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Mukuro wakes up at the sound of someone testing her door handle. She knows it isn’t Junko - Mukuro leaves the door unlocked for those nights when her sister decides to surprise her with a visit and she’s grown to recognize the sound of Junko’s footsteps. Even then, hearing Junko’s footsteps is still sometimes enough to have her reaching for the gun she isn’t allowed to keep under her pillow before she’s awake enough to think about it; tonight, she’s ready to move, one hand curled around the first knife she can find.

Her heartbeat comes quick and dry inside her throat, and for the first foggy moments, she’s not in her dorm room; she’s in the middle of a warzone; she’s back in the desert with Fenrir and nothing but her gun to keep her alive. For the first time since she came to Hope’s Peak Academy, she feels like herself.

“Who’s there?”

The door opens. Kirigiri enters, fully dressed and carrying two mugs, and she looks very pointedly at the hunting knife in Mukuro’s hand.

“Are you planning on using that?”

Mukuro refuses to blush. “I haven’t decided yet,” she says, but puts the knife away in her drawer. It’s not where she usually keeps it (magneted to the side of her bed) but Kirigiri can probably figure that much out for herself; the challenge is in seeing whether or not Mukuro can conceal the real hiding place from a Super High School Level Detective, and whether Kirigiri can understand the survival instincts of a Super High School Level Soldier.

Mukuro hasn’t played games in a very long while but she thinks that this thing with Kirigiri, this friendship they’re working towards, might come close.

“Tell me when you do,” Kirigiri says lightly. “May I sit down?”

Mukuro gestures towards the only chair in her room. The school is more than happy for the students to decorate their rooms however they see fit – and Mukuro knows that Junko is doing exactly that; she’s been asking Mukuro’s opinion on different war crimes for the mural she’s planning – but Mukuro has never really been in the habit of owning things, much less spaces, and her room contains only the basics.

She sits on the far end of her bed and takes the tea Kirigiri offers her. With the door closed, her digital alarm clock is the only source of light and Mukuro warms her fingers on the mug while she waits for her eyes to adjust.

“You’ve been distracted,” says Kirigiri.

“I have?”

She isn’t trying to lie, exactly. Hope’s Peak Academy has given her somewhere reasonably safe and, more than that, it’s offered her a purpose, direction; she’s grateful for everything her teachers have done, but Mukuro was a soldier and they replaced her rifle with worksheets on poetry, and she doesn’t know how to be a teenager any more.

She does the work assigned to her because she knows how to follow orders but her marks in everything apart from gym and English remain stubbornly average, and she isn’t interested enough to actually mind.

“You missed breakfast three times last week. You didn’t finish your Biology homework, and Maizono said that you looked tired. She’s right. You haven’t been sleeping.” She pauses to sip some of her tea and continues: “It’s rained every day this week but your sneakers have fresh mud on the soles. Your shorts are dry, so you were running after the rain had stopped. I checked; the only dry patches over the past four days have all been overnight, apart from Tuesday afternoon when we were both in Biology.”

Mukuro blinks, surprised. “You’re right. I run, when—At night, sometimes.” More than sometimes, but she feels exposed, suddenly uncomfortable with the attention Kirigiri has clearly paid to her. Junko warned her – or encouraged her; it’s hard to tell with Junko – that spending time with Kirigiri was dangerous, but Mukuro hadn’t listened. Stupid, she feels stupid and humiliated at the thought that she was so easy for Kirigiri-san to reason out, and she can feel her face burn.

She’s looking down at her knees when she hears her desk lamp click on and a soft yellow light spills out across the room. She doesn’t look up; if Kirigiri wants more information from her then she’s going to have to work for it.

There’s the sound of her chair being pushed backwards and then cloth moving against cloth. She listens to Kirigiri cross the space between them. Her thighs, shortly followed by her leather boots, enter Mukuro’s field of vision, and Mukuro feels her grip tighten reflexively around the mug she’s holding.

“You’re angry,” Kirigiri says. She doesn’t sound pleased, just confused, like she doesn’t know why. “I haven’t told Ishimaru-kun.”

Mukuro doesn’t answer. There are things she knows – things Junko tells her occasionally – which she knows instinctively, in the part of her brain which has spent years telling her when to dodge and when to stand her ground, in the part of her brain which has never let her down, that Kirigiri can’t ever find out. She had been so sure that she was careful not to let anything slip, but Mukuro never thought twice about helping Kirigiri clean the library when she asked, or working with her on their History assignment, or speaking with her when they met in the kitchen or the common room. She thought—

Junko is going to laugh until she bursts when Mukuro tells her, but she thought that Kirigiri had wanted to be her friend. Kirigiri might never have seen war the way Mukuro has, but she’s seen death; she’s the only person here, apart from Junko (who gets Mukuro to tell her everything sooner or later), who Mukuro thought might understand.

