The new teacher was asleep in the library again. Probably drooling onto the book beneath his face, Nageki thought with resignation. Although he didn't expect the teacher to acknowledge his existence any more than his fellow students ever did, Nageki decided to check on the book's welfare, and rescue it from drool if necessary.
Nageki's steps slowed as he walked around the table. Although the teacher's face was unfamiliar, there was something about the posture of those sleeping shoulders that stirred vague memories. The sound of his breathing, the tilt of his head…
The words from his own mouth startled him. "Hitori?" Nageki found himself asking. "Is that you?"
Why had he said that? He didn't even recognize the name he'd just spoken. And yet—
As Nageki swayed on a knife's edge of unforgetting, a dark shadow seemed to shimmer over the teacher's body. It rose up and separated away, turning to face Nageki. With his own face.
"Leave him alone," Nageki's shadow reflection whispered. "You've hurt him enough. It's my turn to hurt him now."
Nageki stepped back. "Who are you? Who is he?"
"You don't remember him, but I remind him every day. Every day and night, every time he closes his eyes or opens them. I'm here with him forever, as you can't be. You abandoned him by dying. It's your fault he's unhappy. Go away, we don't need you. Go away. Go away…."
The shadow was looming closer, its outline dimly glowing like the embers of a fire. Its eyes were flame-orange, and its entire shape was spreading out in thick smoke that engulfed Nageki now. He was choking. He couldn't breathe. Everything was going dark… so dark…
Nageki woke in the library. It was just another morning. There was a closed book on the table with drool on its cover. Someone must have left it there instead of putting it back in its proper place, Nageki thought with resignation.
He sighed, picked it up, and found the gap in the shelves where it had come from. Ah yes, that irritatingly incomplete set of encyclopedias with a duplicate volume. Why would anyone bother reading that?
Kazuaki slipped the photograph back out of his desk drawer. He'd found the Operation Hurtful files at last. Maybe he shouldn't've taken anything— what if someone noticed the files had been disturbed?— but the fake encyclopedia volume had had enough dust to suggest that no one had touched it for years.
And besides, it had been so long since he'd seen Nageki's face clearly. There it was, staring up at him from the "Subject 00" snapshot.
"They killed me, Hitori. You sent me here to die. You killed me," the photograph seemed to whisper.
Kazuaki clenched a black marker in his grip, staring at Nageki's face for as long as he could.