Yet another fantastically-adorable idea from 0mn! I love writing children/younger characters, and this one just hits all the marks cuz it also involves Mayakuro ahah
Disclaimer: I do not own Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
Amusement Park Princess
It certainly was no easy feat to coordinate a weekend day where all nine Stage Girls had off, but when it finally does happen, Maya, Claudine and all their friends make the day worthwhile.
It had been an offhand comment from Karen one afternoon, something along the lines of the thrill of standing onstage feeling like the thrill of riding a roller coaster, and then the consequent comment of "Hey! We should all go to an amusement park sometime!" and everyone had been in cautious agreement.
Nana had researched a nearby theme park, which, unfortunately for Hikari, wasn't Mr. White Land because tickets for that were sold out for weeks to come. But everyone, including Hikari, had agreed that a regular amusement park would be just as fun, especially if they all went together.
Once Junna had contacted the school and gotten all the appropriate paperwork taken care of, the nine of them had eagerly awaited their big day for a week or so, until at last that Saturday was upon them.
Everyone woke early and got together for a hearty breakfast before getting ready for the day. They dressed casually and waited around in their lounge until everyone was ready before exiting the dorms and leaving campus.
The park was about a twenty-minute bus ride away, but in spite of the early hour of 9AM, not even Karen or Hikari dozed off on the bus due to how excited everyone was.
And now, as the bus finally rolls to a halt and everyone files off, their day of fun is set to begin.
Even from outside the colorful walls that border the park, all of the usual sights, sounds, and smells reach the girls. They can see tall rides and roller coasters even from this distance, hear the chorus of shrieks over the general din of commotion, and smell all kinds of sweet and salty snacks.
"Wow!" Karen blurts out first. "We're here! This place looks amazing!"
"Not as cool as Mr. White Land," Hikari mumbles. "But still good."
"I wonder what we should do first…" Mahiru says.
"I wanna try out some games for sure," Futaba grins. "Either shooters or tests of strength."
"Waaah?" Kaoruko whines. "Can't we just find a lazy boat ride for the entire day?"
"Now, now, Kaoruko-chan," Nana cuts in. "You can't just stick to one thing all day! There's so much to do!"
"Nana's right," Junna agrees. "We should at least do a little of everything, don't you think? Divide our time between games, rides, and food."
"Oui, très bien," Claudine nods. "A good balance is key in diet, work, and play."
"My, such wise words to abide by," Maya chuckles.
The bunch of them get a spot on line to enter the park and inch their way to the front. It's when they're almost at the front when Karen gasps so loudly it makes Mahiru jump.
"Oh my gosh!"
"Wh-What is it, Karen-chan?"
"I forgot my tickeeet!"
"Ah," Junna says. "I knew that would happen, so I kept hold of all nine of them." She reaches into her shirt pocket to pull out the nine tickets folded-up. Karen wails in relief and throws her arms around her.
"Waaah! Thank goodness, Jun-Jun!"
"She told us she'd be in control of tickets," Claudine sighs. "Evidently you weren't listening."
"Typical Karen," Futaba says.
Junna makes her way to the front of their group to turn in their tickets. Everyone is given a stamp with the park's name on it to the back of their hand before they're permitted entry.
As soon as they walk inside, they find themselves at the start of a massive park with pathways branching out in all different directions. Colorful signs point toward games, rides, food, or other attractions.
Everyone admires the atmosphere and energy of the place as they walk forward. Already, there are crowds and crowds of people inside, and more entering by the moment.
"Oh no," Nana says. "We'd better figure out what we want to do before the lines for everything get too long."
"Eeeehhh?" Karen wails. "We have to decide now? B-But there's so much!"
"Easy, Karen-chan," Mahiru soothes her. "Didn't you want to do the rides the most?"
"Well yeah! But what does everyone else wanna do?"
There's a mix of responses of rides, games, attractions, and also some who are indifferent or indecisive. Junna puts a hand to her chin and hums.
"This might be a problem… There are only so many hours in a day. We have to be back at the dorms by 5."
"That's plenty of time!" Futaba says, and at the same time Kaoruko yelps. "Waah? We're staying here that long?"
"Indeed," Maya speaks up. "That does sound like a rather long day."
"But it should be long enough for us to get to everything," Claudine reasons.
They all stand there for a moment to discuss, and eventually agree to leave the park at 3PM; long enough for them to enjoy activities, but not long enough to tire people out to the point of exhaustion.
