The door to the Ultimate Maid Research Lab swings open, and two figures step in, already deep in conversation.
"I'm beat," complains the boy in black, slowly shaking his head. "Seriously, all that running around with the Monokubs' dumb toys... I hope it was worth it."
"It was not a complete waste, Shuichi," the lab's owner chides him, gently closing the door behind them. "A new floor, three new labs, and some sort of computer room... and apparently, still no way out."
"Yeah... sure looks that way to me," Shuichi agrees, shaking his head again. "I should've known by now that Monokuma wouldn't make it that easy."
Kirumi nods. "At least Miu seemed to enjoy the new addition to the school grounds. I can only hope its interior is less vulgar than its owner."
Shuichi tries not to scoff. "Yeah, no kidding. Honestly, though, brand-new research labs, being built out of thin air... I honestly have no clue how they do it," he muses aloud, thoughtfully putting a hand to his chin. "I know I'm supposed to be a detective and all, but I doubt I'll be solving that one any time soon."
"I certainly wasn't expecting an entire atelier to spring up in the courtyard," concurs Kirumi. "Well, I suppose if it keeps Angie out of our hair, I can tolerate the loss of green space."
Shuichi winces as he tries to suppress a chuckle. "I'd... better not tell her you said that."
His soft laughter gradually fades and his expression grows serious, his eyes falling to the floor. He takes a deep breath. "Still though, I just can't stop thinking about it... just like always, we only made it this far by sacrificing someone else. I mean, I know he was the blackened, I know he killed one of our friends, but still... it just can't be right, can it?"
Kirumi pauses. "...Shuichi?"
"I know I shouldn't be saying this, but it's just..." He looks away and his mouth twists into a grimace. "Even after everything they did, every blackened was someone's friend. In the end, I still left them to die. I just sometimes don't know if I should have-"
"That's quite enough of that language," Kirumi interrupts him, her expression stern and voice sharp. "You mustn't think of it that way. It is only because of you that any of us still stand here today. You have saved lives, not sacrificed them." She reaches out and firmly plants her hands on his shoulders. "Look at me, Shuichi."
Shuichi slowly raises his head, peering up at her narrowed eyes. "Kirumi...?"
"I will tell you as many times as you need," she continues, her face determined and resolute. "You need never feel guilty for what you have done. You need never feel doubt as to where you will lead us next. No matter what anyone says, the others still believe in you. And..." Her expression softens and she lets out a soft sigh. One hand slips and drifts to Shuichi's own, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "And, for what it is worth... I believe in you."
"But..." his protest hangs in the air, unfinished, before he forces the thought away, shaking his head. "...Yeah. You're right. What's done is done now... all I can do is make sure their deaths aren't for nothing. We haven't ended this killing game yet. But still, give yourself some credit." He pauses and scratches his neck. "You've always been there for everyone... and for me, too. In the investigation, even in the trials." He feels himself begin to smile. "I couldn't have done it without you... you know?" He gives her gloved hand a squeeze of his own. "That's why I..."
Kirumi shakes her head. "Please. You flatter me. But..." A light blush dusts her cheeks and she puts on the smallest of smiles. "...thank you."
They stand there a while longer, hand in hand, as the room slowly sinks back into silence. The tension fills the air between them, steadily rising, yet neither dares make a sound. After what feels like ages Shuichi moves to break the ice, opening his mouth to speak, but then he feels something rising in his throat and before he can stop it he breaks out in a yawn, feebly covering his mouth with one hand. He must've been more tired than he thought.
Kirumi's smile vanishes and she releases his hand. "...Shuichi? Are you all right?"
"Oh, I.. I'm sorry." Shuichi grimaces and shakes his head, before rubbing at his eyes with one hand. "I'm just getting a little tired after all this running around..."
Kirumi offers a sympathetic nod. "Indeed. Exploring an academy as vast as this is certainly not for the faint of heart." Her eyes wander around the room, eventually landing on the ornately gilded sofa resting at one end of the room. An idea enters her mind and her mouth twists upward in a mischievous smile.
She sighs and puts one hand to her cheek, an exaggerated look of concern crossing her face. "Oh, it just wouldn't do for our dear Ultimate Detective to suffer from fatigue. That could have a very serious impact on any future investigations. No, that wouldn't do at all... oh, whatever shall we do?"
