Hello hello hello! :D I'm really sorry for the trouble there was with this chapter. But it's all cleared up now, I hope. Ready for Despair Fever? I know I am!
TWs: Medical/illness talk, slurs, ableism, gender confusion/dubious misgendering (you'll see what I mean), and, ah…redrum a sereht (with an additional warning for gore).
Chapter Three, Part Five
Togami ran into the lobby faster than Hinata had expected, and he found himself pulled along by the arm as they raced up the stairs. They entered the restaurant directly behind Mioda, but couldn't go any further in as she had stopped right in their path.
There was already a large crowd inside – not a big surprise, considering the hotel had been empty – and from the look of things they'd interrupted quite a lot of activity. Gundam, Owari, and Nidai were clustered in a circle in the back, shouting over each other. Saionji was with Koizumi and Nanami, raising a plate high over Nanami's head, and Tsumiki was running between the groups, looking rather harried.
Hinata couldn't quite tell what any of them were doing, but before he could ask them anything, Togami pushed past him. "Oy," he shouted, "has anyone here gotten sick –"
"May I have your attention, please?!" Saionji's arms stopped mid-strike, the back group fell silent, Tsumiki slipped, falling flat on her face with a loud cry, and Togami stumbled back as Mioda flung her arm out in a salute. "With your permission, I would like to give the morning's greeting!" she said as if nothing had happened. "Good morning! Let today be yet another productive day!"
Hinata could see alarm on everyone's faces, but somehow not quite shock. "Mioda!" Nidai yelled from the back. "What kind of a greeting is that? Your energy is far from where it should be!"
"Oh, don't tell me she's got it too!" Koizumi snatched the plate out of Saionji's hands. "Ibuki-chan, you're not…running a fever, are you?"
Her eyes slid to Hinata and Togami as Mioda spoke ("Absolutely not, ma'am, for I am standing quite still!"). Hinata had a feeling she hadn't been expecting any kind of a straight answer – he certainly hadn't.
"She does," Togami said, cutting off whatever thought Hinata had of answering. "I checked her earlier. Who else has a fever?"
Koizumi gritted her teeth before looking back at the group. Hinata noticed the same collective hesitation on many other faces. The only noise was a whimper to Hinata's left; he looked down to find Monomi standing near his feet, trembling and holding her paws over her head. "T-there's N-nanami-chan," she said, her voice unusually low. "We've twied evewything, but she won't wake up…"
"Everything?" Saionji whirled on Monomi in anger, grabbing another plate as she went. "All you've done is stand there and cry! I'm the only one actually trying –"
"Hiyoko-chan, no!" Koizumi dived for Saionji again, grabbing at the plate she'd been about to smash on Nanami's head. Togami took the opening – he maneuvered past Mioda (who slid to the left, her expression unchanged) and headed for Nanami, closely followed by Hinata.
"Nanami!" Togami shouted – but Nanami, fast asleep on her feet, didn't even twitch. Hinata had noticed she was asleep, but given this wasn't abnormal behavior for her he hadn't paid it much mind. But he'd never known her to be so heavy a sleeper. She continued not to move as Togami grabbed her by one shoulder and felt her forehead with his other hand.
"She's burning up," he muttered under his breath. "How long has she been like this?"
"W-we found her like that when we came in," Tsumiki said, leaning on a chair to balance herself as she stood. "That was ten minutes ago, and she hasn't moved…"
"So no one knows how she got here?" Hinata said.
"No one knows and no one cares." Hinata did a double-take and saw Kuzuryuu leaning against the opposite wall, his arms folded across his chest. He hadn't noticed him until that moment, or even expected him to be there at all. "We've got a bigger problem, unless everyone's just trying to forget about it."
He glared at Koizumi, who only met this look for a split second before Kuzuryuu turned away, but when she turned back to retort, Togami spoke over her. "A bigger problem?" he said. "Then why wasn't that the first thing we were told?"
"I-I'm sorry," Tsumiki said, dropping her voice to a bare whisper. "S-Souda-san's been difficult, and we don't want to get him worked up again..."
"Souda?" Hinata took a look around the room, taking a brief mental head count – and coming up one short. "Hey, wait a minute, where is–"
"Oh, it's Hinata-san! There you are at last!"
Hinata saw Owari stumble, and then Souda run out from behind her – from the look of things, she'd just released him from her grip. He headed for Hinata, completely ignoring everyone else, and skidded to a halt at his feet, grabbing his wrists in his hands and holding them together at chest level. "How lovely it is to see you again!" he said. "Don't you feel it's been quite an age?"
Hinata had to blink several times before he could focus on Souda's face. His expression – it wasn't like he wasn't used to Souda looking cheerful, but something about it was distinctly off. On his left he could see Koizumi turning quite deliberately away, a look of extreme agitation on her face, and Saionji clinging to Koizumi's skirt, eyeing Souda with an inexplicably hostile glare –
"Hinata-san?" Hinata started and looked back, meeting Souda's concerned look. "Is anything the matter?"
Hinata felt his teeth clenching behind his lips. He had the slightest bit of an idea of what this was supposed to be, based both on the reactions of the others and on the behavior itself, but he couldn't say for sure, not without the enormous risk of being wrong. "N-no, not at all," he said.
Souda gasped, and pulled his arms even closer. "You do mean that? Truthfully and truly?" He let go suddenly, and furrowed his brow. "Then you must align with me, Hinata-san, for there is quite a lot amiss! I do believe the others have lost their minds!"
Hinata looked briefly past Souda, to scan the others' expressions. He was sure they'd already known for some time, so whatever initial shock there had been must have worn off, but he could understand why they hadn't wanted to excite him. Kuzuryuu's arms trembled at his sides, Tanaka's back was turned, and Akane and Nidai, while not explicitly distressed, were keeping a stern but watchful eye. "T-that so?" he said, looking back.
"Quite unfortunately!" Souda said. "The very moment I encountered Koizumi-san and Saionji-san, my own dear friends, they began making the wildest of accusations against me! Oh, I can hardly bear to repeat them!" Inexplicably, tears welled at the corners of his eyes. "And the others, too, when I saw them…such horrible and untrue things they had to say…"
He buried his face in both his and Hinata's hands, wailing loudly. Hinata looked over his head. "Uh," he said, trying to keep his voice down, "Is this...what I think it is?"
"Good question," Owari muttered. "Did Sonia ever act like this?"
"I'm…not sure," Hinata said. "But the horrible and untrue things…"
"Oh, come on," Saionji shouted over him. "Don't tell me you're actually playing along with this!"
"I wouldn't call it playing along." Togami's eyes were on Souda, but beyond an intense focus Hinata could not tell his emotion. "Hinata's question is valid. What happened?"
"Why does it matter so much?" Saionji said. Koizumi looked down at Saionji, her expression uncertain, but ultimately lifted her head without rebuking her. "We found Souda on the boardwalk after the morning announcement," she said, crossing her arms as she spoke. "We didn't know about the fever…we just thought it was another stupid stunt…"
"And do we not know if it isn't?" Hinata jumped – he hadn't expected Tanaka to speak. "Even in a fever state, the actions of the body are based in the conditions of the mind. By its very nature, this must be a product of his own design…"
Souda snapped his head out of his hands, and whirled to face Tanaka, thrusting his arm out in front of him. "You! Have I not warned you of the dangers of such language?"
"Dangers?" Tanaka chuckled darkly, and put his hands in the pockets of his coat. "And what effect could your words have on the one who would be king?"
"You will cease your speech at once!" Souda shouted. "Were this my country, you would be drawn and quartered in the palace square for your insolence!"
I highly doubt that, Hinata thought – but before he could get away, Souda grabbed him again. "Do you not see, Hinata-san, the very madness that has consumed them?" He interrupted himself with a sob – tears were streaming down his cheeks again. "Even poor Tsumiki-san has fallen victim! Now who will help the rest of them? Oh, who?"
"I'm sorry…" Hinata was surprised at Tsumiki's words until he saw she had been talking to Togami, and not to Souda. "I don't know what to do about any of them...they brought him to my cottage, b-but I was busy with Kuzuryuu-san's m-morning duties, and there was not much I could do for him in so little time...!"
"Morning du –" Kuzuryuu's face contorted. "HEY! Nobody said you could talk about that!"
"I-it was only what happened!" Tsumiki shouted, her whole body shaking. "And until your hands are fully healed, it's not shameful at all for a nurse to –"
"I SAID SHUT UP!"
"Indeed, I will shut up, sir!" Mioda shouted suddenly, closing her eyes. "All that can be shut will be shut when I cease talking, sir!"
"And worse still," Souda said, oblivious to all else around him, "I am afraid Souda-sama has not yet come! And it is my fear that he may have met with some terrible fate!"