"That sounds good," Hikari nods. "Now what do we do first?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Futaba says. "We gotta split up."
"I think she's right," Junna agrees. "We should split up into groups based on who wants to do what. We can all meet back up at the entrance a little before 3, and we can text and call each other if we need to."
Everyone nods in agreement to the proposal. And even though partners had expressed interest in different things, they all end up dividing into their usual pairs and group of three anyway.
"Somehow I knew this would happen," Mahiru chuckles.
Claudine isn't entirely sure how she'd ended up with Maya, but it's mostly because they'd been in the 'indecisive' category. She crosses her arms and huffs, sending a small glare her way, but Maya is blissfully unaware and only smiles back.
"I look forward to our day at the park together, Saijou-san."
Claudine huffs and mutters French under her breath.
"All right," Junna speaks up. "Then it's decided. Remember, we'll all meet back up at 3 o'clock and-"
But she cuts off suddenly as a high-pitched wail breaks through the air. Everyone jolts, looking around in a panic for the source.
Of course crying children are no uncommon sight in an amusement park, but what is uncommon is a crying child who is all alone.
The little girl is standing by herself off to one side of the path with her hands covering her face, whimpering. Her hair is milky white, and she's wearing a purple dress.
Mahiru spots her first.
"Oh my goodness!" She rushes over without wasting a second, and the others quickly follow.
The girl keeps wiping her face, but more tears keep coming, so much so that both her hands and arms are already wet from them. Mahiru drops to her knees in front of the little girl, gently touching her arm.
"H-Hey," she says softly. "What's the matter?"
"Are you lost?" Nana guesses.
The rest of them stand back a little ways so as not to surround her. Everyone exchanges looks of concern as they watch the girl hiccup and slowly raise her head.
"M…Mama…" she sniffles. "She was right there, but then-" As she realizes how many people are now staring at her, the girl jolts a little in surprise. Mahiru withdraws a bit.
"Ah! I-I'm sorry! We must've startled you, right?"
"A lost child…" Junna mutters. "This can't be good."
"A big non-non!" Karen agrees.
"We could take her back to the gate," Futaba suggests.
"How terrible," Claudine frowns. "To get separated from her parents in a place like this. The poor thing."
"Indeed," Maya agrees. "I can only imagine how daunting it must be…"
Everyone seems to be in agreement that Mahiru - being the certified big sister of the group - should do all the talking with the girl, so they all stay back a few feet as she talks to her.
"Do you remember where you last saw your mommy?"
The little girl sniffles again, looking wide-eyed up at her. She shakes her head, going silent with fright.
"Okay," Mahiru says. "In any case, for now, take this." She reaches into her handbag, pulls out her handkerchief, and gives it to the child. The girl timidly accepts and hides her face into the cloth. Mahiru turns back to look up at the others worriedly.
"Isurugi-san is right," Junna decides. "Bringing her to security is the only way if she doesn't remember where she last saw her parents."
"But goodness," Kaoruko mumbles. "Is it just me, or does she seem familiar somehow…?"
Her comment has everyone tilting their heads in confusion before taking another look. The girl has her face hidden still, but after looking at her for a moment, everyone else starts to agree.
"You're right, Kaoruko-chan!" Karen says. "I feel like I've seen her before…"
"Me too," Hikari says. "But I can't remember where or when…"
Claudine can't place her finger on a surefire answer either. She puts a hand to her chin and tries to rake her brain, but it just feels like she's an inch shy of an answer every time. Beside her, Maya has taken on a similar pose, holding her chin in great contemplation with her eyes focused on the girl.
"It can't be…" she mutters. "But it must. I could never mistake that child…"
"Huh?" Claudine nudges her. "What are you mumbling about, Tendo Maya?"
Maya shakes her head, but when she catches another glimpse of the girl's face past the handkerchief, she's absolutely certain.
"As I thought," she says quietly, looking to her partner. Everyone else turns to her now as well. Maya shares a look with them all and keeps her voice low. "Everyone, that girl is none other than Elle-san."
A chorus of disbelief rises up.
"From the revues-?"
Maya gives a quick nod and waves her hand, indicating for everyone to keep their voices down.
"Yes. Indeed I have met her before, and thus I recognize her in this state, whereas the rest of you have only ever known her as a teenager."
"That's right!" Nana gasps. "She did tell us that she's actually just a little girl in real life!"
