he locked us in his closet. I-I don't think he had the strength to get out the window with one arm—or get out the door—so he used a chair to try and block off the closet.
“A war of attrition, he said. We just have to outlast them. He said his—his partner was coming home soon. If we could last that long, if we could, if...”
Makoto stared off, his breaths ragged.
June cleared her throat. “But have you any more testimony for us?”
“I'm pretty sure this all counts as testimony too,” Mondo grumbled.
“I...” Makoto blinked, shook himself. “L-Let me think... I...”
His face lit up with white. His eyes shot wide open.
“Yes.” His voice was whispery-frail. “I would like to testify about something strange I noticed at the crime scene.”
June's brows pinched. “Why don't you tell us, then?”
Testify: “Mr. Jin's Phone”
“I th-think the murderer was trying to stop him from calling 911 with it. But his phone was still on—open, and everything, and laying on the ground.
“They were fiddling around with it for a while. It gave Mr. Jin more than enough time to hide that evidence that Taka and his team later found.
“And—um.... they were using, um, they...”
He sort of grabbed his own wrist to show what he was trying to get at—
—and Kiyotaka's gaze leaped to the prosecution's arm, where he knew she had clandestinely hidden her strange little watch.
“What were they doing, exactly?” Kiyotaka uttered.
“I'm not...” Makoto bit his lip. “I c-couldn't tell.”
“Gee,” Taeko said, “I wonder if it has anything to do with all the fucking weird text messages we keep finding on Sir Mentor's phone.”
The flinch was minuscule—nearly indiscernible—but June's entire body went rigid for what had to be a split second at Taeko's reveal.
Taeko said, a little louder, “I wonder if the murderer and the person falsifying Sir Mentor's text messages is the same.”
“Can you prove that?” June snapped.
Hmm. They could not.
But the wrinkles across their Judge's forehead had multiplied as the case went on. He glanced uneasily between the defense and the prosecution, clearly not ready to doubt either of them, let alone both.
“Makoto?” Kiyotaka redirected his assertion. “What happened after you and Jin locked yourselves into the closet?”
Makoto's face fell, ashen. He simply said, “Our barricade did not hold.”
Closed his eyes. “I failed him. It all happened... It all... right there... and I couldn't even raise a hand to stop them, I... I couldn't...”
Kyoko's hands made fists.
“I... believe I understand what the witness is trying to say.” Ikusaba had stepped up, hands at the podium. Makoto shifted to make room for her. “I am starting to...” She blinked rapidly. “To see things in a new light.”
“You have nothing to—”
“OBJECTION!” Kiyotaka shot, silencing the prosecution. “Ms. Ikusaba, what are you trying to say?”
“Mr. Naegi just reminded me of... a strange experience I had that I would like to try and elucidate, i-involving these cases I have been tried in.” Her gaze settled on Mondo. He winced, squeezed Kiyotaka by the waist.
Kiyotaka leaned into him, head on his shoulder.
Makoto piped up. “Come on, you don't have to call me Mr. Naegi. Makoto is just perfect.”
Ikusaba—blushed, mumbled, “You may refer to me as Mukuro, then.”
Even as he stood there testifying about the most horrid experience he had ever gone through, Makoto's round little pink face lit up like a gentle, otherworldly sun.
“You're exaggerating.” June, her sharp nails tapping against her desk. “And this has nothing to do with the death of Jin Kirigiri.”
“Oh, but I think it does,” Mukuro said, a little louder. “And we won't know until I testify.”
Seething, June whispered, hand balled into a fist, “Do it.” Despite her frustration, her lips had widened, malforming into a horrific grin.
Testify: “Three Years Ago”
“I killed someone... deeply important to you, Mr. Owada. And I could not tell you why. I could not even tell myself why. Not for three years.
“But now I think I know.” Her shoulders squared up. She was taller than Makoto, but his presence at her side added this airiness to her features that she lacked without him.
“I know why I was supposed to ruin Chihiro Fujisaki.
