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Tarantella

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"Mikan, I... I need a diagnosis."

Shuichi hears a pitiful squeak followed by a sudden loud bang. From behind the towering stacks of paper atop the nurse's office desk a small girl raises her head, brushing aside locks of misshapen purple hair and weakly rubbing her temples. "H-huh? Me?"

"Y-yeah, but..." Shuichi pauses and looks her over with concern. "Wait, why were you under your desk?"

"I-I was looking for chewing gum stuck undern-neath..." she mumbles, a pained smile creeping onto her face. "H-Hiyoko always says desk gum is way more n-nutritious..."

Shuichi winces. Whoever this 'Hiyoko' is, Mikan clearly needs better friends. "Um... okay, but still? Could you help me out here?"

The nurse doesn't respond at first, instead choosing to poke her fingers together. "I'm... I'm afraid that's not possible..." Mikan's mouth twists into a lopsided frown and she suddenly takes a great interest in the ground at her feet.

Shuichi blinks. "What, the Ultimate Nurse can't do a diagnosis?"

"N-no! I... I mean..." Mikan sniffles and fights tears at the implied wound to her pride. "You're supposed to make an a-appointment before I can examine anyone..."

Shuichi purses his lips. "Oh."

"A-a-and I have appointments and c-classes for most of the rest of the day... y-you could always... come back... tomorrow..." Mikan's voice grows quieter with each passing syllable and she seems to shrink out of sight.

Shuichi sighs. Of course it wasn't going to be that easy. If only he had something, some leverage with which to persuade Mikan...

 

PERJURY!

 

An idea pops into his head and he raises a finger. "You know, I was talking to Hajime the other day. He's wondering why you keep disappearing whenever he's around... if you ask me, I think he wants to talk to you."

Mikan twitches at the mention of the Reserve Course student. "R-really...?"

"Yup." Shuichi nods. She took the bait. "If you want, I could ask him to meet with you." He sighs and puts one hand over his mouth. "Ah, but if I'm too sick to talk to him, I guess I can't do that... if only there were someone who could tell whether that were true or not..."

"Oh..." Mikan bites her lip and fidgets nervously, staring at the floor. "That... really is a shame..."

Shuichi raises an eyebrow and stares at her in meaningful silence. Mikan stares back, utterly confused, until realization strikes her like a lightning bolt and she jumps into the air. "Aaahhhh! You're talking about me, aren't you!?"

A wry smile crosses Shuichi's face. "I don't think I ever said that..."

"Ohhhhhh, why, why, why do I always have to be put in these difficult situations!?" Mikan pulls at her hair and whimpers, the inner conflict visibly tearing her apart. "I can't break the rules j-just to talk to H-Hajime... I can't, it's not fair, it's not fair..." Her tremors grow worse and she forces her eyes shut. At last she suddenly stands up straight and squeals in anguish, hurriedly grabbing a notebook and a pen from her desk and rushing off down the hall. "I-I-I guess I can make some time for you before my next a-appointment... oh, I never, never should have agreed to this...!"

Shuichi breaks out in a wide grin as he sets off after her. "Thanks, Mikan. I really, really appreciate it."

From up ahead Mikan makes a nervous squeak. "J-just make sure y-you keep your end of the promise, okay? Okay?"

"Of... of course. I always keep my promises." Shuichi's smile fades and twists into a grimace as he follows the nurse down the hallway.

Once all this is over, he definitely owes Hajime an apology.

 

 

~+~

 

The inside of the examination room is stale and lifeless, painted a faded off-white save for a handful of old posters hanging on the walls. Shuichi warily looks them over as he eases his jacket onto a nearby coat rack - one features a sad-looking kitten licking its paws, captioned by some message about personal hygiene. On another, a half-black, half-white teddy bear waves a warning finger at the viewer, flanked by the words Mr. Monokuma reminds you - avoid the despair of disease! Always wash your hands and make sure to get your shots! For reasons Shuichi can't explain, something about the character seems familiar, yet also sinister and disturbing.

Mikan, on the other hand, pays no notice to the bizzare cartoon, instead choosing to focus on a pad of paper held in one hand. "S-so, um... what seems to be the p-problem?"

"Well, where to start..." Shuichi lets out a long sigh, running a hand through his scruffy raven hair. "Um, for starters, I think I might have a temperature. And-"

"O-okay..." Mikan jots down a brief note. Shuichi squints at the page, but the nurse's handwriting is utterly incomprehensible. "I-I'm sorry, but I don't see what's so unusual about that... isn't it just like a, a cold, or...?

"...I mean, that's not the only thing," Shuichi mumbles indignantly. "I also-"

"A- aaah!" Mikan pales in the face and squeals, dropping her pen to the floor. "I-I-I just interrupted you, didn't I? Oh no, I... I really am the worst-"

"N-no, it's okay!" Shuichi raises his hands, laughing uneasily. "I... I shouldn't have scared you."