"That's why she can't stand on the stage with us," Futaba says. "Cuz she's still too young…"
"S-So this is that Elle?" Kaoruko yelps. "Heavens, now that she's met us like this, what is she going to do to us in our next ReLive?"
"Don't say that, Kaoruko-chan!" Mahiru whispers. "She's just a lost little girl right now! We have to help her!"
"So this is the real Elle-san!" Karen says. "She's so cute and small!"
"But we can't let on that we know her," Junna warns them. "She doesn't know about her other self or about us in the ReLives, so we can't go mentioning that stuff. We don't wanna create some kind of paradox or something."
By now the girl has finished cleaning off her face on Mahiru's handkerchief. She lifts her head once again, and once again seems startled to see so many people watching her. When she reaches out to hand Mahiru's handkerchief back to her, her hand is shaking. She dips her head, but can't manage any words of gratitude due to how nervous she is.
Mahiru remains on her level and keeps her voice kind and soft.
"Don't worry. We're going to help you find your mommy!"
Elle sniffles and hiccups again, but only now begins to realize that none of these girls are scary or mean-looking at all. As she looks from one to the next, all she sees are warm smiles.
Suddenly, the quiet girl blurts out all at once.
Everyone blinks in shock, realizing where Elle is looking. She's stopped crying almost immediately, and her eyes are focused solely on Maya.
Claudine gives her partner a curious look for a brief moment before she understands.
"Ah, that's right," she says quietly. "You had that role once. And isn't that where-"
"-All of this mess started?" Kaoruko mutters. "That's right. Because of Tendo-han inspiring her when she went to see her play, Elle-han created all of these hazardous ReLives to drag us into…"
But the little girl hears nothing of what any of them say. Instead, she just scurries past Mahiru and the others until she's close enough to throw her arms around Maya's waist, burying her face in her shirt.
Blushing, Maya casts a stunned expression around to the others. Nana giggles, and Mahiru stands up and gives her an encouraging nod. Slowly, Maya reaches out to pat the girl's head.
"We meet again, Ojou-sama."
"Go figure," Claudine huffs with a smile. "Tendo Maya's popularity knows no bounds."
Maya chuckles bit sheepishly.
Karen shuffles in next to her and puts her hands on her knees.
"Little lost princess, what's your name?"
The girl peeks one eye over at her and sniffles again.
Everyone nods at the confirmation.
"Elle-chan," Nana says. "Were you here with just your mommy today?"
The girl nods.
"Mommy… and Andrew…"
"Geh-" Kaoruko makes a face. "That abomina-mole little-"
"Shush!" Futaba says.
Elle continues, hiccuping.
"I-I asked Mommy to hold him so he wouldn't get dirty… but then the next thing I knew I couldn't see her anymore-" She cuts off sniffling again, then buries her face back into Maya's shirt.
Everyone shares glances yet again, but it's decided they need to bring the little girl to park security.
So they walk back toward the entrance together, with Elle clinging to Maya's side all the while. Claudine walks next to them, infinitely bemused by how flustered Maya seems by the attention.
They all look around for signs of any distressed parents, but can find no one of the sort.
It only takes them a few minutes to reach security and explain the situation. But the woman they speak to informs them that finding the parents might take a long time, even when an announcement is made, due to how noisy the park is in general.
She offers to have them leave the girl in her care in her office until the parents come looking or can be properly notified. But at the prospect of being handed off to strangers, Elle only clings harder onto Maya and starts to cry again.
"C-Can Mariavera stay…?" She casts her watery eyes up at Maya, and Maya's heart breaks. She pats the girl's head again.
"Of course I can, Ojou-sama."
"Eh?" Karen frowns. "But Tendo-san, we already paid for our tickets for the park!"
"It is all right," Maya smiles. "The rest of you may go enjoy your day. I do not mind waiting with the Ojou-sama until her mother comes to get her."
"Spending a day at the park inside an office?" Claudine pouts. "That doesn't sound very fun for either of you."
"Saijou-san is right," Junna agrees. "We don't know when we'll be able to do something like this again."
"But Elle-chan's already so attached to Maya-chan," Nana says. "And we can't just leave her by herself to wait…"
A brief silence falls over those involved, while the rest of the park continues on in blissful unawareness. Elle continues hiding behind Maya, and at some point she'd managed to grab hold of her hand and is clutching to it now. At last, Claudine speaks up.
"Well then," she says. "We all paid to be here, right? Or in Elle-chan's case her maman paid for her. So we can't have any of us just sitting around doing nothing all day."