Shuichi blinks, confused. "Wait, what will we do? What are you... oh." His question answers itself as his gaze falls on the same place. He blushes and looks away, absentmindedly tugging his bangs between his thumb and index finger. "I mean, we could... get some rest?" His blush grows deeper and he raises his hands defensively. "I mean, only if you wanted to!"
Kirumi fails to stop herself from smiling. He's fallen right into her trap.
"Well, if you insist," she says teasingly, walking over to the lounge. She turns around and promptly drops onto the cushion at one end, landing with a satisfying pomf, and swings both legs onto the sofa. She smooths out the wrinkles in her dress and pats her lap with both hands, looking at him with an expectant twinkle in her eyes.
It isn't until she starts beckoning towards him with both arms outstretched that he realizes what she means. "Well, come on then," she coaxes softly, her mouth curling upwards into a coy smile. "No need to hold back."
Shuichi stares at her in silence, counting his options, before he steps towards her and promptly crumples into her arms.
His energy drains from him immediately and in one swift and fluid motion she wraps her arms around him and guides him closer, holding him tight in a protective embrace. He feels himself tense, a lingering bit of bashfulness still lingering in the back of mind, but then the last of his resistance leaves him and he collapses, leaving him awkwardly sprawled atop her, his head resting gently atop her chest.
Kirumi stiffens at first at the contact, before she breaks out in a soft giggle. She tries to suppress the outburst, but her giggles grow louder, before bursting into a full-hearted laugh. Her body shakes with the gentle force of her laughter and Shuichi manages to raise his head long enough to catch a glimpse of her gleeful face - as strikingly pretty as ever, and so stunningly, unbelievably adorable.
She's even cuter up close, he hears himself think.
She raises a gloved hand to his head and affectionately ruffles his hair, cooing softly in her soothing, reassuring voice. "There now... you silly thing..."
"Mmnnngh." Shuichi tries to respond but his words get mangled into an unintelligible mess, hopelessly lost in the haze of his sleepy, fatigued mind. With his strength fast fading he instead slowly wraps his arms around her back and squeezes, hoping his actions will say what his words cannot. He shifts his weight and buries his head in her shoulder, his arms slowly drifting to her waist, and in return she gently nuzzles him back, like a cat lovingly doting on her kitten. He smells something faint and floral - lavender, he realizes - and despite her usual cold and unfeeling exterior she feels so, so warm, like a gentle flame melting his stress and tension away.
Shuichi feels his vision start to swim, almost drunk on his own fatigue, and his mind clouds with feelings of overwhelming love for this girl, this sweet, hardworking, adorable girl, who so loyally protects and looks after everyone. And he knows, he can feel it in her touch, that she's equally captivated by him, overflowing with adoration for the boy who's neither a friend nor master, but something far greater indeed. He so wishes he could kiss her, and he would if only he had the energy, but his tiredness refuses to give in and he settles for tightening his hold on her waist instead. She'll understand.
Kirumi closes her eyes and smiles in response, one hand drifting to the back of his head and running her fingers through his hair. "Shu."
"Rumi." Shuichi manages with the last of his willpower to call her nickname out to her, and though he can no longer see her face he has no doubt her cheeks are fast going pink.
He sinks further into the hug, nuzzling against the crook of her neck. Her fingers lightly dance across his back in a reassuring caress, and suddenly he feels so much heavier, pulling him deeper into Kirumi's arms, as the exertion of the day finally catches up with him. Through his drowsy stupor he hears a faint melody, soon realizing it to be Kirumi's voice, softly singing the tune of a gentle lullaby. The soothing lilt to her voice melts his heart anew, wearing down the last of his feeble resistance. His eyelids grow heavy and he feels himself steadily drifting off to sleep - but against all odds, he manages to make himself speak, one final act of defiance against his overwhelming fatigue.
"I love you, Kirumi."
Kirumi's song stumbles for the briefest of moments, an absolutely precious break in character that deals his heart the final blow. At last his eyes fall shut and the world goes dark, numb to everything but the soft smell of lavender and the distant rhythm of her heart.
"Schlaf nun selig und süß,
Schau im Traum’s Paradies.
Schlaf nun selig und süß,
Schau im Traum’s Paradies."
The final notes of the lullaby escape Kirumi's lips and the lab sinks back into a peaceful silence. She looks down to find Shuichi, eyes closed and expression peaceful, his chest slowly rising and falling with each breath as he continues to cling to her waist. It warms her heart to see, the Academy's hero, who led them all through trial after trial in his relentless pursuit of the truth, finally enjoying some well-earned peace. Kirumi gently leans forward, brushing her hair out of her eyes, bringing her lips to just above his ear. "Sleep well, Shuichi," she whispers softly. "I love you."
