What's a scene you'd like to work on for TAPPS, but in reality (even with a working laptop and a non-fucked shoulder) would take too much time and buildup to make work. Like, the daydream scenario?
[Talent Acquisition Pilot Program AU Masterpost]
Hmm. Fic time.
This Heart of Mine is Guilty (Not Remorseful)
Gonta Gokuhara is not stupid.
A fool, as much as anyone willing to whittle themselves away into something ‘more palatable’ can be called one, but not stupid. His insistence to the contrary only chips at your respect for him. He is a liar, and you cannot stand liars.
Case and point: the raucous lack of resistance from your classmates. Even the most sickeningly-sweet of your mutual acquaintances find themselves “too polite” to lend their appraisals a voice; it isn’t just a lie, it is a spineless lie of omission, and it is contagious. Gonta entwines himself in a positive feedback loop of self-deprecation, and if they did not notice, it would be unfortunate, but within reason. Instead, they praise themselves for their abilities to ignore it. As though it makes them ‘good people’ to let someone else say the quiet part loud.
Gonta was not an idiot. It was simultaneously true that he was not an idiot and you were a liar, so it stood to reason that if you enthusiastically indulged his self-destructive words (you were certain that was all they were, back then, and you were not a font of pity) somebody ought to connect the dots sooner or later.
The Ultimate Maid seemed promising at first. Her talent, people-pleasing taken to a logical extreme, should have given her a level of interpersonal insight few achieve. Rather than spiking that serve into becoming the Ultimate Fly-on-the-Wall, Kirumi let it consume her. The face chosen for her— "selfless devotion", down to the very core— hollowed out the rest of her. (You do not know how much, if any, of that was her ‘choice’. How much of it she literally, logistically could have resisted if she’d ‘only tried hard enough’. You do not like that thought. Thoughts you do not like are one of the few things you can still outrun.) She was willing to do anything for anyone, weighing pros and cons to do the greatest good for the most people with the information at her disposal.
The “selfless” one appointed herself judge, jury, and executioner on behalf of people she couldn’t prove existed. It was never out of the question that Monokuma was lying, either at any point or every point thus far; the world outside could have been (was) fine. The looming threat to the country’s people without leadership could have been a complete farce (it was) but she decided anyway. Even on the off chance it was completely fabricated (good odds, in your book, even back then) the then-twelve of you were expendable. Killing you all, in her mind, was justified.
And you thought she was reasonable.
(You can’t reconcile the Kirumi in your head with the Kirumi in your post-trial nightmares with the girl who also stays sitting while the rest of the class does warm-ups, catching your eye as you idly glance about the room, gently nodding in some silent sort of solidarity before you break eye-contact and ponder how you might have even gotten here, that girl, who also calls herself ‘Kirumi.’)
“Selflessness” is a lie. All altruism is, on some base level, self-aggrandizing shielding itself with other people. Kirumi couldn’t have cared that deeply for an indistinct swathe of people she never could have known, or even known of, hand-over-fist clinging to the vines skewering the nerves just under her palms. She wanted out. She wanted out, wanted so badly to indulge in a single, cruel ray of sunlight, and she wanted more than anyone else, clearly. She’d earned it. The rest of you hadn’t. The rest of you, as far as she was concerned, could die in that place, as long as she could have another moment of—
“Selflessness” was Kirumi’s lie. She did not deign the dignity to believe it.
And you hate liars.
(You hate yourself, so, so much for bowing to self-preservation. “To end the killing game,” you’d said, and believed. It was for the “greater good”. Can’t be a hypocrite if you commit to your convictions, so why do you still feel—)
But. That’s a lie.
You do it all the time. Easier than breathing, really, falsehoods sprinkled in for spice (‘...and that’s why I can’t set foot in 20 yards of a swimming pool, but only in three cities.’; ‘Oh, I beat it on the first try! It’s totally simple, just don’t get hit.’; ‘10,000 members, Momota, and you’re gonna have to manage them all when I’m gone!’) or by compulsion (‘Actually, if you factor in the time period, yellow roses are a death threat. You’re thinking of the blue ones they picked to extinction!’; ‘Yeah, I know a guy who owns a junkyard, could scrap you real good. How dare you think I’d leave DICE vulnerable to the Robot Uprising, you’re so mean!’; ‘Ooh, the anticipation’s the best part, I’m sure there’ll be a body announcement any minute!’). You will lie, even without a soul to hear you (‘this is good. This is fun. I am having fun.’) and make certain the world knows precisely when you are lying. You will lie about nearly anything, save for the act of lying itself.
