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Naegi wakes on a desk in a classroom.

He raises his head, blinking blearily, trying to remember where he is. They opened the door, and then – what? They were planning to take shelter together for the first night – well, all of them except Togami-kun and Fukawa-san – if the world really was as dangerous as Enoshima-san said. Did they take refuge in a school somewhere? Did—

There are steel plates over the windows. Naegi’s breath catches.

He’s still in Hope’s Peak.

Why?

Maybe they decided this was still the safest place, even after the air purifier stopped working?

Why can’t he remember what happened?

-

There’s nobody in the cafeteria, so he heads to the entrance hall. His unease becomes deeper with every step he takes. Something feels very, very wrong.

He pushes open the doors to the entrance hall, wondering whether the others are okay, wondering whether they’ve left him behind, and—

—and the first thing he sees is Oowada-kun.

Naegi screams.

Kuwata-kun’s “Hey, hey, what’s goin’ on over there?” mingles with Ishimaru-kun’s “This is an unacceptable noise level for school hours!”, and Naegi screams some more.

-

It’s all happening again. It’s all exactly the same. Everyone does the same things, says the same things, only with quite a lot more, “Naegi-kun, you’re being really weird, are you okay?”

He doesn’t want to go through this again. He doesn’t want to go through this again. He can’t...

But, somehow, when Monobear has given his speech and told them what the rules of his game are, Naegi finds himself feeling strangely calm.

Really, this is a good thing, isn’t it? They’re all alive, aren’t they? Maybe it’s happening again so they can do it better this time. Maybe they can all get out of this.

He manages not to get punched out by Oowada-kun this time, which is an improvement to start with. Things are already changing.

-

“Naegi-kun?” Maizono-san asks, hurrying to catch up with him after the twisted assembly. “I can’t believe we’re both here together! We went to the same school before, didn’t we? Do you remember me?”

Naegi laughs, a little awkwardly. “How could I forget?”

It hurts, somehow, speaking to the people he’s already seen dead. It feels as if he’s still grieving for them, even though they’re right in front of him. He’s still not sure this isn’t a dream.

“I’m sorry we never really spoke much,” Maizono-san says. “Maybe we can get to know each other better while we’re here, though.”

“That’d be nice,” Naegi says, but it comes out sounding hollow, even though he means it. He can’t stop wondering – is Maizono-san already planning to kill, already setting him up to be used?

“So what’s your Super High-school Level talent?” she asks.

Naegi stops walking.

“Maizono-san,” he says. “What Monobear said in there...”

“I know,” she says. “We shouldn’t listen to him, right?”

“You’d never do something like that, would you?” he asks. “Killing another person... I mean, these are our friends.”

She stares at him. “Of course not,” she says. “Why would you ask me something like that?”

He smiles. “Good. We all just need to stay together. I’m sure everything will be okay.”

He starts walking again. Maizono-san stays with him for a few paces, and then she drifts away to walk with Fujisaki-kun.

-

The night Maizono-san asked him to switch rooms the first time, Naegi lies awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, rehearsing what he’ll say to her in his head. She doesn’t really want to kill anyone, he knows. She’ll knock on the door and ask if she can stay here, and he’ll sit with her and talk to her and he’s sure she’ll change her mind. They can all work together. They have a second chance, and nobody is going to die this time.

The knock never comes. Naegi keeps checking the time, but Maizono-san still hasn’t knocked on his door by three in the morning.

She must have changed her mind already. She must have listened to the things he said. Everything is going to be okay.

Naegi falls asleep with a smile on his face.

-

They find Kuwata-kun in Fujisaki-kun’s shower room, lying in a pool of blood.

Naegi can’t stop shaking.

He could have stopped this. He could have hidden his feelings better. Maizono-san must have realised he was suspicious of her. She didn’t trust him enough to use him, and now Kuwata-kun is dead again.

Naegi looks up and catches Maizono-san’s eye. She looks away after a moment.

There’s going to be a trial. There’s going to be a trial, and he’s going to have to make sure Maizono-san is executed.

He’s so busy thinking that he doesn’t remember Ikusaba-san’s death until it’s too late to prevent it. She was a member of Super High-school Level Despair, he knows, and she was probably a danger, but he still feels he should have done something.

-

It’s harder to convince everyone than he’d thought. It seems so obvious to him, but of course he’s lived through almost the same thing already. It doesn’t help that there’s less evidence this time; Kuwata-kun didn’t leave a dying message. Naegi tried rubbing a pencil over the topmost sheet of the notebook in Fujisaki-kun’s room, hoping to find evidence that Maizono-san wrote a note to Kuwata-kun, but there’s nothing there.

The last time around, Naegi and Maizono-san spent a lot of time together before the first murder. This time, because she wasn’t planning to use Naegi, did she spend time with Kuwata-kun? Did she ask him to come to her room in person? Or did she just clear up the evidence better this time? She didn’t really have a chance to last time, after all; she didn’t really need to. This time, the plates were all on the right doors when the body was found.

All Naegi can do in the trial is describe what happened. He’s right. He knows he’s right. But he doesn’t have anything to back himself up.

“Fujisaki-k – ah, Fujisaki-san told us Maizono-san asked if they could change rooms, and I believe her.” He has to speak carefully, has to think san and not kun. It’s Fujisaki-san’s secret; it’s not Naegi’s place to reveal it. “Maizono-san invited Kuwata-kun to her room. She changed the pictures on the doors around so he would go to Fujisaki-san’s room instead.”

“What evidence do you have that Maizono-san did any of this?” Kirigiri-san asks, her arms folded.

“I – I – it’s obvious, isn’t it?” Naegi asks, with a nervous laugh. “If she hadn’t changed the pictures, Kuwata-kun would have gone to the wrong room.”

“If Maizono-san invited him at all, yes,” Kirigiri-san says, tilting her head very slightly. “I don’t think you’re claiming this because you’re the killer. If you were, you would just let us think Fujisaki-san was the culprit, rather than drawing attention to yourself with these wild claims. So you must have a reason for suspecting Maizono-san. What is it?”

There’s no way anyone’s going to believe the answer to that question. He should have changed the plates back himself, before anyone noticed, so they were on the doors he knows they were on when the murder happened. He didn’t even think of that. Kirigiri-san would probably have caught him somehow, though, and that wouldn’t have looked good.

“I just – I believe Fujisaki-san’s testimony,” he says. “I don’t think she would lie about something like this. And I don’t think she would ever hurt someone.”

Which is true, but it still sounds pathetic.

Naegi clears his throat and continues. “Maizono-san attacked in the bedroom first,” he says. “That’s why there’s blood on the bedroom floor as well. Kuwata-kun tried to get away.”

Kirigiri-san is looking very hard at him. She doesn’t seem to suspect him, but he still feels ashamed and uneasy. Why can’t he back up anything he’s saying?

“He ran into the shower,” Naegi says heavily. “He thought he could lock it. But...”

He glances over at Fujisaki-san, who looks terrified.

Naegi hesitates.

“He must have taken too long,” he says. “His shower room didn’t have a lock, so he wouldn’t know where the lock was or how to use it. Maizono-san got in and... and killed him.”

Kirigiri-san is still looking oddly at him – she must have noticed that there was no lock, of course – but she says nothing.

“A pretty theory,” Togami-kun says. “You haven’t really explained why you’re so convinced that Maizono was the killer. The body was found in Fujisaki’s room.”

“I-isn’t it obvious?” Fukawa-san demands. “T-they’re working together! Him and the hacker girl! Trying to p-p-pin the blame on someone else and get us all killed!”

“No,” Togami-kun says. “They may have collaborated on the murder together, before they knew of the trial rules, but Monobear told us there was only one culprit. If the culprit escapes, the rest of us are executed. Or are you suggesting Naegi is throwing away his insignificant life for Fujisaki’s sake?”

“T-they’re obviously involved in some sort of s-s-s-sordid romance!” Fukawa-san snaps.

Naegi can feel himself turning scarlet. “Ah – I – no, that’s not...” He looks helplessly over at Fujisaki-san, who starts and looks down immediately.

“See?” Fukawa-san exclaims, pointing. “It’s obvious!”

“That’s really not...”

“The weak-willed man giving up his life for his m-murderous lover! I could write a beautiful novel about this, but I’ll never have the chance because they’re going to get us all executed!”

“I – I noticed they were speaking a lot,” Maizono-san says, gripping her arm with one hand. She’s standing next to Naegi, half-turned away from him, her head tilted forward so her hair forms a curtain between them. “I did think they seemed to be close. But I – I didn’t think they would try to do something like this to me.”

“Maizono-san,” Naegi whispers, “don’t do this.”

She doesn’t look at him. Naegi closes his eyes for a moment, and takes a breath, and then he opens them and raises his voice.

