“The left corner’s too low,” says Kirigiri. Then: “No, your left.”
Mukuro moves the sheet of vinyl only very slightly. It looks straight enough to her, but a Super Former High School Level Detective like Kirigiri must have a better eye for detail than Mukuro and this is important. This is for their business.
Mukuro stands just inside their new offices, holding the vinyl characters against the glass door. On the other side, Kirigiri stands directly before her, watching.
“There,” she says eventually, and Mukuro marks their place with some masking tape before standing aside to let Kirigiri in.
“Here.” Mukuro peels back one of the corners just enough to get started – Kirigiri’s gloves are mostly wonderful but things like sticky-backed plastic and Sellotape are Mukuro’s responsibility – and then passes Kirigiri the sheet. “You do the honours.”
And Kirigiri does just that.
The thing about being a member of a family of secret detectives is that advertising tends to be frowned upon. Having an actual office, with a telephone number and website (under construction for now; Naegi, who has stayed in touch with everyone in their class and peppers most of his emails to them both with anecdotes about Kuwata’s new personal trainer and what Togami thinks of the debate surrounding the tax regulations overseas, has promised to ask Fujisaki if they’ll help) feels like they’re smashing a family heirloom but with insurance and business cards which say ‘Investigations’.
“It isn’t like that. My family – we aren’t going to tell anyone about that, anyway,” says Kirigiri when she asks.
Mukuro looks at her for a long time. Kirigiri doesn’t mind, just watches her watching Kirigiri with an unreadable look on her face, until Mukuro blinks and sighs. “I, uh, don’t think you can be a secret detective pretending to be a normal detective,” she says, and then she thinks about that one because it sounds like exactly the sort of thing Junko would do, it sounds like the kind of thing she wouldn’t be surprised to see Kirigiri do.
She finds it very, very hard to be surprised by the things Kirigiri can do.
Kirigiri, for her part, just smiles, small and more to herself than Mukuro. “We’re too good to have been normal detectives, anyway.”
Mukuro doesn’t know how to react – she isn’t in the habit of receiving compliments, no more than Kirigiri is in the habit of handing them out – so she just presses the palms of her hands against her knees and nods.
“Uh, I was thinking you should learn about guns. I mean, how gunshot wounds look, if there’s a case where it would help, or how to fire them. If you wanted to know. Um.”
It would be useful, really, Mukuro thinks. She’s pretty sure that her weapons training is the only reason Naegi asked Kirigiri to give her a job after they graduated, she’s almost certain that it’s the only reason Kirigiri said yes. She knows what Junko would be saying if she were here now – “Go, sis! Make yourself even more useless! That’s absolutely the way to stay gainfully employed!” – but Kirigiri frowns in a way that’s probably more thoughtful than irritated. Her dark finger taps against her bottom lip.
She must come to a decision, then, because she drops her hand back to the desk and flicks through the papers in front of her. They’re going through the details of their lease together, which means Kirigiri reads the contract while Mukuro assembles the rest of their office furniture as quietly as she can. This is the chair which will go at Kirigiri’s desk; for now, Kirigiri’s perched on the edge of it, her legs crossed at the ankles. There’s a graze on her knee from last week – she stumbled while they chased after their blackmailer, so Mukuro tackled him and pinned his arms against his back, twisting just enough to hurt – and she looks so young.
Then she turns the page. Looks down at Mukuro, and maybe the line at the corner of her mouth is tension or annoyance or something and maybe it isn’t, but Mukuro finds herself thinking: oh, I remember you.
“No. I don’t think so,” Kirigiri says.
The thing is, Mukuro doesn’t like confrontation much for someone who was a child soldier, which is probably the sort of thing her inner Junko would have found hilarious if she weren’t too busy feeling annoyed. Because Mukuro knows that she isn’t as observant as Kirigiri, that she isn’t as smart as Kirigiri, knows that the only thing she has to offer which Kirigiri could use is her combat training, and she knows, too, that she made an excellent soldier.
And that’s not the same as being a detective, she knows, but it is a useful thing. She can be useful, and Kirigiri doesn’t want that.
The name – on their business cards, on their door, on the billboard Kirigiri wants them to rent which just so happens to be on her father’s commute – is ‘Investigations’. Just ‘Investigations’, because Kirigiri won’t use her family name out of respect for her grandfather’s wishes and won’t use anything else. Mukuro doesn’t claim to know much about business – doesn’t claim to know much about detective agencies, either – but she thinks that there are probably much better names.
“It tells everyone what we do.”
“Well, I know, but…”
“That’s what names are for.”
Mukuro shrugs, unhappily. “I think- Yeah, they are, but I think they’re meant to say something about us, too.”
“Well,” Kirigiri says, far too reasonably. “This says that we investigate.”
The argument – which isn’t the sort of argument Mukuro is used to having; they just grow increasingly polite to one another and Kirigiri makes a lot of pointed tea – lasts about six hours before Mukuro decides to apologize. When she’s done, Kirigiri only says: “There’s space.”
“To change the name. On the—“Kirigiri waves her hand, taking in the door and the business cards before her. “There’s space, if you wanted.”
