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Thinking about it for a while

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Chihiro nods, but focuses primarily on his salad, because he miscalculated with the dressing this time and it seems to be making more of a mess than he originally thought it would. He’s wary of letting it get on his jacket, especially because he hasn’t changed out of his uniform yet, so he has to pay extra attention. Still, though, he glances momentarily over at Mondo to let the biker gang leader know he’s paying attention.

 

“Thanks, man,” Mondo releases what is clearly a breath he’s been holding for quite some time, and Chihiro sympathises. Up until a few minutes ago, he’s been sitting alone in the dining hall and eating his salad in silence. Then Mondo came in, sat down next to him, and asked if he could rant about something that’s been frustrating him. Of course, Chihiro isn’t exactly an authority on all things emotional- he can barely handle his own problems in the best of times; he had to come out to his class as cis, for goodness’ sake- but he’s feeling okay right now, and he thinks he’s levelheaded enough to have a conversation about whatever’s on his friend’s mind. Besides, Mondo’s been there for him so much in the past, he figures he ought to return the favour. “It’s just been bugging me for so long…”

 

“Mm.” Chihiro nods again, to show he relates, but says nothing else, for fear of making Mondo feel like he’s not listening, or not going to let him speak. To shut himself up, the programmer spears several pieces of kale on the end of his fork and shoves them all into his mouth. It works pretty well, because Chihiro would certainly never talk with his mouth full, but a little bit of dressing splashes as a result and he flinches away, hoping none of it got on his jacket. He supposes he’ll figure out if it did in due time.

 

“I’m just pissed off with the way that that Nidai guy keeps brawling against Owari,” Mondo starts, and Chihiro glances over again, expecting his friend to elaborate. “He’s a man, y’know, and a good one! But men shouldn’t hit women, no matter what. It’s the action of a bullshit coward to pick on somebody weaker than you, man, I’m so over it.”

 

“Oh… well, doesn’t Owari usually ask to fight to begin with?” Chihiro inquires, and he doesn’t mean to invalidate Mondo’s feelings, obviously, they’re really close friends (albeit not as close as Mondo and Kiytoaka) and he would never dream of saying something that would make the biker gang leader feel bad, but even so. It’s a little judgemental, isn’t it, considering that Akane is usually roaring for a fight? And from Chihiro’s understanding of it, Nekomaru only humours her for the sake of helping her improve, not for some weird affirmation of his masculinity.

 

“Yeah, but if a girl asked me to fight, I’d say no. You just shouldn’t hit women. It’s fucked up.” Mondo shrugs. “And Owari keeps losing. He should know better than to be fighting someone that explicitly weaker than he is constantly.”

 

Well, okay. Chihiro sighs and pushes his salad away. There’s a time and a place for advice, he’s aware of it, and he would never cross that boundary and try to advise somebody when they’re not feeling up to it. Plus, there are plenty of perfectly understandable reasons to be upset about Akane and Nekomaru’s more than questionable work-out routines. But still, as Mondo’s friend… Chihiro swallows and rolls his shoulders back, maintaining good posture in the way that Kiyotaka advises so that he doesn’t come across as afraid when he says what he’s about to say, because that’ll just make Mondo feel crappy.

 

“Uhm…” he rubs the back of his neck. “Oowada, you… I’m sure you don’t mean it in that way, but the way you’re talking it kinda seems like you think women are weaker than men.”

 

“Huh? Well, I mean,” Mondo flounders. “I wouldn’t say that, but-”

 

“I know,” Chihiro interrupts smoothly, and immediately feels bad about it, but he doesn’t want Mondo to feel backed into a corner, or like he has to start making excuses. Because that would imply Chihiro is attacking him, and he’s not, he really isn’t. “But that’s just… how it sounds, you know, a-and sometimes it can come off that way when you talk about how true men don’t hurt girls and stuff.”

 

“Awh,” Mondo frowns, looking away. “I don’t mean it in that way, I just mean to say that- you know- it’s crappy to pick on people who are physically weaker than you.” There’s a pause, during which Mondo presumably gathers his thoughts, and Chihiro backs off to allow him that space to do so. “I mean, it’s not about gender, you know! I’d be seriously pissed if somebody was picking on anybody who was weaker than them, no matter what parts they have!” And Chihiro knows it’s the truth, because any time Mondo has heard of somebody making him upset, the gang leader has immediately stood up in his defense.


Still, though, he can’t just leave it at that. “Right, but you still say women, not people who aren’t as strong.” Chihiro points out, messing with the hem of his sleeve. “So…” but then he doesn’t know what to say, and he just halts for a minute, trying to figure out what exactly it is he wants to convey to Mondo. As though in the name of doing for Chihiro what Chihiro just did for him, Mondo remains silent until the programmer can figure out how to say what he needs to. “Do you think women are weaker than men, Mondo?”

 

“No.” Mondo’s response is immediate. “No, I think women are super fucking strong, man, I mean, Ogami is the strongest person in the world, how could I think women are weak?” Fair point, but Chihiro is still unsatisfied. “I- I mean, when I say it, I don’t say it because I think women are weak, you know? I say that shit because-” and then he really does stop, averts is gaze, and realisation dawns on Chihiro a second too late.

 

“Oh- it- because of your-”

 

“Because of Daiya, yeah,” though Mondo shrugs when he says this, acts flippant about it, Chihiro knows that it’s a sensitive topic. Something they barely talk about, have not spoken about since Mondo initially told their class about it, because the biker gang leader doesn’t like being vulnerable. And Chihiro understands, he really actually truly does, because he doesn’t like being vulnerable either. He wants to feel strong. But he’s starting to learn that being vulnerable doesn’t mean being weak.


Still, though, there’s a time and a place for asking for vulnerability, and it’s not a kind thing to try and force others to do. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for-”

 

“Forget about it, Fujisaki,” Mondo brushes it off, and Chihiro frowns, about to say that it’s not alright and he does need to communicate that he didn’t mean to insult Mondo’s brother even indirectly, but the other boy is talking again already. “You’re right, man, and you should call me out. It’s a misogynistic mindset. I hold it so close to my chest because my brother said it and then he died, but that doesn’t mean I get to keep acting like women are any weaker than men with no repercussions. It’s fucked up, and I don’t even believe in it, anyway.”

