Even now it is the Monobear persona that they are speaking to and not the true mastermind—but to what point, they wonder, if they know all else there is to know? The world outside, their stolen memories, the broadcast, the need for despair; they have seen and heard it all now, reviewed the whats and hows before letting the who take stance in their imagination. By now even that has been unearthed, though, and the last six students in the seventy-eighth class of Hope's Peak academy are positioning the last piece of the puzzle. This is it, they stand at the final crossroad on their way to freedom, and all that blocks their way is a plush monochrome avatar.
"We know who you are!" cries Aoi, indignant.
"And what you've done, too!" Yasuhiro adds.
"I told you I would have you killed," Byakuya growls, teeth grinding, "and I don't intend to turn on that vow."
"Gyuhuhuu, I'd come out just for that kind of opportunity!" Syo holds her face in her hands.
"We have our hope now, so you can't take us down!" Makoto leans forward on his stand, fists heavy against the podium. "This is it! Come out...Enoshima-san!"
Monobear does not say a word.
"All you've ever done here..." Kyouko hums, her voice as even as always and her stare unfaltering. "It's been smoke and mirrors. Your game is made of deception. Our memories, our motivations, the way you've presented yourself and your purpose to us, the student we thought was you... Even now, with the use of your 'stand-in.'"
He looks at her as she rests her chin on her hand in contemplation, but he is silent still.
"But it goes even farther than that, doesn't it?" she asks, and confusion ghosts across her classmates' faces. "The extent of your trickery is greater than what we've already seen here. You've lied to us about even more than those things. Junko Enoshima," Kyouko looks the bear in the eyes and he turns away, cheeks reddened. She takes in one slow breath, readying herself. "I have reason to believe that Sayaka Maizono...did not really die."
"Kirigiri-san!" Makoto looks over to her, almost pleading—something like don't go crazy now, this is the worst possible time to completely lose your mind, jumps to the edge of his thoughts, but he doesn't speak; couldn't, anyway, because she continues.
"Not just her. I can also say with confidence that the execution of Leon Kuwata was staged, and that he is still alive."
"Y-you're a fool!" Byakuya blurts. Monobear's stare is still averted and in lieu of speaking, he puts a paw up to his chin.
"But it doesn't stop there. Based on the evidence that I've compiled...Chihiro Fujisaki, Mondo Oowada, Kiyotaka Ishimaru—every single one of them is still alive, and so is every other student absent here."
There's a glint in her eye as she says this that Makoto has seen before: whenever a trial comes together, the evidence falls into place, and at last she descries a conclusion and brings it into her hands, it comes with this dauntless gleam. This scorching look is the one that has led them this far; this is Kyouko Kirigiri's victory pennon promenaded here for the very last time (he remembers as clear as day seeing Sayaka's blood in firework bursts across his shower walls, the feral look in Leon's bulging eyes like a predator had cornered him, Chihiro tied and suspended, the acceptance of atonement in Mondo's face, blood and fire and final utterances and blood and dying messages and bloody smiles and spears and blood and) and by now? Now, he knows to follow that flag.
Even though this is absolutely loving absurd.
"Eeeehh? What kind of idea is that?!" Syo exclaims, tongue lolling with each spoken syllable.
"All of them?! Y-you mean every single one of them is okay," cries Aoi, tearing up, "even S-Sakura-chan?"
"But we already said it wasn't a fake!" Yasuhiro clutches his head. "That was a delusion from the prologue!"
Kyouko's gaze is trained on Monobear still. "If you don't plan to respond to my theories, then I have a direct question for you. What is today's date?"
Each student's concentration piques at the answer—not for what it is but that they received it—except for stoic, steady Kyouko. She presses the knuckles of her loosely-curled fist against her lips, momentarily holding in a thought before it may become a word. "I see. Then...it's exactly as I expected." She folds her arms over her chest and and for just a moment, her lips are curled into a tiny simper of satisfaction. Before anyone is allowed the time to interject, though, she sets her mouth into a hard line and turns towards Makoto. "Naegi-kun. What is today?"