Sometimes, your lies are carefully calibrated.
"The more that you suffer, the more I enjoy it."
The subtle differences are woven into you, logical patterns encrypted so many times over even Kii-boy couldn’t reverse-engineer them consistently. (You'd hoped he might have been 'weird' enough to try. Sometimes your projection disappointment leaks through your facetious tone toward the worthless robot, like bloodstains seeping through the tight-bound fabric of a pristine white jacket—)
It all makes sense. It always has, to you. You cultivate this mysterious air around yourself gauged only on the reactions of other people, because it all tracks for you. Whatever is confusing them is a blind spot, and one you have learned (been programmed?) to deftly navigate.
Then there was him.
The fool, Gonta Gokuhara, was a liar. His stilted turns of phrase, infectious smile, bright eyes and penchant for staying gentle and patient with even the shortest-lived scum of the earth... it was a lie. It had to be a lie. You knew he was a liar, because, in over-excitable conversation amid the Others, you saw something familiar in his eyes. Gonta had to buffer for a moment and process the words around him before he'd react.
Just like you.
You had to keep an eye on him.
The facade he'd constructed was too kind, too manicured to be half as spotless as it purported to be. You had claimed him as your henchman under the guise of his utter gullibility, just to see what he would do. How he would manage to weasel his way out of your grasp and continue on with... whatever he was scheming. Nobody scrutinizes the sweet spice of cinnamon. Maybe he wasn't Mastermind material, but he was hiding something. You would find a way to force him to give you information. The how. The why, why-why-why Gonta had to be so damn likable to everyone he met, and how it just kept WORKING for him.
He called your bluff. He agreed. So you'd guessed you had a henchman.
Gonta never looked at you with the same inherent unease of your classmates, and never insisted he look you in the eye. All the better, as far as you’re concerned, eyes are the windows to the soul after all (and it gave you a brief reprieve from That Skin-Crawling Sensation, the two of you often either comfortably looking past one another or along the ground for some variety of insect you never could find.) The more you practiced obscuring your tells, the better a position you would place yourself in to lie strategically. The total lack of feedback from Gonta, a man apparently dead-set on taking you at your word no matter what, was counterbalanced by the lack of pressure around him. You knew at the time that the moment you let your guard down, the trap would snap and your neck could with it. It was a tempting facade, even so, master-manipulator Gokuhara so engrossed in his act with conviction Kirumi lacked, it was hard to remind yourself to keep him at arm's length.
After all, it's just the way of things. He's big, you're small, and the second you'd let down your defense would be the second you'd be stabbed in the back.
(It's true. It must be true! It has to be true, and you cannot forget it, because if you do not believe this is the truth then you leave yourself open for betrayal, and you cannot handle that from someone you started to think of as—)
You would augment the cognitive dissonance by saying something vile, snapping everyone to attention including him, and revel in slotting back into your proper place as the heel in this story. (But how much of that is really on your accord, and does it actually matter if the outcome is the same?)
You stayed close by one another when the class came together. It had the desirable effect of making the Others question your motives, certainly, making your station as Supreme Leader of Evil that much more obvious, but you'd be lying if you said it was purely for the tactical advantage. Not at this point. You stood by him because you could tell he understood. Getting too close to other people sets off magnets under your skin that gently nudge you in the opposite direction; you used to rock idly on your feet before you realized it was better to have a cause like boredom to blame. Keeping contact pupil-to-pupil can be an interrogation, and they'll have better luck cramming toothpicks under your fingernails than boring straight through your eye sockets with theirs. From the moment you met him, Gonta said nothing about your chronic inability to look at who you're talking to (or your penchant for approximating a look close enough next to them to subdue suspicion, because you cannot get through even small talk without at least an un-truth). You thought it may be a total lack of observational skills, but then he went and noticed the way you flinched accepting his "gentlemanly handshake".
