Fortunately, lunch seems to be going by without any incidents like this morn-

"What the hell are you getting so worked up over? All I said was it's a bit ridiculous to walk everywhere when you can get to where you want to be faster in a car or something." Min says with a frown.

…Why do I even bother?

"And I'm telling you it's not that simple." Shion says with a forced smile that looks like it's seconds away from breaking.

Min rolls her eyes. "Oh my God," she groans loudly, drawing the attention of several others sitting around them. "It's not that serious. Are you really trying to tell me mommy's and daddy's money can't buy you a ride across town?" Min sneers.

Shion clenches her fists, Sumire sitting across from her looking like she'd rather be anywhere else. Shion's smile grows even more strained. "If it's not that serious then drop the damn subject." she says in a tone that's close to snapping.

Min hums, a smug look making its way onto her face. "I'll drop it if you tell the class why you're such a…what's the word…" she pretends to think. "Oh! Why are you such a tsundere for your sister?" Min asks with a sickly sweet smile.

Sumire barely stifles a laugh while Shion looks absolutely flabbergasted, opening and closing her mouth like a fish as she struggles to come up with a response. "I-I - what? I don't - I'm not - how inelegant-"

"I mean, you're both constantly passive-aggressive with each other but it's obviously more…" Min trails off with a frown. "I actually don't know the word this time." she says and turns to Mikasa. "Mikasa. Brain." Min demands, motioning towards the Ultimate Video Game Developer.

Mikasa taps her chin in thought. "Hmm…more passionate?" she suggests.

"Good enough." Min says and turns back to an embarrassed Shion. "It's more passionate on your side." she says, the smug look back on her face.

Shion bristles. "I'm not - I-I'm not a tsundere!"

"Well…" Ryoji, Sachiko, and I chime in simultaneously.

"Do you remember?" Sachiko turns to Ryoji.

Ryoji nods. "There was that one time."

"Back when we first met." I cross my arms.


"Yeah, I do mostly MeTube stu-" before Sumire can even finish her sentence, Ryoji zooms right over to her.

"Oh, wow! You do MeTube too!?" Ryoji asks excitedly. "If you're a cosmetologist then you must be in that Beauty Community thing, right? Do you do that 'Spill the Tea' stuff? I don't wear makeup - obviously - but I think those are super fun to watch!"

"Yeah, well, I don't like to get involved in that drama." Sumire says with a small smile. "Heh, my you are just full of energy, huh." Sumire laughs, still clearly feeling a little wary of Ryoji, Sachiko, and I.

My eyes drift towards Shion. There's an odd look on her twin's face…hm? Do I sense a bit of…jealousy? My oh my, the possessive twin type, huh? Scandalous


Shion's face turns impossibly redder. "Th-That wasn't - I'm just - I was just being protective!" she says and points an accusatory finger at Ryoji. "He is much too inelegant to be associated with Sumire's career choice!" Shion insists, pauses, and adds: "Even if that choice is…certainly a choice." she says with a frown.

"Actually," Aria joins the conversation. "Collaborations generally result in an increase in popularity, no? Even if the other collaborator is…'inelegant', as you say." she says. "It introduces the other to new audiences."

Shion struggles to come up with a response again, looking more and more flustered by the second. "W-W-Well, th-that's - that-" she huffs and flips her hair over her shoulder. "This is all hypothetical anyway because we're stuck in this place." Shion says matter-of-factly.

Sachiko frowns. "That's not what you thought before." she recalls.


Ryoji opens his mouth to speak again but Shion speaks first, interrupting their conversation.

"As much as I'm enjoying this little talk-" obvious sarcasm is obvious, but who knows. Ryoji doesn't seem to be aware of it because he's just smiling. "-I think it would be better if we continue our search for an exit." Shion says casually but I can tell that she just doesn't want their conversation to go on.

"I agree." Sachiko says, entering the conversation. "I think it would be better if we split up, so that we can cover more ground, let's all meet up in the cafeteria once we're done."

The cafeteria, huh? Sachiko seems to know a lot about the layout of this place. She and Ryoji must've gone there before we met up.

"I'LL GO WITH SUMIRE!" Ryoji shouts and quickly goes to Sumire's side. Chuckling slightly, Sumire discreetly steps away from Ryoji, obviously feeling awkward.