“It was to hand the rights of their laboratory over to my sister, so that she may—”
“OBJECTION.” June. “You slander me, my sister.”
Mukuro froze, blinking rapidly.
Blackquill materialized like some freakish vampire and cleared his throat. His dark hair fluttered at his shoulders. “The only person who slanders you is you yourself. If Mukuro does not shed her perspective on the matter, how are we to know the truth?”
June started to respond, but the convict cut her off. “We aren't. Riddle me that, Chief Prosecutor. Why is it that you only dislike testimony when it comes from your own sister?” He coughed into a sleeve, muttered “biased” loud enough for everyone in the gallery to overhear.
“Simon Blackquill,” June said, her voice high-pitched, incisive, “you killed your own mentor for no humane reason. You did not even attempt to hide the deed. You are truly a man without honor, pride or selfhood. You should not be legally allowed onto a witness podium.”
Blackquill seemed to appreciate June's defamation of his character. He had the same wry smile throughout the exchange. “And yet I am here today, to do battle with you. If I win, what does that say of your reputation?”
“I'm”—Mukuro jumped in—“going to testify now.”
“By all means.” Blackquill stepped back, one of his hands resting at that entire sword he had somehow smuggled into the courtroom. His little brown bird flitted from his shoulder and onto Mukuro's.
She said into the surrounding silence: “You wanted the laboratory, Junko. That's why. It never had anything to do with me.”
Everyone was looking at June, expecting another rebuttal, but that voice was far too deep, gravelly, to be hers.
Kiyotaka jolted, blinked, turned to his partner. “What is it?” he whispered.
“Oh, um.” Mondo's cheeks pinked. “Can I talk?”
“Of course. Did... you have something to add?”
“Let's fucking hope so.” Mondo straightened, met Mukuro's gaze in return. “I have proof that what the witness brings up is correct.” He pulled out his laptop from their pile of evidence. June pursed her lips as Mondo clicked through it, pulling up a diagnostics screen. “Since Chi's lab was taken in by new ownership, it's become a total wreck. You don't gotta go through the fingerprints that may or may not be scattered all over the lab to figure out who exactly was in there.
“I mean, first off, she owns it now. And second, it totally matches the way she touches everything in her life. Her room, her offices.” June went rigid. Mondo winced, continued. “Y-Yeah, um... that's not all.
“There's only one piece of tech that was completely missing from the lab. Suspicious, right? Chi'd been working on this AI for a therapy-bot, and building up all these creepy metal exoskeletons to house the robos, but the AI and a certain prototype were each missing.
“I, uh, wonder where it all went, right? Well Taka and I found out that at around the same time his interrogator was fiddling with their watch, an animatronic bear thing came trundling over to me. It detonated and destroyed the Chief's whole office, alongside the evidence we'd found yesterday.
“Odd, huh? Seeming pretty suspicious now...”
June raised her head, said softly, “You dare threaten the prosecutor of this trial with being the murderer all along?”
Mondo took in a deep, steeling breath. He threaded his fingers through one of Kiyotaka's hands, kissed the back of it, whispered, “Please do not forget me if I fucking die right here,” then stood and faced the prosecution head-on. He cleared his throat. “No, I'm not.
“I'm actually trying to indict you with every single count that Mukuro Ikusaba has been found guilty for, on top of the murder of my father figure.”
A resounding collective gasp thunder-clapped the courtroom. For a dizzying moment Kiyotaka could not see as black stars shot across his vision. He grabbed Mondo, squeezed him tight, and his partner held back.
Silence. Deathly still silence.
Mondo glanced away from his partner—chin on his head—to ask, “Are you gonna object to that, chiefy?”
Kiyotaka's stomach recoiled. He could not see her face from where he'd hidden his head in Mondo's chest, but he could imagine it. And what he envisioned sent a horrendous aching through his body.