It's a bizarre thing, bonding with an imperfect stranger over the course of a quarter of a conversation. You could sit at the lunch table without worrying about elbows toppling over an uncapped half-bottle of Panta, or stand in the library wanting to reach out but waiting for the crowd to disperse knowing nobody is going to trample you, and he brushes his hair out of his face while you curl your fingers into the smooth layers of your scarf and nobody says anything, and it's great.
Then you killed him.
Gonta may have been a liar, but he doesn't have the heart for DICE, either. You liked that about him. He contorts himself to slot in to a puzzle he was not made for, shaving down slivers of cardboard with a pocketknife and worrying about completing the picture later, but he at least bothers with a base coat of paint. His mask is skin-tight; it's obvious he is not Other.
Somehow (infuriatingly) he turns that into an advantage.
He was strong, he was tall, things that can't be helped; he was cloyingly sweet to counterbalance the assumptions his stature set for him. Gonta created his persona the same way you did, but his conviction in the construct, in that lie, did not waver.
You wished you could be like that, too.
Gonta was his lie, as far as anyone else was concerned. Fully masked in an ecological niche much more interesting than the ones his precious bugs ever occupied, inherently self-debasing (to deal with the lowest form of creature willingly), pre-emptively humble (to deal with the guy nobody likes willingly) and praised all the more for it. Non-threatening, on purpose. Controlled. He has the capacity to do harm and hides it, so is that not itself a kind of lie?
You waited for the other shoe to drop.
How was he not sick of you, everyone gets sick of you, YOU are sick of you–
Even as you saw the lively light drain from his digitized eyes, viscerally horrified by the flashes of atrocity you'd just shown him, he remained steadfast. Upset, clearly, but resolute. He chose to help you. He wanted to help all of you.
You suppose Gonta was the closest to “real” of all of you.
Kokichi scoffs, his back to the freshly-decorated interior of Class 79's homeroom. Simply surviving for a couple months as a class hardly seems like reason to celebrate, as far as he’s concerned, but the weather already vetoed “let us have class outside” and their homeroom teacher has no interest in fielding a riot. He lightly pulls on the sleeve of a borrowed jacket, noting the way woven fabric feels over his fingertips.
"I don't know what you're doing, but I am gonna get out of dodge. This is a Category Four shitstorm waiting to happen." He half-shrugs, not even passing a glance toward the gentle giant holding out his hand.
"G– Sorry. I'm sorry, Kokichi, I know you hate–"
"No." The boy smiles, lips drawn tight in contempt. "No, actually, that's not how this goes.” He taps his index finger to his chin, in faux-thought. “I mean, yeah, it's how this was always gonna go, but I'm pretty sick of scripts! You should be too."
Gonta looks over Kokichi for a moment. The small smattering of classmates in the room with the two of them look twice as confused as Gokuhara himself. He adjusts his glasses. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he says with practiced ease despite the tension in his throat.
It seems Ouma had expected him to back down by now. He smiles just as wide, but. Softer. Impressed?
"Aww, that's no fair! Can you believe it, a whole execution and Monokuma didn't even have the decency to knock some sense into you! I'll file a complaint for'ya," his expression hardens. (Pouring into a mold, too malleable to stand on its own.) He takes a step forward, then another. Favoring his left side, today.
There's a muffled 'you little menace, you can't talk to Gonta that way,' but glares from the other three bystanders in the room quickly convince her to save it. It's not that what he's saying is okay by any stretch; it's that Kokichi has completely avoided even looking at Gonta for a solid month, and there are few forces stronger than morbid curiosity.
Gonta takes back his hand, silent on the matter. Disappointed. But a true gentleman does not let petty emotion impede his work, particularly when his cohort is counting on him. Still, he watches Kokichi go.
"You comin' or not?"
Of course, Gonta catches up within a couple strides. Ouma lacks the spoons to distract from the way his eye twitches.
"Hey, Dipshitticus, where the hell do you think you're going? Party starts in ten minutes," bellows Miu, not looking up from the pile of gears and fittings on her desk.
