Eri and I walked to Nagito’s room in silence. When we finally arrived, Eri did not hesitate to knock sharply twice and enter without waiting for a response. Despite the fact that she announced herself somewhat rudely, she only opened the door enough to let herself in, keeping most of Nagito’s privacy intact.
“Nagito, it’s me. How are ya doing today?” She asked brightly, if hesitantly, as I slipped in behind her.
The room itself was nearly identical to the cottages from the simulation, and it was very clean and organized, except for the floor. Nagito’s customary olive colored coat was slung casually over the back of the desk chair, which was pulled out ever so slightly to accommodate. On the desk itself appeared to be a robotic hand, black with slender fingers and precise-looking joints. Attached to the wrist was a wide cup of the same color, about three inches long. Other than these two minor anomalies, the surface of all the furniture was barren and seemingly unused, even though the room had been occupied for nearly two months, now.
The floor, however, told a different story. One corner held a growing pile of laundry that probably hadn’t been done once yet. More prominent though were the books. All over the floor were books. Paperback, hardcover. Several of them lay open, a couple face down, a few with bookmarks suspended in the open pages. Most of them were closed, however. There was a stack of books next to him, standing up to his shoulder where he sat on the floor leaning against the bed.
His legs were curled up near his chest, and even from my angle yet another book was visible resting there. His left arm was blocked by his body, though I knew what was there, likely hidden on purpose--a woman’s hand; her hand. A couple fingers on his right hand held the next page, lifting the paper slightly. After a few moments, he turned the page, the motion accompanied by the faint crinkling of fresh paper, and his grey eyes flicked to the top of the new paragraph.
More noticeable than his position was his appearance. I hadn’t visited him since he woke up, and I was somewhat surprised by what I saw. He was wearing his usual white t-shirt with the strange red logo on it, but instead of long pants, he wore a pair of black shorts. Both articles hung loosely from his frame. He was skinny, too, more skinny than I remembered. The way he was curled up only accentuated the length of his limbs, which also helped exaggerate the lack of mass attached to them. His collar bones were clearly visible, and not because they were inherently prominent; the skin was just so tight there. It was as if he had barely been eating. I knew it was difficult to keep everyone’s bodies properly nourished while comatose. I had been the same way when I woke up, though not to this extent, and I had recovered quickly. I was curious why he was still so sickly in appearance.
Even more shocking than his physicality was the equipment on him. Both of his legs had small white pads with thin wires coming out. After a moment, I realized that the pads surrounded the places where he had stabbed himself in the warehouse. I shuddered at the memory of his mutilated “corpse”. There seemed to be similar pads on his left arm, though it was hard to tell. An IV rack stood steadfastly at his right side, a long tube running down to connect to his upper arm. A clear liquid filled the bag at the top and dripped slowly down.
The most striking difference, however, was his face. During our time in the simulation, his eyes had always been bright, often manic and unsettling. Now, they were unsettling in a different way. They were dull, and his expression was a combination of boredom and sadness, one of someone who didn’t really care anymore, but wished they did. There wasn’t really despair in those eyes; rather, it was a lack of hope. And based on everything I knew about about Nagito, I knew that there must be something seriously wrong for him to not have any hope in his eyes.
He barely shrugged as a response to Eri’s question and kept reading. She twisted her mouth to the side a bit in frustration, but quickly put a cheerful face back on.
Determined to get a response, she said, “You actually have a visitor today.”
He didn’t even acknowledge the comment, apparently engrossed in his book. Or perhaps he didn’t care.
Letting out a sigh, Eri turned to me. “You’re on,” she said, waving a hand towards Nagito.
“Nagito?” I said quietly. I didn’t know what to expect from him at this point.
As soon as I spoke, his head snapped up, and his face immediately livened up. For an instant, he looked ecstatic. Then he suddenly became hugely embarrassed and he stood up awkwardly. The book clattered to the floor, the page he had been on lost, and he quickly hid his left hand behind his back. “Hajime!” He practically shouted. He seemed genuinely happy, and there was hope in his eyes again. “If I had known you were coming, I would have cleaned up. My apologies.”
I smiled awkwardly at him, and I couldn’t help looking around the room as he mentioned the mess. Eri, apparently, had done the same, though she wasn’t surprised like I was. Instead, she was upset.
She quickly walked over to the desk and picked up the robotic hand I had seen earlier. “What the hell, Nagito?” She said, holding the hand in front of his face.
Meekly, he gave her a strained grin. “Sorry, Eri. I just...forgot.” As he spoke, he held both his hands up in defeat.
“What the hell?” I said, echoing Eri’s sentiment, though for a completely separate reason. I had been expecting a delicate woman’s hand where his own left hand should have been. Instead, there was nothing at all, just a smooth stump a couple inches short of where the wrist should have been.
Nagito glanced at me, and, seeing the horror in my face and realizing his mistake, quickly tried to hide the stump behind his back again. “Ah, sorry, Hajime. Um,” he stuttered.
Eri was not deterred. Ignoring me, she continued. “What do you mean, ‘you forgot’? This happens every day. You need to get used to using it.” Nagito frowned and cast his gaze to the floor. “We need to know if the model works. If it irritates your nerves or doesn’t work right, we can replace it.”