"No, Sumire is coming with me." Shion says and without waiting for a response, she takes Sumire's hand and pulls her out of the room to continue exploring.

Dejected, Ryoji slumps down but quickly perks right back up, "I'll go with them!" he declares and runs out, following the Kotobukis.


Shion's face turns beet red. "I-I-I-"

Sumire smirks, amused. "Red looks quite good on you, sister."

Ryoji's face lights up. "Oh yeah! That did happen!" he says cheerfully.

Wasn't Shion cold to him during that whole exploration?

Cold. Ha. Get it?

Shion grits her teeth and abruptly stands up, "I-I'm done with lunch. Good day to you." she says quickly and flees the cafeteria. Just before she closes the door behind her, Shion shouts: "And red is such a garish color!"

"And blue is almost as depressing as your pathetic attempt to save face." Sumire shoots back, examining her nails.

"Ugh!" Shion cries and slams the door closed behind her.

Everyone slowly returns to their own idle conversations.

I glance over at Takagi, Kite, and Kikuo, different expressions on each of their faces.

Hmm…


After lunch, I make a promise to meet up with Ryoji later to continue our talk about Rui and head up to the second floor.

I miss the outside. The smell of chlorine is the closest I'll get to that for now.

I head into the locker room, pass through the boy's changing room, and walk into the pool area.

"Ah…" I take in a deep breath and walk towards the bleachers to - oh? "Sumire?" I say quietly to myself.

And Hakuma, of course.

The two of them are at the far end of the pool. Sumire is sitting at the edge of the pool, the ends of her pants rolled up even higher as she idly swishes her feet around in the water. Hakuma is sitting nearby on the bleachers.

Should I or shouldn't I?

I should.

"Hey, Sumire, Hakuma." I greet them as I approach. "Mind if I join?"

Sumire jumps slightly, startled. "Oh, Tatsumi." she puts on an exhausted but friendly smile and pats the space beside her. "Sure."

I kick my shoes off and start rolling the legs of my pants up, glancing at Hakuma. "And you're just gonna…sit there?"

Hakuma gives me a wordless thumbs up.

"Right…" I mumble and take a seat next to Sumire. "You seem tired." I point out bluntly. "Are you feeling okay?"

Case in point, Sumire yawns before she replies: "I…I guess I am. But can you blame me, given everything?" she says half-jokingly.

"I would agree…but it's more than that, isn't it?" I ask.


Wandering around the school section of our prison looking for something to do until Yuuji calls upon me, I'm surprised to hear voices coming from the nurse's office.

Isn't that supposed to be locked until after the second trial?

I put my ear up against the door and listen.

"...The Tragedy?"

Katashi's voice.

"It was definitely a tragedy but not the Tragedy. We…"

Sumire's.

"I-It was a bus crash. A bad one. So can you fix her or what, Ultimate Doctor?"

Shion.

So they're talking about Sumire?

Hmm…

"Mmph…you'll have to give me more than just 'bus crash'. What exactly happened?"


Sumire pales. "I…you were eavesdropping?"

"I mean, to be fair, I already knew about the accident." I say quickly. "So that wasn't anything I didn't know. What I didn't actually know…" I look at her sympathetically. "...is that you're suffering because of it." I say.

Sumire doesn't deny my statement but she looks like she's seconds away from either siccing Hakuma on me or throwing herself into the pool. My life would end either by Hakuma's or Shion's hands and I don't find either of those ideas pleasant so I try to ease into another subject: "So obviously, if she has Hakuma tailing you day and night, Shion clearly cares about you to some degree." I say. "And you care about her, don't you?" I ask, thinking back to the aftermath of Yuuji's trial.


Shion is about to follow after him but her sister's voice stops her: Shion."

Shion turns around, a bit surprised to hear Sumire call her. "What?" she asks.

Sumire gives Shion a weak, tired smile. "Sleep in my room tonight."

Shion blinks, staring at Sumire silently. She abruptly turns back around, scratching her cheek. "F-Fine." she agrees before continuing her walk towards the dormitories, her pace faster than before.


"So what's the deal with you two?" I ask.

Sumire stares down at her lap, her expression growing bitter. "I don't know what her deal is. She has all of Mom and Dad's-" she stops herself, her eyes widening. "Sorry, I-I mean - I meant-" Sumire stammers.