He doesn't respond, and after a few seconds of silence Kirumi lets out a sigh. He must be asleep already. Oh well, she supposes. There'll be plenty more opportunities to tell him. She shifts her weight slightly, careful not to wake him, until she settles into a more comfortable position. She smiles and gently pulls him into another hug, and before long her own drowsiness catches up to her and she, too, drifts off to sleep.
The two lie there in silence, each one perfectly shielded in the other's warm embrace, two halves of a greater whole, free from the prying eyes and expectations the others so readily place upon them. Just this once, he doesn't have to be the indomitable Ultimate Detective. Just this once, she doesn't have to be the unfeeling Ultimate Maid. Here, in each other's arms, they can finally be set free - young, carefree, and happy.
The day drags on and the sun begins to set, and soon the ornate Victorian walls of the Ultimate Maid's lab shine in a brilliant orange glow. Still they lie, basking in the warmth of the evening sun, no doubt imagining the same shared dream - no killing game, no trials, no Monokuma. Just the two of them, just like this, together. If only this dream could go on forever...
As if on cue the grandfather clock at the end of the room tocks loudly and chimes, sounding out six bells in perfectly spaced rhythm. Kirumi's eyes flutter open, rudely shaken from her slumber. What, already? How long has it been...? She squints at the face of the clock, shielding her eyes with one hand from the fading evening sun, and sighs softly as she confirms the reading. Six PM, on the hour. Time to work again. She turns back to the detective resting atop her and raises a hand to his cheek, trying as gently as she can to raise him from his peaceful sleep.
"Shuichi," she calls out to him, barely above a whisper, "it was truly lovely spending time with you like this, but I am afraid I must be going."
He stirs slightly but doesn't respond, save for a distant and unintelligible mumble.
Kirumi sighs again and gently runs her hand through his hair. "I am truly sorry, Shuichi, but I really must get back to work. The others will undoubtedly be wanting their dinner soon, and I have no right to refuse. I-"
Shuichi shifts, and his voice sounds out in a barely audible croak. "Don't... have to..." He still doesn't move, but his hold on her waist grows tighter.
Kirumi blinks. "Pardon?"
At last Shuichi releases her, and he raises his head, sleepily rubbing one eye. "You don't have to cook today," he repeats, breaking out in a sheepish smile. "I, um... I took care of it."
"Took... care of it?" Kirumi raises her brows in confusion. "I... appreciate your concern, Shuichi, I truly do. But whatever arrangements you may have made, as much as I wish otherwise my duties absolutely must be honored." She turns to one side and Shuichi slides off of her, landing softly on the sofa cushions with a quiet noise of protest. No longer pinned down, she swings her legs out from the couch and plants both feet on the floor, rising as she dusts off her lap with both hands. She must be made presentable if she's to serve the others tonight. Has her hair been messed up too? She adjusts her headdress as she frets over the possibility. Oh, she really needs a mirror in her lab.
Turning back to the sleepy detective, she leans down and plants a goodbye kiss on his cheek, before raising her head and looking off into the distance. "Goodbye for now, Shuichi," she says, more than a little regretfully. "As much as it pains me to leave you, I will try to make time for you again at some point in the f-"
She feels something pull at her. Looking down, she sees Shuichi slowly sitting up on the couch, one hand gently tugging at her necktie. He smiles up at her, a pleading look in his eyes. "Like I said, I took care of it. Everything's fine. Besides, I can tell you don't really want to go, so you don't have to force yourself. It's okay to look out for yourself once in a while, you know?"
Kirumi opens her mouth in protest. "But... I do not have a choice. If I abandoned my clients to pursue my own desires, I would be no maid at all..."
Shuichi sighs. "Thought you might say that. So how about this?" He tilts his head to one side and grins, a bright, brilliant smile without an ounce of malice. "I request that you stay here with me for a little longer. Okay?"
Kirumi wants to protest, get upset, even, at his obvious disregard for her duty as a maid, but one look at his expectant, pleading face, and she forgets her complaints in a heartbeat. She sighs in resgination, but feels a smile creeping onto her face nonetheless. "Well, if that is your request... then I suppose I have no choice." She lowers herself back down onto the couch and spreads her arms again, eyes shining with anticipation. "Shall we?"