“Why would I grace such a blatant lie with a response?” June's laughter was piercing. “Me? Just last month, Kiyo, you proved that my sister killed Chi.” A violet shudder through Mondo. “How can you let your partner retract that now?”
Kiyotaka shifted, but he stopped, whispered, “This is what you were searching for, isn't it? Why you were gone for so long during recess.”
Mondo stilled. “Yeah. Um...”
“Go on,” Kiyotaka said. “Tell her.”
A great warmth as Mondo squeezed him tight. Then he stepped back to say, “I was doing a little light reading in the courthouse records earlier. Stumbled across this really interesting case about a guy who was tried guilty for the murder of some celebrity. But...” Mondo hummed. “Weird thing. He didn't actually kill the guy. The assassin he hired did.
“And Mukuro's little assertion just here seems to fall in line with that of an assassin—a tool—used to kill. She isn't being treated as a human being but as an object to be used to fulfill certain deeds.
“And... this would also explain the mysterious killings that didn't match Mukuro's on that old piece of evidence. Because they weren't always killed by her, were they? Sometimes you got your hands dirty.” Mondo took in a sharp breath. “Sometimes you killed people on your own, didn't you? L-L-Like three nights ago...”
June's disgusting grin. “You can't prove that—”
“For god's sake! That fucking trash bag with all the fucking evidence in it was found in your fucking office! And yet you didn't present it to the court—not once! You fucking piece of shit, you think you—”
“I was planning to present it today.” The gleam in her eyes. She was enjoying this. “But now that it's been destroyed, alongside the rest of my offices, I believe I am no longer capable of presenting it. Breaking-and-entering, Owada?” She tittered. “Had you not broken into my private residence, I do believe we may have had some—”
The courtroom drew eerily silent.
Makoto—sobbing, shaking Makoto—had slammed his hands into the witness podium. Mukuro mirrored him.
“You c-c-can't keep deflecting everything...” Makoto swallowed, trembled, wiped at his eyes. “Because I s-s-s-sssssaw you. I did.”
Shock sucked the color from June's cheeks. “I thought you said the murderer's face was obscured.”
“It was.” Makoto hiccuped. Byakuya stepped in to rest a hand at his shoulder. “Until after he breathed his last, you came in and took off your mask and told me I could've stopped him. I could've... I c... I...
“Killed him,” he whispered, head falling into his hands. “I killed him. By doing nothing I killed him. And I believed you.” He shook himself, managing to straighten. “So I let you put the hammer in my hands. And I let you set up the crime like I had done it.
“B-But your first mistake was incriminating Taka... b-because Taka had nothing to do with your horrible crime..!”
A small chuckle escaped June. “Really, Makoto? Now you speak up?” Her laughter rained down like hot meteorites, sending tremoring waves down Kiyotaka's back.
“YOU!” Mukuro bit out, hands fisted. “Y-You ruined my life..! You were all I had—the only person who knew me... a-and I let you manipulate me into being alone..! It was only now—now—that I am free from you—in prison—that I have realized just how obscene you are!”
The tears ran freely down her cheeks, liberating her. “I killed those people. That's something I can never take back. But you're the reason I killed them!” She choked up. “You've just been u-using my skills for your own gain... I don't even know who I am! I look into myself and I see a—I see a void. I can't even tell you the first thing about me.
“Except for you. I lived and I will most certainly die for your cause.”
Blackquill stepped in, heels clicking, eyes glittering. “You will most certainly not any longer.” He glanced to Mondo, who stammered a smile. “Your testimony—and Owada's evidence—proves such.”
Mukuro flushed, looked away. “I... cannot imagine such a life.”
“Oh?” June again, her laughter coming down in sheet-fire waves. “And how exactly do you all plan to prove that I am the murderer?
“Kiyo?” Her eye sought his. “Conclusive evidence. Where is it?”
“—could be lying.” What a sickeningly jovial grin she claimed. “And your partner destroyed the trash bag when he illegally broke into my office and set off my alarms, so I'm afraid we lack irrefutable proof that I am, indeed, your mentor's killer.”