 

“I…” even so, he… “Well, the fact is, I know you don’t, that’s why I was able to say something about it.” Chihiro finally concedes, messing with his hair. “I mean, I trust you to listen to me, and to hear what I have to say without getting upset about it. We’ve come that far, haven’t we?” And they have, they have. There was a time when Mondo would’ve viewed this kind of conversation as an insult to his masculinity, a challenge, and he would’ve responded with violence. But they’re past that now. They know how to communicate. “I mean, I don’t want to ask you to denounce the things your brother taught you, I know how much he meant to you, and I do believe he was a good guy.” He means it.

 

And then Mondo is nodding, and he’s smiling, and it’s kind of an awkward smile, but it’s still a smile. “I get you, man. I do. There are things I should take away from what my brother taught me and things I still need to establish for myself, on my own terms. I shouldn’t say shit about women being weaker.”

 

“Thank you for hearing me.” Chihiro smiles too. “I-I mean, I knew you would, but… and, I’m, sorry for interrupting you when you were ranting, I should’ve asked before giving advice or talking to you about this kind of thing, it’s important for me to know you’re in the headspace for it before I-”

 

“Don’t stress!” Mondo nudges his shoulder. “I’m a man, after all, I can take it!”

 

“Oowada-”

 

“I’m just fucking around with you, I mean to say that I’m not, y’know, upset.” And Chihiro laughs, because it’s so weird hearing Mondo be genuine like this, but it’s nice. He’s glad they’ve come this far.

Chapter Text

“Fukawa.” The purple-haired girl in question looks up, as she always does, at the sound of Byakuya’s curt voice. He sighs, because of course the way her pupils dilate slightly when her gaze falls on him is something that he’s been privy to on multiple occasions. He may be used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s something he’s comfortable with. That’s why he’s here, and dealing with somebody like her by choice. Of course, that and some other, less pressing matters. “What you said to Asahina this morning was disgusting.”

 

Toko blinks, then lets out what might be a sigh (or moan?) of sorts as she adjusts her glasses. They’re in the library, and nobody else is here, which Byakuya is glad for, because he wouldn’t have approached her had there been other people around. Still, it’s infuriating that she chose to came here, of all places, after breakfast, because he generally thinks of this place as a refuge for himself. Though, to her, perhaps that is part of the appeal. There’s no real good way for him to tell what goes on inside her head under the best of circumstances.

 

“I-I’m sorry, m-master,” she stutters out, and her voice is shaky but Byakuya just raises an eyebrow, because he knows for a fact she’s not really sorry. The writer continues. “She was j-just flirting w-with you ag-gain, you know my s-stance o-on that,” she shrugs, like she can’t help it, which is utter horse crap, if you ask Byakuya, which she might in fact be about to do. “B-But I’ll make s-sure to keep it i-in a place where your r-refined e-ears can’t hear i-it, in the f-future.”

 

“She wasn’t.” Byakuya grumbles, and he is disinclined to stick up for Aoi on his best days, but as a person with dignity, he really can’t let that morning’s events slide. He knows that she was uncomfortable, of course, and he knows that many of their classmates were too, but most importantly, he was. That’s why he’s here, after all. (No other reason.) “Flirting with me, I mean. Asahina was not flirting with me. She merely asked if I could pass her a salt shaker.”

 

“Th-The audacity to a-ask you to do something s-so menial for a s-slut like herself!” Toko screeches, pulling at her hair, and Byakuya groans, because they’re in a fucking library, for god’s sake. “I bet sh-she would’ve been p-perfectly h-happy to just r-reach over y-you and grab it for h-herself, so that she could rub her l-large-”

 

Byakuya snaps, “That is exactly the kind of intolerable vulgarity I’m always hearing from you, Fukawa!” And she falls silent immediately, her face flushing with what may be either shame or displeasure at having been called out. And honestly, he doesn’t care much for specifics. “It doesn’t make a difference to me whether or not you have positive feelings for that simpleton. She’s moronic on her best days.” He scoffs, because truly, Aoi Asahina goes much farther than being an airhead. “And I care little for you, either, so as far as I’m concerned you can do what you want.”

 

At this, Toko frowns, seeming confused. “Then w-what’s the problem, e-exactly?”

 

“The problem is,” Byakuya seethes, annoyed at having been interrupted before he was finished. “That it’s not an acceptable thing to say to a person. Do I really have to spell it out for you?” Toko says nothing, and with an exasperated sigh, the progeny realises that holy shit, she’s actually that unintelligent! So he runs a hand through his hair and continues. “Let me explain this in a way that your simplistic mind will understand. Anybody with half a brain cell can tell that Asahina is uncomfortable whenever you speak about her body, or describe her engaging in sexual activities in the strangely… descriptive manner, you always do.”

 

“W-Well, who c-cares what she has t-to say? She’s the one wh-who-” but before Toko can continue, Byakuya snaps.

 

“It doesn’t matter what she did first, Fukawa, there is no excusing that type of behaviour! It’s sexual harassment!” And then he pauses, because wow, he’s not supposed to get heated defending somebody as moronic as Aoi, of all people. But he can’t help it. He was raised better than that, he was taught that there are things that should be discussed easily and there are things that should only be brought up when both parties are aware and consenting. Byakuya doesn’t care how Aoi feels, he doesn’t, but he can’t stand hearing it, especially from somebody who claims to care for him like Toko does. “Not to mention,” he goes on, irate. “That she isn’t the only one upset by those things. I can’t think of a single person in our class who is willing or able to justify your behaviour.” Except for Junko, but she’s disgusting, and that’s just a fact.

 

“I d-don’t c-care how they f-feel, they’re always thinking s-such cruel th-things about me a-anyway.” Toko crosses her arms, and Byakuya feels tempted to bang his head against a shelf, because how is she still not getting this?

 

“I’m not even going to touch that one,” he sneers, because he knows for a fact that his stupidly kind classmates, Makoto for example, would never even consider thinking something cruel about Toko, because they at least think she is their friend. Somebody as naive as Kiyotaka or Makoto has room in their mind only for kindness. Which is juvenile, surely, but Byakuya doesn’t mind it so much. Any negative thoughts their classmates might have about Toko have only been cited as a possibility by her. “But you care how I feel, don’t you?” He asks, and he doesn’t want to bring this one up, because her supposed feelings for him make him want to die a little (he doesn’t even like women) but if he has to, then he will utilise the high regards in which she holds him to get through to her.