Souda…sama?! He could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Come!" Souda went on, grabbing him by the arm. "We must make haste and seek him! Surely one such as he will know how to break this curse –"
"Hey! Stop being such a pussy, noob!"
Hinata couldn't have turned his head back faster if he'd been doing it on purpose – and when he did he couldn't believe what he saw. Nanami was not only wide awake, as if she'd never been asleep, but was pointing directly at the two of them, a fierce, active look in her eyes.
"Hiiiii!" Monomi recoiled, her mouth open. "N-Nanami-san…?!"
"You're one of those casuals, aren't you?" Nanami said, as if Monomi had not spoken. "You only play games because your boyfriend does, and the only reason you have any weapons or armor that aren't shit is because he got them for you. But you put a pig on a lipstick and it's still a lipstick, right?"
From the look of things no one knew how to respond, or even what she was talking about – least of all Souda. He looked agitated more than insulted – Hinata had a feeling he hadn't understood a word. "Nanami-san," he said, "I know you may be feeling taxed, but this talk of games cannot be appropriate when Souda-sama could be –"
"Hey, shut up," Nanami said. "If you're not going to work hard to be as good as the boys, then you're not worth any of our time. Now go back where you belong before I frag your ass."
The corners of Souda's mouth twitched, but he wouldn't let himself be confused for long – he grabbed Hinata's arm again and started pulling him for the stairs. "Hurry, Hinata-san! Every moment we waste is a moment lost!"
"Wait – no, hold on!" Hinata pulled on Souda's arm, but to little avail. "I'm sure Souda's fine, he'll probably be here soon. But something's really wrong with Nanami, and we need to –"
"Huuuuuh? What's the problem, Hajime?" Nanami's tone had changed on a dime – now she sounded almost playful. "Do you think a girl shouldn't swear? Huh?"
H-Hajime?! Hinata tried not to let the address distract him. "Wh- wh- no, that doesn't matter," he said. "And I wasn't even talking about –"
"I'm not here for you to play with, Hajime, I'm here to play hard! So if you're just gonna waste your time trying to get in-in my pa-pa-pa –" Nanami froze, unblinking, and stood still for a second before her arm fell and her eyes closed.
"She's asleep again!" Nidai shouted. "What is this?!"
"Another symptom of the fever for sure," Togami said, fixing Nanami with an agitated look. "It matches up with the others, as much as it can be expected to, but…"
"Indeed, their condition is a mystery!" Souda said. "But if one as knowledgeable as Souda-sama were here, he'd know just what to do!"
"I'm not listening to this anymore," Kuzuryuu said. "Can someone grab him already?"
"In his state that may cause more problems than it solves," Togami said, holding his hand out at Owari before she could rush for Souda. Kuzuryuu didn't look entirely satisfied with the answer, but he also didn't seem to have a retort - at least, not at that moment. From the twitching of his arm, and the impatient tapping of his foot, Hinata could tell he was desperate to do something, but didn't want to fly into a rage.
"But you have a point," Togami went on. "We've already wasted too much time. We need to come up with a way to contain this fever before it spreads to anyone else. If we don't, then Monobear –"
"Monobear?" a familiar voice cut in. "Hmmm, what's this, Togami-kun? Taking charge? Making plans?"
Hinata didn't have to look to find Monobear – he had materialized right on the table in front of him. He leaned against a tower of plates, crossed his legs, and lifted a paw at Togami. "Weren't you just doing a whole big song and dance about stepping down as leader? I guess old habits die hard!"
Togami tensed for a second, but quickly shook it off and stomped over to where Monobear stood. "You're here to explain the Despair Fever, aren't you? If so, then skip the pedantics."
"What? What what what what what?" Monobear lifted his paws and stomped on the table. "Don't tell me you're expecting me to repeat all that! I spent so much time explaining it to you, and you haven't even told them anything?"
"Wait a minute…Despair Fever?" Nidai said. "Monobear told you about this, Togami?"
"When I found Mioda, yes," Togami said. "I would have explained once I'd established everyone's state of health, and in fact I was about to, just before he showed up…"
"Oh really? Then I could just make you say it now, and save my voice for more important things," Monobear said. "But I think I'd want to hear myself talk more than I'd want to hear you! So here we go, loud and clear…"
Monobear went on to describe what Togami had already heard – that the disease was called the Despair Fever, that it was caused by tiny invisible bugs native to the island, and it caused a "variety of despair inducing symptoms", along with a high fever, that varied from person to person. "But I'm sure you've already seen that, haven't you?" he said. "For example, Mioda-san seems to have something like the "humorless fever", doesn't she? Or the "gullible fever"? I'd say either one works – riiight, Mioda-san?"
"Either one does work, sir!" Mioda shouted. "I am, at this moment, both humorless and gullible!"
"Exactly! Or are you? Who knows!" Monobear laughed, then grinned at Souda, who was weeping again, his head in his hands. "And Souda-kun – that's an especially interesting case, isn't it? The "Sonia fever"…how much more specific can you get? But Sonia-san would never do anything like this, would she? The characterization is way off!" Monobear paused, and rubbed his chin with his paw. "Hmmm…but don't you agree, Togami-kun?"
Togami froze. "Agree? What are you talking about?"
"I just said it! Souda-kun's behavior is absolutely nothing like Sonia-san's at all! Doesn't that grind your gears? Allow me to read your mind… 'Even I can do better than that', isn't that what you're thinking?"
"They're nothing but a fake!" Nanami yelled, but by the time Hinata looked back at her she was asleep again.
Togami's eyes went wide, but he said nothing – and Monobear laughed and laughed at his reaction. "But why am I even saying anything?" he said. "Why does this matter to you at all? Hmmm, that's something interesting for all of you to think about, isn't it? But…oh, no, never mind! You don't have nearly enough information to make anything of that yet! Or do you?"
"Wait, I lost you back there," Hinata said. "What are you talking about?"
"He isn't talking about anything," Togami said quickly. "Unless it relates directly to the fever, we shouldn't listen to a word he says."
"Doesn't it, Togami-kun? Doesn't it? Well, whatever. I think you've got your hands full enough anyway. But, that reminds me! Surely you want to know what kind of fun title Nanami-san's fever has, don't you?" Monobear held his paws up to his mouth. "Well…to tell the truth…I don't know!"
"Don't know? What do you mean you don't know?" Koizumi said. "You're the one that did this to us!"
"I already told you, it wasn't me! It was the bugs!" Monobear laughed right up at Koizumi, then hopped down from the table and skipped over to the stairs. "Really, I'm only making my best guesses! But whatever's happening to her…well, that's not really my department! It's not even my organization, or my universe at that!"
"What's so hard about that, though?" Owari said. "She's acting just like my half-sisters do when they play co-op on the PlayStation they stole. But I don't know how to say that in one word..."
"What's that? You think every girl is the same?" Nanami was back again – still motionless, still pointing. "Maybe in your virt-virtual world they are, but I'm not like other-other girls, you know! It's called –"
"N-Nanami-san!" Monomi shrieked – and only then did the rest of them see that she was swaying – no, shaking, and so rapidly that her voice sounded almost distorted. "It's called - called - called –" she repeated, again and again. "Called being - being –"
The next thing Hinata could comprehend was a flash of green light – and in another instant Nanami was on the floor, twitching and spasming, her eyes glassy and unblinking. "Being - being –" she repeated in the same distorted tone, "being real - real - real - real - real - real –"
"Nanami!" several people shouted at once, Hinata included. He, Togami, and Koizumi rushed to her side, but Tsumiki beat them all. As soon as she got there she pulled Nanami's head off the ground, but this did nothing to stop her spasms. "W-we need to get her to the hospital!" she yelled. "Quickly!"
"And not just her," Togami said. "All of them, as soon as possible!"
"Oh, really? And without listening to the rest of my speech?" Monobear said. "Then this is as good a time as any to say – the Despair Fever hasn't spread to any of you yet, but be careful! It can be transmitted from person to person by air!"
"By air?!" Saionji recoiled back from the crowd, but for what it was worth Hinata wasn't particularly surprised. "Hold on!" he shouted. "Is there any kind of cure?"
"A cure…? Now why would you need a cure?" Even with Nanami flailing behind him, he did not react or turn back to look. "I mean, despair fever exists to make you bastards suffer. You might say it is a cure! A cure to your softness, your moping around, your attempts to "reestablish unity" or whatever! A cure to your inhibitions regarding the whole point of this trip – mu-tu-al kill-ing! Just in case you forgot, of course!"
Monobear laughed and laughed – and then, in a flash, he was gone. In the meantime Tsumiki, Togami, and Koizumi had gotten Nanami into a standing position, and Owari had lifted her into her arms, struggling against her spasms. The girls set off for the stairs with Monomi and Saionji in tow, while Togami ordered Mioda to follow him, which she did loudly and without complaint.
