Eri carefully closed the door behind her, and aggravated look still on her face. The door clicked softly, and for a moment neither of us moved. I opened my mouth to ask what was going on, when she suddenly turned around and hugged me.
“Thank you, Hajime!” she said. “Thank you so much!”
“Wh-what? I-I didn’t do anything,” I stammered, still shocked by her sudden move.
She released me from her powerful hug and looked at me, grinning wildly. “Yes, you did. You turned a bad day into a good day.”
Again, I was confused. “What do you mean?”
“Today was going to be a bad day. He barely responded when I spoke to him, and he didn’t even acknowledge you at first. Today was especially bad, even compared to his other bad days. Normally he at least says hello or something. I thought I was going to have to go through the motions without him.” Her face darkened for a moment as she paused. She cheered back up as she spoke again. “But then he saw you. He heard your voice, and he was acting like his usual self immediately. This was the most cheerful I’ve seen him in weeks. And it almost didn’t happen. Do you know what this means?” She asked me.
When I stared at her blankly, she continued. “It means he hasn’t given up. It means Future Foundation won’t give up. They were considering moving me somewhere where I would be ‘more useful’, where I could work with patients that could actually be saved, but I told them that I wanted to stay. I was about to give up, too. But now we know he can recover! This is a huge step forward. Not just for him, but for everyone. He was the most unstable, after all. If he can recover, so can the rest!” She hugged me again, though less painfully. “And it’s because of you, Hajime. You’ve given me hope for everyone here. Thank you.”
Hope. Again, someone telling me that I gave them hope. It was my official talent, but it was still strange.
“Y-yeah, no problem,” I said, hiding my uncertainties as best I could.
For a moment, we stood there, neither of us saying anything. Eri looked more cheerful than I probably did, which was understandable. She basically found a way to save a patient she thought was lost. I, however, did my best to avoid contemplating what this meant for me. Would I have to get involved in Nagito’s recovery, now? If I was his reason for living, how much time would I have to spend with him to keep him alive? I still felt uneasy around him because of the simulation. And I was still working on my own recovery, of sorts. I was still working to overcome Izuru. I had most of the control, but sometimes, if I got to angry about something…
“What was that?” Eri said, cutting off my thoughts. “It sounded like the doorknob rattled or something. But I thought they didn’t lock from the inside…”
Indeed, there had been a faint clattering sound. Eri tried to open the door. “It won’t open!”
“What?” I stepped forward and tried for myself. Sure enough, it seemed something was blocking the door.
“Nagito! Are you okay?” Eri called.
There was no response from inside. I was still tugging at the door, trying to force it open.
“Stop for a second,” Eri ordered. I moved out of her way as she pressed her ear to the wooden door. “Oh my god,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. “Nagito! What’s going on in there?! Open the door!”
“What’s happening?” I asked her.
“I can hear screaming. It’s muffled, like someone’s hiding it. But it has to be Nagito. There’s no one else in there. What is he doing?” She asked herself more than she asked me.
I attacked the door with renewed effort. “Nagito! Open up!” I shouted as I violently shook the door. It didn’t take long for a large clatter to be heard from inside just as the door suddenly swung open. Something, probably the chair, had likely been wedged under the knob to prevent entry. I shoved the door open the rest of the way, causing the toppled chair to clatter even more as it got pushed aside into the room. I ran in first, Eri close behind, a worried look on her face.
Nagito was curled up on the bed, his eyes wide with pain. Brown duct taped covered his mouth, and I could clearly see him screaming through it. The sound came through a bit, high and piercing. His back was to the wall, and his right hand was held close to his chest. His left hand, still with the prosthetic, was desperately clutching his right, likely the source of his pain. Somehow the IV was still attached, though the tube was extended almost to its limit. He didn’t seem to notice that we had come in, as loud as we were.
I stood there, shocked and a bit terrified. In the few minutes between our exit and now, something had put him into this extreme pain. I caught sight of his right hand, and it was smooth, without a single blemish or scar. What the hell...?
Eri seemed to know what to do. She rushed over to his desk and began to tear open drawers. After pulling them all open, a couple all the way out so that they sat upturned on the floor, she scanned the room. Her eyes held panic and fear, but also understanding and determination. She saw his coat in a pile on the floor near where the chair had been, and she immediately began to riffle through the pockets. She immediately found what she was looking for; an orange pill bottle.