 

And it certainly gives her pause. “O-Of course, m-master…” she trails off, and her eyes widen a little, like she sees where this is going. “A-Are you saying th-that I…?”

 

“Make me uncomfortable? On a daily basis.” Byakuya scoffs. “But especially when you say those things to Asahina.”

 

“W-Why?” Toko’s head shoots up all of a sudden, her eyes flashing. “Do you h-have feelings f-for her, or something? S-Size isn’t e-everything, y-y’know!”

 

“No, for christ’s sake!” Byakuya pinches the bridge of his nose. “It’s not about feelings, Asahina could step into a shovel- probably would, really- and I would laugh at her stupidity. I always do. But there are lines that you should not cross and you make quick work of crossing them almost daily. Those comments, I can’t stand to hear them. They disgust me. And I ask that you stop making them.” If he’s being well and truly honest with himself, it’s not just about his feelings in this. Every time Byakuya sees Aoi with that embarrassed, almost ashamed face, he feels the strong desire to crawl out of his skin. He’s a Togami, he’s not an enabler. There are certain behaviours he cannot allow to continue.

 

Thankfully, it seems that Toko has heard him. She’s paused, now, and her expression has changed to something more quiet, more thoughtful. It’s a way she looks on occasion, does more often and has since she got closer to Makoto, and Byakuya really doesn’t care enough about her to look into figuring out what it means, but he waits for her to speak. “S-So… it really does m-make you u-upset?” She asks faintly.

 

“Of course,” Byakuya huffs, then looks away, somewhat embarrassed by the sincerity in her voice. “Why on earth would I lie about such a thing? I-”

 

“I’m sorry.” Toko says, and it’s so firm, so without any stutter, that Byakuya nearly does a double take. As things are, he stares at her, brows raised. “I-I mean, obviously th-those kind of comments a-are g-gonna make her uncomfortable,” she groans, brushes her hair out of her eyes. “I don’t like her, y-y’know, I think she’s s-stupid.”

 

“Yes, well, no shame in admitting the truth,” Byakuya mutters.

 

“B-But I didn’t think it was a-actually… harassment.” She shrugs now, meets Byakuya’s eyes, which is so jarring that he finds himself forgetting to breathe. “I-I’ll stop, then, th-thank you for t-telling me, Togami.”

 

Togami. Something about the eye contact, combined with the way that she is using his real name, rather than master, for once… makes Byakuya lose all desire to be rude to her. For a moment he forgets the disgust and the discomfort, wonders if it’s possible to actually see Toko as something more than a disgusting waste of a human being. “Fukawa-” he starts, and suddenly she sneezes, perhaps responding to the dust on the books in this corner of the library.

 

“Ohhh, I’m glad I’m out, Miss Plain and Boring really left me sleeping for a long time!” Genocider Sho’s tongue uncurls from her mouth and she cackles before fixing her gaze on Byakuya. “Huh, what’s this? Is this a steamy moment alone with master in the library? Oooh, Jane getting us some action, okay! C’mere then!”

 

Byakuya frankly can’t run away fast enough.

Chapter Text

Chiaki dies. “Shoot,” she mumbles, then finally closes her gameboy and puts it to the side. Across the courtyard, for maybe the past fifteen minutes or so, Nagito and Hajime, two of her friends, have been standing and arguing. She’s been trying to keep tabs on them, but it’s hard to watch, because she knows both of them so well and they do mean quite a lot to her. So she’s been hiding from her problems, as usual, by playing Super Mario. But they’ve been going at it for quite a while, and she’s really contemplating walking over there.

 

Before she does, however, Hajime throws his arms in the air and storms away, presumably in the direction of the Reserve dorms, but Chiaki couldn’t ascertain, because maybe it’s not the best idea to approach him when he looks so angry. The way Nagito looks when he turns around, a serene smile on his face, tells Chiaki that they were probably having an argument about that whole talent thing again.

 

So, something stupid. Nagito notices her, sitting at the fountain, and starts walking over, but she grabs her gameboy and quickly gets to her feet, jogging forward to meet him, because that spot is kind of hers and Hajime’s, and she adores Nagito but she doesn’t want him to ruin the sentimental value of the spot by talking about hope and talent as he’ll inevitably do. Besides, even if he doesn’t initially, Chiaki intends to ask, because there are a couple words she’d like to say to him.

 

“I’m sorry, Nanami,” he speaks right away, when she stops next to him, and she starts to shake her head, to wave off his apology, but he continues. “You had to watch that whole argument with that reserve. You shouldn’t have to see that.”

 

“That reserve,” Chiaki reminds gently. “Is named Hajime, and I’m in a relationship with him.” Nagito, however, seems to have selective deafness, because he smiles politely and doesn’t say anything else. It’s annoying, but she sighs, because she doesn’t really want to deal with his crap right now, but as a friend, she figures that she should keep talking. “What were you arguing about?”

 

Nagito shrugs, avoids her gaze, which is also annoying, but Chiaki chooses not to comment because she knows he’s going to say something. “The usual, you shouldn’t worry yourself over it, really. It’s not a big deal, or the kind of thing that an Ultimate should have to deal with.”

“You’re an Ultimate.” Chiaki remarks, somewhat testily. “And that doesn’t make any difference. Hajime goes here, he might as well be one too… I think.”

 

“Well, that’s just it,” Nagito meets her eyes now, and she’s a bit taken aback by the seriousness present in those washed out green irises. “You know my stance on this pretty well by now, but I really do think it has everything to do with the individual. You either have talent or you don’t, and Hinata doesn’t. I wouldn’t mind his presence so much if he knew his place, but he doesn’t. He talks to you and the rest of our classmates like he’s an equal. Isn’t that unacceptable?”

That’s just blatantly wrong on so many levels and Chiaki can’t even begin to unpack all of what she just heard, but she’s going to try. “...it’s not unacceptable.” She sighs. “He is an equal, he’s our friend. He does know his place, it’s right next to us.” The gamer messes with a strand of her hair, wondering how to say what she wants to. “It’s possible that… he feels bad when you say stuff like that, and that’s why he got so angry at you. It’s not right to say those kinds of things. They’re mean.” At least, “That’s what I think.”

