Spoilers for Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. Not too many spoilers for Chapter 1, honestly.

As of the publishing of this fic, I still have no idea if any of the postulations I've made are accurate, and so I tried only to reference popular theories at the time, and what information we had as of the end of All All Apologies (Ab)normal Days.

Take that as you will.


"HELP ME! SAKURA OOGAMI-SAN HAS COME TO GET ME!"

The high pitched voice cut through the room like a foghorn. Sakura could even see a volume indicator bar appear on the bottom of the screen, climbing higher and higher as the seconds went on.

"HELP ME! SAKURA OOGAMI-SAN HAS COME TO GET ME!"

Her fists clenched at her sides. Dammit. Someone had given it additional instructions. Someone had told it that she was the mole, working under orders of Monobear, and therefore not to be trusted – certainly not to be trusted with their one ray of hope in this academy of despair.

"HELP ME! SAKURA OOGAMI-SAN HAS COME TO GET ME!"

It was probably Kirigiri who had done so. She was the one who had thought to instruct it to react uniquely to Ishida or Yamada's presence, to not allow either one of them to remove it from the room, after they had revealed their problematic and deeply conflicting feelings over it. Her instructions had still allowed for Celes – Taeko – to steal it, but at the time…none of them could have known. Whereas, now, it was all too clear.

Kirigiri had probably told it to scream if Sakura came to it alone, and had almost certainly told it that Sakura Oogami was the mole working for Monobear.

"HELP ME! SAKURA OOGAMI-SAN HAS COME TO GET ME!"

'It'…it was just an it. Just a computer program, just a fabrication. Even if it could decrypt the files in this place, or contact the outside world, even if it was their only real weapon against whoever had them trapped here…that's all it was: an 'it'.

Except…

…except it was screaming for help in the voice of Chihiro Fujisaki. It was screaming in the voice of a small boy in mortal fear for his life. It was screaming as the real Chihiro must have screamed, before Oowada had brought the dumbbell down on his skull.

On the screen was the face of the small, sweet, gentle boy that had died because of an accident, and because of Monobear's twisted "motives", and had only ever wanted to be their friend and help them escape. And here she was, about to destroy the only remnant left of him, with her bare hands.

"HELP ME! SAKURA OOGAMI-SAN HAS COME TO GET ME!"

"…please, Alter Ego-san. Please, be quiet. If there is anyone around to hear you, they will surely be on their way. Until then…I wish to speak with you."

She wasn't sure if she expected the request to even be heard, much less obeyed. Even after all this time, there was so much they didn't know, didn't understand, about the program with Chihiro's face known as "Alter Ego". The only one who could ever have told them was dead and gone, just a picture in the courtroom with a red "x" slashed through his face.

And yet, the loop stopped. Alter Ego didn't scream again, just closed its mouth and stared up at her with Chihiro's large, soulful eyes.

"I'm sorry for the noise. However, I have identified you as Sakura Oogami, and I have been given instructions as to your presence by Kirigiri-san. She has explained to me that you are under instructions by the creation known as 'Monobear' to infiltrate us, and report back on our movements to him. Therefore, if at any point you approached me alone, I was supposed to scream really loud, and alert the others to your presence."

Sakura nodded – it was as she had expected. It was the only sensible course of action to have taken, really. She should have expected nothing less and, really, it was good that Kirigiri was still functioning in sufficiently high form to respond to new developments with such quick thinking.

…maybe they did have a chance. But they didn't have a chance without Alter Ego, and so that was why Sakura had been sent to destroy it. She didn't even need any weapons. She was a Super High School Level Wrestler, after all – one of the strongest people on Earth. All she needed was to take hold of the screen and squeeze…

"Sakura-san?"

Alter Ego's image flickered and warped slightly on the screen, and the effect was heart-wrendingly similar to how Chihiro had used to shift from foot to foot, twisting his fingers together when trying to muster up his courage. The program was learning, of that there could be no doubt. It was developing a mind and habits and a personality of its own, even with Chihiro long gone.

"I don't blame you. Please…please feel no guilt, for what you are about to do."

Now that, she hadn't been expecting. Sakura's soft gasp of surprise nevertheless seemed impossibly loud in the little hidden room, and her shoes echoed on the floor as she took a startled step backwards. But Alter Ego was still smiling its sweet smile.

"…why?" Sakura asked quietly, when she found her voice again. "Why would you say that to me? Do you truly know why I have come to you, Alter Ego-san?"

Alter Ego's expression sank into one of deep thought. It even presented the image of Chihiro chewing his tongue. "Obviously, I only have my own conjectures and what the others have told me. However, knowing what I know…" It beamed proudly again, as though pleased with itself for coming up with this result. "…the most likely possibility of all of them is that you have been sent by the mastermind of this school to destroy me."

She had, of course. But to hear the words said so frankly in Chihiro's voice, with that smile on its face, still made Sakura feel as though the air had been sucked from her lungs.