“I won’t,” Kirigiri adds.

Mukuro can’t keep her frustration entirely from her voice. “Oh, good. Thanks for that.”

Kirigiri is very, very quiet. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, and takes so long answering that Mukuro finally looks up at her. Kirigiri has turned slightly away and it might just be a trick of the light – the desk lamp isn't particularly strong – but her cheeks look very slightly pink.

“I should go.” Kirigiri’s voice sounds odd. Stiff. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Ikusaba-san.”

Mukuro stands up. With Kirigiri in her boots and Mukuro barefoot, she’s just smaller than Kirigiri for once. “Why did you come here?”

“… I noticed something’s bothering you.” Kirigiri breaks off and looks away. She tucks her hair behind her ear slowly, wets her lips and carries on. “I notice things about you sometimes.”

“Like what?”

Kirigiri still won't meet her eyes. She's not looking at anything in particular, just - away. "You let Enoshima-san talk for you. You think everyone's more interested in your sister than you. It's a flawed premise."

“What is?”

“That nobody cares what you think.” Kirigiri meets her eyes, briefly, and then looks away. “You’re wrong.”

“I see,” Mukuro says, and takes another sip of tea. She doesn't, not really. Even if Kirigiri's right (and it's more complicated than she can understand because Mukuro and Junko have always been tangled up in one another), it’s like looking at a Magic Eye puzzle: she can see the shape but not the details; she knows where it is but not what it means.

“Did you know that you look to the left when you lie?”

You play with your hair.”

Kirigiri’s eyes widen. For a moment, she looks surprised (like she’s forgotten that other people can still look at her while she’s observing them, Mukuro thinks) and then she smiles. “Not when I lie,” she says, but she looks quietly pleased that Mukuro might have thought as much. “That’s a different tell.”

“Did you come here to talk about my sister?”

“Actually,” Kirigiri tells her easily, like it's the most natural thing in the world, “I wanted to tie you up.”

Mukuro thinks about that for a moment. And then she asks, warily, “Am I that obvious?”

“I told you, I was curious. I paid attention.”

“I don’t like being hurt,” Mukuro warns her, considering it. “You can tie me up but I don’t want you to threaten me into doing what you want, even if you intend to follow through. I like to be told what to do.”

Kirigiri nods. “How would you feel about hitting me? If I told you to?”

“If you were in control?” Mukuro lets herself picture that: Kirigiri watching over her while Mukuro slaps the tops of her thighs with her open palm. Kirigiri telling her what to do, how hard to hit; Kirigiri directing her to where she is needed and Mukuro being, finally, of some use. She feels a little warm at the thought and drinks some more tea, needing to wet her mouth again. “Um. Yes, I think I might like that.”

“What else would you like?”

“Ropes,” Mukuro says immediately. There was a boy in Egypt, he said he wanted to feel cold metal locked around her wrists but she said no; the thought of anything difficult to cut or burn or otherwise escape from in a hurry is hard to eroticize. “I like being touched. I like it when I don’t have to think, I like anticipation. I like the idea of being marked.”

“What kind of mark?”

Mukuro’s hand goes instinctively towards the wolf on the other. “Not like that,” she says, far too quickly. “Nothing permanent. Nothing where people can see, either.”

Kirigiri nods and pulls the mug from Mukuro’s hands. “Sit down,” she says, and Mukuro obeys without thinking about it. She walks back towards the desk and puts Mukuro’s mug next to her own, then plucks the ribbon Mukuro wears with her school uniform from its place on top of her dresser.

“No ropes,” Kirigiri says, and she’s trying to sound impassive but Mukuro can hear the way she bites off the last syllable just a bit too harshly. “This will have to do for now.”

She pulls the ribbon through her fingers, winds the end, slowly, around her wrist and walks back to stand before Mukuro. She’s still wearing her gloves, Mukuro can see; with her back to the light and Kirigiri’s shadow falling at the right angle, the dark leather blends into the room around them. Her shadow moves as she crosses the room and her hands slide out of being and not being; Mukuro’s gaze jumps between her hands and her face, cautious, hungry. Mukuro’s mouth feels dry. When Kirigiri reaches her, she pulls the ribbon tight.