 

It doesn’t seem like that sits very well with Nagito. He’s frowning when he responds, “But why is it mean if I’m just saying what’s the truth? You Ultimates are so kind, of course you wouldn’t say those things directly, and maybe you feel uncomfortable telling useless reserves like Hinata to stand down, but why is it a problem if I’m saying it? It’s just what’s true.”

 

“No, it’s not.” Chiaki gestures for him to walk with her, starts making her way towards the dorms. He follows without question. “It- okay, well, first of all, you think the Ultimates are just better than everyone else because we were like, chosen, right?”

 

“Chosen might be too strong a word,” Nagito admits with a slight laugh. “But yeah, I think that you either have talent, or you don’t. It’s one or the other. You’re either worth something, or you’re not.”

 

“Well, that’s the first problem.” She feels kind of bad saying these things to him, honestly. She doesn’t want to tell Nagito that everything he believes in is wrong. But it’s such a detrimental mindset, and it’s caused harm to multiple people she cares about. She can’t exactly just tolerate his disrespect towards her boyfriend, it’s not something she’s okay with, even in the slightest. “You know, uh… it takes… the agency, away from us, sort of, when you say we’re born with talent. Because a lot of us work really hard to be Ultimates.”

 

“Of course, we all work hard,” Nagito allows. “But unless you’re somebody with talent, it doesn’t mean any-”

 

Gently, but firmly, Chiaki cuts him off. “That’s wrong, though, and even if that’s right, in the end, having a bunch of talent in one area doesn’t mean anything at all. Take me, for example, I’m great at video games. That’s not because God Himself looked down and chose me. I just love them, and so I think about them a lot, and I know how to play them. But what good will that be for me in choosing a career? I have no qualifications given to me by my talent. The only use it has is getting me into this academy, and if your point is that this academy exists to cultivate hope, well, I don’t think it’s about us, then, as much as it is about Hope’s Peak.” She shrugs. “It’s a pretty useless talent, isn’t it? And you said that about yours, too.”

 

“Your talent isn’t useless,” and still, Nagito is frowning. “You- it-” he pauses, as though trying to figure out what to say. “You could… be a YouTuber if you wanted to?”

 

“I don’t think I’m charismatic enough.” Chiaki shrugs. “And I wouldn’t want to make a career out of video games, they’re my passion, I don’t wanna be payed to play them. But that’s not the point. The point is when you say it’s a thing that is either given to you or it’s not, you imply that we only have talent because it was given to us, not because we worked hard, or cared a lot, or had some reason for really falling for it. Do you know what I mean? It’s just no good, saying that it’s natural born.”

 

Eventually, Nagito nods, but he still looks unhappy. “Okay, for the sake of the argument, let’s say you’re right about that. Why does that give the reserve course students any right to talk to you, though? If anything, it makes them worse, just lazy individuals who admire talent and want to be around it but didn’t put in the effort to have any themselves. Shouldn’t you be scornful of them for that reason, instead?”

 

Chiaki shakes her head. “Just because Hope’s Peak Academy didn’t think they were worthy of an Ultimate talent,” she explains slowly. “Doesn’t mean they don’t have talents.” She sighs. This is a lot. She doesn’t like talking so much. “You know, all the reserve course students are actually really hard working and smart. They don’t always like us so much, but that’s just because everyone treats us better, not for any other reason. Maybe some of them are here because they want to be around us, but mostly I think they just want to get the benefits of attending such a prestigious school. And their parents can afford it, so why not?”

 

“Are you saying they are talented?” Nagito asks, and she appreciates that he’s trying to understand, but he does still sound awfully baffled. “People like Hinata, and Koizumi’s friend, and Kuzuryuu’s sister? Even though they’re in the reserve department?”

“Yeah. It’s not like Hope’s Peak’s steering committee is run by gods.” Chiaki rolls her eyes. “Some talents take a lifetime to develop. And other times you just wanna keep them to yourself. I bet there are plenty of people Hope’s Peak has never heard of who are super duper talented. Not everyone wants all the attention of being an Ultimate.” She stops, and Nagito doesn’t say anything, so she says the last thing she wanted to say. “Also… I don’t think you should just people based on how talented they are.”

“You don’t?” It’s an odd question to ask, because Chiaki thought it was kind of self explanatory, but maybe it’s just that no one’s ever sat down with Nagito like this before. Maybe he really does just need someone to tell him these things. She’s sure he’s not malicious, at least, not outwardly.

 

“No. I don’t. I think you should judge people by how they treat you. If they treat you with respect. And by how they treat others, too. Kindness is a lot more important than talent. And you value hope so much, I think you can learn a lot about it from the people who you think are supposedly talentless if you stop judging them for no reason.” Chiaki stops walking, and he does too, because they’re in front of the dorms. “Just… try to give people more of a chance, okay? And don’t act like the reserve students are unworthy. They’re not. They’re good, and they deserve as much as respect as anyone else in the main course.”

 

There’s a long moment of silence, and at first Chiaki isn’t sure that she got through to him. It would really suck if she said all that and he didn’t even hear her. But eventually he nods, and a strange smile appears on her face, and she feels a surge of relief. “Since it’s you, Nanami, and not anybody else… I guess I have no choice but to listen.” He nods at her, and she’s glad he didn’t say it’s because she’s an Ultimate. “Thank you for… talking to me, about it. I don’t think I’m worth your time, and it means a lot to me that you’d waste some of it on-”

 

“Stop.” Chiaki glares at him. “You’re not allowed to put yourself down either.”

 

“That might take a little longer,” Nagito warns.

 

“Fine. Just try. It’ll be worth it.” She pauses. “Probably.”

Chapter Text

It’s funny- really funny- the way that Mikan seems to wither underneath Hiyoko’s words. She knows she’s sadistic, and she really hasn’t always been this way, but there’s something about being able to inflict so much pain with a few simple insults that really gives her a sense of pleasure. Or, well, maybe pleasure isn’t the right word, but she means to say that she’s not about to stop, for any reason, because it’s something that she enjoys doing quite a lot. Tearing other people down, that is.