"Don't apologize." I say and take a minute to think."How about this? I'll tell you what I know - or what I think I know - and you can stop me at any time if I'm wrong or if you want to fill in the blanks." I offer.

Sumire grimaces but nods anyway. "Okay." she agrees quietly.

I smile. "Great." I say and think back to the earliest piece of information I know about the Kotobuki family. "Obviously, your parents are famous athletes. Everyone knows that." I start. "Shortly after you and Shion were born, your parents retired so that they could focus on raising you and training you to take their place."

"Something like that." Sumire confirms, a wistful look on her face as she watches the waves made in the pool by our legs.

I continue, "It was all going perfectly fine for a while. You and Shion were successful…" I pause for a second when Sumire's expression grows pained again. "...and then the bus crash happened. The details of your involvement weren't in any news source - I'm guessing that was your parent's doing - and your family disappeared from the media for a while."

"I…" Sumire wrings her hands together. "We were on our way home from a training camp and…you know." she gestures vaguely. "We were only thirteen, and…"


"And then I told that Morine kid - Sumire?" Shion pauses her story when she sees the concerned look on Sumire's face. "What's wrong?"

"I…is it just me or does that bus keep swerving between lanes?" Sumire as she looks out of the front window.

"Huh?" Shion follows her sister's line of sight, her eyes widening when she sees the out of control bus.

Sumire pales as they get closer to the oncoming bus. "Th-That bus is-!"


Sumire furrows her brow. "Our bus driver tried to swerve out of the way but they couldn't dodge it completely. The other driver hit our bus right where Shion and I were sitting. Since she had the window seat, I served as a cushion for her when it threw us all to the side." she explains, gazing at the water with a thousand yard stare. "The other bus driver was drunk. He had the bright idea to back up and attempt to move past our bus…needless to say, that didn't work."


"Ow…I-I'm so sorry, Sumire - are you okay?!" Shion cries, trying and failing to get off of her sister. Why can't she push herself onto her f-?

CRASH!

The bus lurches again as it's pushed off the side of the cliff it was driving on. As the bus falls and throws its passengers all over the place, Shion watches in horror as her sister falls through an open window.


Sumire sighs. "I don't remember anything past falling out of the window. When I woke up in the hospital, the doctors and Shion filled in the blanks for me." she says. "However I landed, my right leg was partially crushed by the weight of the bus."

I wince. "I'm so sorry, Sumire…"

Sumire shrugs half-heartedly. "Thanks…" she shakes her head and continues. "I had to undergo multiple surgeries but obviously, I survived that and physical therapy was more or less successful."

Oh? 'More or less'?

…But now isn't the time to ask her to elaborate. I think I can infer what she means about that later.

Hm…

"I know you didn't ask," I start. "But I think I can answer my own question now." I take another second to put my thoughts into words. "By no means am I a psychologist, by the way," I laugh. "But I think her attitude towards you is her way of controlling what happens to you, know what I mean?" I ask. "Shion is hurting in a different way than you are, but she's still hurting."

Sumire scoffs. "Sure, maybe." she says, disbelieving. "If she's 'hurting' then why hasn't she talked to me about it in the four years she's had to mention it?"

"Ooh?" I nudge her lightly. "Like you talk to her?"

Sumire stiffens. Her face colors in embarrassment. "I…I suddenly have to go. Hakuma, help me up, please." she says, making grabby hands at the Ultimate Vigilante when he walks over.

"Aye, aye." Hakuma says and helps Sumire onto her feet. "You good?" he asks.

Sumire nods slowly, a thoughtful, troubled look on her face. She turns and starts walking over to the bleachers to grab a towel. "Yeah. Thank you, Hakuma."

Hakuma turns to me. "She's been in a weird mood since lunch. I'll watch out for her." he says.

"Cool. Can I see your face?"

"No."

Sumire dries off and the pair bid me farewell, exiting the pool area. I spend a bit more time in the pool by myself, going over the new information from Sumire, then I dry off and head out.


On my way back downstairs, my thoughts get interrupted by Monokuma's announcement tone:

"Good evening, everyone! Please gather in the Gymnasium as soon as possible! ASAP! Let's go, go, go!"

I frown.

A new area and a motive on the same day? He didn't give a preamble before giving us the last motive either…why does Monokuma seem to be in such a rush to get things moving?