“Y-Y-You did!” Mukuro, this time. Her hands bashed onto the podium. “I know you did! I may not have seen it, but I know you and I recognize your handiwork!”
“In your office”—Mondo jumped in—“we found other evidence, too. Sleeping agents, poison, fucking chainsaws... You were just on the edge of your seat, waiting for a moment like this to arise!”
“Was I?” June cocked her head.
“SHUT UP!” Taeko sprung up. “You did it! You lose! Stop—acting like that might change if you use flowery enough language!”
But Kiyotaka's mind was still reeling. If they had two witnesses testifying that she'd killed Jin—and one who definitely saw her—then what..? What did that mean? What if they didn't have any pieces of evidence that indicted June?
Did Makoto and his testimony not count as evidence? He gritted his teeth. What was conclusive enough? Even if this was more conclusive than June's evidence against him—evidence that Makoto had easily refuted—what now?
Desperate, he called to the Judge. “Wh-What happens now?” They were some hours into the third day of this trial. He knew they couldn't postpone it to tomorrow. And even if they did, what evidence remained for them to discover? Now that June knew he was going for her, he imagined what little trail they'd left would be even more difficult to follow the next day.
And he'd be arrested again. He would be powerless to help.
This was their only chance. And they weren't succeeding.
But if Jin's killer walked out because of a stalemate—
—his heart threatened to seize—
That couldn't happen. That couldn't happen.
All turned to the Judge. He thoughtfully tapped his gavel. “We have never before come across such a divisive case,” he admitted, “where any and all potentially irrefutable evidence has been lost. If... If neither the defense nor the prosecution has anything else to add, then I will have to cast my verdict on what we did uncover, and determine whether it is enough to prove Mr. Ishimaru's innocence.”
...They couldn't be still stuck on that, could they?
But then—In the corner of his eye—June—June—clearing her throat—raising her hand—more evidence that couldn't be...
Had she prepared more forged evidence while they bickered?
Who did this for her? And how?
He couldn't let her—
With no other way to stop her, his hand locked around his jade charm. He took in a slow, cold breath of air before plunging into the realm of shimmering green.
If he couldn't distract her enough to dislodge this next piece of forged evidence... If she presented something they could not refute purely because she had destroyed, altered and otherwise removed the evidence that had been true...
How terrifying, to be up against a murderer and prosecutor, someone well versed enough with the law to know exactly which loopholes could be penetrated, broken, and undone in order for her to prove herself “not guilty”...
Kiyotaka steeled himself. She already had her crossbow at the ready, aimed directly at his heart.
“You did it,” he said, and she smiled sweetly. The bow snapped into the air and an arrow sailed for him—
—but with the slash of his blade, he shattered it into pieces. He was prepared for her, this time.
June frowned. “You cannot prove I did it.”
“Makoto has. Your sister has. And you can't prove that I did.”
She hummed as he carefully closed down the distance between them, his sword up. He had to move with caution. The closer he edged to her, the easier it would be for her to shoot him down, her feathered prize. He grimaced at the thought.
Even now, this was all a game to her.
She languidly stretched her bow, testing another shot, aiming for him. “Why?” he asked, and she hesitated. “Why did you kill him?”
She shrugged. “I had a feeling. A defense attorney is out of the country for months on end, and on his immediate return, throws his evidence into the court. Now why would his international investigation require presentation in Japanifornia, of all the places he went to this year? I don't know many international serial killers in the area.”
Kiyotaka shivered. There—June shot—
He deflected. An ache spread all up his arm.
“But you didn't have to kill him,” he said, softer, scooting nearer. He tried not to eye the desk June stood behind, keeping focused on the ceiling beyond her as if planning to vault over her head.
He knew that she knew that he was too trusting. So he had to act the part.
“No,” June agreed. “I did not have to kill him. I only needed his evidence. But even that he took from me. I can't believe he hid one of his files in his fucking jacket.” Her eyes rolled heavenward. “I checked everywhere. Well. Almost everywhere.”