 

And that’s a horrid thing to say, but Hiyoko’s never thought much about it. It’s become second nature for her now, to snap when Mikan enters the room, lash out whenever she’s forced to interact with the squirmy nurse. She doesn’t think about it anymore, even. It’s just something that she does. And she doesn’t care, either. She doesn’t care how Mikan feels, because really the girl is disgusting, constantly slaving for attention of all kinds, even the bad variety, and Hiyoko is more than happy to give it to her, so if anything Mikan should be thankful, and she is, in a way. Even so, when Mikan slinks away from breakfast, weeping without tears, and a hand is placed on Hiyoko’s shoulder, she’s pretty ready to lash out, because she’s half certain it’s that annoying Hajime again, come to lecture her about her treatment of the stupid nurse.

 

“Hiyoko,” Mahiru, who Hiyoko was not expecting to see standing there, is frowning. “Can I talk to you?”

 

“Of course, big sis!” Hiyoko chirps, and softens her gaze, wanting to make the photographer feel more comfortable. She’s a pale cream, a comforting familiar colour on Hiyoko’s eyes, contrasting sharply Mikan’s ugly burnt orange. The faint scent of grass touches the traditional dancer’s nose as Mahiru moves, her hair shifting when she sits down and allowing Hiyoko to interact with her conditioner. It’s pleasant, it’s familiar, and Hiyoko likes it.

 

It must take a moment for the ginger to compose herself, because she doesn’t speak again right away. Instead her brows pinch together and she looks at the table, drumming nicely filed (but unpainted) fingernails on the shiny wooden surface. Hiyoko doesn’t mind; Mahiru can take all the time she needs, and even though people have begun to file out of the dining hall, she’s not against skipping class. Though, Mahiru is, and in the interest of respecting that, Hiyoko opens her mouth.

 

“Uh, class is gonna start soon. I don’t wanna rush you, but…” she trails off, watches olive green pools of water flicker up to meet her own orange eyes. The direct eye contact, opposed now to the averted gaze and nervous disposition, admittedly sets Hiyoko on edge, but it’s nothing of substance, because this is Mahiru, and she’s got nothing to fear. “Are you okay? Is something bothering you?”

 

“I’m fine,” Mahiru starts evenly. “But something is bothering me. Uhm, namely… well, I’ll ask a question first, I guess- why do you treat Tsumiki the way that you do, Hiyoko?”

 

“Huh? You mean-” she refrains from calling the nurse Pig Barf for the sake of the interaction and congratulates herself on the graceful gesture. Naturally, she can’t give Mahiru a real answer, that it helps her exert control over what she feels is a rather out of control existence, but she supposes she can say something. “It’s ‘cause she’s gross! I don’t like how she’s always being all desperate, and crying, and falling on the floor! Always putting the attention on herself and sniveling when people so much as blink at her wrong. It’s disgusting and indecent.” Hiyoko thinks there is some merit to what she’s saying, but perhaps on a logical level she knows these are not excuses to treat another person poorly. Still, she doesn’t really feel inclined to stop, even if she feels as though she knows where this conversation is going.

 

The photographer hesitates again. “Is that… true?”

 

“Hm? Well, of course it’s true, why would I lie to you, big sis?” Hiyoko tilts her head to the side slightly, blonde pigtails brushing the fabric of her kimono, which is a bold move considering that she is technically lying. “I mean, everyone knows I hate her.”

 

“Yeah, uhm, well, I know that.” Mahiru still sounds uncertain, to an almost upsetting degree. Hiyoko isn’t a fan of it, not one bit. As much as this particular conversation topic isn’t her favourite (honestly, it’s bad enough from dumb Hajime) she doesn’t want Mahiru to feel uncomfortable. “I just- I wonder if there’s some other reason you treat her that way.”

 

Hiyoko considers talking about her insecurities, and the fact that she doesn’t feel that bad about being mean to Mikan because Mikan seems to crave any and every kind of attention, but she eventually opts to simply shrug her shoulders. “Why are you asking, anyway?” She changes the subject, and not subtly either, but Majiru seems to let it slide.

 

“It’s- I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” and Mahiru says this with the air of a confession, which really does wonders for how Hiyoko feels about all of this. “And it’s just, it’s not kind, you know, the way that you treat Tsumiki. It’s really bad. I mean, maybe you don’t mean to bully her-” she pauses, then shakes her head. “No, I… respect you too much to sugar coat it. It’s definitely bullying, Hiyoko, and it’s really not okay.”

 

“I guess,” Hiyoko shrugs. “But why bring it up now?”

 

“There’s nothing significant about this moment in particular if that’s what you’re asking,” Mahiru starts, and she sounds more steady. “I just haven’t been able to gather the courage to do it up until this morning.”

 

“Courage?” Hiyoko echoes, then feels a flutter of something in her chest, something that makes her eyes well slightly. (She blinks away the feeling, it’s unpleasant and she doesn’t like it and she doesn’t want Mahiru to feel guilty about this because if she’s needed courage then it can’t be easy.) “Why have you needed to gather the courage? Are you afraid of me?”

 

“No, no, of course not.” Mahiru reaches out, touches Hiyoko’s shoulder, and the gesture is soothing rather than overwhelming so Hiyoko doesn’t lash out. Instead she leans, slightly, into the touch, inhales and exhales as best as she can to fully listen to what the photographer says next. “I just don’t want to hurt your feelings, is all, by calling you out, but every time it happens it gets worse, and I want you to know that it’s just wrong to treat Tsumiki the way that you have been. But I don’t want to treat you like a bad person because I know you’re not, and I know that you care about her, even if you don’t act like it, so I wanted to ask… y’know, why.”

 

If any moment is a moment for honesty, it’s this one. Hiyoko releases a breath, averts her gaze, and not out of fear of what she might find in Mahiru’s eyes, but out of reluctance to be too vulnerable what she says what she’s going to say. “I guess it just makes me feel… more in control,” she admits quietly, then looks back at Mahiru, perhaps a little too strongly. “But she likes it, doesn’t she? She wants all kinds of attention, even the kind that I give. She freaks out when I don’t talk to her, so-”

 

“But it’s not healthy.” Gently, Mahiru cuts Hiyoko off, and her lips turn down at the corners in a small frown. “The way that she’ll accept any treatment so long as she’s not being ignored, it’s really, really bad, and we should be working to teach her that she deserves respect, rather than feeding into her desire to get any attention of any kind.” She clears her throat. “Because she does deserve respect, doesn’t she?”