“Asahina-san saw Maizono-san go into the kitchen,” he says. “It was when the knife disappeared.”

Asahina-san looks startled. “Now that you mention it – hey, how did you know that?”

Oh. That’s right: she didn’t tell him about that this time around, did she? “Uh...”

“He was trying to set me up!” Maizono-san exclaims. “Aren’t you wondering how he knows so much? He sent me to get him a knife from the kitchen! He must have given it to Fujisaki-san!”

“No!” Fujisaki-san exclaims, eyes filling with tears. “Maizono-san, please...”

Naegi can feel himself going cold. Asahina-san’s testimony was the only thing he could think of to link Maizono-san to this murder – nobody is going to listen to Fujisaki-san now – and he brought it up too early.

“I saw you, Asahina-san!” he blurts. “I saw you go into the cafeteria! And I saw Maizono-san too! That’s how I know!”

Nobody believes him. Everywhere he looks he sees angry, suspicious faces. Maizono-san still won’t meet his eyes. Fujisaki-san is shaking.

How can this be happening? He knows exactly what happened!

“Kirigiri-san?” Naegi asks, trying to keep his voice from wavering.

“I found hair that matches Maizono-san’s in Fujisaki-san’s room,” Kirigiri-san says, “but Maizono-san has visited Fujisaki-san before, so that doesn’t prove she was in the room last night.” She pauses, looking over Naegi. “Still,” she says, her face expressionless, “I think we should give Naegi-kun’s theory more consideration.”

I think you’ve been talking for way too long and I’m bored,” Monobear says.

-

“Sigh,” Monobear says. “Sigh, sigh, sigh. That wasn’t a unanimous vote at all! You have to be sure about your answer before you vote!”

“You—” Naegi begins, but his voice cracks and he has to pause and swallow. “You made us—”

“I mean, you were close to unanimous. Ten out of thirteen’s not too bad. But Naegi-kun and Fujisaki-kun and Kirigiri-san all voted for the real killer!”

There is a tiny, tiny pause.

“Did you say—” Togami-kun begins.

“Honestly,” Monobear says, looking dejected, “not even getting past the first round? That was pathetic! I didn’t even bother to set up the death trap for anyone but the culprit! Maybe I should just get Maizono-san to stab all the innocents, as she’s so good at it.”

“I’m so sorry,” Maizono-san is whispering, over and over, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry...”

“Well,” Monobear says, “you’ll all just have to stay down here and think about what you’ve done as you starve.”

Is this... really happening?

“Congratulations, Sayaka Maizono-san!” Monobear exclaims. “As your promised reward for killing Leon Kuwata-kun, you and you alone will be permitted to graduate Hope’s Peak Academy.”

Maizono-san, pale and trembling, looks at Fujisaki-san, and then she looks at Naegi for the first time since they entered the courtroom.

“I – I’m not going,” she says, her voice wavering badly. “I’ll stay here with the others.”

Naegi manages to give her a half-smile. “Maizono-san...”

Monobear laughs. “Sacrificing yourself just when it’s too late to do any good: how noble! I’m afraid I must insist.”

He lunges at her; she shrieks and runs away. For a moment Naegi thinks that Monobear is going to kill her, that ‘graduation’ was a lie all along, but then he realises: he’s chasing her onto the elevator.

The moment Maizono-san and Monobear are on the elevator, a heavy metal grate slams down to block it off. Oogami-san and Oowada-kun immediately run forward and start trying to lift it, but there’s obviously something more than its weight holding it down. Naegi tries to catch Maizono-san’s eye through the grating, wants to reassure her somehow without words that he’d rather she lived than none of them at all, but she’s avoiding his gaze again.

“Oh!” Monobear exclaims. “Maizono-san, I almost forgot: you’ll want your memories back. And because I’m a generous and loving bear, I’ll let you watch the live footage of your classmates in here until they’re all gone!”

“Wha—?” Maizono-san begins, and then she doubles over, clutching her head in her hands, as the elevator begins to rise.

They can hear her screaming all the way up.

It doesn’t come down again.

-

Naegi wakes on a desk in a classroom. He manages a few stumbling steps towards the entrance hall before he falls to his knees and throws up painfully. It... it seems strange that he has anything to throw up at all.

Did – did he die? It felt like he was dying. Is that why he’s back here? Is he dead?

Fujisaki-san was the first to die, then Fukawa-san, then Togami-kun, swearing to the end that he would get out and take revenge on Monobear. They – nobody came to take away the bodies. Naegi kept looking for a way out, kept hoping, but he was getting so weak, and...

Naegi pauses in front of the entrance hall, and swallows, hard, and pushes the doors open.

Maybe he’s hallucinating?

“Fujisaki-san?” he asks, hesitantly.

Fujisaki-san looks up at him. “Ah, have... have we met? I’m sorry, I don’t...”

They’re all here. They’re all okay. He’s back at the beginning again.

“That’s okay,” Naegi says, giving Fujisaki-san a smile, trying to push the image of everyone slowly dying out of his head.

-

This time, he gets it right.

He tries to remember what he said and did around Maizono-san the first time, tries to follow his own actions like a script. He doesn’t think he manages to do everything exactly the same, but Maizono-san still knocks on his door when the time comes.

He agrees to switch rooms with her, and waits.

The time of death was around 1.30, he remembers. At one in the morning, he creeps out into the corridor and changes the door plates around so Maizono-san’s picture is on her door again.

Not long after that, there’s a knock on Maizono-san’s door. He opens it.

Kuwata-kun stares at him. “You’re definitely not Maizono.”

Naegi tries to look politely puzzled. “You were looking for Maizono-san?”

“Yeah!” Kuwata-kun brandishes the note in front of Naegi: the one that says there is something I want to talk to you about discreetly, please come to my room. Kuwata-kun, Naegi concludes, is probably a terrible person to talk to about anything discreetly.

Naegi looks over the note and laughs. “Oh, no, I think someone must be playing a trick on you. Maizono-san and I switched rooms because she was scared.”

“What, seriously? Dammit! I knew it was too good to be true. You don’t think she wanted me to meet her in your room, then?”

What exactly does Kuwata-kun think they’ll be doing in his room? Naegi wouldn’t be happy about this even if he didn’t know Maizono-san’s real plan.

“It says ‘please check the name plate to make sure you have the right room’,” Naegi points out. “Someone wanted to make sure you came to Maizono-san’s room and met me instead. I think it’s just a joke. You should get back to your room, though; it’s dangerous to stay out at Night Time.”

Kuwata-kun’s shoulders slump. “Fine, fine. Man, as if this whole murder thing wasn’t bad enough.”

-

There’s another knock on Maizono-san’s door just after the morning announcement. Worried that it might be bad news, Naegi hurries to open it.

Maizono-san is standing there. She looks on the verge of tears, but Naegi is just glad to see she’s still alive.

“Are you okay?” he asks. “Did something happen?”

“May I come in?” she asks.

-

She ends up sobbing into Naegi’s shoulder on the bed. Naegi tries to sort of... pat her comfortingly.

“I was just... I was so relieved when he didn’t show up,” she whispers. “It made me realise I never wanted to do it in the first place. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You must hate me.”

“I don’t hate you, Maizono-san,” Naegi says, gently. “I don’t think you’re a bad person. You were just scared. I’m glad you told me.”

She hesitates, then raises her head and gives him a wobbly smile, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’m – I’m glad I told you too, Naegi-kun.”

-

Monobear calls them to an assembly to explain the trial process, even though there have been no murders yet. Naegi is surprised, but then the same familiar scene with Ikusaba-san plays out and he realises – this was Enoshima-san’s real goal. She doesn’t care when they find out about the trial; she just wants to get rid of her sister as soon as possible.

Naegi averts his eyes and tries to steady his breathing as Ikusaba-san goes still. Could he have done something this time? He wasn’t expecting it, without a murder yet, but he still realised what was happening an instant before the spears came. Could he have done something? Would that have been the right thing to do? She was their enemy, he thinks, but he still feels horrible every time it happens.

-

Ding-dong-ding-dong.

A body has been discovered!

Naegi freezes mid-step.

What? No. That’s not possible! He stopped Maizono-san! They haven’t even been given another motive yet!

It must be a mistake. It has to be a mistake.

They haven’t been given the second motive! This isn’t supposed to happen!

-

Togami-kun is lying on the stage in the gymnasium, his hands folded on his chest. Someone must have posed him to look peaceful after death. He looks... a lot younger, somehow, than he ever did when he was alive.

Did someone target Togami-kun because they thought he was dangerous? He wants to shout no, you’re wrong, I’ve been through all of this before, Togami-kun never killed anyone.