A cruel tingle slid down his spine. “You mutilated him,” Kiyotaka whispered, inching closer. “You violated and desecrated him.”
“I enjoyed every moment of it.”
The arrow came soaring—
—and he only had enough time to duck beneath June's desk. The arrow plinked harmlessly in front of him.
Then he heard her clambering atop her desk and swerved back and sprinted around it as the arrows rained down, deadly droplets. One gouged into his arm—and he bit his lip to stifle the searing cry that brushed up into his mouth.
He heard her grow still and dared not turn. Eyes closed, he listened.
“The best part about my job,” she said, “is how easy it is to get away with all these acts of murder. You're the closest, you know. The closest anyone's ever gotten to indicting me. I'm waiting for my match to knock me down—to fuck me up—but until then, it is like the world bows down to me, and I am a god.”
He bit his lip, kept silent. Within, he wept.
With people like her in power, how could he ever free the country from such distorted wrath..? Punishment for no reason at all..?
“Why?” he asked again, softer. “Why did you kill him?”
“A test, Kiyotaka. He almost bested me. Could have succeeded in trial the very next day. But he was too focused on protecting dear Makoto and all his evidence. It's really a shame. I went through all of it as I burned the pages, one by one. He would've had me. I wasn't prepared for any of it.
“And yet.” A huff of laughter. “And yet he died just as easily as everyone else. You'd think Jin Kirigiri would've been made of stronger stuff.”
She did this just because she could. Just to see if anyone could muster the gall to stop her.
Kiyotaka suppressed his next shudder. As June spoke, he'd heard her moving, but she'd carefully timed her steps with her words, and now he couldn't tell where she was.
His heart spiked up his throat. It pounded through his ears. All he could hear was his raspy breathing and his frantic, spastic heart. Sweat trickled down into his palm, weakening his grip on his blade. The room stank of his fear.
Cold air against his throat—The bite of an arrow—pain—
Kiyotaka lunged his blade backwards and cringed as it slunk into skin. He wedged it in deeper—harder—until the slick sound of pseudo-blood and bone on the metal of his sword was too much for him to bear.
He glanced back, saw June hanging off his katana. A sinewy thread of bright pink blood strung her to it. He squinted through the pulsating in his throat at her.
She looked up at him, choked a laugh. Her lips stretched into an uncomfortably wide grin, and she rasped, “Yes... That's what I wanted... God, you're so... good...”
Her head lolled back, and the world reconfigured itself.
Kiyotaka collapsed against his partner, his breaths painstaking. A spot on the back of his neck throbbed.
“Taka?” Mondo breathed, arms around him.
He was practically drowning in his sweat. His heart lunged up and down his throat. He could hardly breathe, let alone speak.
From across the way, June gazed at him, head cocked in that strange, unreadable manner. Her cheeks were tinged in a sweet pink.
She said, “I have one more piece of evidence to present,” and his heart stopped, and his blood iced over, and the darkness of the heavens flashed once, twice before his eyes. But he thought—
But he thought, in the mindscape, he'd...
What... What did he...
“JUNKO FUCKING ENOSHIMA!” Taeko screamed. “YOU LYING SHIT-FACED FUCKHEAD! YOU DO NOT. YOU DO NOT!”
Mondo gently shushed her. “She might. We can't just tell her to—”
Her head whipped back around, her tears blinding. “She cannot possibly have anything truthful to add!”
Swallowing his panic, Kiyotaka stood up straight. He breathed in slowly, forcing his heartbeat to settle. So she had one more piece of evidence to present.
He had Makoto. He had Makoto, and Mukuro, and a convicted man with a bird. He had Jin's blessing and the remnants of his evidence and proof that June may have forged everything else she'd presented today.
So when she met his eyes, and she cleared her throat, and she plucked up her file, and she said, “I would like—”
He cut her off.