 

Hiyoko’s immediate response is no, of course she doesn’t, she’s gross. But, when she thinks about it for a moment longer… she wonders if that really is the truth. Does Mikan deserve respect? Well, it’s not as though Hiyoko’s a big authority on the subject, but Mahiru is always saying how everybody deserves respect, and if nobody else she trusts Mahiru. Besides, the way that Mikan is always crying, it’s pathetic, but… maybe a little bit sad, too? And there has to be some merit to what Mahiru said about it being unhealthy, the kind of things the nurse will put up with for a little bit of validation.

 

“Yeah, she does.” Hiyoko finally answers, and releases a breath. “I guess even pig- Tsu- Tsumiki deserves… not even, just- Tsumiki deserves respect.” She grits the words through clenches teeth, and feels her face flushing with shame because it took her that much effort to even admit as much. In retrospect it’s kind of a given, isn’t it? Still, though, she’s not sure what to do about it. “I’ve already gotten so used to treating her like that, though, how do I stop?” She asks, and then looks at Mahiru for a moment. “W-Wait, don’t answer that, that’s not fair of me to ask you.”

 

The photographer frowns again, looking confused. “What do you mean? I could give you plenty of advice-”

 

“Yeah, but, that’s not your job. You’re my friend, not my therapist. I’ll figure out a way to stop being rude to Tsumiki on my own. If I do need any help I’ll ask you but it’s not fair for me to expect you to have the answer to my problems.” She clears her throat. “I’m sorry that it… got so bad you had to say something.” Really, she didn’t… mean for it to happen that way.

 

“Thank you, Hiyoko,” Mahiru smiles finally, releases a breath. “For listening to me. I was worried that you wouldn’t, and you’d view it as a betrayal, or something, because we’re such close friends.”

“No.” Hiyoko shakes her head. “It’s because we’re close friends that I listened. Thanks for telling me.”

Chapter Text

“Ah, Momota, can you hold on a moment?” As Kaito is moving to leave the classroom, the soft pull of Shuichi’s voice interrupts his train of thought (which isn’t anything substantial anyway so he lets it go) and turns him back around again. Everyone else has piled out by now, save for Chisa, who is cleaning the board, but aside from a quick smile she pays them no mind as she goes about her business. Kaito looks at Shuichi curiously, wondering what’s on his mind, but all he can read from the detective is apprehension which clouds his features like a storm so he lets the door shut behind him as he walks back over.

 

“Of course, bro. I was gonna wait for you at the door with Harumaki, but I can wait here.” He smiles, to let Shuichi know it’s alright, and dependably the detective returns the gesture, but it’s overshadowed by anxiety in a moment. Kaito wonders if it’s the fact that they’re the only ones here that is putting him on edge, and speaks again. “Want me to call her in here to wait too while you pack up your things?”

 

“Huh?” Shuichi’s eyes widen and he looks down at his desk, noticing the indeed, all his books are still out. (Kaito notices idly that Shuichi has doodled a picture of an airplane with Kokichi’s hair instead of the notes he was supposed to take that day and suppresses a chuckle.) “Oh, n-no, that’s alright, this is-” he pauses, messes with his cuticle. It’s a nasty habit. Kaito makes a mental note to tell Rantaro later of Shuichi’s bad nail-related habits, the adventurer will probably be a good authority on the subject. “Something I want to talk to you about, personally.”

 

So it’s one of those kinds of things, huh? Well, Kaito would be nervous about it if he wasn’t the Luminary of the Stars! Besides, it’s Shuichi talking here, he’s got nothing to worry about. He won’t make any assumptions about the subject of what the detective wants to speak about. “Of course! Lay it on me!” Kaito puts on an encouraging smile, because Shuichi still looks so infuriatingly on edge, and that never sits well with the astronaut, how worried the other boy tends to be.

 

“R-Right, uhm,” Shuichi haphazardly begins shoving his books back into his bag as he speaks, avoiding eye contact. He’s not wearing that hat anymore, which was apparently a big deal for him, according to Kaede (though Kaito didn’t really notice) but his hair still falls into his eyes and makes it difficult for Kaito to tell what he’s thinking. It’s a little frustrating, he’s not going to lie, but whatever makes Shuichi more comfortable. “So, you were talking with Hoshi during lunch today,” he prompts uncertainly.

 

“Ah, yeah,” Kaito chuckles, but it’s more of a chagrined laugh than a genuinely amused one. His hand makes its way to the back of his neck, clapping there in a gesture of sheepishness as he does by nature. “Sorry you had to hear that, bro. It got a lot louder than I meant for it to.” Entirely on Kaito’s part, too, the supposed former tennis pro hadn’t raised his voice in quite the same way, and perhaps it had just served to anger the other boy further.

 

Slowly, Shuichi nods. “Yeah, I mean, I can’t speak for Hoshi, but that wasn’t too big of a deal.” He hesitates, though, shoving a pencil into its case a lot more roughly than he does usually. Kaito sees this but says nothing, doesn’t let it show on his face that he notices, because he doesn’t want to put the detective any further on edge. “Uhm, it’s just, the subject matter was d-depression.” Shuichi bites his lip. “And I wanted to talk to you about… the way you talked about it.”

 

“The way I talked about it?” Kaito repeats, and attempts to mask his air of incredulity with genuine confusion because being incredulous may just make Shuichi implode. Of course, he knows nothing about handling depression, and it’s possible that that’s a pretty bad position to be in dealing with somebody who has it, but he knows that sometimes people just need to be told to suck it up and keep moving forward. It’s worked in the past, after all, so he’s certain that all Ryoma needs is a push in the right direction. Besides, it doesn’t look like anybody else is doing anything about it, and Kaito can’t stand that.

 

“Yes.” Shuichi zips up his bag, and now that he has nothing to distract himself with, he is forced to meet Kaito’s gaze, but his grey eyes are still shifting often. “I just, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to talk to him that way when he’s struggling like he is.”