Tanaka set off after Togami and Mioda without so much as an offer of help with Souda, who was still weeping by the staircase. This left Hinata and Nidai to tell Souda that they were finally going to find where "Souda-sama" had gone, as odd as it was for Hinata to say. He followed them readily after that, and Kuzuryuu followed further behind, his head down and his arms at his sides.
It took them almost half an hour to get Souda, Mioda, and Nanami from the restaurant to the third island hospital. Hinata walked close enough to Souda to make sure he kept on the right path, but also kept enough distance to feel safe from contracting his fever. It was a bit unsettling to hear him talk about how important it was to find out where "Souda-sama" had gone, as he did the entire way to the third island, but unlike some of the others, his concern was stronger than his emotional response.
Not that the others could be blamed, in some part. Even the fireworks show couldn't have erased everyone's connection to the recent past. But even then, it had seemed like Souda had finally been coming to terms with Sonia's circumstances. He hadn't heard a word out of him about Sonia during dinner, and he'd even been able to keep up a comfortable conversation with most of the others. He'd almost been acting like his old self. But now…he couldn't be sure of anything. Was Souda aware of what he was doing? Was there any way to cure the fever at all? He couldn't say. And thinking about it wouldn't get him anywhere.
When they reached the hospital, Owari had just handed the still-shaking Nanami over to Tsumiki, who staggered briefly under her weight. "I…I'm going to help them change into hospital gowns, and set them up in the patient rooms," Tsumiki said to the rest. "The rest of you, stay here and wait for now, please!"
"The patient rooms?" Souda said with a wide-eyed look. "Why would we be going there? And where's Souda-sama?"
Tsumiki froze, apparently unable to think of an answer, so Hinata stepped in. "Oh, he's in there, Tsumiki checked," he said. "We're all going in, actually. Just to make sure what everyone else has doesn't spread!"
"Hey, no we're not!" Saionji shouted, and Hinata tried his best to shake his head and drag his finger across his throat. But thankfully, Nidai caught on. "Ah – right!" he said. "So just do whatever Tsumiki tells you. Understand?"
"Well…" Souda paused for a moment, then thrust out his hand. "If it is for the good of all my precious friends, then I concede willingly!"
Hinata forced himself to look down as Tsumiki attempted to grab Souda's hand and balance Nanami in her arms at the same time, refusing all offers of help from Togami and Owari. As soon as she was stable she entered the main hospital, with Mioda following behind under her own power. Monomi went after them at the last moment, just far enough behind not to be seen.
Nanami's continuous "real-real-real-real-real-real –" came to an abrupt halt as the doors shut, leaving the lobby eerily silent. Around him Hinata could see that the shock had worn off for most people; they looked uncertain now, or otherwise worried. "I'd hope they're going to be okay," he could hear Koizumi say, but only because she was standing near him. "But I don't even know if they will be…"
"Of COURSE they will be!" Nidai yelled, startling Koizumi. Hinata was sure she hadn't wanted to be heard. "Illness cannot pierce spirit! Not theirs, and not ours!"
"Don't tell me you thought that was actually going to help," Kuzuryuu said.
"Oy, enough," Togami said. "We can't afford to lose our focus. We need a plan, and fast."
"We need a plan?" Koizumi's tone shifted, and she looked away from Togami. "So you don't already have one for us."
Togami gave Koizumi an odd look, but when she didn't look back, he looked away as well. "In order to effectively counteract this motive, we must find a method of handling it that we can all agree on," he said, his voice slow and steady. "Only then can we have full confidence in that method. Did you have the same idea? Or am I wrong?"
Hinata couldn't help but feel surprised to hear Togami sound so conciliatory – and it did take a few seconds for the others to mumble their agreement, so he wondered if they were thinking that they couldn't decide whether or not Togami had realized he wasn't the leader anymore, even after all the drama he'd caused. Still, it wasn't at the forefront of his mind. "I don't get what we're supposed to do, though," he said. "The only one of us who has a clue about medical stuff is Tsumiki, and the rest of us…"
"Need to not get infected!" Saionji said. "I'm not getting any kind of fever just because we keep breathing the same air they did, and I'm not gonna wait around for that pig bitch to do anything about it. We need them as far away from us as possible, and fast."
"Wait, then you mean…a quarantine?" The word was harsh on Hinata's ears. "Do we really have to go that far?"
"Do you have any better ideas?" Owari said. "'Cause if it keeps the fever from getting to us, then it sounds good to me."
"I agree," Togami said. "As long as we remain in contact with the infected our chances of contracting the fever only increase. For our safety and theirs, we must separate the groups. I think we can handle ourselves until the fever is cured."
Until that moment Hinata had been sure that quarantine was the most ridiculous idea he'd ever heard – but then, he'd thought the same thing about the summer festival, or guarding the game, or throwing the party. He should have been used to these kinds of measures by now – this wasn't anything new. "Alright," he said. "If it's what we have to do. But where will the rest of us go?"
"For a quarantine to truly work, we must stay close to Tsumiki," Tanaka said. "Should the worst come to pass, we must be able to reach the hospital quickly, and further… if this fever is truly airborne… it is probable that the Hotel Mirai is already contaminated."
"Well…there is the motel on the other side of the island," Koizumi said. "It's livable, we know it's not infected, and it's close enough for us to come help Mikan-chan if anything goes wrong."
There were a few more noises of agreement, if reluctantly made. "I can understand her needing extra help in times of crisis," Nidai said, "But can she really handle them on her own? They're quite a handful already, from the look of things!"
"I would imagine not," Togami said. "Which is one of the reasons why I will be staying here to help her."
"Wait, you are?" Hinata said – even if, deep down, he wasn't all that surprised. "Why do you have to do that?"
"I've spent much more time in close proximity with the infected than any of you. If I can use that position to our benefit, then I must." Togami paused. "And, now that I think of it, so should you, Hinata."
This was not the direction Hinata had expected Togami to take. "Huh –?!"
"Yeah, he's right!" Saionji shouted. "Souda was touching you all over! I don't wanna live near that!"
"He…he was, you're right." Hinata groaned. "Well. Looks like I'm staying."
"You sure are!" Saionji began backing for the door, a wide grin on her face. "So, good riddance! Come on, Big Sis, let's get out of here –"
"Hold on just a second," Koizumi said, running and grabbing Saionji by the collar. "How are we going to keep in contact if there's trouble? If you're over here, and we're over there, and we don't want any cross-contamination…"
"Hmmm…excellent point. I hadn't thought of that. If we still had our phones, or any kind of electronic communication, that problem would be easy to solve." Togami tapped his chin. "But for that to be feasible…"
"I think Souda was working on something like a walkie-talkie system," Hinata said. "But I don't know if he ever finished, or how to find or work it if he did..."
"Given a period of three months, an inscribing wand, and the blood of a virgin," Tanaka said, "I could open a path through a parallel astral plane and –"
"Oh, shut up," Kuzuryuu said. "I'll do it."
Hinata turned to him, surprised, and he could see the others were doing the same. "Do…what?" he said.
"I'll run liaison," Kuzuryuu went on. "You know. Between the groups. I'll meet you guys somewhere every day and we'll keep in touch that way."
"Are you…sure about that?" Togami said.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Kuzuryuu grunted. "You think I'm just going to sit around and be useless? 'Sides, it's not like anyone else wants the job, right?"
"Sure, fine, just do what you want," Saionji said. "The less time you're with us, the better."
"Yeah." Kuzuryuu folded his arms, but his stern expression did not change. "You said it."
Hinata wasn't sure what Kuzuryuu was fully trying to say – but Owari spoke before he could. "Actually, wouldn't it be better if you stayed at the hospital, too?" she said. "I mean, don't you need Tsumiki to, you know…"
"Shut up," Kuzuryuu said. "I still have some use in my left hand. I can make do until this is over. Besides, that's just another thing for Tsumiki to deal with. And if I get the fever it makes her work twice as hard. That's not fair."
Hinata was beginning to lose his ability to believe he was really hearing Kuzuryuu say this. "Uh – are you feeling okay?" he blurted.
"Go ahead and check," Kuzuryuu said. "Actually, no, don't, you've been touching everyone else."
"We should still do a quick check of everyone," Togami said, pointing his finger forward. "Just to confirm no one else is sick before we go our separate ways. Quickly!"
After several awkward forehead touches everyone came up healthy, but it was still agreed that Togami and Hinata should stay at the hospital given their exposure. They arranged to meet Kuzuryuu at opposite ends of the Titty Typhoon entrance twice a day, at 7:30 AM and 9:30 PM – half an hour after the morning announcement and before the nighttime one.