“No! I mean, please. You can leave it. I’ll wear it.”
I was surprised at his reaction. He seemed to dislike wearing the prosthetic hand, yet he didn’t want it taken away? Part of his contradictory nature, I suppose.
I watched silently, processing the situation, while he sat down dejectedly on the well-made bed and went through the process of attaching the prosthetic hand. It took several minutes as he lined up a small sensor over the stump and fitted the cup over it. He adjusted it a little, then satisfied, moved all the fingers, bending them in towards his palm one by one in quick succession. The motion was so fluid that if I hadn’t watched him put it on, and if it didn’t look so robotic, I would never have thought it was fake.
He sighed and put both hands on his legs. He hung his head in defeat. After a moment, he turned his face upwards and sideways to face me. He looked disappointed, but when he saw my face, he smiled again. “I’m so glad you’re here, Hajime. I’m surprised that someone like you would want to come see someone as worthless as me,” he said. “I’m even more useless now. At least before I could try to help you all in the trials. But now…” He trailed off, looking at himself and all the equipment and machines attached to him.
It occurred to me that he had barely moved more than an inch or two from his orginal position, despite all the excitement of the past few minutes. Then I remembered the IV attached to his arm. He can’t go anywhere.
“When was the last time you changed the pads?” Eri asked, exasperated.
Nagito sat up and faced her, a slightly embarrassed look on his face. “When was the last time you asked me?”
“Nagito! You shouldn’t leave them on for more than twelve hours at a time. We’re doing this now. Where are your extra gel pads?” She started rummaging through drawers on the desk.
“I don’t have any in here. You’ll have to go get some.” He sounded almost like his usual self, if a bit more tired.
Eri sighed loudly. “Fine. But seriously, you need to take better care of yourself. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” With that, she left the room, closing the door behind her like a normal person would, which was harder than she usually handled patient doors. She was clearly pissed.
As soon as she was gone, I turned to Nagito, who was still sitting on the bed. He certainly looked more cheerful now than when I had first walked in. “How bad is it?” I asked, out of the blue. He gave me a confused look. “What’s with all the medical equipment? Was it always like this?”
Nagito turned away from me, letting his gaze fall to his hands, which were still resting on his legs. One was pale and fragile looking, the other black and metallic. “There’s a lot going on right now. Sometimes, I think I would have been better off staying dead, you know? But I’ve been given another chance. I need to have hope that I’ll be able to do something great. I need to use my hope to overcome my despair.” He paused. “It’s funny. I kept trying to give you all despair so that your hope would grow stronger. Now the same is happening to me. Lymphoma, dementia, and now an amputation. Really, when my hope overcomes this, it will be strong enough to make me Ultimate Hope, I know it. I’ll be an inspiration to everyone.” He paused. “But you don’t really want to hear about my troubles.”
“It’s fine. I asked, after all,” I said calmly, still not quite processing all his statements.
At this point, he turned to me, encouraged. “In all honesty, I was about to give into despair. But then you came to see me today. You give me so much hope, Hajime. I mean it.” I had never seen such a look on his face as the one he gave me now. It’s hard to describe. There was hope, mixed with pain, and regret, and...something else profound.
I had no response. It sounded almost like a love confession, which made no sense. Just before he “died”, he had hated me. He had hated that I had been part of Ultimate Despair, that I had no talent, that I was just a Reserve Course student. Did he know the truth about my past? I thought that would have made him hate me more. I didn’t know how to, nor did I want to, express these thoughts out loud just then, so instead I stood in silence.
He watched me with those grey eyes of his as we waited for Eri to come back. I did my best to not to look at him, but inevitably my eyes wandered to the most prominent feature of the room--him. Each time I did, his grey eyes met mine, and he widened his smile just a bit, at which point I would hastily look away. The entire time, he looked at nothing but me, and the entire time I felt his gaze burn into me. It was almost tortuous.
Neither of us spoke until the door opened a crack. I immediately turned to greet Eri, who looked surprisingly sheepish. Had she been trying to spy on us? If she had, it wasn’t very effective. I had noticed her immediately.
She walked in with a plastic bag on her arm, and after nodding a quick greeting to me, knelt on the ground in front of Nagito.
“I got some wipes, too, since I figured you don’t have those in here either. And fresh medical tape. Honestly, do I have to do everything for you?”
He glanced at me, his face flushed as Eri began unwrapping the tape that helped hold the pads in place on his legs. “I-I am a bit limited, you know,” he told her.
“Oh please. That thing has wheels. And besides, if you at least asked someone, you would still be taking responsibility. Do you not even care about your body anymore?”
“O-of course I care,” he said.
“Then act like it,” she replied, cutting off any excuse he might have tried to make. She finished unwrapping the first pad and began to gently pull it off.
Nagito flinched slightly after the whole thing was off, and as Eri went to unwrap the next one, he placed his hands over it, blocking her access.
Placing her hands on her hips, she glared at him silently.
“I can do it myself, you know,” he said, sounding incredibly embarrassed. Did he think it was demeaning for someone else to remove whatever those pads were? She’s basically his doctor, for crying out loud. Does he think I care?
“Fine, then. Do it yourself. I’ll be out in the hall. I need to talk to Hajime for a minute, anyway.” And with that, she practically dragged me out of the room.