Twisting off the white plastic cap, she carefully tapped out two pills. Unlike her haphazard search, she carefully approached Nagito, who turned his manic gaze onto her. He didn’t move his head at all, just his eyes, and it was terrifying to look at.
“Nagito, I’m going to remove the duct tape,” she told him. Her voice was firm, yet gentle, like she was dealing with an animal.
His eyes widened even further; I hadn’t thought it was possible. He was still screaming below the tape, and at Eri’s statement, it seemed he was screaming louder. The sound was still muffled, but even still the fear and pain was audible.
“It’s going to be okay, Nagito. I’m going to help.”
His eyes flicked to where I was standing. I couldn’t tell if he was looking for encouragement or if he didn’t want me to see this. I tried to give him an awkward smile. “She just wants to help,” I managed to say.
He looked back to Eri, who was next to the bed at this point. She gave him a more natural looking smile. Slowly, he stopped screaming, though he was clearly still in immense pain. He was breathing wildly through his nose and I could see his chest rise and fall at a breakneck pace.
Eri leaned forward and reached cautiously towards his face. Her delicate fingers brushed his cheek, and he started breathing more frantically. As she grabbed the edge of the duct tape farthest from her, Nagito began screaming again and curled up tighter around his right hand.
Without hesitating Eri quickly grabbed the tape and pulled hard.
Nagito’s screams suddenly came at their full volume. I had to cover my ears. It was loud, but beyond that, you could hear how much pain he was in through that pure, visceral scream.
Eri, with incredible bravery, put her empty hand on Nagito’s shoulder. His eyes were squeezed closed to the world around him. He was only focused on his pain.
“Nagito, I’m going to give you medicine. I need to to swallow it, okay?”
He didn’t give any indication that he heard her.
“Nagito! I need you to listen!” she said more forcefully, squeezing his shoulder as well.
He clenched his teeth, blocking some of the sound. I uncovered my ears.
“I’m going to give you medicine. Two pills. I need you to swallow them.”
He slowly opened his eyes and turned his head to face her.
Taking that as agreement, she let go of his shoulder and reached out with her other hand. She placed the first pill in front of his mouth, and he had to force his teeth apart. He wasn’t screaming right now, only through sheer willpower. As soon as the gap was wide enough, she slid the pill into his mouth. After a few seconds, he swallowed it. His body was shaking with the effort it took to keep his screams in. Eri calmly repeated the process with the second pill.
After he had taken both pills, he tucked his head into the ball he had formed, and continued to scream in pain. His body helped muffle the sound, but it was still heart wrenching to hear, even for me.
“Those pills won’t take effect for at least half an hour.”
He didn’t acknowledge her at this point.
“Do you want something to make you sleep for a bit?”
I couldn’t quite see, but he seemed to make a positive motion with his head.
Eri stood up and reached into the small purse draped over her shoulder. She pulled out another orange bottle and opened it. This time, she only removed one pill. It was much smaller than the other two had been, and it was circular instead of the typical “pill” shape.
She held out the pill, and Nagito shakily lifted his head, once again with clenched teeth to hold back his violent screaming. He opened his teeth just enough for the pill to go through once again, and Eri carefully placed it in.
He swallowed it, and after about two minutes of screaming into his chest, he went silent and fell sideways onto the bed, his legs uncurling somewhat from his now limp arms. He was sweating, and his features were still twisted in pain, but his face looked a bit softer, and his eyes were closed in a natural looking way instead of being screwed shut like they were before.
Eri stood up and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead.
“So much for a good day,” she mumbled.
I was silent for a moment, staring at the unconscious Nagito. “What was that?” I whispered, as if afraid to wake him from his medically induced sleep.
“Phantom pain,” she said just as quietly. “Left over from the simulation. Normally it occurs is amputated limbs. Patients sometimes feel pain in the missing appendage. But this is a bit different. Sometimes, he feels the pain from the wounds he inflicted on himself before he died in there. It’s especially bad in his right hand. That was where he stabbed the knife all the way through, right? Well, we have him wear the TENS units on his legs and left arm. They send a harmless electrical signal that helps get rid of the pain. But his hand comes and goes. I thought he was getting better, but I guess he’s been doing this,” she said, waving a hand at him. “The medicine I gave him is called dextromethorphan. It’s often used as cough medicine, but it also serves as a painkiller.