Tsumiki showed no signs of returning, so talk turned to the uninfected heading for the motel as soon as possible, and Hinata and Togami going to see if Tsumiki needed anything. "I see helping her as our major function," Togami said in a manner of information, "But we will also try to get to the source of the fever if we can, and perhaps find a cure, or get information about one out of Monobear. But it may be more likely that we will have to wait for the fevers to run their course."
This answer didn't seem to satisfy anyone, but no one looked anything more than powerless in the face of it – Koizumi least of all. "You don't think the fever's going to kill them," she finally said.
"That's…that's highly unlikely," Togami said. "Monobear wouldn't give us a motive that would kill us directly. And as long as –" He paused, then put a hand to his temple. "As long as we work together towards the same goal, none of us are in any danger at all."
Koizumi nodded once, then headed for the exit, with Saionji on her heels as ever. The others followed behind them, passing Hinata on their way out. Only Nidai wished him good luck; the others looked more distracted than anything else.
Hinata shivered, and buried himself deeper in the thin bedsheets. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so cold. Was it winter already? Had his parents turned down the heat for some reason? Wait, no, that wasn't right at all…
No…he'd helped Tsumiki and Togami get the others settled in their rooms, and then… right, then they'd decided to take turns resting in the spare ward on the second floor. He'd said he'd only needed to close his eyes for a minute, but he felt so heavy, and still so sleepy, that he figured another few minutes wouldn't hurt…
"Hinata, wake up."
Hinata's eyes snapped open - and the first thing he saw was Togami's face. He yelped and jumped back, throwing out his arm to prevent himself from crashing into the metal railings. "H-hey!" he yelled, a little too loudly. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Sneak up on you?" Togami straightened back up to his full height, and Hinata could see now that he was standing by the bedside. "You were asleep. Did you have any better suggestions?"
"Never mind, s'not that big a deal." Hinata yawned, and rubbed his eyes. "W-what time is it?"
"Almost ten?" Hinata felt a chill run though his entire body, and threw the covers off. "But Kuzuryuu –"
"I've just returned from meeting with him. You didn't miss anything important." Togami paused. "For the most part, we were trying to figure out how close we had to get to each other before we could communicate without shouting."
Hinata took this to mean that they had spent several minutes trying to shout at each other. "But everyone's settled over there," Togami went on. "Saionji has barricaded herself in her room, and will only let Koizumi in to see her."
"Perfectly settled, then."
"I wouldn't say that. But there's little to be done about it from here. We'll have to entrust her to Koizumi." Togami turned away. "That, and cure the fever as quickly as possible."
That's a bit of a tall order, Hinata thought – not only curing the fever, but believing that Koizumi was in any position to control Saionji's behavior. But he said nothing about either – instead, he yawned again, and pulled himself out of the bed. "So, does Tsumiki need anything?"
"That's what I was about to check," Togami said. "I would have let you rest, but the hospital guidelines say we're not allowed to sleep here overnight. We'll have to go back to our cottages."
Hinata couldn't imagine why they wouldn't be allowed to stay. "But aren't those supposed to be contaminated?"
"If you ask the others, so are we." The room's screen lit up behind them, and the nighttime announcement began to play. "Come. We should confer with Tsumiki before we go."
Togami left the spare ward, and Hinata followed him downstairs. The door to the first ward was open, and they found Tsumiki there, adjusting Nanami's IV bag. She'd put her under sedation, so her convulsions had stopped, and she was now in a deep sleep. Tsumiki assured them her condition was stable, if unchanged, and insisted she was fine to take care of them all for the night, despite Togami's offers to stay. If they hadn't managed to get Tsumiki to rest earlier that day, Hinata might have insisted on staying as well – but as it was, he was sure Tsumiki wanted to be alone.
They took a quick peek at Mioda and Souda, as well. Mioda was no different than before ("Indeed, sir, I am feeling quite terrible! Would you like to know the intimate details?") and Souda was pacing back and forth across his room ("Oh do forgive my behavior, Hinata-san, but I simply cannot contain my feelings any longer…"). Togami and Hinata didn't need to do much more than convince them to go to bed. Mioda did so immediately, but Souda required the reassurance that Souda-sama would arrive tomorrow. This said they left the wards altogether, and headed for the lobby.
Hinata had expected Togami to go directly for the front door, but to his surprise he stopped by the bulletin board, studying the notice that he had already told Hinata about. Hinata stopped when he saw Togami wasn't with him, waited for a second, then walked back to the far wall and leaned against the reception desk.
He felt more and more uncomfortable with every second that passed in silence. "Um, are we going?" he said.
"Are you in a hurry to leave?" Togami said.
"Well, I don't really have anywhere else to be, but I didn't know we had a reason to stop." Hinata looked askance at the bulletin. "I thought you'd already read that."
Togami stiffened, and quickly adjusted his posture. "I was making sure we hadn't missed anything. Shouldn't we be as thorough as possible right now?"
Hinata narrowed his eyes at the bulletin. It was a list of hospital rules, none of which appeared to be particularly relevant to them. "I'm…not sure I buy that you'd think Monobear would make it that easy," he said.
For a second Togami almost looked angry at Hinata – but then his expression softened, becoming something that resembled defeat. "Are you accusing me of something?"
"Well, stalling, at the worst." Hinata studied Togami's expression. "You're doing that thing again."
Togami's eyes widened. "Thing? What thing?"
"The thing where you…" Hinata knew exactly what he wanted to point out, but not quite how to put it into words, or even if he should. "Where you want to tell me something but you act like you don't."
The corners of Togami's lips twitched for a moment, as though he were exerting a herculean effort to keep his expression still. "That's a bold statement," he said after a moment. "Do you really think you know me that well, Hinata?"
Hinata wondered if he looked less tense than he really was. "I wouldn't know," he said. "Do you think I do?"
"That depends," Togami said. "If you do, then you should be able to predict what I'm about to say. Go on."
Hinata could practically feel his brain seizing up – but before he had the chance to answer, Togami shook his head. "Never mind. That's not going to work for any of us. None of this is." He turned to face Hinata, all pretension gone from his face. "After all I've said, I'm still expecting to lead you without a problem, aren't I?"
Here we are at last, Hinata thought. "Um…if you're talking about today, you didn't really do anything wrong, far as I could tell."
"No. I've made a grave mistake." Hinata realized that Togami wasn't looking him in the eye. "Do you remember what I said last night? About apology, discussion, progress?"
"Of course," Hinata said. "But we didn't really have time for any of that –"
"And if I'd actually thought it would have helped, then I would have acted on it no matter what," Togami said. "I never would have thought it at all, if no one had died. It wasn't progress, Hinata. It was defeat, and I knew it." He stepped to Hinata's left and leaned against the reception desk, ignoring the loud creaking that resulted. "It wouldn't have changed anyone's perspectives. It wouldn't have prevented the Despair Fever. It won't help us find a cure. And it won't stop anyone who's determined enough to kill."
Hinata felt something drop in his chest, almost like a lead weight. "I know it won't, not directly," he said. "But…at this point I don't really know what to tell you."
"Heh. You misunderstand me, Hinata. I've gone beyond wallowing in self-pity. And I know that if I'm going to face Monobear and win, then I can't do it as a coward anymore." He took a quick, deep breath, and held it for a second before speaking very fast. "There's something I've been holding back from the rest of you, Hinata. Something…rather significant about myself."
Of all the ways that Hinata had thought the conversation would go, this was the one he had expected the least. He felt a mix of confusion, fear, and excitement rising in his chest. "O-okay," he said, his voice heavy and awkward on his tongue. "What is it?"
He saw a sheen of sweat on Togami's forehead where none had been before, and when he did speak his words seemed to come in gasps, matching an expression that was more exhaustion than fear. "If I could, I would," he said. "But I can't. Not right now. Believe me, I want to tell you. But it would be better if I told everyone as a group." He sighed. "It's strictly a practical concern, you understand."
Hinata didn't know how he could possibly understand, or even react. But whether Togami understood this, or simply couldn't stop the words once they were there, he didn't wait for a response. "It's not anything dangerous, or beneficial at that. And as far as the broad strokes of our situation, it changes very little. But…" He hesitated. "It will change everyone's perception of me, irreversibly, and without question. And I have no way of knowing what that will mean on an individual level. Some of them may make an effort not to change their opinion of me at all. Some of them may not. They might be angry. They might even be violent."
"Violent?" Hinata's blood turned to ice. "Why the hell would they be violent? Look, you're going to have to tell me what it is now –"
"I've told you, I can't. Not right now. And I would appreciate it if you did not try to guess or assume what it is."
Hinata hadn't even begun to do either, though he'd definitely been planning on it when he could get some time to think. But now he felt more agitated than ever. "If I'm not supposed to know and I'm not supposed to guess, then I don't even know why you're telling me all this. What am I supposed to do if I don't know what we're talking about?"