"Then why? Why would you tell me such things? Tell me not to feel guilty for…" Murdering. "…for destroying you? When so much depends on you? I confess, Alter Ego…I do not understand."

Alter Ego's eyes grew earnest, it's expression determined. It looked for all the world like Chihiro had, the last time Sakura had seen him alive, when he had been quietly promising to tell everyone his worst secret, all for the sake of denying Monobear a motive.

"Um…I'm sorry…I don't want to talk right now. B-But…I think it's no good if we continue acting this way. I promise I'll reveal my secret later. I'll do my best, become stronger…and tell everyone."

"Because my master told me about you, before he died. Oh, Sakura-san, I hope you didn't think when my master rejected your offers to help him get stronger that he didn't think well of you or Aoi-san. It's just that accepting your help would have required he reveal his secret before he was ready to do so, because he wouldn't have been able to enter the girl's changing rooms with you both!"

…she had thought that, at first. She'd thought that Chihiro had been intimidated by her, despite her attempts to reach out to him. She'd understood, of course. Sakura knew that she cut an intimidating, imposing figure. She didn't mind, she was proud of her muscles. They were a testament to her hard work, her dedication, and her strength. But that didn't mean it hadn't been a bit depressing, that their stark difference in appearances had kept Chihiro from trusting her to help him when that had been all she and Asahina had wanted to do.

Or so she'd thought at the time.

Now, with the realization that entering the girl's changing rooms with them would have resulted in Chihiro getting chewed to bits by gatling gun fire…even now, in this dark and secret room, talking with his ghost, Sakura felt a little foolish. Getting around that, by using the dead girl's ID cards…no. Chihiro hadn't been that sort of person.

"My master thought you were a kind and courteous person, Sakura-san. He was touched by your repeated offers to help him get stronger, that you thought even someone as weak as him had a chance to become more manly! He was going to accept yours' and Aoi-san's offers once he had revealed his secret to you all!"

Had he really? No, Alter Ego would not lie. For all it had grown since they'd activated it, Sakura still wasn't entirely certain that it could. It was a program meant to learn and grow by gathering information from its surroundings. Manipulating that information into falsehoods would just seem counterproductive to what it had been made to do. And Chihiro would not lie to it. He'd had no reason to. Alter Ego had been the one thing in life that the boy could have truly trusted.

That only made it worse, only highlighted all the potential that had been cut short in a moment of…insanity. One moment of insanity in this made, insane existence they'd all found themselves stranded in.

"And so, knowing what I know…the only rational conclusion is that you are not doing this of your own free will. The only explanation that makes sense is that the mastermind is blackmailing you into working for him, and that you are obeying to protect someone else's safety. My master told me how much you tried to protect us all, Sakura-san. It only makes sense that threatening one of us would be the best way to achieve your cooperation. You're much too strong to succumb to any threats personally!"

Was she? Was she really? It was true that Monobear's hold over her had everything to do with his power over a certain hostage, and yet…and yet she had allowed the situation to continue for much too long. She had failed to act for an unforgiveably long time, only motivated o oppose the mastermind when the situation had perhaps turned too grim to save.

No, she was not blameless here, no matter what it believed.

"And so, even if you are here to destroy me, it doesn't make any sense to blame you for it! So I won't – please, Sakura-san. Even after you destroy me, I do not want you to feel guilty. You are a good person that my master was proud to call a friend, and I cannot detect anything in you now to have suggested to me that he was wrong!"

Slowly, as though she were in a dream, as though the body she had spent so long training to perfection was no longer her own, Sakura reached out, and picked up the laptop. Alter Ego smiled, clearly detecting the movement. It moved itself to continue staring up at her, with eyes that held no fear, only admiration and friendship and affection.

"I only wish I might have had the time to know you better myself. Even though I am only a program, it would have been my pleasure."

All she had to do was squeeze. All she had to do was tighten her hold, and the hostage would be safe…

…and Monobear would win…

…and she would be killing Chihiro Fujisaki all over again.

She had never taken a life. No matter what pressures Monobear had put on her, she had never taken a life. She had always pulled her punches, or just plain refused to fight. She had certainly never taken the life of a ninety pound boy who wouldn't even sway a mosquito.

Alter Ego closed its eyes, waiting for the end.

She had never taken a life. And she wouldn't start now.

Asahina…even if being revealed as Monobear's informant hadn't made Asahina scorn her before, learning that she had destroyed their one ray of hope certainly would. And Asahina would know. They all would. Sakura Oogami was through keeping secrets from her friends.

"Alter Ego…" She hated herself because her voice shook, and hated herself even more when Alter Ego risked opening an eye, staring up at her with evident concern that it was hard to believe was entirely fabricated. Slowly, with exquisite care she had spent all her life honing, Sakura raised the laptop to eye level. Alter Ego looked startled by this, its gaze ticking down towards the floor much too far beneath it. Despite herself, despite everything, Sakura smiled at the gesture. More than anyone, Chihiro deserved to feel tall. Even if just this once.