I guess I'm the last one to arrive because as soon as I step inside the gym, Monokuma pops up from behind the podium on the stage and poses on it and instantly begins his spiel:

"It's a popularity contest!" Monokuma says cheerfully.

"What's a popularity contest?" Jotaro asks, raising his hand.

Monokuma laughs. "I'm so glad you asked! Since you guys didn't like voting for someone to die, now you get to cast votes for them to live!" he says and jumps up, grabbing onto and pulling down on a dangling cord above his position on the podium. A large projector screen rolls down from the ceiling and lights up with a display (from where? I wish I knew); the screen displays each of our names in two columns with a zero beside each of them.

Voting for someone to live…isn't this just a convoluted way of getting us to vote for someone to die?

Hakuma voices that exact thought and Monokuma ignores him, continuing with his explanation: "You will each be given three votes-" he pauses for a second when Min raises her hand. "No, you can't vote for yourself." Monokuma states bluntly.

Min puts her hand down, displeased.

Monokuma continues without missing a beat: "As I was saying, you each get three votes. You can divide them up amongst your peers or you can give all three to one person!"

Kite frowns. "Why would we give them all to one person?" he asks. "If we divide them up, everyone gets at least one vote and that means no one loses or whatever the punishment is, right?"

"Wrong!" Monokuma says immediately and gestures at the projection screen. "There will always be a loser." he says and as he speaks, the numbers beside each of our names on the display start to roll. It shows an example of everyone but myself having votes. "For example, in this scenario, Tatsumi has zero votes. That means Tatsumi would lose the game." Monokuma says.

The numbers start rolling again and now Sachi, Ryoji, and I are tied with the lowest number of votes.

"In this scenario, three students are tied for the lowest number of votes. That means all three of them would lose." Monokuma says. "Understand now? No matter how many students are tied for the lowest number of votes, all of them will lose."

"Okay…" Mikasa says. "But what exactly happens when someone loses?" she asks.

"Exactly what happens when you lose a game." Monokuma says simply. "You're eliminated and you can no longer play."

Around me, everyone starts murmuring, wondering what exactly it means to be eliminated. Monokuma doesn't seem keen on elaborating.

Monokuma claps his hands together and the projector screen rolls back up into the ceiling. "No more questions? Good! I'll give you tonight to think about your plans for the game. We'll begin tomorrow morning!" he says happily and hops off his podium, disappearing into the void.

The sixteen of us linger in silence for a moment, completely caught off guard by the sudden and quick announcement.

I look around the room, observing the groups that are starting to reform and some new groups splitting off.

Obviously, I can safely count on at least one vote from Sachi and Ryoji and they can count on one from me.

Hm…

I suppose, theoretically, the three of us could give all of our votes to each other. But is three enough to stay off the chopping block? Four should be high enough, I think.

Who else could we add to our group, though…?

Just as I'm about to follow the rest of the group exiting the gym, Ryoji puts a hand on my shoulder. "Tatsumi! Got time to talk now?" he asks.


Ryoji follows me into my room and closes the door behind him.

"So," I drop down in my desk chair. "You wanted to talk about Rui, right?"


I smile at them. "It was always going to be us three anyway, right?"

Sachiko nods and glances at Ryoji, a troubled look on the blond's face. "What's the matter, Ryoji?" she asks.

Ryoji frowns. "I was just thinking...Rui and Yuuji were pretty close, right? Do you think his death is bothering her more than she's letting show?" he asks. "I mean, I don't know anything about what just happened between her and Shion and Sumire, but by the looks on their faces it seemed like it was a bit of a jerk move on her part." Ryoji wonders.

Sachiko and I glance at each other.

"It's...complicated." Sachiko says.

I nod. "I'll explain later. Let's get upstairs."


Ryoji nods and sits himself down on my bed. "It's…weird, right?" he asks. "It's not just me?"

"Well…"

I tell Ryoji everything I know about the pair: that I met them together on our first day here, the way they already seemed familiar with each other, and - it's just an observation on my part - but she was familiar enough with his shoes to notice that something was off with them when she pointed out the splinters.

"Oh…" Ryoji takes a second to process the information. "It would explain some things if they did know each other outside of this thing." he says.

I nod. "It's not too 'out there' to assume that most of us knew somebody here before we were kidnapped." I say. "We already know about the Milk Tea Gang, we know the Third Years here were in the same class, and hey, Min and Aria knew about your social media accounts, right?" I ask, remembering the conversation the four of us had about Ryoji's follower count.