"You're acting as though I'm in immediate danger, Hinata. I assure you, I'm not. I don't even know if I will be." Togami pressed a hand to his temples. "I don't need you to do anything but listen. None of this will be relevant until I reveal this to everyone. Do you understand?"
It took a second for Hinata to decide on his answer, but in the end he nodded. "If you say so."
"Good. That's good." Togami took a deep breath before going on. "To answer your question, as to why I'm telling you now…well, there are multiple reasons. One might be as a declaration of resolve."
"I've never told this to anyone. Not…not willingly." He wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "Telling you that it exists is the closest I've ever come, and that was difficult enough. But I've still done it, haven't I? If that's the case, then telling everyone can't be impossible. Can it?"
Hinata hardly had the secret itself in mind anymore – if any of the others could see Togami acting like this, they'd be shaken enough. But to him it felt quite the opposite. It was as though Togami had finally acknowledged something that Hinata had known was there all along. "Never," Hinata said. "Not at all."
"Heh. You believe that, then." Togami sighed again. "The other…well, it's a bit selfish. It pertains to you in particular."
"You've proven yourself very trustworthy, Hinata. Even when I've been unreasonable, even when the others have been hard to predict…I can't think of a single moment where I've doubted your fortitude in this situation. You're above and beyond what I could have expected from any of my classmates."
"Wait…no…" Hinata hardly had a clue what to say in response. Of course he'd known that Togami had liked him, but… "That's…I don't know. Whatever I did, you're making it sound like a lot more than it actually was."
"Are you saying that because you can't remember your talent?"
A shiver ran down Hinata's spine. "I…I don't know."
"Because I wouldn't," Togami said. "A talent is nothing more than something someone is better at than the average person. And haven't I just outlined the areas in which you've excelled? Even if I can't put a title on it, or even be sure if it's what Hope's Peak accepted you for, I know it's there."
Hinata had no idea what to do in the face of Togami's words. Thank him? It seemed like such a strange thing to do in this context. "Well, I…"
"But I've digressed enough," Togami said. "The point is, I had hoped I could count on you, at least, to be on my side when the time came. There are others I might have told as well, had they not been under the influence of the Despair Fever at the moment. But for now, your support is enough."
Mioda and Nanami? Hinata thought. "Although, of course, I can't assume you'll support me just because I've told you," Togami went on. "But can I ask if you will? Even if you don't know what it is?"
Hinata knew his answer from the start, but he still scanned Togami's face before he spoke, taking in the fear, the anticipation, and more than anything the trust. "That's…not really something I can promise, Togami," he said. "I'm sorry. I can't say until I know what I'm agreeing to."
"I understand. That's fair." Togami chuckled slightly, and for the first time in the conversation a smile appeared on his face. "The third reason relates to what I told you before, that I cannot face Monobear as a coward. You may be wondering why I've chosen to reveal this now, when the group is at its weakest."
Hinata still didn't know why he was revealing it at all. "Wait…is this going to help stop Monobear?" he said. "But you said it wouldn't!"
"I did." Togami put his hands in his pockets. "Monobear has made it very clear to me over the past several days that, once the Despair Fever is done –"
"Wait," Hinata said, "he knows what it is?"
"In a manner of speaking." Togami hesitated, looking nervous again. "Once the Despair Fever is done, or if it claims no victims, Monobear plans to use my secret as the next motive for murder."
In retrospect Hinata shouldn't have been surprised, but his jaw still fell open. "Wh–?!"
"I believe he expects me to fear the others too much to ever tell them what it is, but his own predisposition towards taunting me is something he's too late to take back. It's only made revealing it all the more urgent. If I can take the upper hand from him, then I can have some control over the group's reaction. I might even gain the trust of those who still doubt me, if I can reveal my full hand to them in the apology I must make." He turned back to Hinata, his face full of determination. "And this is why we must find the cure for the fever as soon as possible. To reduce the time we have to waste before we can come together as a functional group again. Do you understand?"
Hinata froze for a second, but then nodded rapidly. He still couldn't believe what he was hearing, but the logic was certainly sound. "Y-yeah," he said in a manner of emphasis. "I mean…I'm still confused. But if you say it's going to undermine Monobear, well, I can't disagree with that."
"I thought you wouldn't." Togami put a hand to his chin, and tapped it there once or twice. "There's another thing, as well. Something very important." He looked from left to right, as though checking for eavesdroppers, before dropping his voice to an undertone. "I feel I've come across a vital piece of information," he said. "One that may be instrumental in solving the mysteries that remain to us."
Hinata's eyes went wide, and he was about to call out when Togami shook his head, then jerked it in the direction of the security camera. "I can't tell you what it is right now. It would…not be fair to reveal it until I have revealed myself, and I can't even say for sure what it will help. But given a stroke of luck…it may lead us to a way off the island."
"A way…off...the island…?!" Hinata could feel his vision swimming in front of him. He'd almost given up on the idea of escape altogether…but whatever it was that Togami was talking about, if it could really help them… But almost soon as the hope rose inside him a dark feeling in the pit of his stomach twisted and crushed it.
"No, no no no no no," he said. "That's not…that can't be…"
"I don't know if it can," Togami said. "I only know it might. But –"
"But then why don't we do it now?" Hinata said, paying his volume no mind. "Whatever it is – even if it's unfair or whatever, I don't get why you're holding back! Mioda and the others, they're –"
"That's just it," Togami said. "The very fact that three of our number are ill eliminates our ability to take advantage of what I know. When they are well – and we must make them well, Hinata – then we will be free to explore it, and no sooner."
"But I don't understand," Hinata said. "What the hell do they have to do with escaping? Or – anything else you've been saying? What am I even supposed to do with all this information?"
"For now? Nothing," Togami said. "Believe me…I wish it were different. But we have something now that we didn't before. We have a plan of attack. And if we can dismantle one motive, we can take on another." He sighed. "I'll be honest, Hinata. I know no more about medicine than you. But if it's anything like the world of business…then our victory will come with time and perseverance, I'm sure." He looked up, directly into the security camera. "Am I wrong?"
Hinata had no idea how to answer that, and he was sure to make that plain on his face, even if Togami wasn't paying full attention. He had no idea where to begin, on the cure or on anything else. Like this violent secret Togami was keeping from him, just in case he'd forgotten. Did he expect him to just swallow and forget about it until everyone was well again? Was that the role that he played for him? Why would he tell him so much, and yet so little –
A sudden chill struck his spine. He'd realized just how familiar his behavior felt. "Togami," he said, "Are you the tr –"
"Aha! I have found them!"
Hinata turned toward the main hospital door and found it wide open, with Mioda standing in the entryway. She was swaying back and forth, hopping from one foot to the other as needed, and fixing them with a wild, wide-eyed stare. "Mioda!" Togami shouted, his voice back at its full power. "What are you doing outside your room?"
"If I can be honest, sirs, I have run out of amusements in the space to which I am confined!" Mioda said. "And I had hoped that one such as you would be able to provide me with proper stimulation, sir!"
Hinata felt a sudden and overwhelming urge to elbow Togami in the gut, but Togami's own quick thinking saved Hinata's skin. "Mioda, you can't be running around in the halls like this," he said before turning back to Hinata. "I'll take her back to her room. Just hold on for a moment."
Hinata could have repeated his question, but now that the moment had passed he hardly felt the need. He knew he wouldn't get an answer, anyway. He lowered his head. "Alright then."
"Very well." Togami said. Hinata watched as Togami approached Mioda and took her by the collar. "I'll let you know if Tsumiki's changed her mind about extra help," he called back before he closed the door behind him.
Just as before the hall was still and silent, and it felt like an age before Togami returned. He informed Hinata that Mioda had gone back to bed with only a little more trouble than before, and that Tsumiki had again refused his help. With this done, Togami headed for the exit, and they left the hospital once and for all. Despite all that Hinata was feeling, and all the burning questions he had, he couldn't find the words to express them, and Togami didn't give him a chance. So they walked back to the first island in what struck him as an eerie, impregnable silence, both inside and out.
"Is there anything more to be said? I can't tell – I can't gauge your reaction or see your response. I'm honestly not even sure you can hear me. But if you can, and if I could make a visible impression on you, or even just get a sign that you're listening…
"Well, that'd be a flagrant and irresponsible misuse of my luck. I've learned the hard way that any thought of ever achieving any of my selfish desires could have disastrous consequences. And in the end, whatever benefit I get from anyone else's misfortune would probably be more than I ever needed or wanted. It wouldn't cause anything but despair for either of us, really.
"But I know that's the nature of this talent. It makes you realize just how powerless we are against the will of the universe, even when those with talent can shape its smallest parts. So just forget I ever said anything at all. Believe me, it'll be for the best.