“I told him to take some if he felt pain in his hand. He hasn’t asked for a refill, so I thought he didn’t need it. It looks like he hasn’t been taking any.” She looked around the room. “Here, see?” she said, bending down and picking up a roll of duct tape off the floor. “This is used, and not just today.”
“Why?” I asked. “If it hurts this much, why cover his mouth and scream? Why endure it? It must be torture.”
Eri simply shook her head. “He’s Nagito. How am I supposed to know?” She gave a small laugh, but there was no real humor in it. I could sense her stress. “Anyway, he’ll be out for a while. You can leave, if you want to. Sorry about all this.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll stay in here for a bit, make sure the painkiller works. Maybe organize for him a bit. Geez, it’s a mess in here.” She laughed again, this time a bit more genuine.
“I’ll help,” I told her.
“No, it’s fine. Really. I just don’t want to leave him alone right now.”
I had already picked up the chair and stood it up the way it was supposed to go. “I don’t mind. I don’t really have anything better to do, anyway.”
“If you’re sure. It’s going to be awfully boring.”
We started with the books. We assumed that the ones in the pile were ones he hadn’t read yet, though based on the way the other books strewn about, it was unlikely he had finished most of the ones he’d started.
“I wonder why he’s so obsessed with books...” I said to the air.
“He says he isn’t affected by his luck cycle when he reads.”
I was surprised that she knew the answer. “Really?”
“Yeah. I guess since it doesn’t require doing anything that could possibly go wrong. It’s hard to have tragedy happen when you’re just sitting still.”
“Huh.” Now that I thought about it, he had spent a lot of time in the library. And when Chiaki and I had examined his cottage, there had been lots of books on the shelves.
We simply closed all the books that had been left open on the floor, whether or not there was a bookmark to put in the page. We gathered them all up and stacked them neatly on the desk, making sure to keep the supposed “unread” pile a bit separate.
Once that was done, Eri left for a few minutes. When she returned, she had a large laundry basket.
“I’m still surprised he even has this many clothes,” she said, and I couldn’t help but smile.
After all the clothes had been mercilessly shoved into the wide plastic basket, we simply stood there.
“I don’t particularly want to do his laundry,” she told me. “A man’s laundry is his business.”
“Well, I’m not doing it,” I told her.
For a moment, neither of us spoke.
“I think it’s good enough that it’s off the floor,” I said.
She looked over to where he was still asleep. The medicine ad taken effect, and he was laying there peacefully. She walked over and carefully rolled the IV rack closer to the head of the bed. “Give me a hand?” she asked quietly, tugging a bit at the top of the blanket that he was on top of.
I walked over and, after getting a nod of approval, put my arms under his unconscious form and lifted him up. He was surprisingly--well, not really surprisingly--lightweight. He was very bony, too. He felt like a shadow of a person in my arms.
Eri pulled the blanket out from under where he had been, and I carefully put him back down, making sure his head landed on the pillow this time. She gently laid the blanket over him, careful not to dislodge the IV needle.
I stared at him for a moment. Asleep like this, he didn’t look like a crazy would-be murderer. He just looked sick. His face was pale as death, and though he was certainly more relaxed, he still had pain etched into his face. There was still sweat on his forehead, and overall he just looked weak.
“You know, when he’s like this, it’s hard to believe what he did to you guys,” Eri said, her voice barely above a whisper.
I looked at her suddenly. It was as if she read my thoughts. But she was just watching Nagito, almost lost in her own world.
“Y-yeah,” I said. “But he did. He tried to kill Byaku--I mean, the Ultimate Imposter, and then he tried to frame the rest of us for his murder. He threatened to blow everything up, too. He isn’t innocent. No matter how it might seem now.”
It was a bit harsh, especially given his current condition. But it was true.
Eri turned to look at me. She looked sad. Just sad; there wasn’t despair, or fear, or anxiety. Just pure sadness.
“I know. But people change.”
I can’t describe the look she gave me. There was so much emotion and thought going on in that look. Did she know about my past? If she did, did she forgive me? Those answers played into the feeling behind her look. I think she did know. She was including me in her statement, I was sure.
I turned away. It made me feel guilty, of what I couldn’t say, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t stand that look anymore.
“I...have to go. I’ll see you later. Let me know...if you need me back here...for him...or something.” I walked across the room, opened the door, and left without looking back.