Ryoji looks taken aback by the comment about his social media. "I…right. Yeah. That's true." he says, his expression falling.

I frown. "Ryoji?"

"Can I…" Ryoji anxiously fiddles with his wristwatch. "I know you're a paparazzi and everything, but can I tell you something that we keep between us?" he asks.

Damn.

Let's see if this is something I don't already know.

"Just between us." I nod.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Ryoji lets out a deep breath. "I said it before when we were talking to Aria and Min, my MeTube and Flitter accounts don't get that much use any more. I did something bad, Tatsumi." he looks me in the eyes. "Really bad."


Fifteen year old Ryoji stares at the Fleet in disbelief.

Spooky ※Spookmeister21 · 1h

I JUST BEAT SPLANGO'S SUPER MONKEY KONG GALAXY WORLD RECORD (not clickbait)

LINK: [Beating Splango's Super Monkey Kong Galaxy's world record]

His record. All of his hard work and all of that time he put into Super Monkey Kong Galaxy. Gone. Just like that.

A dark, heavy feeling weighs down on Ryoji's chest.

It's not fair.


"It took me so long to set that world record and this random guy just shows up and beats it in less time and I-" Ryoji starts fiddling with his watch again. "I was jealous. I have several world records to my name but that one was special to me and I…" he trails off for a moment.

Hmmmm. So this is something I know after all. But he doesn't seem as ready to talk about this as he thought he was.

"We can finish this later if you need to, Ryoji." I offer and the guilt in his expression slowly washes away.

"Later…" he mutters and nods. "Yeah. Later. I just need some sleep first." Ryoji agrees and pats his cheeks. "I need to…it's only right if I tell someone." he says mostly to himself and meets my eyes again. "So! That motive, huh?" Ryoji asks, seamlessly switching gears.

I nod along with him. "That motive…" I relay the thoughts I had about it earlier. "I was thinking about asking Katashi to form an alliance with you, Sachi, and me. He doesn't seem to have any other friends here so he should be more than willing to join us." I think out loud. "Plus, he's proven himself useful already so if I can get him on our side…"

"Ooh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea." Ryoji agrees. "But what if he doesn't want to cooperate?"

Heh.


"Look," I say. "I know who you are and I know you're not the best person to be around." I say in just as cold of a tone as he used earlier. "But don't you think we need to work together for now?" I ask.

I'm not a mean guy but sometimes you need to stoop to the same level as people like this to talk to them.

I had Strawberry's attention at 'I know who you are'. He stops what he's doing and stands up straight. "Oh, do you now?" he asks, towering over me. "Who am I, then?"

"Katashi Hitsugaya, the Ultimate Doctor." I say. "Well, that's your title on paper but I know there's a secret you're hiding. I just haven't figured it out yet."

As I said, Katashi is known as the Ultimate Doctor, but just like with every Ultimate there is, rumors and secrets surround them. Katashi, as far as people know, isn't connected with any hospitals or friends with any other doctors. I don't even know if Sachi knows him.

But, getting back on track, Katashi is a very secretive guy - and he's hiding something big.

No it's not in his pants you dirty minded freaks.

Even though I don't fully understand what it is, as a reporter, I know how to get to the bottom of these things.

I will find out what he's hiding.


And find out I did. It's amazing what you can puzzle out when a majority of your day is spent thinking.

Blackmail round two! What could possibly go wro-?

"Mm, ahem, this is a school announcement. It is now 10 PM. As such, it is officially nighttime. SOon the doors to the dining hall will be locked, and entry at that point is strictly prohibited. Okay then…sweat dreams, everyone! Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite…"

"Jeez…" I mutter, the announcement tone startling me.

Ryoji laughs tiredly. "Yeah. I should get going." he says and stands up. "We'll finish this tomorrow?" he asks.

I nod. "Tomorrow."

Ryoji smiles weakly at me and lets himself out after wishing me goodnight one more time.

Now…

How should I corner Katashi before we have to play Monokuma's stupid game tomorrow?


A/N happy new year!

2023 wasn't great for me in terms of updating (esp bc i started out 2023 with covid lol) so hopefully i can complete 2023's goal this year

not proof read, it's 4:40 am and i have a possibly broken/fractured toe so don't come for me xoxo