"Uuuuuuhhhhh..." Mikan, clearly not convinced, whimpers and hides her face behind her notebook. "Let's... just keep t-t-talking about your symptoms..."

Shuichi frowns. "So, I've also been having other problems. Like... I find myself sweating a lot, and my hands get all clammy." He grimaces thinking it over. "My heart rate also gets really high these days. I mean, I'm no expert, but that... doesn't sound healthy to me..."

"No, you're... you're right..." Mikan racks her brain for her encyclopedic knowledge of illnesses. Numerous syndromes and ailments come to mind - none of them good. An important question pops into her mind. "B-b-but Shuichi, have you... still been experiencing symptoms? LIke... now, f-for instance?"

Shuichi blinks, apparently taken by surprise. "W-well, um... not now, really." He pauses. "But I guess I was feeling a little strange earlier toda-"

"That's no good at all!" Mikan's usual shrinking-violet aura vanishes. "If you're feeling sick, the important thing is to stay home and stay safe!" Her face hardens with determination as she launches into her advice. "Person-to-person transmission is a very real concern! If anyone else gets sick, we might have to shut down the school!"

"Shut down the-?" Shuichi's eyes widen with concern. "N-... no! There's no way you can do that just because of me!"

"Then you've got to head home and stay isolated," Mikan cuts in. "You can't let it spread to anyone else... got it?" After a moment of silence her eyes go wide, and she squeaks uneasily, her brief burst of confidence withering and dying away. "I-I-I mean, only if you r-really want to... I'm not giving you orders or anything!" She closes her eyes and whimpers, burying her face in trembling hands. "Ohhh, why do I always do that? F-feel free to kick me, or punch me, or do a-anything you w-"

Shuichi raises a hand. "Okay, that's enough. I got it. I'll... head back to the dorms, I guess..."

"O-okay..." She sniffles. "I... I hope you get well soon..."

Shuichi rises to his feet and retrieves his jacket from the rack. He puts an arm through one sleeve and makes for the door, before stopping suddenly as an idea pops into his mind. "Oh! Mikan, I... I need another favor." He turns back to her and takes a breath. "Could you, um, ask Kirumi to come by here too?"

Mikan's scribbling stops. "H-huh?"

"You know... Kirumi Tojo? Ultimate Maid? Always wearing a dress?" He waves one hand over the side of his face in a half-hearted imitation of her hairstyle.

"N-no, I know who she is..." Mikan pauses. "But why?"

"She can probably tell you about the symptoms in a lot more detail. Her memory is way better than mine."

Mikan peers down at her notes. "I-is that really something an Ultimate D-D-Detective should say...?"

Shuichi ignores the question, or perhaps he never noticed to begin with. "But also, when she's here, um..." His mouth twists into a grimace and he hesitates. "Could you see if... if she's feeling okay?"

Mikan fidgets. "I... I can, but... why?"

Shuichi scratches at his neck with one hand and begins to blush.  "I've, uh... been spending a lot of time around her recently, so I'd hate for her to get sick too. I'd tell her to arrange it herself, but... you know how she is."

No, I don't, thinks Mikan, but she has neither the heart nor the courage to tell him.

He sighs and a pensive look briefly crosses his features.  "She's always working so hard, she'd never take time off from her duties for a checkup she doesn't think she needs. But if it's coming from you in writing, then maybe... maybe she'll think of it as a request. So if it's not too much trouble, could you... ask her to get checked out?"

Mikan thinks it over for a moment before nodding emphatically, jotting down a quick note on her pad of paper. "Y-yes, of course... I'll have her come in as soon as I can. Don't worry, I'll make sure you get your diagnosis!" She sniffles. "P-probably..."

Shuichi smiles, letting out a soft sigh of relief. "Thanks, Mikan. I really appreciate it." With a quick nod he rises to his feet and heads for the door. If the nurse's advice is anything to go by, the first thing he needs is to head to his room and get a good nap-

"W-wait!" 

Mikan yelps quietly, and Shuichi feels something pulling at him, holding him back. He slowly looks over his shoulder to find Mikan on the verge of tears, feebly tugging at his sleeve with her bandaged fingers. "B-before you go, there's something v-very important I need to ask you...!" She points at a bowl on the table by the door, filled to the brim with brightly-colored candies, each coated in a clear plastic wrapper. "W-w-would you l-like a lollipop?"

Shuichi blinks, before letting out a resigned sigh. Go figure. That's the Ultimate Nurse for you.

 

~+~

 

Some days later, Kirumi Tojo stands in the same room, hands neatly folded before her as she stares down the diminutive Ultimate Nurse. "Good afternoon, Miss Tsumiki."