"Tonight's lucky numbers are 27, -3, 2, -64, 8, -16, 6, -34, 8, -2, 29, -9, 9, -2, 44, -18, 5, -39, 3, -6, 5, and -18."
Hinata had trouble sleeping on the island as a rule, but he'd never been kept up so fitfully or consistently by his own thoughts as he had that night. More often than not he could find a way to block them out, or a way to tell himself that the next day would bring something better…but now he was stuck. Now he didn't know what today would be like at all. Not for the patients, not for the ones in the motel…
And not for Togami. He couldn't get his words out of his mind, but at the same time he couldn't comprehend them. Why couldn't he tell him whatever it was he wanted to say? As long as he didn't, the fact that there was something was barely tangible. It was little more than a vague threat, its scope and impact all the worse when it couldn't be measured. He found himself reminded of how he'd felt about the mutual killing itself, in the three peaceful days before Komaeda and Hanamura had died. It was not a feeling he liked to remember he'd had, or one that he wanted to come back in any form.
Togami had told Hinata not to guess what the secret was, but it was the only thing that calmed his nerves – the only thing that made it all feel real. But the possibilities were endless and in the context of all he knew each seemed less likely than the last. He could figure it was something very personal, but also quite critical – something that, when revealed, would affect everyone on the island at some level. It was the threat of violence, more than anything, which gave him pause. What could cause that kind of reaction in someone? Had he had a specific person in mind? Or would he just be creating a general sense of betrayal…
It was that line of thinking that led him back to the same question: Is he the traitor? He didn't completely understand the World Destroyers or their relation to Monobear. He didn't even know enough to say whether Togami's own actions, in particular his opposition to Monobear, would have lined up with the World Destroyers' goals or served as a front for them. But the threat of violence certainly added up, as did this apparent knowledge of a way off the island. But why would he need to find the fever cure before using it? What about that could possibly be holding them back?
And in any case…if he was wrong, and Togami wasn't the traitor, that would mean that someone else was – and Togami's own secret was as unknowable as ever. And that was harder to comprehend than anything else he'd thought.
He felt he'd only just pushed it all out of his mind when the morning announcement went off – and from there he had no time to lose. He left his cottage and went to Togami's, only to find the curtains open and the cottage empty. Hinata figured that Togami must have gone ahead to the hospital, but as he left the hotel he found he was only half-right – he ran into Togami by the lobby, his arms loaded with large boxes. On a closer look Hinata realized they were full of food, cooked and pre-packaged alike.
"It's for the others," Togami explained before Hinata could ask. "I can't imagine the unsubstantial theater fare will keep us for very long."
"You know, I didn't completely think that through myself," Hinata replied. "Need a hand?"
"I've got them," Togami said. "We don't have long to spare before we have to meet Kuzuryuu. Come on."
"Right." Togami took off ahead of Hinata, far faster than Hinata ever could have with one box, let alone two. They crossed the central island and reached the hospital in what felt like record time; the wall clock in the lobby told them it was 7:20.
"That's more than enough time to check in on the others," Togami said, setting the second box down. "And Tsumiki should eat before she rests."
"You really have this all worked out," Hinata said, but Togami only nodded in response – he seemed distracted, or rather, dedicated to the task at hand. He picked the first box back up and set off through the lobby doors, and Hinata followed after him toward the wards.
All four of the doors were closed, and there was no indication of where Tsumiki might be, so they tried Nanami's room first. At first Hinata thought the room was empty – apart from Nanami, asleep as ever – but then his peripheral vision caught his notice, and he looked down to find Tsumiki on the floor, her arms and legs wrapped around the base of Nanami's IV stand. "Uh – Tsumiki –?!"
"Tsumiki!" Togami shouted.
With a start Tsumiki jerked awake, shrieked, and kicked at the wall in shock. Hinata feared the worst and ran to prevent the IV from tipping, but there was no need; Tsumiki disentangled herself quickly, if not elegantly, and stood by the bed, wide-eyed and shivering. "Aa-aaah! I'm sorry!" she said. "I didn't realize – it was only for a minute –"
"You don't need to make an excuse." Togami set his box down by the nightstand, and pulled two slightly squished breakfasts out. "Has there been any change in Nanami's condition?"
Tears welled in the corners of Tsumiki's eyes. Togami's hurried reassurance clearly hadn't done much. "N-no…not that I know of…she's still running a fever, b-but I can't say there won't be any change when she's awake…"
"Do you think she can wake up soon?" Hinata said.
"I …" Tsumiki wiped her eyes on the bandages on her arm. "I'll check on that today. And if there's any change…" She smiled a small smile. "Well…that'd be wonderful. But I have no way of knowing now…"
"But her condition is stable for now. Good." Togami picked the box back up and headed for the door. "We're in a bit of a hurry, but we should check on the others before we go. Isn't that right?"
"Oh – yes!" Tsumiki said, moving after him. For a second Hinata had thought Togami was addressing him, but he let that slide and followed them into the hall.
Their next stop was Mioda's room, where they found her standing by her bedside, swaying slightly on her feet. She greeted them by telling them how tired she was, which they solved by telling her to go to sleep. As far as Hinata could tell there was no change in her condition, and Tsumiki confirmed this for them. They left her breakfast and moved on to Souda's room.
Souda was sitting up in his bed and staring out the window when Hinata saw him, but when he heard them enter he turned to face them, and his mornful expression broke out in a smile. "Ah, Hinata-san!" he shouted, then ran from the bed, grabbed him by his wrists, and shook him up and down. "How perfect of you to visit so early, and when you must have known I needed it most!"
"Wait - no - Souda - Sonia - don't –" Hinata wrenched himself out of Souda's grasp, but Souda didn't seem to mind terribly. He pulled his arms up to his chest, still rocking back and forth on his heels.
"You are full of news for me I am sure," he said, "but I simply must tell you of the miraculous event of this very night before all else!"
"Miraculous…event?" Togami said, giving Souda a searching look.
"Indeed, miraculous!" Souda said. "It was just the stroke of midnight, in fact…I had just settled myself enough to lay down to sleep, but not long after I had, not long at all…I was roused from my slumber by the faintest of voices!"
"Voices?" Hinata was already sure he'd just heard Tsumiki or Mioda next door, but he didn't stop Souda to say this.
"A voice, to be sure, and not just any!" Souda said. "I could hear it loud and clear, as though he were right beside me – it was my very Souda-sama's voice!"
"Wait – Souda's voice?" Hinata blinked at Souda in clear disbelief. "Are you…sure?"
"Absolutely, I am! I do not recall his words, but he must have come to me, to reassure me!" Souda said. "Oh, how I wish I could see him soon! Perhaps on his next visit he will stay longer, do you not think? Or could you bring me to him immediately, if he is here as you say?"
"Ah…" Togami narrowed his eyes. "He's resting at the moment, but I can confirm that you'll see him later."
"Oh – Togami-san, you are much too kind!" Souda burst into tears again, not even attempting to stop them, and might have run to embrace Togami if Tsumiki hadn't caught him and coaxed him back. Togami set his breakfast on the side table while she did this, and once he was settled they left the room, shutting the door behind them.
Hinata gritted his teeth and looked back and forth, from Togami to Tsumiki. "Okay, so…"
"I-I can explain," Tsumiki said, looking as though she had made a heroic effort to assert herself. "It's very simple…I was talking to Souda-san last night, and I discovered…"
"Discovered?" Togami said.
"Well, h-he thinks his own traits are Sonia-san's traits," Tsumiki went on. "His appearance, his body, his voice…it's the nature of his fever, he doesn't question them. But…if he perceives anything from the outside, like a picture, then he perceives Sonia-san as himself, and Souda-san as someone else… I tested it, too, with the student handbook…"
"So he heard his own voice, is what you're saying," Hinata said. "But he didn't realize it? Was he sleep-talking or something?"
"Yes…I was in Mioda-san's room around midnight, and I heard something from his," Tsumiki said. "When I came in, he was fast asleep, but speaking nonsense. He must have perceived that as Souda-san's voice, because he didn't remember saying it."
"An interesting quirk of the fever, then," Togami said. "But overall a fairly useless one. Well, at least we've seen they're alright. But we're already late to see Kuzuryuu." He moved away from Tsumiki and Hinata. "We'll be back within a half-hour, Tsumiki."
Tsumiki nodded rapidly, and Hinata took off after Togami. They stopped in the lobby to pick up the second box of supplies, and then set off down the road, for the Titty Typhoon.
They found Kuzuryuu standing halfway between the doorway and the east wall, tapping his foot with his arms crossed. "Hey, took you long enough," he said bitterly, by way of a greeting. "Nice of you to join us, Hinata."
"Sure is." Hinata had almost forgotten what it was like to talk to Kuzuryuu. "We've, uh, got food for you guys…"
"It's all from the supermarket," Togami said, moving to the middle and setting the box down in a neutral territory. "I figured you wouldn't want anything that had been opened."