"Please, I got free reign of this place, ya' stupid whore~!" he chirps, though the venom has long since drained from those words. "I'll kidnap who I want. Call it 'talent development', if you gotta. Besides, I finally figured out why girls always go to the bathroom in groups! I mean, someone’s gotta call Tsumiki-chan in case you pass out and bang your head on the way down, right?"
Click. Pop, goes the foot of his cane, rubber peeling from tile pronounced in the stunned silence of the room. He turns the corner.
Gonta elects to follow.
The pair of them walk down the emptying hall for a good half-minute as the remaining students settle in their own classrooms, stopping at a set of chairs in the hallway. It’s a bright “study space”, a corner lit by incandescent yellow light with gaudy chartreuse couches a little too stiff to qualify as proper furniture that nonetheless provide an oasis when you’ve been walking long enough. Gonta nearly trips on the coffee table in the center, too low to write on and just low enough to hit below the kneecap.
This little corner of Hope’s Peak is surrounded by long windows overlooking little other than sidewalk. The sun-catching ornaments hanging from the ceiling are depressed by the dark blue-grays of the overcast sunrise. The heavy, hazy feeling to the air glazes over the glass; the insects outside are surely taking shelter.
Gonta takes a seat, twiddling his thumbs.
“Gon— I. You were bluffing.” Gonta shakes his head, looking nervously over his shoulder. Properly. Knees together, sitting up straight, arm kept loose at his side in case Kokichi needs to lean on him. Adamantly, the boy does not. In fact, Kokichi sits across from Gonta with his feet up on the table, ankles crossed. The position will become incredibly uncomfortable in a few minutes, but it’s about looking nonchalant, not being.
“You aren’t gonna get in trouble, you’re with me. Not a lie. They kinda owe me big time,” Kokichi shrugs. “Even Ishimaru-chan knows better than to call me out at this point. I hope he swings by, the look on his face knowing he can’t turn me in is amazing.”
“It would be terribly inappropriate to get in trouble, G— I don’t want to mess up my permanent record if I don’t need to, but it’d still be worth it to help a friend! A gentleman puts his friends first,” Gonta nods, sounding more certain of this than Kokichi has ever been about anything. “Besides, Taka is Gonta’s friend! Gonta is sure if he were to explain Kokichi has a good reason to be out of place, there would be no problem.”
A ha-second later, Gonta cringes, softly berating himself under his breath.
“You don’t have to correct it every time, you know. If it’s part of whoever you are now, everybody else can deal.”
“, , Gonta… isn’t sure how to feel about it. Knowing he’s the only one talking in third-person this way make. Makes, it seem. Like he’s not trying enough to be normal? But he’s too used to it to stop without thinking about it,” Gonta sighs.
“Nah. Just another TAPP side-effect. Well. At least that's the story I'd stick to. Dunno what you think a Gentleman does, but considering you aren’t currently an aristocratic asshole lounging in his ivory tower I’d say it’s good that you’re wrong.”
It takes Gonta a moment to take that one apart and put it back together. (Kokichi, seeing so, takes a second to stare blankly ahead and do the same. He will deny it.)
“G-Gonta is wrong about being a gentleman? How so! Gonta’s classmates haven’t told him he wasn’t following the rules correctly.”
Kokichi shakes his head.
“You’re not missing anything, really. That's no lie. You know Togami-chan? The short, pouty one.”
“Gonta thought the twins were the same height… ?”
“Not the point. The one with a stick up his ass, that’s what some people think of when they hear ‘gentleman’, so you’re actually ahead of the curve, believe it or not.” Kokichi picks at his nailpolish. Then at the shredded cuticles beneath.
Gonta considers this for a moment, looking the Lying Liar Who Lies up and down. He searches through his pocket, for a moment.
Kokichi is intrigued. He sits up, elbows on his knees. “Ooh, what’cha doin’?”
Gonta comes up with a crumpled bandage or two and a small thing of vapor rub. He puts the latter away; bug bites don’t seem to be the issue, here.
“Alright, then. Keep your secrets,” Kokichi rolls his eyes, Annoyed (peeking over to Gonta with a more neutral expression awaiting his response. Nothing.)
“Kokichi is bleeding,” Gonta says, eyes wide with concern. He holds out the bandages. “Please take some care of it?”