Kirigiri jabs at the power button on her laptop and Mukuro, sensing that her presence is no longer required, goes to see if there’s any mail to sort yet.
"Thanks," she says, over her shoulder, and Kirigiri mutters something which might be "You're welcome".
Their first client is Maizono. Naegi has recommended them, apparently, and her request is simple enough – investigate the background of her new manager – that Mukuro handles most of the surveillance herself. Kirigiri joins her for the first hour of their stake-out, the two of them huddled close for warmth in the front of their rented Nissan, passing the binoculars between them. Up close, Kirigiri smells like the soap she washes her clothes in. Her braid is coming loose in the middle and, when she’s handed the binoculars back to Mukuro, she pulls the ribbon loose and combs her fingers through her hair, braids it all over again. The man they’re supposed to be watching settles down at his desk, and in the corner of her eye, Mukuro sees Kirigiri scoop her hair out from her collar. She has those little wisps of hair which look like curls at the back of her neck, and Mukuro wants to bite them.
Not to hurt her. Mukuro doesn’t think she wants to do anything weird. She’d just like to know what they felt like in her mouth.
“Has anything happened, Ikusaba-san?”
“He’s, um, on his computer?” she offers meekly, and wonders how Kirigiri had been able to tell.
Kirigiri hums in approval, and pulls the ribbon tight. "Well, then," she says, and opens the car door. "Call me if that changes?"
"Wait, what?" But it doesn't matter: she's gone.
The first client who isn't, probably, found for them through the Hope's Peak Academy Alumni Association which has formed around Naegi thinks that her husband is cheating on her. Kirigiri - who made Mukuro promise that they wouldn't take cheating spouses or lost kittens, made Mukuro swear that they would only investigate real crimes - tilts her head to one side and says, "What do you think, Ikusaba?"
What? So now I'm just here to turn away crying women? Mukuro thinks, and feels a little twist of guilt that she would feel that way after everything Kirigiri has done for her, and then feels annoyed for feeling guilty. She stands up.
"Can I speak to you in your office please, Kirigiri-san?"
They're in her office. There is only one office. But the client doesn't know that, and Mukuro doesn't want to back down now, so she opens the door to the cupboard where they keep the cleaning supplies and steps inside. There's just enough space for Kirigiri to squeeze in after her, although she dislodges a dustpan and brush as she does.
"What?" Kirigiri looks as confused as she ever gets, and Mukuro wants to - Mukuro wants, fiercely. Which is new, which is unsettling, which is the sort of thing where she would normally be looking to Kirigiri for direction but Kirigiri has been leaving her alone and not letting her help and making her turn people away and Mukuro doesn't understand why.
She says as much.
She doesn't mean to, and it doesn't come out coherently - and if there's a theme beyond "why don't you want me near you?" then it's probably lost on both of them - but then Kirigiri reaches forward, and presses her hands against Mukuro's shoulders as though she's going to shake her.
"I don't-" she says, and her voice is tight. "That's not-"
Mukuro watches her take a deep breath, force the tension from her body. "What?"
"I-" Kirigiri shakes her head. When she speaks again, her voice is stiff. "I apologize, Ikusaba-san. I meant- I value your contributions. I wanted to, ah, demonstrate that you would be... valued, as well as your knowledge. That I trusted your judgement. That... Yes."
Mukuro is quiet. And then, because Kirigiri folds her arms in front of her chest and tries to look imposing even with the mop jutting into her back, because she thinks that this is what they've been talking around, because she wants to, she leans forward to press her lips against Kirigiri's. She feels giddy, as though she's about to do something forbidden, and her heartbeat sounds so loud she's sure that Kirigiri must be able to hear it, and then-
"Excuse me?" There's a loud knocking on the other side of the door. The would-be client. "I, ah, think I'm going to just ask my husband directly, but thank you for your help."
Two months later, they're celebrating the official closure of their agency's first case when Kirigiri reaches into her drawer and pulls out a thin envelope. She leans into Mukuro as she hands it over, just a little, and Mukuro feels her cheeks flush.
"This came last week," she says. "I thought- I wanted to give you something."
Another vinyl sheet slides out when she opens it. "More signs?" She flips it over to read 'The Two Reeds'.
"I looked it up," says Kirigiri. She almost looks shy, but shy in the way where that's expressed through crossed arms and a slightly raised voice. "For some people, it means finding secrets. It seemed like the sort of thing you were looking for." She makes herself unfold her arms and hold them at her sides, elbows tucked in, her back straight like a sword. "If you don't like it, we can get something else."
"No. I like it," Mukuro says, and she boosts herself up to sit on the desk next to Kirigiri's chair. Her bare legs brush against Kirigiri's, and she tells herself that she isn't going to blush. It doesn't work.
(A week after that, when she telephones her sister to tell her the news, Junko will "Shouldn't that be the Two Lilies?" and laugh until she realizes Mukuro isn't laughing with her.)
And Kirigiri closes the gap between them, folding her long fingers around Mukuro's wrist, leaning forwards so that their knees line up, and says, "Good."