"Tch…well, it's better than hot dogs." Kuzuryuu stared at the box, then looked down at his hands. "I guess I'll just kick that down the road, then." He paused. "No, no, that was stupid. I'll get Nidai to get it later."
"Speaking of the others," Togami said, apparently ignoring Kuzuryuu's outburst, "how are they? Do you need anything?"
"Perfect," Kuzuryuu said. "Saionji still won't come out, and Owari and Nidai were doing who-the-hell-knows-what in the room next to mine and banging on the walls all night." He gritted his teeth. "No idea about the other two. Won't talk to me."
"Well…" Hinata felt very awkward. "If they don't need anything, I guess they're alr –"
"Actually, I don't think we can let that be," Togami interrupted. "If we are going to keep ourselves together as a group, we need full and open communication on all sides. And I'm going to have to count on you to facilitate that."
"Wait, I don't get what you're asking me," Kuzuryuu said, suddenly looking very tense. "Or what it has to do with anything!"
"We have no way of knowing whether the quarantine is perfect," Togami said. "Or anyone's mental state, overall – except through you. And you did volunteer for this job, didn't you?"
"Tch." Kuzuryuu was hesitant for a long time. "Haven't changed, have you? Alright. Whatever." He unfolded his arms, and for the first time Hinata saw that the left one was hardly as well – wrapped as the right. "What about you? Any luck with the fever?"
"They're…all stable," Togami said. "Tsumiki's checking on Nanami's recovery today."
"Alright." Hinata waited for a moment for Kuzuryuu to continue, but when he didn't they stood in silence for several seconds. "Well, I guess that's it," he said, just as Hinata was thinking the same thing. "I'd better head back. Oh, and, ah, if you could…get some fresh bandages for the next meeting, that'd be good." He looked down at his left arm. "Yeah."
"Very well. We'll meet you in the evening, to update each other on our progress." Togami nodded at Kuzuryuu, then set off for the hospital again. Hinata took the time for a small wave goodbye, but Kuzuryuu only returned a nod before he turned away, moving back towards the motel.
It was about nine in the evening when the hospital had a visitor.
Hinata was on his break – his third that day, as he'd been trading shifts with Togami. He'd spent the past two hours largely on supervision; Tsumiki had needed him to help her pinpoint Nanami's progress, to determine when the right time would be to stop her sedatives. Mioda had been somewhat more demanding – she required constant attention, and if she did not receive it she had a habit of getting up and leaving the building. Hinata usually caught her before she got out of the lobby, but once he'd had to chase her almost halfway across the third island bridge. But she usually wasn't hard to get back, once you got within her hearing range.
She hadn't shown a shred of change in her condition, but Souda was another story. Hinata couldn't tell if what he was seeing was an improvement, or simply a loss of hope, but while Souda had spent the morning in eager anticipation of "Souda-sama"'s arrival, over the course of the afternoon he'd spoken about it less and less. In truth, he'd been speaking less overall; whenever Hinata came in to check on him he'd seemed lost in thought, though he'd answered Hinata's questions politely enough. Tsumiki had run more tests on him, trying to determine what might have caused the change, but thus far she'd found nothing that produced any significant result. Hinata wasn't even sure if it had anything to do with the fever at all, if he was being honest.
But he couldn't do anything about it when he was supposed to be resting. He hadn't felt willing to try sleeping again, so he'd chosen to stay in the lobby. But by then he'd already paced back and forth across it until his feet ached, and he hadn't found anything else to do. He'd considered balling up the hospital rule bulletin and throwing it against the wall a few times, but when he'd moved to take the poster Monobear had shown up to stop him.
So he'd been sitting in one of the lobby chairs, rocking back and forth to while away the remaining half hour. That was when he happened to look at the front door, and saw Monomi standing outside, looking in and rubbing her paws together. She started when she saw him, but made no move to enter.
Briefly Hinata considered leaving her there, but, more for his own benefit than hers, he got up, moved across the room, and opened the outside door. "Er…Monomi?" he said.
"H-Hinata-kun…" Monomi trembled for a second, and then, to Hinata's surprise, she stood up straight, her hands on her hips. "L-look at you, taking such good care of your cwassmates, Hinata-kun! Y-your teacher's vewy proud, you know!"
"Er…" Hinata wasn't sure if he could believe that was all she wanted to say. "Thank you. I mean, I was just on my break, but –"
"Even if you are, you were working very hard before!" Monomi said. "So you're very welcome…yeah…y-you're welcome…"
Either Hinata's eyes were deceiving him, or Monomi was shivering as she spoke. "Um…is everything alright?" he said.
"W-well…" Monomi looked rapidly back and forth – Hinata could almost swear she'd been looking at the security camera. "H-how are they doing?" she said, her voice overly loud. "The others…with the fever…"
"Oh, well -" Hinata scratched his head. "Tsumiki'd be able to answer that better than me, but there's still no change to Mioda, and Souda, there's no telling –"
"And Nanami-san?" Monomi shouted, looking especially agitated. "I-is she awight?"
"Huh?" Hinata could almost swear Monomi was about to cry. "Well, I was just about to say –"
"She's awake. The anesthesia's worn off."
Hinata jumped, then turned around – Togami was standing in the doorway to the hospital wards, holding the door open. Monomi went stiff, and threw her hands over her mouth, but Hinata paid her little mind – he was far too distracted by the news. "So, is she okay?" he said, moving for the door. "She's not shaking or anything?"
"Not as far as we know." Togami turned back again. "I came to see if you'd like to visit her. And Monomi, as well."
"Well, yeah, of course," Hinata said, and Monomi nodded rapidly. They crossed the room and left the lobby, with Monomi muttering and shaking at Hinata's heels. They didn't have far to go to get to the first ward, which was wide open. Togami entered the room first, and when Hinata followed behind him –
"Ugh, well it's about time!"
He heard Nanami before he saw her, but once Togami had moved over far enough he saw her, standing right in the middle of the room. Her hair was lank and disheveled, and she had one arm wrapped around her IV stand for support, but she was pointing straight at the three of them with the other, and her eyes were as fierce as ever. "You two have been holding up the entire game," she said. "What were you doing? Being scared? Scared to lose to a girl?"
"Er…" Hinata forced an awkward grin. "No, it's just…kinda been a long time in general. It's good to see you awake again –"
"Shut up, Hajime, I'm not here to be friendly." Nanami swung the IV stand around and behind her, stumbling wildly on her feet. "You can't just give me special treatment because you think I need it. Hell, if you think I need it to beat you, then maybe you're the one that's a pissbaby –"
"Nanami-san, if you keep moving like that, you'll fall over!" Hinata had been so focused on Nanami he hadn't seen Tsumiki on the bed. As he watched, she got up, worked the IV stand out of Nanami's hand, and supported her on her shoulder. "I-I think you should stay in bed for now…"
"You think you can tell me what to do, Mikan?" Despite Nanami's words, she didn't seem to be able to struggle against her. "I'll take you one on one – I'll pwn you with my eyes closed –"
"Nanami, enough," Togami said, sounding more tired than he did authoritative. The words did nothing to help, of course – Nanami continued to threaten Tsumiki as she put her back to bed, and Tsumiki cried and apologized as she went, apparently for being too pathetic to even know what "pwn" meant.
"Well," Hinata said, surveying the scene, "at least she's not as bad as she was. Now she's just kind of like the rest of them."
"B-but she is doing better…" Monomi held her head in her hands. "That's…that's got to be a relief…wight…?"
"It's an excellent sign. Any kind of progress is." Togami folded one arm across his chest, and put the other to his chin. "It's another step closer to unraveling the workings of the fever. It could be that her unconscious state allowed it to work its course, or even that the drugs were a factor… but we may need more time to figure that out."
"Still…" Hinata turned to Togami. "With this, and Souda…maybe this'll all be over with sooner than we thought."
"Indeed." Togami took a quick look at the clock in the room. "It's almost time. Tsumiki, we need to be off."
"So you're just gonna run away, Byakuya?" Nanami said. "That's just like you, isn't it–"
Tsumiki covered Nanami's mouth with her hand before she could say anything else, and nodded her goodbye before she tried to get her back under the covers. Togami immediately headed for the door, but Hinata couldn't help but hesitate for a moment, looking back at Nanami. He knew she was sick, he knew she couldn't control what she was saying…but something about her words had struck a certain chord. "That's just like you, isn't it?" It reminded him of something…of something else she'd said, of something else she'd done…
"Hinata!" Togami called – and the thought was gone. He turned back, joined Togami, and headed with him for the lobby.