"G-... g-g-good af-f-fter..." Mikan can't even finish the sentence, peering up at the girl towering over her, shaking and trembling weakly and paralyzed by fear.

Kirumi makes no notice of her distress. "I received your invitation from Mister Saihara at once - I apologize for not being able to make it sooner." She closes her eyes and lets out a gentle sigh. "I assume my assistance is required to aid in your diagnosis?"

"Um, y-yes, but..." Mikan looks very small as she continues to whimper. "Sh-Shuichi also wanted you to get a checkup t-too... he didn't want you to get sick. He... he must care about you an awful lot..."

"Y-you think so?" Kirumi stumbles over her words, so slightly Mikan almost doesn't hear it. She closes her eyes and coughs into her glove, frowning in disapproval. "Er - that is, you mustn't say something so ridiculous. He and I are acquaintances, nothing more. I-"

"Eeeeep!" Mikan recoils away from her, throwing up her arms to protect against an imaginary incoming blow. "I-I-I'm so sorry! I didn't mean anything by it! P-please, draw on my face, or use me as a chair, or- or- anything!"

Kirumi narrows her eyes. "Miss Tsumiki, you have got to do something about your lack of self-respect. You needn't be so apologetic all the time."

Her words do little to raise the Ultimate Nurse's spirits. "Hawawawawawawa!" She somehow shrinks even smaller and scrambles into the corner of the room, cowering in fear, sniffling, and whimpering pathetically. "I'm... sorry! I'm sorry I'm so sorry about everything!"

Kirumi grimaces. "You do not seem to get the point. I intend for you to-" she gives up mid-sentence and sighs in defeat. "This is pointless. What say we... focus on the matter of Mister Saihara's health instead?"

Mikan's miserable pantomime comes to an abrupt halt. "O-okay..." Slowly, she pulls herself up from the floor, dusting off her apron in a weak effort at regaining her dignity. "S-so, um... what can you tell me?"

"The symptoms are quite consistent. An abnormally elevated heart rate, a severe temperature, excessive perspiration. Each time I place a hand to his forehead, he feels positively scorching to the touch. Measurements vary, of course, but by my estimate, his heart was approaching two hundred beats per minute." Kirumi grimaces at the memory. "Poor Shui- I mean, Mister Saihara. It must be absolutely dreadful to endure..."

Mikan gasps at her in dismay. "O-o-oh no..." With trembling fingers she retrieves a notebook from her apron, scribbling some notes down in her illegible doctors' handwriting. "That sounds... really b-b-bad...!"

"Indeed," Kirumi confirms, her voice gravely serious. "I fear it may be some type of fever."

"Or a flu..." Mikan's eyes go wide. "Oh, no! What if it's infectious? To safeguard the safety of the Hope's Peak students we must take all necessary precautions... we might have to lock down the school! If things get worse, he might have to be hospitalized!" Suddenly filled with energy, Mikan flips furiously through the pages of her notebook, her scribbles somehow becoming even less legible than before. 

Kirumi appears taken aback by her hypothesis. "What...? Is is truly that serious?"

Mikan nods, though the gesture is hard to discern through her incessant tremors. "It's important that you tell me as much as you can, to narrow down the diagnosis! Has he shown any variation in the severity of his symptoms? Are they always this serious?"

Kirumi shakes her head. "No, I do not believe... no. Bizzarely, the symptoms seem to manifest only in my presence."

Mikan's pen suddenly stops. "Huh?"

"When he told me about his illness, I made a point of visiting his room multiple times every day," Kirumi recounts, her voice flat and devoid of emotion. "Asking his classmates revealed little about the contagion - they seemed to notice nothing unusual about him at all, though they did seem keen on asking why I took such an interest in his health." She frowns as she thinks over the memory. "They seemed to find it rather amusing..."

"That's... weird..." Mikan checks over her notes. That doesn't sound like any disease she's ever heard of. Unless...?

"I had wondered if he were truly sick at all, or if he were perhaps faking it to avoid attending classes," Kirumi continues. "But indeed, each time I returned, so too did his symptoms. In fact, they seemed to be strongest when I insisted on carrying him to his bed the other day." She frowns. "It seems the symptoms worsen when I hold him in my arms... how peculiar."

The last piece of the puzzle falls into place. Mikan's jaw drops and she gapes at the maid, dumbfounded. "...What."

"I must confess, I... have been experiencing something similar," Kirumi admits, a hint of pink creeping onto her cheeks. She rests one hand atop her chest and swallows nervously before continuing. "Increased heart rate... shortness of breath... sharp increase in body temperature... the symptoms are all consistent with whatever is afflicting poor Shuichi."