 

Well, Kaito can handle constructive criticism, he’s just surprised, is all. “What do you mean?” He asks, and considers speaking more but decides against it, for the sake of coming off as less affronted and more just uncertain as to Shuichi’s meaning. There’s a lot of room for speculation in what he just said, after all, Kaito said a lot of things at lunch earlier, and the detective could be referring to any one of them.

 

“Uhm… so, I haven’t told you this directly and I’m sure a lot of our classmates have picked up on it, but I uhm, I also- I also have depression,” he says those last four words with somehow even less certainty than before, a couple wrinkles appearing in his forehead. Kaito is tempted to reach forward and clap his shoulder but he abstains, because Shuichi is full on staring at the ground now, and he’s clearly not done talking. “And- And I want to be delicate about it because it’s a sensitive topic but depression isn’t- it’s not just an emotional problem that somebody has to overcome. I mean, it is, obviously, that’s true for almost everything. But it’s a mental disorder more than it is anything else.”

 

“A mental disorder,” Kaito feels a bit like a broken record, just repeating what Shuichi said back to him, but it’s strange to hear those words ascribed to people he knows and cares about.

 

As much as he’s never noticed Shuichi has depression, it’s not the first time he’s heard the word in regards to his classmates. Kaede mentioned struggling with it in middle school, refused to go into detail, and Himiko cited it as a reason why she feels such a strong lack of motivation all the time. Kokichi, too, once joked about having it, and Kiibo called him out, saying it wasn’t the kind of thing that was acceptable to joke about, but Kokichi turned dead serious a moment later, asking why Kiibo was so quick to say he was joking. (Kiibo didn’t know what to say to that.) Maki talked about having it herself, albeit flippantly, and Angie once cheerfully told everyone that depression is the reason that she relates so much to Miu. And of course there’s the situation with Ryoma; everyone’s been fairly liberal with their use of the word.

 

These are all people Kaito is not only fond of, but cares about very greatly. The words mental disorder have such a negative connotation that he wants to flinch away from them, but he doesn’t struggle with it. There’s no possible way for him to understand what his classmates are going through. Just like he was unable to be there for Maki that time when she talked about being trans in more than just a surface-level way, because it’s something that he has zero grasp of. Maki didn’t, of course, go into detail about it, but Kaito has heard a little bit about the topic, and he just doesn’t know what to do when he’s confronted with those things. It’s not a feeling he likes, but one, he supposes, he’s apparently going to have to get used to.

 

“Momota?” Shuichi sounds worried, and it occurs to the astronaut that he must have spaced off. A reassuring smile starts to form on his lips but falls short when he sees the care in Shuichi’s gaze, because of course he’s used to Shuichi caring about him, as much as he’s used to all his friends doing their best to be there for him, but it still makes him feel uneasy. “I’m sorry, it’s a heavy topic, I should’ve asked before I-”

 

“It’s something you struggle with, huh?” Kaito asks, and surprises himself when his voice isn’t scratchy. “Have you been dealing with it for a while?”

Almost as though in memory, Shuichi rubs his wrist as he contemplates an answer, looking away again. Finally he nods. “Ah… yes. For as long as I can remember. That’s not always the case, though, and it doesn’t really make a difference.” He shrugs. “It’s something that has to be dealt with nonetheless.” And Kaito couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have questions. He wonders how to phrase what he wants to say.

 

“How can I be there for you guys, then?” Kaito finds himself asking, and Shuichi looks back at him in shock. “I mean- that’s a lot of weight to put on you, you don’t have to come up with like, a perfect answer, or anything, I’m just- if I haven’t been handling the situation with Hoshi right, which is okay because I don’t know how to handle it so it’s not impossible that I’ve been doing it wrong, then I want to know how I can be better. I want to support you guys in any way I can.”

 

Shuichi opens and closes his mouth, looking like he’s not quite sure what to say. “I-I can sit down with you if you’d like, and we can talk about a bunch of ways that you can be of help to me when I’m always feeling crappy, but they won’t necessarily help for Hoshi. I’d suggest doing the same thing with him. I think he’d really appreciate it.”

 

“Alright!” Kaito punches his fists together. “Let’s do it right now, then, so I can go ask Hoshi!”

 

“Wh-What?” Shuichi is startled. “Now? Right now?”

 

“Yeah, of course! You think the Luminary of Stars can rest knowing I’ve been handling a situation incorrectly? If I’m going to be there for you, then I need to do it right away!” He pulls out a chair and sits down, grinning. “Let’s do it, bro! That is-” he pauses. “If you’re feeling okay to do it at the moment. If you’d rather do it later-”

 

“No! No,” Shuichi cracks a smile, sits back down in his desk. “I’m happy to do it now, I just- nevermind, I don’t know what else I was expecting from you.” He laughs, and it’s a small sound, nervous, but also filled with relief, and Kaito feels himself relaxing upon hearing it. Shuichi really does have that effect on him, huh? “Thank you, Kaito.”

 

“Of course! Anything for my sidekick!” And Kaito doesn’t notice it, but as Chisa exits the classroom, she meets Shuichi’s eye and mouths a quick I’m proud of you!, because she heard the conversation, and there’s nothing else she’d like to hear more from her students.

Chapter Text

Tenko turns the corner, shouldering her bag, when the sound of approaching footsteps behind her makes her freeze. Thinking it might be a degenerate male or something, she flips around, hands held at the ready, but it’s just Miu, an uncharacteristically serious expression on her face. Tenko idly wonders if she’s going to talk to somebody about whatever’s eating her, but the inventor slows when she gets closer, and it dawns on the girl that Miu is here to talk to her.

 

“Hey, Cha-butch-shira,” Miu calls, and Tenko barely blinks at the offensive nickname, because she’s used to it at this point. Pretty uncomfortable, now that she thinks about it, but she usually doesn’t even mind being called butch, so long as it’s from somebody who’s respectful about it. And of course Miu is never respectful about anything, but Tenko finds herself unable to protest when she treats everyone that way. But if it were a male, she’d definitely throw them. No question. “Can I talk to you?”

 

“Sure! Tenko is actually being picked up soon for the holidays,” she glances at her phone, sees that her parents haven’t texted yet. “But I think they’re not here yet, so I can spare a moment! What is it, Iruma?” She smiles, albeit a little thinly, but manages to coax her expression into something more respectful because as vulgar as Miu is she’s still a girl and Tenko isn’t even sure that she’s here to say something gross.