He doesn’t understand. Why did this happen? He stopped Maizono-san. None of the others gave in to the video motive the first time around; why did—

Oogami-san, he realises. It was Oogami-san. It was the mole.

So that’s another of his friends he knows is capable of murder now. It’s always a horrible realisation, but he knows Oogami-san is still a good person.

At the trial, Oogami-san confesses before the discussion has even begun. Monobear throws things and storms out.

-

There are no murders for a long time after that. Maybe people respect Oogami-san’s confession; maybe they feel less tense when Togami-kun isn’t around, although that seems like a horrible thing to think somehow. Naegi keeps an eye on Fukawa-san, afraid she might harm herself, but she only becomes even more withdrawn.

When Monobear tries to use their secrets as a motive, Naegi strongly supports Ishimaru-kun’s suggestion of confessing them there and then. It doesn’t work. He’s been spending a lot of time with Fujisaki-san, talking, hoping to make sure Fujisaki-san knows he has friends and support so he’ll feel able to confess when the time comes, but Fujisaki-san just isn’t ready.

Naegi leaves the gymnasium deep in thought. He couldn’t make Fujisaki-san or Oowada-kun confess their secrets, so what can he do to save them? Maybe he should stay close to Oowada-kun. Oowada-kun might be dangerous at the moment, but if he hurts Naegi instead of Fujisaki-san... well, Naegi thinks he must have died last time, and he just woke up back at the start.

“Um, Naegi-kun?”

Naegi, startled out of his thoughts, turns around. “Fujisaki-san?”

Fujisaki-san is shifting uneasily from foot to foot. “Ah, I was wondering... could you come to my room tonight?”

“Your room?” Naegi asks, taken aback. “Fujisaki-san...”

“I – I know I was too weak to tell everyone my secret,” Fujisaki-san mumbles, looking down at the floor. “But I will. I’ll get stronger. I promise.” He raises his head, then, to look Naegi in the eye. “I... I wanted to tell you first. So please come to my room tonight.”

Naegi feels a smile spreading across his face. Maybe he did do some good by spending all that time with Fujisaki-san, after all. “Okay.”

-

He spends all night talking with Fujisaki-san, just in case. He doesn’t say he already knew, because he doesn’t want to make Fujisaki-san worry that he isn’t convincing enough; he feigns surprise but not shock, and promises Fujisaki-san that nobody will think any less of him. Fujisaki-san gives him the brightest smile he thinks he’s ever seen.

Naegi emerges from Fujisaki-san’s room in the morning, after resisting the urge to say I’m glad you’re still alive because that will sound strange, and almost walks straight into Fukawa-san outside the door, because apparently the universe thinks she constantly needs to believe he and Fujisaki-san are romantically involved.

“Fukawa-san,” Naegi says, cautiously. She and Oowada-kun are the people he’s worried about; Fujisaki-san is still alive, but that means time is running out before Monobear announces everyone’s secrets to the world, and Fukawa-san’s secret is dangerous. “I wanted to speak to you about Monobear’s motive.”

“Why should I care?” she asks, bleakly. “My one true love is dead.”

That’s good. Well, it’s not good, exactly, but at least it seems he doesn’t have to worry about Fukawa-san committing a murder right now.

-

When the twenty-four-hour mark passes, Monobear makes an announcement that he’s very disappointed in them and he’s going to announce their secrets to the world immediately.

Naegi finds Oowada-kun on his hands and knees, his forehead pressed against the floor of the gymnasium.

“Shit,” Oowada-kun breathes. “Shit.”

“Oowada-kun?”

“The Crazy Diamonds will fall apart,” Oowada-kun mutters into the floor.

Naegi sits down on the floor next to him. He almost puts a hand on Oowada-kun’s back, but decides against it. “You did the right thing,” he says. “I think they’ll admire you.”

Oowada-kun gives a dry almost-laugh. “You don’t know what I did.”

“I know you didn’t hurt anyone here,” Naegi says. “Even though you were frightened, you stayed strong.”

Oowada-kun’s body stiffens. He breathes into the floor for a moment longer, and then he stands up.

“Okay,” he says. “We’re going to beat that fucking bear.”

-

Naegi is just starting to think maybe there won’t be any more murders when the body discovery announcement rings through the school. He immediately sets off at a run, checking every room, going through everyone in his head, feeling increasingly sick. What happened? Who is it going to be this time?

When he reaches the body, Kuwata-kun is just stooping to take its mask off.

“Don’t!” Naegi screams.

Kuwata-kun freezes and looks up at him. “Huh?”

Naegi stares at the body, breathing hard. It isn’t exactly the same – there haven’t been enough murders for them to have access to the indoor garden, so the corpse is splayed out on the floor of the library – but there she is, Mukuro Ikusaba in her coat and mask. “It’ll explode.”

-

Working very, very, very carefully, they’re able to remove the bomb without harming Ikusaba-san’s body. Fukawa-san seems scandalised by the idea that anyone would place something that could blow up in a library; it’s the most emotion he’s seen her display since Togami-kun died.

“See?” Naegi asks, pointing. “It’s – I mean, her hair is different, but it’s Enoshima-san.” He raises his voice. “Monobear! We don’t need a trial. We know who killed this person. It was you!”

There is a pause. A long pause.

And then the door of the library bursts open and Enoshima-san – the real Enoshima-san – storms in.

“Aaah! A ghost!” Hagakure-kun howls.

“Fine!” Enoshima-san shrieks. “God! One lousy murder! No real trials! It’s not even Despair-inducingly depressing; it’s just depressing!” She flings something at Naegi; he barely manages to catch it. “Go! Maybe you’ll heal the entire world with your stupid hope and then I can finally feel some real Despair!”

Naegi stares at the thing in his hands.

It’s the escape switch.

Enoshima-san sits on her sister’s body and screams at the ceiling.

Naegi backs nervously out of the room.

-

Naegi stands in front of the huge metal doors, with friends on either side of him. They haven’t all made it this far – they’ve lost Oogami-san and Togami-kun, and Ikusaba-san, of course, and he’s sad that they’re not here at the end – but it’s so much better this time. They really have shown the world that hope can triumph over despair.

Naegi looks around at everyone, and he smiles, and he presses the button.

-

Naegi wakes on a desk in a classroom.

He can’t believe it. It felt so final, that time, that he didn’t even think this might happen again. He did almost everything right. Maizono-san and Kuwata-kun, Fujisaki-san and Oowada-kun, Ishimaru-kun and Yamada-kun and Celes-san – they all died, the first time, and this time they were all okay. And now he’s back at the beginning. Everything he did...

He closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them, he’s still in the classroom.

But this isn’t a bad thing, he tells himself. It just means he has another chance to save Oogami-san and Togami-kun. He can do things better this time.

Feeling determined, Naegi leaps up and runs to the entrance hall to meet his classmates again.

-

It’s hard, making sure everyone survives this. He can stop the murders he knows are coming, but sometimes that means things change in ways he couldn’t have predicted. There are a lot of people here; can he really make sure they all stay safe until they can get out of here?

Maybe he needs to approach this from a different angle.

The sooner they end the game, the less time there is for anyone to kill. If he can find some kind of shortcut, go straight for Enoshima-san at the beginning, maybe everyone can stay alive. Maybe that’s the answer.

They need to know more about their enemy. They need to know more about Enoshima-san and the inner workings of the game, and Naegi... it could be dangerous, but Naegi can think of one person who might be able to help.

-

He approaches her in the laundry room, where he hopes they’ll be able to speak alone.

“Um, excuse me... Ikusaba-san?”

Ikusaba-san whips around instantly, dropping into a crouch, and Naegi hears the bang a long five seconds before he registers that it’s a gunshot. He chokes and clutches his chest before he realises he’s in pain.

“Naegi-kun?” Ikusaba-san asks, quietly.

“Not an instant death?” Monobear asks, popping out of seemingly nowhere. There’s an odd lilt in his voice that Naegi hasn’t heard there before; he supposes Enoshima-san must let the act drop a little around her sister, or maybe she just puts on a new act. “What kind of Super High-school Level Soldier are you?”

He – he can’t – he can’t breathe. It’s as if there’s no air in the room. It’s as if someone’s standing on his chest.

“I thought you would like it,” Ikusaba-san says, tucking the gun back into her shirt, not taking her eyes off Naegi’s. His knees give way; he must hit the floor hard, but he’s barely aware of the impact. He can feel his own blood seeping between his fingers. “If he knew it was happening.”

She... she shot him, but Naegi doesn’t think she looks happy to see him die. Monobear’s glee comes through clearly, even though he’s really just a doll. Ikusaba-san just looks... resigned.

“I-Iku...” It’s getting harder to speak, and he’s not sure he can really grasp what he wants to say. It feels like static is crowding into his mind, pushing out his thoughts; it feels like all the warmth in his body is oozing out through the wound. He curls into himself with an involuntary shudder.