Kokichi looks baffled for a moment, eyes flicking down to his fingers. Huh. Oh yeah….
He takes the bandages, not looking away from Gonta’s expression the entire time he dresses the small wounds with bumblebee-stripes and monarch wings.
Gonta lets his broad shoulders relax. Kokichi finds his own do too, though he hadn’t noticed he'd been tense in the first place.
“Thanks,” Ouma mutters into the galaxy-print lining of his sleeve.
“Thank you for letting Gonta know he's not too stuck-up to talk to,” Gonta half-laughs.
“… he does wish that Kokichi could say something nice without needing to say something mean about someone else,” Gonta offers softly with his head down. He winces with anticipation.
Kokichi merely blinks.
“Yeah, well. Well. I thought you people didn’t like lies to spare your feelings, I’m getting major mixed signals!” he shrugs into the jacket.
"That okay. Gonta. Gonta get signals mixed up too, all the time," the boy smiles, much too meek for his stature. It looks as though it could shatter at the lightest touch.
Ouma tilts his head, eyeing it with a sledgehammer.
"... You wanna know the truth?"
Gonta nods. It's a rare opportunity, isn't it?
"I thought you knew."
Kokichi mumbles the inane little phrase, and his chest heaves like he's pushed a boulder off of himself.
He knows in his heart Gonta will look at him confused if he lifts his head from this spot, still staring at the gaudy nineties-office carpet between them. He knows he will not be able to handle it.
Gonta, however, merely nods again.
"Gonta should have known. If Gonta were smart, he would have known. He would have tried harder to save everyone, instead of. Let Monokuma make him 'leave.'"
Kokichi's ragged nails dig into the armrest beside him. He is seething, but does not raise his voice.
"You, do not apologize, to me."
Gonta nods, nods, biting his lip to hide how it quivers, pulling at the ends of long locks of hair.
Violet eyes ignite.
"You just won't get it, will you? Oh, you can, you just don't want to. You should be angry at me. I treated you like shit, and it was not okay! You keep blaming yourself, but how the hell were you supposed to know what would happen?" he throws his hands in front of him, the thoughts flooding out into the empty space. "They didn't even let you remember computers! They actively took that when they re-made you, that cannot be on you, it’s just playing dirty!”
“There’s lots other people know that Gonta does not, though…,” Gonta hiccups, struggling to keep composure.
“None of us knew what swapping the cords would do. Miu fixed the damn thing, and she didn’t know. You didn’t say to yourself ‘hmm, I think I’ll wipe my own memory of the past few hours for funsies and make life harder on myself’n everybody because I can,’ so why should you apologize for it?”
“… B-Because it still happened. It was Gonta’s fault!”
Kokichi pinches the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. (Jeez, you suck at this whole “reassurance” thing. Some leader you’ll make.)
“Okay. You know what, okay, let’s say– just humor me here– that it was your fault, even though it wasn’t on purpose. Why the hell would anyone be mad about it?”
“Because Gonta couldn’t. Couldn’t, either defend himself or, o-r turn himself in, whichever helps classmates!” Gonta croaks out, shaking his head.
(You were going to mercy-kill them all. That’s what your Alter Ego said. You would save them from the killing game by getting it over with. You were the person who proposed that. Just thinking about it now has you sick to your stomach, wracked with grief over a crime gone un-committed, but you have the blessing of hindsight. In the moment, you know you would have done it. You would have, had you not forgotten everything coming out of the simulation, and as much as you want to deny it, pretending you never could have done something so vile is insulting. You can’t insult your friends that way. You only wanted to help. Your heart aches on.
Or maybe that’s old wounds acting up again. They feel nearly the same.)
Kokichi looks at a shell-shocked Gonta and sighs. It would be all too easy to pull one over on him now, to claim this was the reaction he wanted and walk away, to convince Gonta to stay away from him lest he get himself hurt.
But something inside him refuses. A feeling he first can recall feeling on the cold metal slab of the press, not. Remorse, but guilt. He cannot say he regrets letting Gonta take the fall if it got them closer to ending the killing game for good. That does not mean he wanted this.
Kokichi offers Gonta his checkerboard scarf to dry his tears. Wordless. He looks away, but hesitates to stand.