This time Shuichi doesn't hesitate before he pounces, snuggling deep into her embrace as he pulls her into a hug of his own. He feels her body go stiff at the contact, and he opens his mouth to ask what's wrong, but suddenly she turns to one side and flips them both over, until it's Shuichi who lies underneath her, eyes widening with surprise as Kirumi pins him in place with both hands.
Shuichi yelps softly as his head lands on the cushion below, his mouth falling open and his face flushing a bright shade of scarlet. "H-huh? Kirumi? What are you-"
"Ah-ah." She puts a finger to his lips, mouth curling into a mischievous smile as he squirms under her touch. "No need to worry. You gave me a request, Shuichi, and I intend to see it fulfilled to the letter. I am a maid after all... Master." The last word comes out in a low, seductive whisper that makes Shuichi's spine tingle. Kirumi's hand drifts to her neck and begins to loosen her tie as Shuichi feels himself break out in another grin. He reaches upwards, delicately wrapping both arms about her neck, before his hold tightens and he pulls her in once more.
Elsewhere, the Ultimate Astronaut places a hand over his growling stomach. He throws back his head and sighs. "Man, I'm freakin' starving!" He lazily makes his way down the hallway, his fluffy pink slippers loudly slapping on the concrete, before eventually arriving at a pair of familiar wooden doors, flanked on either side by overgrown vines. The dining hall. He puffs himself up with joy, rubbing his hands in anticipation at the mere thought of the Ultimate Maid's flawless cooking. Wonder what she made today? Maybe something Western, like coq au vin or bœuf bourgui-whatever, like from one of those fancy country houses she said she used to work in. Or maybe something more traditional, like some kind of hot pot. Maybe sukiyaki...! His mouth waters just thinking about it and his stomach growls loudly in agreement.
He takes a bold step forward and throws open the doors. "Sorry to keep you all waiting! The Luminary of the Stars makes his grand appeara-"
His fanfare dies a sad death as he realizes he is alone. Nothing is there to greet him, just an empty table in the dark and deserted dining hall. He scratches his head, his confidence slowly giving way to worry. "Huh. That's... weird..."
As he sticks his head through the doorway to the kitchen, Kaito's concern grows deeper. The kitchen is dark, utterly devoid of light, and completely silent save for the soft smack of Kaito's slippers on the tiling. He looks left, right, left again, but sees no sign of the Ultimate Maid.
Retreating from the kitchen, he grimaces and places one hand on the back of his neck. This must be some kind of prank. He cups his hands over his mouth and shouts. "Hello? Kirumi? Anyone home?" No answer. He takes a deep breath and tries again, louder. "Helloooooo? Can anyone hear me!?"
"I can hear you, you unbelievable idiot."
Kaito jumps three feet in the air as a bone-chilling voice snakes out from behind him. His heart pounding, he flips around to find the Ultimate Assassin, arms crossed and expression deeply unsympathetic. "What the-!? Maki Roll!?"
Maki scowls. "You're lucky it's just me and not the entire damn class. Seriously, I could hear you from a mile away, shouting like that. What were you-"
"Oh thank God you're here!" Kaito suddenly grabs her by the shoulders and shakes, ignoring her reddening face and her squeaks of protest. "Kirumi's... gone missing! She's not in the kitchen, and she's never missed making dinner before!" An idea suddenly comes to him and he goes pale in the face. "You don't think... something happened to her, do you?"
"Of- of course not!" Maki hisses, violently shoving him back. As he stumbles away, complaining loudly, she hurriedly adjusts the bow on her uniform, desperately trying to calm down. "...If you'd paid more attention, you'd have noticed the note. Idiot." Maki points a finger over Kaito's shoulder, in the direction of a very conspicuous note taped to the wall.
Kaito blinks and turns around. "Wha-? What note? I-" he comes to an abrupt halt once his eyes fall on the paper. "...Oh. That note. I, um... I knew that!"
Maki closes her eyes and sighs, walking over to the note and ripping it off the wall in one swift motion. Kaito creeps to her side, and the two of them pore over its contents - hastily written, in a scraggly cursive script that very much does not look like Kirumi's.
After several seconds of silence, Kaito awkwardly clears his throat. "So, um... what the hell is 'self-serve dinner' supposed to mean...?"
Maki sighs yet again, crumpling the note into a ball. "It means, Shuichi Saihara has stolen our maid."