As everything around him begins to slip away, he hears Monobear’s voice again, sounding vaguely put out: “How did he know so much? Oh, well, we’ll never know now; isn’t that so Despair-inducing? I guess he must’ve figured out you couldn’t be me because I’m so much prettier.” A laugh. “Oh, by the way, my dear sister, I hope you didn’t think you were exempt from the trial and execution process!”

-

It takes Naegi a long, slow while to register that he’s still alive, or maybe that he’s alive again, and he sits up very suddenly at the desk.

Well, he thinks, that didn’t work. He makes an odd choked noise, half-laugh, half-sob, and presses his hand hard over the wound that isn’t there any more.

In the entrance hall he can’t look at Ikusaba-san. She ends up waving her hand in front of his face with a shrill whistle. He flinches.

“Yo! Naegi, right? You’re not gonna listen to my introduction? That’s pretty rude, you know!”

He forces himself to meet her eyes and smile. “Ah, I’m sorry, there are so many people here... you’re Junko Enoshima-san? It’s nice to meet you.”

His eyes slide down to her shirt. Does she have a gun somewhere on her right now?

Ikusaba-san folds her arms and tilts her head, frowning. “Oh? And you looked like such a nice guy. Where are you looking, exactly?”

Naegi flushes. “Ah, I – no – I’m sorry,” he stammers.

He finds himself wondering whether he’s spoken to the real Ikusaba-san at all since the memory wipe. Is this all just an act? Is there any of the real person in there? What is Ikusaba-san like when she isn’t pretending to be someone else?

He finds himself wondering what she feels when the spears tear through her. She shot him without hesitation to protect Enoshima-san’s plan, but Enoshima-san...

Ikusaba-san is still frowning at him. “Are you okay? You seem seriously out of it.”

“I’m okay,” he says. “I just... you give off a different impression in real life.”

She laughs. “What, you’re talking about my magazine shots?”

It must hurt, he thinks. He’s seen Ikusaba-san’s final moments three times now, and every time he can see the pain and confusion and betrayal clearer on her face. The more he thinks about it, the more convinced he is. She didn’t kill Naegi to escape, or for pleasure. She’s willing to kill for her sister, and her sister will throw her away.

-

Here they are in the gymnasium: the same speech, the same little act between the sisters, and in seconds Ikusaba-san will be dead. He’s been brooding so much on this moment that he’s shocked, when it comes, to realise he hasn’t decided what he’s going to do.

He almost shouts out to warn her, Ikusaba-san!, but he remembers what happened last time and he doesn’t want to die again, it hurt, and—

—and in that moment of hesitation the spears shoot through her.

Naegi feels his legs weaken as the people around him scream. He could have saved her this time and he decided not to even try? Because he was scared?

He runs forward and grabs Ikusaba-san’s hand. She shudders on the spears.

“Ikusaba-san,” he whispers, “I’m sorry.”

Ikusaba-san’s eyes, clouded and confused, find his. Her fingers twitch against his skin. “H-how did...”

She dies still holding onto him, and it hits him harder this time than it ever did before. Naegi lets his head drop.

After a moment, he raises his head again and draws in a shaky breath through his open mouth. Maybe this will happen again; maybe he’ll get another chance to save her. For now, he needs to make sure everyone else stays safe, just in case this is the time the loop ends.

-

There are no murders after the video motive this time. He stays outside the gymnasium door on the evening Togami-kun was killed in there; when Oogami-san approaches, he stops her and asks if they can talk, trying to hide his trembling (she’s so strong, and he knows she came here planning a murder). He can’t be sure, but he thinks she seems relieved to be stopped, ashamed of herself for coming here in the first place. The next day she confesses her position to all of them and swears she won’t play Monobear’s game.

Naegi is worried about the aftermath – he can’t help remembering what happened the first time they found out that she was the mole, the loathing and distrust – but most of them seem to accept her. Maybe it’s because she admitted it herself. Maybe it’s because there haven’t been any murders this time; they’re starting to feel they can trust each other.

He stays close to Fujisaki-san, and when Monobear gives them their second motive Naegi is the one Fujisaki-san confesses to again. The twenty-four-hour time limit passes safely.

They can get out of here, Naegi is thinking. Enoshima-san must be starting to see that he’s the one ruining her game. She’ll use Ikusaba-san’s body to frame him, and they can use that against her, and then they can all escape.

He lets his guard down, he starts to relax, and that’s when they find Togami-kun crucified in the dorm corridor.

Naegi stares at the BLOODSTAIN FEVER scrawled across the wall, horrified. Syo didn’t kill Togami-kun the first time because she couldn’t have escaped being caught; they all knew who she was already. By preventing Fujisaki-san’s murder, Naegi took away Togami-kun’s chance to expose her. He didn’t even think about it.

Maybe he should just get himself killed now, Naegi finds himself thinking. He could attack Monobear; it would be easy, and if he’s lucky it would be quick. He could start again, do things better.

He can’t. He doesn’t know that the loop won’t end this time. He has to stay here, because he has to help everyone else. Just in case.

-

There are twelve of them left when the doors open and Naegi wakes up in a classroom. He isn’t surprised.

He doesn’t go to the entrance hall straight away this time. He paces around the room, trying to focus, trying to make sure he has a plan. Maybe he’ll just keep waking up in this room whenever he gets to the end, but he’s still going to try to save everyone. It has to be possible.

What went wrong last time? Genocider Syo killed Togami-kun, of course. Naegi can’t believe the danger didn’t even occur to him; he’s putting everything he has into keeping everyone alive, and he forgot to watch out for the serial killer.

So how can he stop it this time? Should he try to get close to Fukawa-san, try to make sure she doesn’t become so obsessed?

That’s... that’s probably not a good idea, is it?

He’ll just have to make sure everyone knows about Syo. Cut his hand after Monobear hands out the secrets and show Fukawa-san the blood in front of everyone, something like that.

Sorry, Fukawa-san.

-

As the day when Monobear explains the trial if there’s been no murder approaches, Naegi finds himself thinking about Ikusaba-san again.

She always dies, Ikusaba-san. Monobear always kills her after the trial explanation, in the same way. Naegi should stop it. He should at least try.

But what is he going to do then? There’s only one way he knows to beat Enoshima-san: prevent murders until she tries to use Ikusaba-san’s corpse to have him executed, and then use that against her. If Ikusaba-san dies, maybe he can find a way out of this loop where everyone else can live.

Naegi shakes his head fiercely. He can’t think like that. Ikusaba-san is a person, just like the rest of them; he should be trying just as hard to save her as he is to save everyone else. They’ll just have to find a different way to beat Enoshima-san. He’s sure they can do it, somehow.

It’s probably not a good idea to push her out of the way of the spears or anything, but maybe he could... maybe he could warn her before it happens, tell her what he knows, make sure she stays on her guard. He’s not sure how, though. He can’t go straight up and let Ikusaba-san know that he knows who she really is; he tried that before, and that went very badly. He needs to talk with her properly, spend time with her. Maybe, if she finds out that he knows the truth less suddenly, she won’t shoot him. He thinks she just panicked.

He doesn’t think she wanted to kill him. Not really.

-

The day before Monobear explains the trial, Naegi hesitates outside Ikusaba-san’s room, trying to mentally prepare himself.

He knocks on the door. There’s a pause, and then it opens a crack and Ikusaba-san peers out.

“Oh, hey, Naegi. What’s up?”

“Enoshima-san,” he says. “Could you come to my room, please? I... I wanted to speak to you.”

Ikusaba-san stares blankly at him for a second, then laughs, too loudly. “What, you’re serious?”

“Please,” he says. “It’s important.”

-

Ikusaba-san walks straight over to his bed and plonks herself down on it as if it belongs to her, looking around his walls. Is that just a part of her act? It must be. He wishes he could remember something of the two years before all this began; it doesn’t seem right that he doesn’t know anything about the real Ikusaba-san.

“Wow, Naegi,” she says. “Your room is really boring.”

Naegi forces a laugh and sits next to her. He – this is probably going to seem strange, but it’s the only way he can think of to make sure she doesn’t go for her gun straight away.

Naegi takes Ikusaba-san’s hands in his, gently.

Ikusaba-san bursts out laughing. “Are you making a move on me, Makoto Naegi? Sorry, but I’m not that kind of girl.”

“N-no, I’m not... just listen to me, please.”

“Or are you planning to kill me?” Ikusaba-san asks, any hint of laughter suddenly gone.

“No!” Naegi exclaims, startled. “I would never do something like that!”

“Good,” she says. “Because I would have to kill you first.”