June blinked. “I have yet to present it.”
Kiyotaka smacked his fists onto his desk. “It doesn't matter.”
“Whatever do you—”
“You could present anything else to us today.” As Kiyotaka grounded himself, his words came out stronger, louder, gushing through him with ease. “But no matter what lies you forge next, we will prove them wrong. No matter what next comes off your filthy, slanderous tongue, it will be dismantled! You can't say anything that will stop us!” Adrenaline screamed through his veins. “YOU KILLED MY MENTOR!”
They all stood, trembling, as Kiyotaka fell back, his breaths hard, slow.
The Judge blanched. “So this means..?”
“It's time.” Kiyotaka glanced up to him. “Your Honor, we have no more evidence to present.”
“If you do present it,” Kiyotaka said, voice cold, “it will only add to the likelihood that everything else you have presented, alongside this new piece of evidence, has been forged ever since you indicted me. Are you willing to face that chance?”
June opened her mouth, started to say something, then—stopped. An odd smirk sidled across her lips. “I... I believe I have been bested. I've nothing else to present.”
He fell against Mondo, who took him in readily.
Then the tap of the gavel. The Judge's deep, sonorous tone crested over the courthouse, stilling unsettled nerves and silencing whispered murmurs.
“Today, this court finds Mr. Kiyotaka Ishimaru...”
A snarl of silence that tangled up in his throat.
He managed one, two, three shaky exhales.
The tears broke across his cheeks. He could hardly hear from the thunderous backlash that shook the room and hid himself in Mondo. His boyfriend held him close and let out a great, long sigh over his head. “My fucking god. Finally.”
It took a few raps of the gavel before the court silenced enough for him to say, “We will host a separate trial as for Mx. Junko Enoshima's fate.”
“I lost,” she uttered, and the cries of victory cut off.
She pointed to herself, said, softer, “I lost.”
“Yup,” said Blackquill.
A rush of horrific, euphoric red swarmed up her face. June collapsed at her desk. “Yes,” she breathed between chuckles, her body seized by shuddering laughter. “Yes, yes—” Her laughter sharpened, louder, greater, cracking against the far walls.
She fell back into a scream as her eyes loosed wild tears, her mouth teased into a grateful smile. “Thank you,” she said, breathy, “thank you, Kiyo.”
As the guards grabbed her, locking her wrists behind cuffs, a new ashen dread colored her cheeks. She watched in an abject silence as she was yanked off, the lifelong despair she had been searching for finally met.
Kiyotaka shook, sobbed into Mondo's coat. He kept expecting someone to chastise him for all the crying he'd done in the last three days, but the rumble in Mondo's throat told him his partner had been lost to the same fate. He felt Taeko wriggling around his boyfriend's arm to hug him from the side, and he let them both surround him, his heart so full he wondered if it might just burst.
Kyoko had waited for the sobfest to subside before stepping in. She shook Kiyotaka's hand. “We still have some paperwork to fill out concerning your release, but it shouldn't take too long.”
Byakuya gave them this awkward little wave as he walked by. Makoto leaned into him, so exhausted that he walked with his eyes closed. Byakuya had a protective arm wrapped around him.
Blushing, their prosecutor stammered through his words. “I... am relieved to know that you are not guilty. It would be... unfortunate... to go up against someone else in court.”
Makoto roused himself enough to add, “Yeah. We did it. Yayyy...”
The prosecutor led his partner home from there.
On their way out, they ran into Aoi and Sakura, who offered flowers and hugs. “Come over to our house tonight!” Aoi said. “We'll have, like... food!”
With a promise to come see them extracted, the two set off to go prepare.
They'd reached the door when another man cleared his throat. Kyoko turned—stilled. “Mister—Um—Koichi.”
He bowed his head. “Thank you for avenging my partner, kid. He must be really proud of you, wherever he is.”
Wherever he was...
Somehow, they'd managed to save Jin's trial. Even though he wasn't here. Even with the one piece of evidence—and Mukuro.