 

“I just wanted to talk to you before you left, and like, don’t take this the wrong way or anything,” she rolls her eyes, flicks her blonde hair slightly, and Tenko suppresses the urge to snort, because she’s not really sure what Miu would call taking it the wrong way. “But you really need to give Yumeno some fuckin space, or something.”

 

At first Tenko is just happy that Miu is calling Himiko by her surname, rather than a gross nickname like usual, but then it registers in her mind what Miu just said. Though, rather than be offended, like she might be if it was a male saying this, she’s simply confused. “What? What do you mean? Does Yumeno not like me?” Tenko nearly feels like she’s going to cry at the thought.

 

“Ugh, no,” Miu rolls her eyes. “I mean, I don’t know what’s going on with you weird lesbians. I don’t talk to the midget enough to ascertain because I try not to associate with people who have such small tits-”

 

“Hey! Yumeno is a growing girl!” Tenko protests.

 

“-but I’m not saying that because she doesn’t fucking like you, okay? I’m saying that you should give her some space once in a while because it’s like, really uncomfortable, the way you’re always clinging to her and saying all those things about how cute she is.” Miu shrugs. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know you have a major crush on her, I just think you need to listen when she says no and stuff.”

 

It’s… actually really odd to hear those things, such genuinely serious things, coming out of Miu’s mouth. Tenko finds herself tilting her head to the side a little. “Is Yumeno… made uncomfortable by my actions?” She asks, confused. She can’t help being a little worried too, because, she obviously didn’t mean to make Himiko feel that way! Himiko is her closest friend, there’s nobody in the world she likes more than Himiko, and- well, if the mage is uncomfortable… she feels her stomach twist.

 

“Yeah, I mean, I thought it was pretty obvious. And the rest of us get pretty fuckin uncomfortable, too, you know.” Miu shrugs. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know, so…” she turns around to leave, and that would be that, but something still doesn’t sit right with Tenko. She doesn’t do this a lot, especially not with girls, but for some reason before the inventor can walk away her hand shoots out and wraps around the blonde’s upper arm. Miu’s arm is surprisingly buff, perhaps from all the work she does making things, but Tenko is still reasonably confident she could beat the girl in a fight. Not that it matters, because she isn’t going to fight Miu, but the thought still crosses her mind. “Ugh, what is it? I’m not going to sleep with you, y’know, the gorgeous girl genius has high standards!”

 

“Tenko doesn’t want that,” Tenko rolls her eyes but releases Miu’s arm. “It’s just… I thought it was weird that you talked about making everyone else uncomfortable when you do that all the time. Not that Tenko wants to make everybody uncomfortable, she appreciates Iruma telling her, just- do you know that you can really make everyone… feel kinda weird?”

 

Miu’s brows raise, for some reason, and she fiddles with her goggles. She doesn’t walk away, though, which Tenko is grateful for. “Kinda weird how?”

 

“Like, it’s- it’s like a degenerate male thing, thinking about s-sex and stuff, all the time,” Tenko feels herself getting flustered talking about it. “And you should be open and honest about what’s on your mind! But you also should be aware that not everybody is comfortable with those topics being out there like that and sometimes people don’t wanna hear about it! Tenko doesn’t mind, really, she’s used to it from males, but still, there have been times when the things you talk about have stressed out the girls in our class and that’s really bad!”

 

“Shit, it’s pretty bad if it’s the guys too,” Miu says, then mumbles, “Uh… well, I mean, Kiibo, mostly, but…” no recovering from that one, Tenko thinks, but holds her tongue. “I know people react really strongly to that stuff, that’s… part of the reason why I say it,” she admits. “But I didn’t know… you guys were uncomfortable.”

“Of course we are,” Tenko frowns. “Why else would we tell you to stop?”

 

“It’s the same thing with Yumeno,” Miu reminds. “She gets uncomfortable too, she has boundaries, you know, and it makes the rest of us feel fuckin’ upset when you violate them!”

 

Then they’re both quiet, because of course there is plenty that neither of them understand about the other but it makes no difference. Tenko hadn’t been thinking about it, for some reason. Perhaps she just got caught up in being so fond of Himiko. And it baffles her that Miu wouldn’t have noticed everyone else’s discomfort; she thought it was fairly obvious! Still, though, unless she flips Miu over, there’s really no good way for her to tell what the inventor is thinking, and at the moment she doesn’t think that’s such a good idea.

 

Tentatively, she says, “Thank you for… telling me.” She already mentioned appreciating it but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate; especially since she did bring up Miu’s problem in lieu of just accepting the words of wisdom. “Sorry, Tenko really hadn’t noticed you didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well, we can’t all be geniuses.” And Miu smiles, that infuriating smirk, but then it falls and softens her gaze, making her look different than usual, in a way that Tenko can’t really describe. “Uh… thank you for… telling me about everyone being uncomfortable. I’ll take it into consideration.”

 

“Me, too,” Tenko nods, then feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. “Oh! That’s probably mom, so-” she cuts off, looks at Miu. “Are you going anywhere for the holidays?”

 

“Nah.” Miu shakes her head. “I’m stayin’ back with Ouma, we’ll be sure to fuck things up in the absence of everyone else.” And it’s strange that Miu isn’t going home, the school will be virtually empty at that point, but… it’s possible that she just doesn’t have anywhere to go. Tenko wants to ask, but she also doesn’t want to be insensitive, and she’s sure the inventor would share if she really wanted to.

 

“Okay.” She finally responds, keeping her voice even. “Then, have fun! But not with the degenerate, just enjoy the holidays yourself!” Tenko beams, and would hug Miu if not for her worry about how that might be construed by the dirty minded girl. Thankfully, Miu just laughs boisterously, waving her off.

 

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she rolls her eyes, then waves for real. “Have fun with your family, I guess.” And as Tenko walks away, she hears Miu add, “Don’t-” but then she stops herself. “-uhh, don’t get into trouble?” And it’s obviously not what she was originally going to say. She was probably going to say something vulgar, then thought better of it.

 

Progress, Tenko thinks, and tells Miu she won’t.