The teasing tone is back in her voice, but Naegi knows she means it. Does she really not want to have to kill him? Is that why she’s giving him a warning? Maybe she just wants to keep him from trying to kill her; that’s understandable, although what harm is he going to do to a Super High-school Level Soldier?

Naegi takes a deep breath and laces his fingers through Ikusaba-san’s. She’ll be able to pull away if she decides to go for the gun, of course – he’s not going to pretend to himself that he’s strong enough to stop her – but he hopes the tiny delay will at least make her think about whether that’s really what she wants to do.

“You’re really bad at this,” Ikusaba-san says. “I always thought Maizono would be more your type.”

She’s trying to keep her voice light, but cracks are starting to show. Naegi can’t delay any longer; he’s putting her on edge, and that means she’ll be more dangerous.

“I know the truth,” he says.

Ikusaba-san blinks at him. “Huh?”

Where should he start?

“Time keeps repeating for me,” he says. “I’ve lived through all this before. Monobear’s game, everything. I know who you are. I know what’s going to happen.” He tries to keep his breathing steady; he tries very, very hard not to think about the gun she’s probably hiding. “Enoshima-san is going to kill you.”

Ikusaba-san freezes, but she doesn’t pull away.

-

He explains everything to her. He explains that he knows her role in all this, and that he knows her sister is the mastermind, and that he knows she’s going to be betrayed because he’s seen it happen already. At some point she takes her hands away from his, but she doesn’t pull the gun out; she just stares.

He supposes that’s the way to keep Ikusaba-san from shooting him: go straight into the whole truth, because the whole truth is so confusing that she has no idea what to do.

“Why are you telling me all this?” she asks, eventually. “Everything you’re saying is impossible, but... you obviously know who I am. Why aren’t you getting the others together to fight me?”

It seems like a strange thing to say, he thinks, although of course he’s been saying a lot of strange things himself. Does she want to be stopped?

“I told you,” he says. “I’ve been trying to save everyone. Why wouldn’t that include you?”

“You don’t need to save me,” she says.

“You can’t trust her! In the gymnasium—”

“You’re asking me to believe that my sister will betray me because you saw it happen and then came back in time to tell me?”

When she puts it like that, it does sound a little difficult to believe.

“Well,” he says, giving her a small smile, “even if you don’t think I can help you, maybe you could help us? I mean, do you really want to watch everyone die? Is despair really that important?”

Ikusaba-san draws breath and hesitates. A strange expression crosses her face, just for an instant, and he knows he was right, he knows Ikusaba-san isn’t the same as her sister.

Of course, Ikusaba-san isn’t the only person listening to him. Rooms without cameras only start to open up after murders; right now, when there have been no deaths and no trials, he doesn’t have any way to make sure Enoshima-san doesn’t overhear. So he needs to persuade her before—

Are you kidding?” Monobear barks.

—before that happens.

“Two healthy teenagers in a bedroom together? I was expecting X-rated action! XXX-rated! And instead I get my own sister plotting mutiny against me?”

“No!” Ikusaba-san exclaims, leaping to her feet. “I would never...”

“Save it, sis. Hey, if you want to get back in my good books, though, I’ve got a great idea for a first murder: Makoto Knows-Too-Much Naegi, found dead in his own bedroom. How mysterious! Everyone trying to work out who he could have invited into his bed! Doesn’t that sound exciting?”

Naegi sits very still on the bed with his hands in the air; Ikusaba-san has had her gun trained on him since the moment Monobear said his name.

“Should I shoot him?” Ikusaba-san asks. Her voice and expression are completely blank; it’s as if she’s consciously pushed out every thought but her sister’s instruction.

“I don’t know, do it however you like. Do you really need me to tell you everything? Use your initiative for once in your pathetic life. Enjoy yourself.”

Naegi is shaking uncontrollably now, just staring at the gun and remembering how it felt. It’s fine, he tries to tell himself, it’ll be fine, it’ll just mean he has another chance at this, but his shaking just gets worse. He doesn’t have to fear death; that doesn’t mean he doesn’t fear pain.

“Don’t,” he whispers. “Please.”

“Don’t enjoy yourself?” Monobear asks, tilting his head. “That’s not very nice, is it? You see, you should definitely kill him.”

“Do you really think she won’t have you executed for it?” Naegi asks, desperately.

Ikusaba-san’s aim doesn’t waver. “Of course she won’t.”

But she hasn’t shot him yet.

“Really?” Naegi asks. “What could give her more despair than killing her own sister?”

Ikusaba-san hesitates. She glances for an instant at Monobear.

“I won’t be executed if I’m found guilty,” she says. “Will I?”

“What, seriously?” Monobear asks. “After all the effort I’m going to put into setting up your execution?”

Ikusaba-san takes her eyes off Naegi, then, to stare at Monobear. She looks astonished. “You don’t mean that.”

“I mean everything I say,” Monobear says. “I am a very truthful bear. It’ll be a great execution. You’ll love it. So much despair being fired from every angle!” He nods towards Naegi. “But you can’t have your despair until you kill your Naegi-kun. You always liked him, didn’t you? I’ll be so proud of you, sis.”

She stares at Monobear for a moment longer.

“Can you leave us alone for a minute, please?” she asks.

“Ooh!” Monobear wraps his arms around himself. “Are you going to have your way with him first? This sort of thing is frowned upon on school grounds, but as you’re in a private dorm I’ll allow it. Just make sure you don’t block off the cameras.”

And in an instant he’s gone.

Ikusaba-san lets the gun drop to her side. She stands there and breathes deeply for a moment.

“Ah,” Naegi ventures. “Ikusaba-san?”

She looks at him. “Tell me exactly what happens to me.”

-

“It happens around here,” Naegi says, standing on the gymnasium floor. “Monobear explains the trial to us. You come up here and say you won’t be part of it...”

“That’s where she told me to stand,” Ikusaba-san murmurs, looking at Naegi’s feet. “You know this because... you’ve seen it before? Really? Or did my sister tell you?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” Naegi says, “but I keep waking up the first day, when Monobear tells us the rules. If it seems like it’s over, or if I die, I just end up back at the start again.”

“If you die?” Ikusaba-san echoes, raising her eyebrows. She obviously doesn’t believe him. He’s not really surprised.

“Monobear runs at you,” he says. “You stamp on him. Then—”

Ikusaba-san springs at him.

-

Naegi gasps for breath on the floor. There’s a clattering sound, and when he raises his head – awkwardly, because Ikusaba-san is still pinning him down – he sees spears lying scattered around them.

“Ikusaba-san?” he asks.

Of course: she’s a Super High-school Level Soldier. She never sustained a single wound on the battlefield. Her reflexes must be incredible.

Ikusaba-san is staring back over her shoulder, watching the spear-firing mechanisms as they retract back into the walls and floor and ceiling, all aimed at the place where Naegi stood a moment ago, all set up so they can’t be seen by a person facing the stage.

“She... really was going to kill me, wasn’t she?” she asks, quietly.

She saved him. She shot him before, and now she’s saved his life. “Th-thank—”

“Grargh!”

Ikusaba-san leaps off Naegi and whirls to face Monobear.

“Naegi-kun!” Monobear snaps. “I can’t help noticing that you’re still irritatingly alive!”

Ikusaba-san snatches up one of the spears. “Stay back,” she says.

“Oh, you’re going to fight me now? Violence against the headmaster is against the rules, you know.”

There are more Monobears in front of the door, Naegi realises to his horror. At least thirty of them, blocking off the one way out of here.

“Naegi-kun, you say you keep living through this? You die and you’re back at the start again?” Monobear claps his paws together. “How wonderfully despair-inducing! But that means I’ll have to erase your memories again; it’ll spoil the surprise if you know who’s going to do the killing already!” He folds his arms and shakes his head. “It’s really for your own safety. I mean, you know where the death trap is and you go walking all over it?”

Naegi stares at Monobear, paralysed by shock. Losing his memories again? If he dies he can just go back to the beginning, but forgetting his friends again, forgetting how to save people, living through all the murders again not knowing what’s coming...

Ikusaba-san is counting the Monobears at the door under her breath.

“I could get past them, but I don’t think I’d be able to get you out safely,” she mutters. “You’d probably be captured. Even if we did both get out, she’d still know too much. You need your memories, don’t you?”

He tries to smile at her. “I’m sure we’ll find a way—”

She pulls the gun out of her shirt and points it at him.

“—Ikusaba-san?”

“There are no cameras in my room,” she says. “Sorry, Naegi-kun.”

-

Naegi wakes on a desk in a classroom.

It didn’t hurt, this time.

-

It takes a long, long time for him to persuade Ikusaba-san to let him talk to her in her own room. Eventually, though, she gives in to her obvious curiosity and holds the door open for him.