She hadn't said much of a goodbye—had blushed and bowed and mumbled thanks before letting her weird bird friend cart her off with their prison guards. Blackquill had said something about his bird wanting to change his name after meeting Kiyotaka, something he could barely follow, some bickering with a guard not to deadname his bird. “A true samurai in the flesh, the jade-wielding Taka.” He didn't completely understand, but Blackquill seemed happy.
But to think that they'd found the truth of Mukuro's murder too... that they'd truly and finally avenged Chi's death...
Kiyotaka walked numbly as Kyoko led him and his companions to her car. He was not surprised to find out that she still drove like a maniac, despite her lack of a need to go fast, but his head was so—cottony, and everything felt so new that he couldn't bring himself to mind.
Mondo held his hand the whole time, rubbed his thumb over Kiyotaka's knuckles.
Once they'd gotten to her office and finished writing up the things that made Kiyotaka acquitted, Kyoko stopped them before they parted ways.
She took in a breath, said, “I would like to thank you, too. You... You have opened my eyes as to the character of my father. I may never get to meet him, to speak with him—but—”
They stayed respectfully silent as she choked on her sob.
“But I actually know him now. And I am... p-proud of who he was. Even though he sacrificed our relationship to become himself.
“And you saved Makoto too. I... I am very grateful, Taka. For everything.”
Her hand lingered over his when they shook.
“Here's to another good trial,” she said.
Kiyotaka blanched. “Give me a week at least. I may not wake up tomorrow. Or the day after.”
She snorted. “Of course. Take care of yourself. However else am I going to run you ragged on your next case if you don't?”
Had Kyoko Kirigiri... just made a joke?
They bid her farewell and set on their way to go see Aoi and Sakura.
The guest of honor did not last all too long at his friends' celebratory party.
Sakura let him recuperate in their spare bedroom.
He sank into the bed and thought maybe he'd just become one with the sheets and never get up again.
Then the door creaked outward. He squinted.
Mondo carefully sat beside him, wrapping his arms around him, head tucked into Kiyotaka's neck. He breathed out long and slow.
They snuggled together in a comfortable quiet, save for the faint sounds of Taeko screeching at someone (Seiko?) for cheating at whatever game they were playing now. Sakura and Aoi had gone ahead and invited all of Kiyotaka's old case companions like they were buddies or something, and he figured that was mostly what had worn him out.
Shi-Long Lang had offered him an entire tearful apology, and it was very sweet, but now Kiyotaka didn't want to deal with anyone.
He curled up against Mondo, sighed.
“That was amazing,” his boyfriend murmured. “Like... you did all that and... and wow.”
Kiyotaka chuckled. “It was terrible. I'm rethinking my entire career.”
“Yup, let's move to that country Lang is from and start over.”
Mondo snorted. “I am not rooming with that guy.”
They were so overcome by laughter that they couldn't speak.
“Wait, wait...” His partner gasped. “You do own Jin's place now, right? So like... like you're your own cool official lawyer dude.”
“Huh... I suppose so. What do I rename it?”
“I told you, Ishimondo Agency. Yeah? Innit cute? And the “Ishi” can account for Taeko too, since she changed her name or whatever.”
All three of them, huh...
...his heart cooled at the thought of repurposing Jin's old office. No—Not repurposing it at all.
It was all his now.
“I-I don't know if I'm ready for all this,” he whispered, suddenly afraid.
His shudders couldn't quite form, however. Mondo held him too closely, his hold snug.
“I mean you basically did all five of these big cases without Jin, though. You've kinda been prepared the whole time.”
Kiyotaka's heart shone. “You... You'll be with me, right?”
“Bud, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.” He thought about it. “And if I tried to leave, I think your sister would kill me.”
There was another comfy silence before Kiyotaka said, “I love you, Mondo.”
Mondo's hands in his hair. “And I love you.”
Kiyotaka Ishimaru: Ace Attorney ~ Fin.