"You... shouldn't be coming to class if you're showing symptoms..." Mikan mumbles as if on autopilot, her expression empty and distant.

"The most perplexing thing is... it only happens when he is near," Kirumi goes on, wistfully staring off into space. "It grows stronger when he calls my name, and stronger still when we touch... it seems that proximity to Shuichi is a definite factor." She touches one hand to her lips and blushes, her free hand moving over her anxious heart. "Oh, dear... I do hope it's not contagious..."

Mikan's face goes blank and she stares in stunned disbelief. Eventually she sighs, collapsing onto a nearby stool, dramatically rolling her eyes to one side as they slowly glaze over. "...Huh? Is that... all you can say?" Her mouth falls open in an exaggerated sigh. "Ah, so in the end, you're just a pair of those oblivious rom-com protagonist types, huh? You and your Shuichi..."

Kirumi blinks. "...Miss Tsumiki?"

"Tiptoeing around each other, too scared to act on your feelings... you two try to act cool, but you're really just a couple of dumb, bashful kids, aren't you?" Mikan's nose wrinkles with disgust. "I bet you think holding hands makes you pregnant, too..."

"What are you talking about?"

The Ultimate Nurse ignores her and sighs loudly, staring lazily off into the distance with an utterly disinterested expression. "So that's how it is? You two thought I had nothing better to do with my time, so you thought you could just waltz on in here and do your stupid husband-and-wife comedy routine, using me as a prop..."

"Husband-and-" Kirumi coughs loudly. "What are you insinuating!?"

"Was that the plan? You both get 'sick,' come bother me, all so I can diagnose you with the awful disease of being in looooove..." Mikan gags. "Disgusting."

"B-being in lo-" Kirumi splutters, going a furious shade of scarlet. "N-no! You are mistaken! That's completely impossib-"

"Diiiiiiing. I'm right, obviously." Mikan makes no sign of noticing Kirumi's flustered state. "You think you're clever? You think no one's ever pulled this trick before? Typical. Typical, typical, typical. You're just too dumb to work things out on your own, so you two had to go drag me into things just to resolve your stupid crush. You planned this." Mikan's typical panicked expression returns and she lets out a pathetic whimper. "S-s-so you were just using me as a pushover all along... i-is that the kind of person you are? Is that how little my time is w-w-worth to you? I'm... I'm...!" 

Mikan suddenly leaps up from her seat, causing Kirumi to flinch at the sudden movement. The nurse's eyes go wide with fury and she frantically grabs at her hair, gnashing her teeth and twitching erratically. "I'm a nurse, not a reality show host! I'm done playing matchmaker for every couple in Hope's Peak who're denser than lead! I'm done being used as an accessory for your stupid jokes! I'm done with that! You hear me!? I'm dooooooooooonnnnneeeee!" 

Kirumi recoils from her in terror, eyes widening with fear. "Miss Tsumiki!? What's... what's happened to you!?"

"Everyone always treats me like this!" Mikan howls, tugging violently at her locks. "Always...! 'She's so stupid, let's play a little prank!' 'It's her fault for being so gullible!' It's not fair..." She makes a vicious scowl and glares threateningly at the poor maid. "It's not fair, not fair, not fair, not fair, notfair notfair notfairnotfairnotfairnotfairnotfairnotfairnot! FAIR!" With one final shriek she kicks over the stool and bolts out of the room, the sound of her infuriated screams echoing down the hallway as she disappears into the distance.

"Miss Tsumi-... Mikan!" Kirumi reaches a hand after her, but the Ultimate Nurse is long gone. Kirumi stares in stunned silence, before sighing and collapsing onto a nearby chair, one hand reaching into her pocket and retrieving a handkerchief. She dabs at her forehead, her heart still pounding from the terrifying encounter. "What... what on earth was that?" she mumbles to no one in particular. But even more disturbing than the nurse's meltdown... was her 'diagnosis' really correct? She's in...?

"Of course not," she mutters aloud. Ultimate Nurse or not, Mikan should really know better than to say something so preposterous. It's unbecoming of her title.

But even so, Kirumi glumly admits, it would explain everything. The perspiration. The temperature. The otherwise inexplicable fact that the symptoms only reveal themselves when the Ultimate Detective is near. But if, and she will never, never admit to it, if that really is what's afflicting her, and Shuichi shows the exact same problem only in her presence, then that means he... he...

Just the thought of it sends heat flooding to her face and she feels those same symptoms rushing back, a racing heart, clammy hands, and a sudden fit of tremors all converging on her at once. She puts one hand to her forehead to check her temperature, and sighs with dismay at the result. Still in a daze, she slowly rises to her feet and sets off walking down the hallway, weakly bracing herself with one hand against the wall.

Oh, dear. Maybe she really is coming down with something.