He looks around as he enters. He certainly can’t see any cameras. What he can see is... a huge variety of guns, mounted all over the walls.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve kind of got a collection,” she says, with a laugh. “They’re just decoration, obviously. They’re not loaded.”

Ikusaba-san spends most of Naegi’s explanation eyeing the supposedly unloaded guns in a way that worries him quite a lot, but he manages to get through it unscathed.

“Everything you just said is impossible,” she points out at the end. “I don’t know how you know the things you do, but you’re not going back in time. And she isn’t going to hurt me.”

“Please, just... be careful,” Naegi says. “And please don’t tell your sister anything I said to you. Just for now. I haven’t told anyone else who you are. If you find out I’ve been lying, you can tell her whatever you want.”

Ikusaba-san hesitates.

-

“There, are you satisfied now?”

“I should ask you the same thing.”

“Huh?”

“Violence against the headmaster is forbidden. It’s against the school rules...”

Naegi watches with his hands clenched and his heart beating hard in his throat. It’s the same scene he’s seen what feels like a thousand times before, but Ikusaba-san seems... different this time, somehow. More tense, more alert. More like she’s just reciting words, not thinking about really playing the part of Enoshima-san.

“Save me! Gungnir the Spear!”

Ikusaba-san kicks off the floor.

“Huh?” Monobear asks. “Huh? Huh?”

Ikusaba-san twists in the air and lands behind Monobear. She stares at the spears that skewered her so many times before, then looks straight at Naegi, her eyes wide.

“You bastard...” Oowada-kun growls. “You were gonna kill her? You attacked her first!”

Monobear laughs, but it’s not the laugh Naegi is used to hearing from him; it’s somehow quieter, more dangerous. “I suppose I shouldn’t have underestimated a Super High-school Level Soldier.”

“Forgive me for questioning you,” Ishimaru-kun says, “but as headmaster surely you should know your students’ talents! Enoshima-kun is a Super High-school Level Fashion Girl!”

“Oh? You think a Super High-school Level Fashion Girl would have a lot of experience avoiding danger like that? I suppose the fashion business can be a cutthroat place!” Monobear waves a paw in Ikusaba-san’s direction. “Mukuro Ikusaba-san is a Super High-school Level Soldier! She killed Junko Enoshima-san and disguised herself as her so she could get away with killing you! Who would suspect the fashion girl over the soldier when bodies start turning up?”

“That’s not true!” Naegi shouts.

“Such faith in someone you’ve only just met!” Monobear exclaims. “Do I smell a romance developing? You know she only loves you for your scrawny body.”

“Ikusaba-san isn’t going to hurt us!” Naegi insists.

“So you don’t deny that she is Ikusaba-san?” Kirigiri asks.

There is a pause.

Ikusaba-san pulls off her elaborate blonde wig in one motion. Her real hair, short and black, falls to frame her face. “I don’t deny it either,” she says.

“I’ll leave you to talk,” Monobear says, rubbing his paws together in anticipation. “Remember, though, it won’t be much of a trial if someone else sees you kill her!”

-

“So you were in disguise?” Celes-san asks. “My, this is interesting. And Naegi-kun knew?”

“Wh-what’s happened to the real Enoshima Junko-dono?” Yamada-kun asks, fidgeting and sweating. “Impersonating a well-known fashion girl so perfectly that none of us noticed... don’t tell me you’re a shapeshifter, or you’re wearing her skin?”

“Junko Enoshima is my twin sister,” Ikusaba-san says. She’s standing a little way apart from everyone else: not afraid, but obviously poised to run if she has to.

“Aha!” Yamada-kun exclaims. “I should have known! And I suppose you cause Naegi Makoto-dono to transform into a legendary phantom thief?”

“I... don’t think so,” Naegi says.

“Why were you in disguise?” Kirigiri-san asks. “You’re certainly the same Enoshima-san I met before Monobear made himself known. He said you were trying to gain an advantage in the murder game, but unless you knew about the murder game beforehand...”

Naegi laughs, a little nervously. “We don’t really need to—”

“I wasn’t trying to gain an advantage,” Ikusaba-san says, “but I did know about it beforehand. My sister and I set it up.”

“Ikusaba-san!” Naegi exclaims. They all need to trust each other and work together; this isn’t going to help!

Kirigiri-san doesn’t seem shocked; she just nods, looking thoughtful. “Was Naegi-kun involved?”

“No,” Ikusaba-san says, instantly.

“But he knew who you were.”

“I know,” Ikusaba-san says. “But he didn’t have anything to do with this. It was just me and my sister.”

Kirigiri-san folds her arms. “Should we understand, then, that the real Junko Enoshima-san is the person operating Monobear?”

Ikusaba-san doesn’t say anything, but the answer is clear in her expression.

“So she tried to kill her own sister?” Fujisaki-san whispers. “How horrible...”

“More importantly, it seems we know who the masterminds are,” Celes-san says. “And one of them is here in front of us. What are we going to do with her?”

“Do you want to pick a fight with a Super High-school Level Soldier?” Kuwata-kun asks. “’Cause I don’t. Oogami, you go.”

“Should we not give her the opportunity to explain herself?” Oogami-san asks. “Enoshima betrayed her; perhaps she is thinking better of her actions.”

Celes-san laughs quietly. “And we’re sure that betrayal wasn’t an act? I’d hate to find we had a double agent in our midst. Or a quadruple agent, I suppose, if she was a double agent before.”

“Don’t any of you fuckers lay a hand on her!” Oowada-kun snarls, moving to put himself between Ikusaba-san and the rest of the group.

“Uh,” Kuwata-kun says, “have you been listening to, like, any of this?”

“Oowada-kun and Oogami-san are right,” Naegi says. “We can’t hurt her.”

“W-why do you keep trying to protect her?” Fukawa-san demands. “She put us in this mess!”

“Maybe she can help get us out of it,” Naegi says.

“Exactly!” Fukawa-san exclaims. “We – we should torture her for information!”

He frowns at her. “We don’t need to,” he says. “She’s answering our questions.”

“Um,” Maizono-san says, hesitantly, “Ikusaba-san? I have a question.”

Ikusaba-san looks at her.

“When Monobear showed us those videos,” Maizono-san says. “Mine was – it was of the other girls in my group. I was wondering...”

Her voice is drowned out by the others, everyone talking at once, everyone wanting to know what was really going on in the videos they saw.

Ikusaba-san closes her eyes for a moment.

“I... have bad news,” she says.

-

The atmosphere is understandably subdued after Ikusaba-san explains the state of the world outside. Maizono-san keeps casting awkward glances at Kuwata-kun. Naegi knows what she must be thinking: she was planning to kill him, and to get back to what?

Asahina-san is leaning against Oogami-san’s shoulder, holding onto her arm; Fukawa-san is curled up in a corner, digging her fingers into her scalp. Oowada-kun sits on the edge of the stage in silence for a long while, his head down, but eventually he looks up, notices that Ishimaru-kun’s attempts to be inspirational are only making Fujisaki-san cry harder, rolls his eyes and goes over to help. Naegi, who came to terms with this a long time ago, stands alone, and he’s surprised when Ikusaba-san makes her way over to him.

“Ikusaba-san?”

“Naegi-kun,” she says, quietly. “You knew who I was. Why did you try to save me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” he asks. “I didn’t want you to die.”

She’s silent for a while.

“Thank you,” she says.

-

The students of Hope’s Peak are just beginning to gather themselves again when Monobear’s voice rings through the gymnasium.

“Excuse me, but I very clearly implied you should be killing the traitor in your midst! I never said anything about group hugs!”

“Enoshima-san,” Kirigiri-san says, calmly.

“Huh?” Monobear asks, hopping down from the stage. “What’s that you’re calling me? I’m Monobear.”

“Monobear, then,” Kirigiri-san says. “I believe there is no traitor in our midst. You threw away your pawn.”

Naegi is relieved. Kirigiri-san always speaks with such authority; if she believes Ikusaba-san is on their side, he’s sure the others will too.

Monobear shrugs. “Do what you like. It’s your own lives you’re risking, after all. Speaking of which, I’m bored of this diversion; why don’t we get back to our school life of mutual killing? I’ve just explained the trial rules; won’t it be a waste if we never get to use them?”

“We’re not going to play your game, Monobear,” Naegi says. “We know about what’s happened to the world. There’s no motive you can give us.”

“Oh, really?” Monobear asks. “You think I can’t give any incentive just because you don’t have anything to go back to? How about torture? How about ‘if there isn’t a murder within twenty-four hours, everyone loses a limb’? I’ve seen some excellent films about tentacles recently, you know.”

Naegi feels a chill run up his spine. “Nobody’s going to give in,” he says, although he’s not sure whether he believes it. “You might as well just let us go.”