"It's...the fifth of February?"
"What's the relevance?!" Byakuya demands, slamming his fist against the podium.
"Quiet," snaps Kyouko, ignoring the sharp breath he takes in through his clenched teeth. "Naegi-kun, you know what today is. What is the relevance?"
He hesitates and looks out to the remainder of his class—Byakuya is choking on his fury over his ignorance, Syo's tongue has found its way back into her closed mouth, Aoi is wiping away tears at her eyes each time new ones come to replace them, and Yasuhiro has turned yet another shade of blue. "It's my..." He meets Kyouko's gaze and there is fire behind her eyes blazing stronger than he's ever seen before. "My..." He turns to Monobear, whose paws are covering his mouth as though to suppress a secret behind it, and even he has started watching him. "My...my..."
The memory bubbles up inside of him but it is only a distant reflection, and yet it is there, this answer to everything they've built up to in these months of mutual killings. This one memory, the faintest recollection of two stolen years is struggling to the surface and it is just within his grasp, and with eyes squeezed shut he fills in the missing space a letter at a time, and suddenly the bubble pops within him and the memory bursts into view.
"Kirigiri-san!" he says, goggling at her with realization, "Today is my—"
"SURPRISE! Happy birthday, Naegi-kun!"
Nine dead students knock portraits out of their way as they pop out from behind their stands with a unified yell, and Makoto begins to scream.
Actually, he doesn't just begin to scream, he continues screaming, and then within the second everybody else is screaming, too—loudest of all is Aoi, because almost immediately there is the loudest thump they have ever heard when Sakura crashes to the ground with Aoi on top of her, having flung herself across the room, beating languidly against her chest while she shrieks and cries into her shirt, but Byakuya is a close contender for second place with the explosive volume of his fury. An octave below that is Makoto, who hasn't taken a breath since he started yelling. Yasuhiro is currently laying down on the ground; at the moment of the reveal he had screamed, "I knew it was all a setup!" and flopped backwards and hasn't yet picked himself up. As usual, Syo is laughing, and as usual, it is completely inappropriate. Among all of the chaos is Kyouko, a bastion of composure, who eventually tip-toes over to Makoto so she can clutch his shoulder and murmur, "Naegi-kun, you're going to pass out at this rate." He cuts off with a pathetic yelp, but at least he stops.
Aoi does not, though, and even as the rest of them attempt to settle, she is attracting the attention of everyone who is not watching Yasuhiro have an existential crisis on the floor by howling into Sakura's chest, unceasing even while Sakura is gingerly attempting to stand and keep Aoi supported. Above the racket, Leon calls, "Hey, hey what's the big deal? I mean, why be upset that she's alive and not..." The look he is getting from Sakura ends that sentence.
"It...may have been the not knowing?" suggests Kiyotaka, fist under his chin.
"We couldn't tell her!" whines Junko, standing in the place of the bear that is now limp underneath her arm. "She would have spilled everything right away and ruined the whole plan!"
"This was a setup?!" bellows Byakuya.
"I wouldn't call it a setup," Celes answers, covering her mouth.
"Well, we did set things...up..." Chihiro adds, voice very small.
Kyouko, back in her spot, interrupts, "So all of the 'murders'..."
"Were planned from the start!" Junko finishes, beaming with pride.
"B-but—no, this is all a ploy! You can't be alive!" Byakuya rages, as though personally affronted by their continued heartbeats. "Wh-why—Fujisaki's corpse, I—!" It is not the pathetic whimpering coming from Chihiro that has him swallow the rest of his words, but the loud crack of Mondo's knuckles just across from him.
The instinct built into him after all of those trials rises back up inside Makoto and, voice brittle, he suggests, "It...must have been a fake?"
"Bingo!" Junko sings. "Convincing, wasn't it? We worked on a case-by-case basis with our corpses—heehee, case—but they had to be perfect so you didn't find out early! Then it wouldn't have been a surprise! If Naegi-kun hadn't been surprised, what kind of party would it have been?!"