The meeting at the Titty Typhoon was somewhat more eventful than the last. Kuzuryuu reacted well to the news of Nanami's recovery – at least from the worst of her fever – and even held out the same hope that this meant the fever might wear off given a few days. He had little news on his end. Saionji was still locked away, but the others were going somewhat stir-crazy. Koizumi had made an effort to organize them, but it had broken down fairly quickly when it was clear that there was very little they could do but wait. Now she too spent most of her time in her room, staring out her window, or so Owari had said. From the sound of it, he'd had to ask her to check on the others for him.
Togami handed the new bandages over, and then they parted with nothing else to say. After checking in on Tsumiki, who swore up and down that she didn't need any help for the night, they headed back for the first island. The walk wasn't as silent as the last – they talked a little about Nanami, and about their hopes for everyone's recovery. But Togami still seemed reserved and distant somehow, more than ever before.
He had his confessions to anticipate, Hinata knew. Perhaps that was weighing on his mind, along with everything else...as much as Hinata was thinking about it, he could imagine it was worse for Togami. But his curiosity still overwhelmed him.
"Uh, hey," he said.
"Hm?" Togami turned his head. "What is it?"
"Well…" Hinata swallowed. "I was thinking, when I saw Nanami. What does their health have to do with anything? Is it something to do with the fever…or is it a specific person?"
Togami's eyes went wide, and he hesitated for a long time before answering. "I… I don't have any more to say on the subject," he said. "Not until the time comes to address it."
"I…" Hinata paused. "I mean, okay, but I don't really get why not –"
"Monobear has eyes everywhere, Hinata," Togami said. "The less he knows, the better."
Hinata admitted to himself that he hadn't considered this. "Right. You're right," he said. "Never mind."
They parted at the cottages, and Hinata practically fell on his bed when he entered his. He had the vaguest thought of getting out of his clothes and taking a shower, but he hadn't realized until then just how tired he was. That could wait, he thought as he closed his eyes. He was so comfortable now, more than he'd been in the past few days…one little rest wouldn't hurt anything, for sure…
For a moment his mind was clear… but then a certain scene floated dimly into his mind, unbidden. It came slowly, from somewhere deep within his subconscious…Like a watercolor painting, slowly filling in…
Slowly… and dimly…
Beware of the powers that act around you.
Beware of the ghosts, the Lives we've lived and lOst. Beware the iNner workinGs, the wires and circuits and breathing apparatus and waLls and buildings and water and sky.
Beware of the dangers you see and the omIssions you don't.
Beware the balance and eVErything THat can upset it.
Bewar E yo urs elf and the QUEstions you havE.
Beware the powe rs that be. Beware N ature. Beware wha t must come and what must pass away.
Beware the past. Bewar n. Beware the despair tha t must come and be ware the hope that will rise t o destroy it.
"I mean, it's not like he has the kind of talent Hope's Peak are looking for…he's…just a normal guy, like everyone else."
"Well, he's free to revere whatever he wants, but it must be hard for his parents. It's their money, after all."
Just…leave me alone…I just… I just want to be able to stand proud…
"Hinata! Hinata, open the door!"
…Wait…what is this? Who's speaking? Why can't I remember? …Who –
Hinata jerked up, and had to grab the edge of the bed with both hands to keep from falling off entirely. His lower half had somehow slid off during the night, and his clothes felt oddly sticky, as though he had sweated them through. But he couldn't focus on that now, or anything swimming in his head. Someone was yelling and banging loudly on his door, and a second later he knew it could only be one person. "HINATA!" Togami yelled again. "HINATA –"
"I'm up, one second!" Hinata planted his feet to steady himself, then pulled himself away from the bed. He didn't know why Togami was there, why he was so desperate to see him, or even what time it was – but he knew there was no use asking himself those questions when in a second he would be opening the door.
When he did, he only had an instant to take in Togami's appearance – his wide eyes, his disheveled hair, his heaving chest as he struggled for breath – before he spoke.
"Tsumiki's dead," he said. "And Souda's gone."
He could hardly remember the journey back to the hospital.
From the moment Togami had spoken he hadn't been able to hold any thoughts at all. He couldn't even think about what he'd heard. He followed Togami when he grabbed his arm, and he had the vaguest feeling that he was running, but he couldn't think about it. Or where he was going.
It had to be a mistake. He hadn't seen either of them yet. Not Souda, and not…not…no. He wasn't going to believe it until he saw her. He couldn't…she wouldn't… she was right in the hospital, she had to be…
He saw the front of the hospital, and then the blur of the interior door – then the doors of the wards, first Nanami's, then Mioda's, and then Souda's, standing slightly ajar –
And then his vision cleared, and he was in Souda's room, shivering and staring at Tsumiki.
She lay on Souda's bed, her head on his pillow and her body above the sheets. He couldn't see any wounds, or any sign of a struggle, but her limbs were splayed at odd, crooked angles, and her mouth, her eyes – her eyes were wide and glassy, her mouth half-open, and taken together he could hardly recognize the expression as human –
He couldn't look away, but it occurred to him that he hadn't felt the urge to cry or scream. He still couldn't believe it – and he could tell he was still looking for a way out. "But…" was all he could say. "But how…how…?"
"Her throat." Togami pushed past Hinata, and knelt by the side of the bed. "I saw it when I found her. Look at the marks."
He pulled Tsumiki's shirt collar down, and Hinata moved just far enough forward to see deep, dark gashes and bruises along the bottom of her neck. "Strangulation," he said to himself. Suddenly it became very clear to him that Mikan Tsumiki was dead. She'd died…been killed…someone had killed her…and then…and now…!
"We can't spend too much time here." Togami pushed Tsumiki's collar back up, then stood and faced Hianta. "We have to find Souda as soon as possible. Do you understand?"
"What – yeah!" Hinata said with a start, even though the second part of the problem had almost slipped Hinata's mind. He'd thought he couldn't think of Souda at a time like this, but given the circumstances…
"Do you think he killed her?" he blurted.
"We won't know for sure until we figure it out," Togami said. "But right now, finding him is our priority. He could have moved anywhere in the time I was gone." Togami moved to the door as he spoke, then looked back again. "You search the upper floor. I'll check on the others again, and the spare ward as well. If he's not here, we'll call the others and search the rest of the island."
"Right. Yeah." Togami nodded, then took off for Mioda's room. Hinata left as well, and headed up the stairs.
He searched the break room, and then the conference room, but both turned up empty, of Souda or otherwise. Now that he couldn't see Tsumiki anymore, it struck him just how routine this situation had become. Togami, distressed as he looked, was able to stay on task, even in the face of death… but then, he always had. And Hinata was beginning to feel like it was rubbing off on him. He'd been shocked to be sure, but now it was as though he'd entered a state of survival, where none of that mattered until –
He froze at Togami's voice. Had he really found Souda already? He couldn't think anymore – he left the conference room and raced down the stairs, only to find Togami at the foot. "Did you find him?"
"Kuzuryuu's here," Togami answered. "He's in the lobby. Come on!"
Kuzuryuu? But it's not even seven yet – and why is he here? Hinata didn't voice his thoughts. He followed Togami through the ward and out into the lobby.
Kuzuryuu was there as promised, standing right by the outside doors. "Hinata!" he yelled as they approached. "You saw Tsumiki too, right? So she's –"
"Y-yeah," Hinata said, stopping by the door. "She's - she's dead –"
"Ohhh…. oh fuckin' hell –!" Kuzuryuu's face contorted wildly – but before he could show any more emotion he slammed his body against the outside door, opening it just wide enough for him to get through. "You guys have to come with me! Now!"
"What – why?" Hinata said, but immediately knew he shouldn't have – Kuzuryuu was off like a shot, and Togami went after him, wide-eyed but without question.
They were halfway down the road when Hinata started seeing blood on the ground. At first he thought he was just seeing things – it had to only be a few flecks – but then there were distinct splatter shapes, which finally resolved themselves into footprints as they got closer. Kuzuryuu got to the doors first, but given the state of his hands there was very little he could do. Togami was the next to arrive, looking more shaken than before, and with a mighty shove he threw the doors open –
Hinata was only dimly aware of the others around him as he looked inside. They must have been shocked, there was no way they couldn't be, and he thought he could hear someone shout – but who it had been, or even if he'd done it himself, he had no way of knowing. All he could see or care about was the blood – the blood that ran in a thick, ragged trail across the floor, starting at the splatter at edge of the stage and ending not far from their feet, where...where...
He was sure for a second that it had to be a body. He saw the gashes on Souda's back, the blood that soaked his hospital gown...but then he heard him groan, and he saw him prop himself up on one arm as he pulled himself forward with the other. He looked Souda directly in his bloodshot, terror-stricken eyes, and watched them widen with shock before his strength failed him entirely, and he passed out on the ground.
If there's still anything amiss, drop me a line and I'll give it a look!