“… Kokichi–?” Gonta stammers, counting how long to hold his breath in little intervals. It tends to help with getting his emotions back in check.
“Call it forgiven,” Kokichi sighs. “Miu has already. You should know that. You talk to her enough. The rest of the class has too, ask any one of them. The only one who hasn’t is you.”
Gonta gently wraps the scarf around balled-up fists, running the smooth texture over rough calluses. Kokichi says nothing of it.
“Gonta killed Miu, and didn’t follow through on helping. Gonta hurt Miu for no reason.”
“You kept her from killing me,” Kokichi leans back, pulling his arms through the sleeves and covering himself in the jacket like it’s a cape. “Can you call that nothing?”
“You died anyway!”
“So did most people. Miu probably would have too, if it hadn’t been to you. And look around. Turns out, you got the two of you out early. Right?”
The stormclouds overhead crackle with streaks of lightning, arcs of electricity refracting through the raindrops on the outside of the glass in fractal patterns of organized chaos.
(The sky here still doesn’t feel real, some days.)
The pair look at each other for a long moment, each daring the other to bend first.
To look away,
or even just to blink.
The rain pitter-patters in the gutter above, rolling lazily down the window pane.
“… But that’s a lie,” Kokichi says. Without leaving room for objection, he carries on: “Because I killed you both.”
Gonta knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kokichi had meant it when he said he was willing to be executed instead. He knows those tears had to be real because, with no audience to sway and no strategic advantage to gain, Kokichi is making the very same expression right now. Only this time, without being overwhelmed by the stakes, he’s a bit more successful at keeping the tears at bay.
“Gonta don’t think so! Gonta killed Miu, with his hands, and Monokuma k–”
“I got you killed!” Ouma’s composure snaps. He hadn’t meant to raise his voice so much, but such is life. “It was my fault for showing you the flashback light, it was all bullshit, I should have KNOWN it might be bullshit, why get you involved! To save myself? Like I’d ever make it to the end? Stupid! It was a stupid, impulsive non-plan, because I panicked, and it killed the two people that actually gave a shit about me, and how can you call yourself a leader after a fuck-up like that?”
He hiccups, shaking his head.
“I-It's okay, Ouma. See? Gonta is fine, now. Miu is fine….” Gonta tries to placate him, but getting any closer only makes Kokichi curl in on himself more.
“No. No-no-no-no I kn, I knew this would happen, that’s not even conceit I just know I have no idea how to convince you to give a damn about yourself and talk about this without making it about me, it’s about you, and Miu, and you have no reason to comfort me right now,” he points at Gonta.
Caught in the same spiral of teary-eyed, frantic breathing as Gonta was not long before.
“… In for four, hold for eight, out for four,” Gonta nods, matter-of-fact.
Kokichi wants nothing more than to wink out of existence entirely, not die, just disappear as though he’d never happened at all flip him the hell off for the audacity to give orders to his commander, but he is left with little choice than to comply if he wants any chance of saving face.
Fine. In for four, hold for eight. Out for four.
Has the rain stopped overhead?
“Miss Marigold told Gonta to try breathing differently last he went to visit,” Gokuhara offers.
“… She’s right about a lot of things,” Kokichi nods, losing any trace of weeping. Their group therapist was, if nothing else, an interesting woman. Enough to consider in passing, even if not to her face.
“You deserve a better apology than I can give you,” Kokichi’s voice crackles. “I should be sorry. And. I am, but I’m. Not? I didn’t want you dead. But I still wanted to live. I didn’t want Miu dead, but it had to happen. I didn’t want anybody dead, I thought you knew what happened going into the trial. Okay? I fucked up, really bad, and I’m sorry it didn’t work. I’m sorry my plan B was to say a ton of shit I didn’t believe in, and have that all go down the drain too, I’m. Sorry I failed you,” he picks his head up. He looks at the bridge of Gonta’s glasses.
It hurts to smile, but it’s all he really knows how to do.
Gonta ponders this, for a moment.
As breathless seconds tick by, Kokichi finds himself trapped in an eternity of personal hell.
(Why do you care what he thinks so much? Why have you? You’ve lost the right to ask anything more of him, for certain, so why do you need to hear what comes next?)