“Put your wrists together,” Kirigiri says. Mukuro does so; she leaves a little room – no more than a quarter-inch, but that’s enough leeway to save your life in a pinch and Mukuro knows it – more out of habit than anything else, and if Kirigiri notices, she stays quiet while she knots Mukuro’s hands together. When she’s done, she gives an experimental tug on the ribbon and then pulls on the knot so it rests between her thumbs, where Mukuro knows she can untie it if she wants.

Kirigiri trails one hand along the sides of Mukuro’s wrists, holding the ribbon very gently between her finger and thumb. The leather glove drags, just as gently, when she moves her hand away.

“Unpremeditated,” Kirigiri tells Mukuro. “No evidence of prior planning. Use of materials found at the scene.”

“I thought that was called a crime of passion?”

“Sometimes it is.” Kirigiri leans forward and kisses her again, both hands curled loosely around Mukuro’s wrists, and her shadow stretches out across Mukuro's hands again. The dark wolf, the shapes left by Kirigiri’s fingers all vanish as though they’ve been cut out from her body completely.

There was never much time for romance before but there was never much time for worrying about it, either. Mukuro has kissed before, has had sex before – that was easy enough when people around her worried that they might not live to see tomorrow – but it was always a hurried affair, conducted quickly under blankets or in the backs of vehicles, one ear always listening out for the sounds of someone approaching. Time was a luxury she never had; but Kirigiri kisses like they have all the time in the world so Mukuro tilts her head back and relaxes into it.

They kiss like that for a while, languidly, Kirigiri leaning down to press her mouth against Mukuro’s and keep one hand loosely around Mukuro’s wrists. Her glove is growing warm against Mukuro’s skin and she wonders what it feels like to Kirigiri. She keeps her hands still in her lap, wondering what Kirigiri plans on doing with them, until Kirigiri stands up and walks into her bathroom.

Mukuro frowns but doesn’t object. After a moment, Kirigiri comes back out holding one of her towels which she lays out neatly on the bed for Mukuro to sit on, smoothing out any little creases very slowly. Mukuro sits the way Kirigiri tells her, legs apart, knees bent and her thumbs tucked against her breast bone; Kirigiri pushes against her knees very slightly, making Mukuro cant her legs wider.

“Comfortable?”

Mukuro thinks about it. She can hold the position for as long as Kirigiri wants, there’s nothing particularly painful about it, but that’s not what Kirigiri asked.

“I feel like a turkey,” she says instead. “Trussed up.”

Kirigiri taps Mukuro’s knee. “Maybe you are,” she says. “Maybe I just wanted to see how you’d look tied up and now I can leave.”

Mukuro feels exposed, even through her pyjamas, but not uncomfortably so. It’s not a question of her secrets this time, just her body, and that’s never been something Mukuro has felt that she needed to hide; this kind of exposure, having Kirigiri open her up like this, is much better than the first.

“Hands above your head,” Kirigiri tells her and Mukuro complies. Kirigiri pulls her tie free and knots it through the ribbon, and then again around the nearest bedpost. “Try that.”

Mukuro wiggles her fingers obediently. They aren’t about to turn blue or drop off, and Kirigiri has left enough room that Mukuro could be out of the restraints in less than a second. If it’s not deliberate, then Mukuro is going to have to teach her some more difficult knots, just in case. She might do it anyway.

“It’s good.”

Kirigiri nods. “I want you to stay still,” she says quietly. “I’ll tell you when you can move.”

Mukuro doesn’t reply. She doesn’t open her mouth to answer, or start to nod, because Mukuro is very, very good at following orders, and the rest of the world just falls away. It isn’t that she’s any less aware of her surroundings – if anything, she’s more conscious of the details now, like the weight of Kirigiri’s thigh against her legs or the way the wool blend almost scratches at her palms. And it isn’t that they grow less important either; the tops of her thighs feel slick against one another in a very urgent sort of way. But Mukuro has her orders, and that’s enough to let her feel the pressure of Kirigiri’s palm against her knees and the warmth of her breath on Mukuro’s neck without any need to plan a response; it’s permission not to think for a while, just to lose herself in the sensation.

Kirigiri’s fingertips find the lowest button on her pyjamas and undo it slowly. Mukuro doesn’t move. They undo the next button, and the next, and then Mukuro’s shirt slides away from her stomach, leaving only her breasts covered. Kirigiri rests the back of her fingers against Mukuro’s stomach, curling her fingers so they just reach beneath the waistband of her pyjama bottoms, and drags her hand in a straight line from her left hip across to her right.

“There’s a type of mystery,” Kirigiri says, and her tone is almost conversational – except Kirigiri never sounds conversational, and even so, Mukuro can hear the way her vowels come out clipped, still rough around the edges, just this side of breathless. Mukuro would smile except Kirigiri hasn’t said that she can.