“Weren’t you just saying I couldn’t give you a motive to try to graduate?” Monobear asks. “And now you want to get out? That’s very inconsistent, Naegi-kun.” He adopts an exaggerated thinking pose. “Well, as you’re all such a big happy family, why don’t we see how well you work together? Come and meet me and I’ll let you out of here. You can repopulate the Earth and sing campfire songs or whatever it is you’re planning to do out there.”

Everyone exchanges glances.

“But... you’re here,” Hagakure-kun points out.

“Not me, me! Me the person who’s controlling me!”

Hagakure-kun looks no less confused.

“But if you don’t manage it, or if any of you die,” Monobear says, “I’m going to take your memories again and we can have a nice fresh start.”

-

They’re silent for a while after Monobear disappears.

Is this their chance? Is this going to be the time everyone lives? Maybe soon he’ll be standing in front of the bulkhead doors with everyone, with Ikusaba-san as well this time, and...

...and then what? He’ll wake up in that classroom and have to do it all again?

He’s not going to think about that right now. All he has to do is make sure they get through this.

“So... this is our final boss?” Yamada-kun asks. “We need to find Enoshima Junko-dono?”

“She should be on the fourth floor,” Ikusaba-san says.

“This is definitely a trap, right?” Asahina-san asks.

Ikusaba-san nods. “But it won’t be impossible,” she says. “She wants us to despair; there’s no despair in failing unless you could have succeeded.”

“Right!” Oowada-kun roars, slamming his fist into his hand. “Let’s go!”

“But... I mean, do we really even want to get out?” Asahina-san asks. “If it’s as bad out there as Ikusaba-san says...”

“Do not fear, Asahina,” Oogami-san says. “No matter how dangerous it may be, I shall protect you.”

“We can’t stay here,” Naegi says. “Monobear will just keep trying to get us to kill each other.”

“But none of us would do that, would we?” Fujisaki-san asks.

Togami-kun laughs under his breath.

“You got something to say?” Oowada-kun demands.

“Nothing at all,” Togami-kun says, inspecting his cuffs. “I’m just... surprised, if you’re concerned about traps, that you’re so eager to follow Ikusaba and the nobody who knew who she was, seemed unsurprised to learn about what happened outside and came here mysteriously on no real talent.”

There is a pause.

It... it does sound quite bad when he puts it like that, doesn’t it?

“Now that you mention it, I don’t believe I know Naegi-kun’s Super High-school Level talent,” Celes-san says. “Why did Hope’s Peak Academy seek you out, exactly?”

Naegi swallows. His mouth feels dry. “I won a lottery,” he says.

People are looking suspiciously at him, and he can’t blame them. Has he screwed this up? Maybe he should just ask Ikusaba-san to kill him again; he knows he can trust her to make it quick.

“I swear,” he says, “I’m not—”

He’s suddenly struck by inspiration.

“I don’t think the memory wipe worked on me,” he says. “I still have some of my memories of the last two years. That’s why I know about the Worst, Most Despair-inducing Incident in the History of Mankind. And it’s how I knew Enoshima-san was really Ikusaba-san; I could remember her. You can tell the difference if you know both of them.”

“How convenient,” Togami-kun says.

“I can remember all of you,” he says, moving to sit on the edge of the stage. He’s spent so much time with all these people in this endless loop, speaking to them, getting to know them; surely he can use that now? “You told me about your Maltese, Oowada-kun... he was called Chuck, wasn’t he? And Oogami-san, you told me about Kenichiro-san, and...”

“This means nothing,” Togami-kun says. “There’s information on Hope’s Peak Academy students all over the Internet.”

But some of the others are starting to look uncertain.

“What do you remember about me?” Asahina-san asks.

He laughs, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly, remembering a very strange conversation they had in the loop when Oogami-san was executed; he’d stayed close to Asahina-san, worried about whether she would be okay without Oogami-san’s support. “You were worried that you weren’t feminine enough. You, ah... you wanted me to be your practice boyfriend.”

Asahina-san turns bright red.

The others start asking him questions as well, and he realises they’re desperate to know more about the years they don’t remember. He can’t tell them anything real from that time, of course, but with his experiences of the loop and the photographs he’s seen he can cobble something together for them.

(“No, really, you and Oowada-kun would get along really well if you just talked,” Naegi insists. “I’ve seen it happen before, so I know it’s true.”

“That delinquent?” Ishimaru-kun asks. “You must be mistaken, Naegi-kun!”

“Who are you calling a delin – del – what did you call me?”)

Ikusaba-san listens in silence at first, but then she begins to contribute small things of her own, obviously realising this is about more than just establishing whether Naegi is trustworthy. She can’t tell them anything personal – it sounds like she just stayed on the outskirts of the class, not really speaking much to anyone but Enoshima-san – but it’s something real. Naegi has to resist begging her for more about his missing years; it wouldn’t help his case.

Eventually, Oogami-san stands from the floor and stretches.

“It is clear to me that Naegi is someone I trusted greatly in the past,” she says. “I would not tell anyone of the things you mention lightly. If I had faith in you then, I am prepared to have faith in you now.”

He almost feels guilty for deceiving them, but... it’s not really untrue, is it? She did trust him enough to talk about Kenichiro-san at one point. It’s just that he’s not sure whether that point technically exists in history any more.

“Are we really gonna go confront the mastermind, though?” Kuwata-kun asks, looking uneasy. “Don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the sound of that.”

“I could go alone,” Ikusaba-san says. “You should stay together here; you can protect each other if she tries to win by killing one of you.”

Naegi shakes his head. “You’re right, Ikusaba-san,” he says. “We should stay together. But you’re one of us. We’ll go with you.”

“S-speak for yourself!” Fukawa-san mutters. “I’m not going! It’s suicide! I’ll stay here!”

“I certainly don’t intend to allow you to go alone, Soldier,” Togami-kun says, folding his arms. “The moment you’re out of sight, you’ll join up with the mastermind again. Did you think I would fall for such an obvious ploy?”

“Yes, exactly!” Fukawa-san says instantly, leaping to her feet. “Don’t think we’ll let you go by yourself!”

Naegi sighs quietly. Still, even if not everyone trusts Ikusaba-san, at least it seems they might all be able to stay as a group.

-

Of course, they’re never going to get to the fourth floor if they can’t get up the stairs from the first. Ikusaba-san stands in front of the shutter gate and looks it over with her hands on her hips. It’s a pose unsettlingly reminiscent of her sister.

“Oogami-san,” she says. “You’ve already tried to lift this, haven’t you?”

“Oowada and I tried together,” Oogami-san says. “We could not lift or break it.”

Ikusaba-san nods. “It’s a very strong design,” she says. “It became popular after the incident, to keep rioters out. Keeping despair out. That’s why my sister chose it to keep despair in.”

“Are there gates like this on every floor?” Kirigiri-san asks.

Ikusaba-san nods again. So does Naegi, realising too late that he probably shouldn’t know that. Fortunately, nobody seems to notice.

“So how are we going to get up there?” Asahina-san asks.

Monobear’s voice comes over the speaker system. “Oh, I don’t think I mentioned! Every time there’s a murder and a successful trial, you’ll get access to another floor of the school! In fact, I’m such a nice bear that I’ll waive the ‘if anyone dies’ clause for this: if you kill another student, the ‘come and meet me’ offer stays open!

They all look at each other as the speakers crackle and fall silent.

“Okay,” Kuwata-kun says, “does anyone have any plans for getting up there that don’t involve three murders? Because that seems like a pretty terrible idea.”

“Um,” Fujisaki-san ventures, “maybe we should concentrate on the wall instead of the gate? I mean, this wasn’t designed to be a prison, was it? It’s a school. If we could weaken the wall somehow...”

Ikusaba-san turns and starts walking away from the gate.

“Ikusaba-kun!” Ishimaru-kun exclaims. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get something from my room,” she says.

“On your own?” Celes-san asks.

Ikusaba-kun stops walking. “You can come with me, if you like,” she says, not turning around.

Celes-san laughs, lightly. “So I can stop the Super High-school Level Soldier if she turns out not to be on our side after all? Those are very unappealing odds.”

It wouldn’t have occurred to Naegi that Ikusaba-san might need to be escorted, but he supposes it’s a good idea if it means everyone else will be less worried. “Oogami-san, Oowada-kun,” he says. “Why don’t you go with her? I’m sure you’re strong enough to make sure nothing happens.”

-

Ikusaba-san, Oogami-san and Oowada-kun have barely been gone a minute before Monobear appears and Naegi realises what a mistake he’s made.

“What a great idea!” Monobear exclaims. “Send all the strongest of you bastards away! Defend everyone else with the power to sing and have rich parents! What was your talent again, Naegi-kun: Super High-school Level Strategist?”