"So y-you were all in on it?" asks Makoto.
"Yep!" Sayaka answers, entirely too cheerful.
"You didn't tell us!" Aoi pulls her head away for for just long enough to yell through her sobbing, then hides her face again and makes a muffled screech against Sakura. She is returning Aoi's embrace with tender hesitance, and while the two of them are still the center of everyone's focus, she says, "In hindsight, perhaps this could have been better prepared."
"To say the least!" Byakuya barks. "She could have actually killed me!" He flails an arm in Syo's direction, and she lets out a delighted, "Gyeeahahaha!" as though she's proud.
"Togami Byakuya-dono, you were talking about be-becoming a culprit for quite a while..." Hifumi notes, and Byakuya responds with an incriminating growl that makes Hifumi shirk away and the rest of them exchange mute glances.
"We all—we all thought you were dead!" says Yasuhiro from the floor, and then starts to come to his feet with Chihiro's attempted assistance from the stand at his left.
"Oh. My. God." Junko grabs her cheeks and drags her hands down her face. "Are you complaining? Should I kill off everyone for real for you?"
"Enoshima-san!" yelps Sayaka.
"Ugh, calm down, I'm joking. But I just might do it anyway! I worked so hard to put together The Best, Most Hope-Inducing Surprise Party in the History of Mankind, and this is the appreciation I get! Don't you guys like surprises?!" She looks at Makoto as though presenting the question to him—it's his party, after all.
He looks out to his classmates, gathered in their circle. Sayaka is watching him with a smile as sweet as he ever knew her for; Aoi is still curled up against Sakura but, her anger exhausted, only whimpers and holds onto her; Touko has just sneezed back into herself and is making wild gesticulations but she's starting to smile as she realizes that all of her classmates are real flesh and blood; Leon catches Sayaka's attention and winks at her, and she responds with a roll of her eyes and a melodramatic placing of her hand to her forehead; Chihiro frets over Yasuhiro to make sure that he won't fall down again; and even Byakuya has begun to breathe evenly and scowls no harder than usual.
"If this is what qualifies as a surprise," he says, looking around to all of his classmates and precious friends, standing and breathing and so close and so utterly alive that he can barely restrain the urge to leap out and hug them, "then yeah. Yeah, I think I do like surprises."
"You could have just kept being alive from the start," harrumphs Byakuya. The others are too busy cheering and demanding cake to care about what he has to say.
"S-So, wait..." Everyone turns to Yasuhiro, whose eyes are darting back and forth across the courtroom. "Enoshima-chi, that sister that you mentioned...isn't here..." There are few quiet "oh"s and confused murmurs now that the uproar has settled enough for them to focus and they notice the struck-out photograph between Sakura and Kiyotaka. "So where is..."
"Oh, Mukuro?" asks Junko. The surprised 'o' her lips are pursed into grows into an affable smile. "Haha, she was killed for real!"
They are all dead silent. Kyouko finally half-growls, "She's what."
"She was in on it with the rest of us!" Sayaka protests, then turns around to Makoto, who has in the span of this last second become as wan as a hospital patient. "Ikusaba-san didn't..."
She trails off and leaves her mouth agape when she sees Junko start to move, and every eye follows her as she turns around kneels down behind her podium and makes shuffling sounds. With a cry of "tah-daaaaah!" she springs back up, holding Mukuro's long-ago impaled corpse up by the armpits. She adjusts their position to prop the body against her and pulls the edges of the corpse's mouth up into a smile, proclaiming, "I found a rotten dead body during our trial. :)"
All at once, the class begins screaming—Leon makes a noise like a terrified prepubescent girl, Chihiro breaks into loud sobs, Yasuhiro falls backwards onto the floor again, Sakura keeps vacillating between trying to form a complete sentence of protest and comforting a bawling Aoi, Kyouko gasps so hard that her hair flutters outwards, Mondo looks like he's about to actually kill someone—and above it all, Junko lets out a shriek:
"I thought you guys liked surprises!"