“… Kaito punched me after. Which. Fair. Y-ou can get a shot in too, if you want,” he tries to laugh, but the sound is strangled beyond recognition.
“Is Gonta still that scary?” Gokuhara says without hesitation, a sorrowful look on his face. “Gonta sorry! Gonta doesn't want to escalate things that way! Not ever!”
“No. You aren’t, Gonta.” (And that’s a lie, but it’s not his stature that’s scaring you. Or anything about him at all, save the idea of his scorn.)
“Good! Gonta won’t hurt Kokichi. Kokichi hurts enough anyway,” he nods, still processing. Now he’s doing it out loud. “Gonta knows Kokichi won’t want him to say ‘sorry’ again, and Kokichi probably doesn’t accept forgiveness either. Yeah?”
Kokichi blinks. Over and over, as though it were somehow an answer.
“Gonta takes that as ‘yes,’” Gokuhara says, smiling. “That's okay. Gonta is… a little mad, at Kokichi. Not because he tells Gonta to be mad! But in Gonta’s feelings,” he looks down at the table. He nods to bolster his spirits, reassure himself. “Gonta wanted to talk to Kokichi a long time ago, but Kokichi always walks away. Kokichi pretends Gonta is not there, and it feels… really bad. Gonta is glad Kokichi stopped to talk to him now, even if he is still a little mad.”
This, apparently, Does Not Compute. Kokichi’s expression turns blank, utterly uncertain of what to do with itself. Kokichi is too busy puzzling things out to worry about performing the appropriate face.
“You don’t. H-Hate,,”
“Gonta don’t want hate you. Not before, not now.” Gonta looks off at the wall above Kokichi’s head for a moment. He puts on his best imitation, clumsy but sincere– “It’s true!”
Kokichi laughs harder than he has in ages. Gonta beams.
“Alright. Alright, what do you want, though? For now, for later, for the good of the order,, ?”
“Hmm,” Gonta enunciates, just so Kokichi doesn’t look quite so lost again. “Gonta wants… to be. Friends? Sometime. Not all at once, but some time. If Kokichi wants, too.” After a small deliberation, he adds: “Not henchman. Not subordinate. Gonta will listen to Kokichi sometimes, but if Gonta doesn’t want to he won’t! And if he does, he will.”
Kokichi gathers up the energy to make an Appropriately Large Display of ‘thinking this over’ before finally letting himself say “I think I can manage that. You drive a hard bargain, Gokuhara-chan! But who am I to deny a fine negotiator?”
Gonta’s expression turns sullen again, a hair’s breadth from whispering ‘oh, it’s okay, you can if you want to I don’t want to impose,’ only for him to nod with the realization. He gets a little starry-eyed with the approval. Kokichi makes a mental note.
“Well, bet you the party’s started by now. Do you feel like elbowing your way back in to a loud, crowded classroom, or do you wanna come look at worms on the sidewalk with me?” Kokichi smirks, like it’s a forgone conclusion.
Gonta is so, so tempted to go with his gut instinct, but. No. Consider what Miss Marigold has been telling you. What Kokichi told you, too, care about yourself. What is it you want?
“Earthworm is an annelid, totally separate phylum from arthropoda– ‘bugs’ go in arthropoda, separate clade too since arthropods have no evidence of spiral cleavage in the makeup of bodies during early development. Earthworm is more like mollusk than bug, more in common with octopus than bumblebee, evolutionarily. In fact, ‘true bug’ classification does not even include bees, or flies, or most colloquial ‘bugs’!”
Kokichi rests his chin on his right arm, having put his jacket back on properly. “Okay. Mm-hmm… d. Do you wanna, though?”
“Gonta would be happy to escort you,” he nods, standing up. Gonta offers his arm to Kokichi.
Kokichi takes it, but still pulls himself up. Progress.
“Such a gentleman,” Kokichi says in a teasing tone too-tainted with a twinge of sincerity. “You were saying?”
Gonta, on his own terms, is happy to oblige.
The checkered scarf stays tucked into the front pocket of Gonta’s suit, Kokichi’s fingers are covered in insect-patterned bandages, and nobody says anything of it.