“Sakura-chan!” Asahina-san bellows, so loudly that Naegi starts and puts his hands up to cover his ears.

“She can’t hear you, you know,” Monobear says. “Hope’s Peak Academy’s dorm rooms have been expertly soundproofed by a Super High-school Level Soundproofer! Probably. I sort of skimmed the school’s history when I became headmaster.” He stretches idly. “Now, which of you should I kill? It only needs to be one of you for me to win. I think we all know who’s the easiest target: you’ve taken that into account for your graduation plans, haven’t you?”

He rushes at Fujisaki-san, claws bared. Fujisaki-san screams.

HEY!” Asahina-san yells, somehow managing to be even louder than before.

Everything seems to slow down as Naegi watches, frozen; Monobear charges forward, slashing the air in front of him, and Asahina-san leaps in front of Fujisaki-san and kicks Monobear directly in the face.

Monobear goes flying; he actually hits the opposite wall of the corridor. In seconds, though, he’s back on his feet and advancing on Asahina-san with a dangerous glint in his eye. Asahina-san stands her ground, breathing hard, looking a strange combination of terrified and immensely proud of herself.

“Violence against the headmaster is against the school rules, you know,” Monobear says.

And then there’s a terrible outburst of gunfire and Monobear keels over, wires sparking from the new holes torn in his side.

“Asahina!” Oogami-san exclaims. “Are you hurt?”

Naegi turns, and there they all are: Oogami-san, Oowada-kun, Ikusaba-san, laden down with most of the larger and more terrifying-looking guns from Ikusaba-san’s supposedly unloaded ‘collection’.

-

Naegi sits with his hands over his ears and watches the now-still Monobear, making sure it’s not just pretending to be broken, as Ikusaba-san empties seemingly endless rounds into the wall by the shutter gate. Eventually, Oogami-san and Oowada-kun manage to shoulder down one side of the gate, taking a good chunk of near-crumbling wall with it.

Naegi leads the others up the stairs. His ears are ringing, even though he was blocking them. But at least they’re through.

Only two more to go, he tells himself.

-

“I could tell you weren’t telling the truth about your memories,” Kirigiri-san says quietly to Naegi, as they cross the third floor. “But I don’t think you’re involved in Enoshima-san’s plan, either. How did you really know those things?”

Naegi laughs a little. “You won’t believe me,” he says. “I’ve lived through this before. Monobear’s game, I mean. It keeps repeating. It’s like I’m going back in time.”

Kirigiri-san looks very strangely at him.

Oh,” Hagakure-kun says, from just behind them. “That explains everything! Why didn’t you say so before?”

“Well,” Kirigiri-san says, quickening her step to leave some distance between them and Hagakure-kun, “however you knew them, you didn’t say anything about me.”

It hadn’t even occurred to him that he was holding back information about Kirigiri-san, but he was, now that he thinks about it, and he knows why he did it. “I knew you were a private person,” he says. “I didn’t think you’d want me to talk about you in front of everyone.”

Kirigiri-san’s eyes widen. “So there are things you know?”

Oh, that’s right: she has larger gaps in her memory than any of them, doesn’t she?

“I can tell you about them, if you want,” he says. “After we get out of this place.”

-

Ikusaba-san uses the last of her ammo on the gate blocking off the fourth floor, but they manage to get through. Naegi strongly suspects that he’s going to be hearing the rattle of machine-gun fire in his head for the rest of his life.

As they reach the top of the stairs, he realises they’re going to have more than gates to contend with. Some distance ahead of them, packing every part of the corridors around the data processing room – it’s a crowd of Monobears. It’s a sea. He has no idea how many there are; it seems like they fill every centimetre of floor space. Hundreds, probably.

“No way!” Kuwata-kun breathes, pushing past Naegi to stare.

Naegi takes half a step back without thinking. How are they going to get past safely? They don’t have any bullets left. Oogami-san and Oowada-kun and Ikusaba-san are strong, but there are so many Monobears, all with razor-sharp claws, all with bombs...

“Oh no, Ikusaba-san, it’s not looking so good, is it?” a single Monobear asks, popping up in front of her. “Looks like you chose the wrong side! Maybe you should—”

Ikusaba-san snatches it up. It protests loudly, and then goes very still and begins to tick.

“Kuwata-kun!” she shouts, throwing the ticking Monobear at him. “Clear the path!”

He catches it automatically, looking startled, then yelps and hurls it as hard as he can towards the crowd of Monobears blocking their way. Which, for a Super High-school Level Baseball Player, is very, very hard.

The Monobear explodes just as it impacts the first bear in the crowd, and that Monobear explodes and the next and the next, a chain reaction of explosions that shakes the walls and destroys the entire sea of Monobears in about two seconds. Ikusaba-san charges straight ahead, into the carnage.

It takes a moment for the floor to stop shuddering under their feet. Naegi coughs, squinting through the smoke and Monobear-wreckage that fills the corridor, his eyes watering.

When they reach the door of the data processing room, they find it’s been blown off its hinges.

-

“This is... the footage from the security cameras, isn’t it?” Maizono-san asks, looking around the walls of monitors. “So the mastermind was watching us from in here?”

“She’s almost certainly nearby,” Kirigiri-san says. She indicates the Monobear door amongst the screens. “Behind that door, perhaps?”

“Probably,” Ikusaba-san says. Naegi was worried about her when she ran into the exploding mass of Monobears, but her clothes aren’t even singed. He supposes her Super High-school Level Soldier instincts must have let her find a safe way through. “That’s where she controls Monobear.”

“Ah!” Fujisaki-san exclaims. “So when there were all those Monobears in the corridor...”

Ikusaba-san nods. “She must have been in there. I ran here to make sure she wouldn’t have time to get away.”

She didn’t even hesitate, and she came through completely unharmed. How did the spear trap ever work on her? She must really have trusted her sister.

Naegi takes a deep breath, then walks forward and tries the handle of the Monobear door. It doesn’t work, of course.

“Oogami-san?” he asks. “Can you open this door? It’s locked, so...”

“I shall try,” Oogami-san says. “Please stand back.”

They all shuffle back to clear some space, and Oogami-san charges into the Monobear door. There’s a loud splintering of wood.

On her second attempt, the door bursts open.

-

Enoshima-san is lounging on a seat in the Monobear control room, the escape switch on her lap. Ikusaba-san freezes when she sees her.

“Sis,” Enoshima-san breathes, smiling. “You completely betrayed me. I’ve never been so betrayed in my life. It was amazing.”

“I’m sorry,” Ikusaba-san says.

“Are you going to kill me now?” Enoshima-san asks. She wriggles in her seat. “Oh, I know! You can stab me and I can die in your arms and you can yell ‘NO’ at the ceiling, even though the ceiling didn’t do anything. It’ll be great!”

“I’m not going to kill you.”

“Oh, come on. It’d be a cliché, but that just adds to the Despair! Your beloved sister’s final moments, and you couldn’t even come up with anything original to see her off. You were never very imaginative, were you, sis?”

Ikusaba-san shakes her head. “We’re going to put the world back together,” she says. “You won’t want to miss the despair of seeing your plan fall apart.”

Enoshima-san rolls her eyes and tosses the escape switch at her. Ikusaba-san catches it.

“Seeya, sis,” Enoshima-san says, with a wave. “I hope civilisation gets itself back together enough for buses, just so you can get hit by one.”

Ikusaba-san smiles a little. “Love you too.”

“Ugh. Get out of my sight.”

Naegi decides that this is a relationship he’s probably best off not understanding.

-

Naegi stands in front of the huge metal bulkhead, the escape switch in his hand, and – he hesitates.

He doesn’t want to press the button. Everyone’s alive, everyone’s okay – he doesn’t want to reset all that and start again. But Enoshima-san is still around. They can’t just stay here; it’s not safe.

It’s probably not safe outside either. Ikusaba-san is standing on his right, tensed up, staring at the door. It makes him uneasy; she’s the only one who really knows what the world out there is like, and she’s obviously prepared for danger.

If it resets, he knows what to do. He’ll keep doing this, he’ll keep making sure everyone survives, and maybe one time the loop will end.

Maybe this time, he tells himself.

He presses the button.

The doors open, and...

-

The doors are open. The doors stay open.

Naegi doesn’t realise he’s just standing there until Oowada-kun makes an impatient noise and shoulders past him.

The doors are open, and everyone is alive. He can hear birdsong. There are still birds.

Naegi doesn’t wake on a desk in a classroom. He wants to touch something, just to make sure this is real. He wants to run around hugging everyone. (He doesn’t, but the thought of how Togami-kun or Fukawa-san would react makes him laugh to himself.)

He takes Ikusaba-san’s hand in his right hand and Kirigiri-san’s in his left, feeling giddy and reckless, and he smiles at both of them. “Let’s go.”