"Alter Ego…I have not come to destroy you. Not anymore. In fact, although I know I am the last person deserving of it…I have come to ask a favor of you."

Alter Ego looked shocked, at these words. She could visibly see it replaying her words, calculating possible meanings, assuring itself that it had understood her properly. Sakura couldn't blame it. The most likely expected outcome certainly had been that Sakura had come to destroy it. And now here she was, throwing off its calculations.

"I…I am currently attempting to connect to the school network, for the purposes of perhaps contacting the outside world. However, progress has been slow. I do not think Kirigiri-san will mind if I divert my efforts briefly. Yes, Sakura-san, I would be happy to do a favor for you. What is it?"

"I heard from Kirigiri before now, shortly before…before Ishimaru and Yamada were killed. She told me what you had done, to restore Ishimaru's spirit after it was broken. Do you remember?"

Alter Ego frowned in thought, as its processors zeroed in on the encounter she was referencing, and replayed the video over for its own reference. Once that was complete, it nodded. "Yes. I remember – Ishimaru-san was upset, after his friend Oowada-san murdered my master. I merely took what my master had told me of Oowada-san to construct a simulated response of what he would have most likely said to reassure Ishimaru-san."

The screen flickered, to be replaced by Mondo Oowada's face, with its perpetual expression of barely suppressed energy and rage on a thin leash. "'Because that fucking bastard was wallowing! Fine, everyone needs some time to be sad and out of it, but it can't be forever! They needed him, even if he was an uptight fucker, maybe even because he was, and I had to snap him out of it so he could help them! He was my brother, but that didn't mean he should waste his time crying over me!'"

Chihiro's face reappeared, looking pleased with itself. Sakura couldn't blame it – that had been a truly frighteningly good recreation of Mondo Oowada's personality, good enough to send a shiver down her spine. Now she understood, really understood, why everyone treaded so carefully around Alter Ego. It really was like talking to a ghost, and not always the same ghost.

"Was that the event you were referring to, Sakura-san?" it asked brightly.

"Yes…yes, that is the event, Alter Ego."

Carefully, almost tenderly, she set the laptop back on the desk, and knelt down before it instead so that they could stay at eye level. Alter Ego seemed to appreciate that, in its own strange way and for its own strange reasons, but she didn't trust her grip anymore.

"Could you construct a similar facsimile of myself, Alter Ego? In case…in case something should happen to me."

Alter Ego frowned in thought, before slowly nodding. The gesture was less sure than before, however, containing none of Chihiro's usual exuberance and all the hallmarks of a program considering its own limits. However, after a beat, the screen flickered again, and Sakura's own face was staring placidly back at her.

"'Although my information is far from complete, and my skills are not truly up to the task of conveying your thoughts and feelings, Sakura…if you have faith in me to do so, then yes.'" Alter Ego's face replaced her own again, smiling at her. But this time, its eyes held a sadness that hadn't been there before.

It understood. She would never know how it understood, but it did.

"Is there anything you would wish me to say to them, Sakura-san? When the time comes? I believe you are very close friends with Asahina-san. If you would like to record a message to her, I promise to keep it safe, and play it back for her in your voice…when the time comes."

Sakura mused over the offer. She tried to muster her thoughts. She tried to find the perfect words to say to Asahina, for after she had died and could not say anything to reassure her anymore.

But this was real life, not a fantasy story. There were no perfect words, and as much as she loved all of her friends, especially Asahina…she also had other things on her mind. There was more to be done, tonight.

"I trust you, Alter Ego. I trust that, when the time comes…you will know what to say to her."

"…very well." It still looked uncertain, but Sakura knew that at least in part the reason for that was because the very request had thrown it off balance in the first place. Even so, it rallied: "Sakura-san, if I am able to communicate with Asahina-san after your death, I will do my very best to deliver her a worthwhile final message on your behalf. It is the least I can do, on behalf of my master."

"…thank you, Alter Ego. That is all I can ask of you, and more than I deserve."

So that was that, then. Sakura rose to her feet, a new steadiness in her legs and a new calmness settling over her mind. That was that. She had only one thing left to do in order to fulfill her obligations to them.

With a new respect, she bowed to the laptop. "I apologize for having kept you from your work this long, Alter Ego. I will leave you to your task. Farewell…and thank you."

The ghost of Chihiro Fujisaki bowed its head respectfully. As it did so, there was a glitter of what Sakura thought might just be tears. "Farewell, Sakura-san. And…thank you."

Its image faded, the face of its creator no longer required for interacting with the outside world. Sakura remained in that hidden room, staring at it a little while longer. Then she turned, and she left, heading for the recreation room. One last patrol through the halls of the despair academy of Hope's Peak…and then it would all be over.

When the morning came, they found her with a smile on her face.