Kirigiri is saying, “It takes place in a locked room. And in this locked room, the detective finds no entrances and no exits, nobody present at the time of the crime.”

Kirigiri’s hand slips a little further down. Mukuro forces herself to stay still, even when Kirigiri’s fingers trail along the inside of her leg. She feels wet, so wet that her pyjamas stick to her skin and the smooth arc of Kirigiri’s glove around the tops of her thighs is torturously slow. The leather is still cooler than skin but the metal studs which cover Kirigiri’s knuckles are so cold; one of them brushes against Mukuro’s clitoris and almost startles a hiss out of her.

“The crime seems impossible.” Kirigiri presses the back of her hand up so that Mukuro can feel the metal press against her and oh, she’s sure of it, Kirigiri must be able to feel how wet she is through the leather because it’s unthinkable that she could have this effect on Mukuro and not know—

She can see Kirigiri’s breath stutter and Mukuro almost tenses, almost says that it’s too much. Every inch of her is attuned towards Kirigiri’s movements; every inch of her is attuned towards her own body, and the way Kirigiri feels against it.

Kirigiri swallows. “It seems impossible,” she says, and she keeps the syllables short and clipped but she can’t hide the slight rasp anyway. “But that’s the illusion. If the crime is impossible then there can’t be a mystery.”

Mukuro’s jaw tenses. Kirigiri sees it and leans forward. “You can talk if you want,” she says, and Mukuro forces herself to take a deep breath but that’s all it takes, their bodies shifting, and then she comes. Quietly, because she's always quiet, with her teeth digging into her bottom lip and her body rising and falling around Kirigiri's fingers.

Kirigiri’s mouth is a perfect circle. The moment stretches out between them, like syrup from a spoon, before Mukuro finally gasps, and shudders, and lets her body fall slack. She’s vaguely aware of Kirigiri retrieving her hand and wiping it on the towel when she does.

“Did I move?” Mukuro asks. She isn’t sure. Her legs feel heavy, boneless, but she doesn’t let herself slump, not until she knows she can.

Kirigiri’s hand, the one resting on Mukuro’s chest, moves to pat Mukuro’s hair clumsily. “No,” she says, as kindly as Kirigiri ever says anything. “You did really well, Mukuro-san.”

The tightness in Mukuro’s chest isn’t pride. It’s relief, relief so sharp and so sudden that it comes as a physical weight helping her stay in place, and Mukuro takes another deep breath. “The locked room,” she says. Her voice sounds strange. “You were talking about a room.”

“Illusions,” Kirigiri corrects her. One of her hands is very loosely tangled in Mukuro’s hair, and she brings the other up towards her chest. Now that it isn’t pressed against her oversensitive skin, the metal sections look vaguely intimidating, like a poor man’s brass knuckles. The leather shines.

She lies in her soaked pyjamas, her heart pounding in her chest and the sweat on her skin cooling rapidly, and reminds herself to breathe. Kirigiri undoes the knots keeping Mukuro's hands together quickly, and Mukuro adjusts her clothing and drags her fingers through her hair. The muscles in her legs and arms ache in the satisfying sort of way Mukuro associates with intensive training, and her head is wonderfully, blissfully clear. That's what her sister doesn't understand: being a Super High School Level Soldier isn't about killing but the transformation, the moment when the sound of whatever order has been given enters the real world through the movement of Mukuro's body, and Mukuro rides out the endorphin high with pride.

"You should tell me," says Kirigiri, when she turns to go. "If you plan on using your knife, that is."

"I will," Mukuro answers eagerly, surprising herself. 

Kirigiri switches the lamp off as she makes her way towards Mukuro's door. She pulls it open and then, silhouetted by the light from the corridor, she turns back towards Mukuro. "Locked room mysteries operate on the principle that you assume something which isn't true. And then- the dead man isn't dead, or a weapon was used before it was ever used. Something looks impossible because you base your assumptions on a flawed premise. Do you see?"

Not really, she thinks, but Mukuro feels proud and sticky, tired and sore in the best kind of way, and she's never needed to understand. She smiles instead. "Sure. Thanks for the tea, Kirigiri-san."

Kirigiri nods, and then the door swings closed. Locked room mysteries, Mukuro thinks; she'll have to remember to tell Junko in the morning. It sounds like the sort of thing she'll find interesting, the idea of a puzzle built around a mistake, and as Mukuro drops back onto her mattress, she feels, for the first time, glad that she came to the school.

When she wakes up the next morning, she finds the scratch Kirigiri's boot buckle left on her calf, and she smiles.