Maya looks to her in surprise.
"What are you suggesting, Saijou-san?"
Claudine smirks. "We take her with us to enjoy the park, of course!"
"Oh!" Nana claps. "I think that's a great idea!"
"Yes!" Mahiru agrees. "So Elle-chan can still have some fun today!"
"How's that sound?" Futaba asks the little girl.
Elle blinks up at them all, but ultimately looks at Maya again.
"I… wanna stay with Mariavera…"
"But of course," Maya answers. "You may accompany Saijou-san and myself then, if you'd like."
Elle opens her mouth a little in awe, then nods once.
"C'est bon!" Claudine turns to the woman working security. "My classmate and I will look after her until her parents are located and notified."
The woman smiles.
"Very well. May I have your cell phone number so I can contact you?"
So Claudine gives the information, and they agree that if Elle's mother isn't located by the time the girls leave at 3PM, they'll bring her back to security.
With this, the nine students and one lost little girl have their days decided.
"So we'll all be out enjoying ourselves while Kuro-han and Tendo-han are babysitting?" Kaoruko asks. "Please do show Elle-chan a good time so she is nice to us in the future."
"I envy 'em," Futaba grunts. "I'd rather be babysitting Elle than you."
"Kuro-chan, Maya-chan," Nana says. "Give us all a text if they find her parents."
"Or if you need help with anything," Junna adds.
Maya dips her head.
"We will. Thank you."
"Good luck, you guys!" Mahiru smiles.
"Have fun," Hikari says.
"Elle-chan, you're so lucky!" Karen announces. "Kuro-chan and Tendo-san are gonna show you the funnest day ever!"
And so with this, the group breaks up into its respective smaller groups to go their separate ways for the next few hours.
Maya and Claudine stand with Elle in between them and watch the others go until they're all out of sight. Then they look to one another, down at Elle, and back again.
"So…" Claudine begins. "What's first?"
"I was hoping you had a suggestion," Maya admits.
"Elle-chan?" Claudine asks pleasantly. "Do you have anything you'd like to do at the park today? What were you looking forward to the most when you came here with your maman?"
Elle blinks up at her, though she still huddles close to Maya. She thinks for a moment, opens her mouth, closes it again, and then replies.
Claudine bites her lip.
"Then that makes three of us… In any case, why don't we find a map first?"
Claudine offers Elle one of her hands, but the little girl is still clinging to Maya with everything she's got. Claudine pouts just a little and withdraws her hand.
"Tendo Maya wins again, I see…"
"My," Maya smiles. "Then would you perhaps like to hold my hand instead, Saijou-san?"
"Mechante va." Claudine struts on ahead to the large map displayed off the side of the path. "Let's see… they've got all sorts of rides here. Elle-chan, what kind of things do you like? A Ferris wheel?"
Elle peeks up from behind Maya's hip.
"Understandable," Maya nods. "Would you prefer to play any games? Perhaps Saijou-san and I can win you a prize."
Elle's lip begins to wobble.
"N-No… I just want Andrew back… I hope he's all right…"
Maya flounders for something to say as Claudine sends her a sharp glare.
"I-In any case-" Claudine says quickly. "What about the carousel? If I remember correctly they don't just have horses, but all kinds of animals. How does that sound?"
Elle sniffles a few more times before timidly looking up at her and giving a tiny, tiny nod. Claudine smiles and checks the map.
"All right. The carousel is this way." She offers her hand again, but Elle just shrinks behind Maya. Claudine sighs, and Maya smiles helplessly.
The two of them walk with Elle in between them, looking around at all the various attractions, stands, and kiosks of the park as they go. Before long they can hear a tune that is clearly linked to a carousel, light and loopy and happy. Once it's in sight, the three of them pause to take it in.
It's a fairly large ride, complete with two side-by-side rows of mounts. And as Claudine had said, horses aren't the only options. There are tigers, bears, zebras, and even dinosaurs, along with dozens of other colorful creatures sporting fancy painted-on saddles.
Maya and Claudine both glance down at their charge to find Elle wide-eyed with her mouth open a little. Glad that she seems to have forgotten her plight for the moment, the two older girls slowly move onto the line with her.
Once the current customers leave, the line moves quickly to be filled with the next round of people. Maya, Claudine and Elle are permitted to enter. Luckily the ride is for people of any age or height, so long as children are safely attended to.
Maya steps up onto the platform first, then crouches down to pick up Elle and bring her up with her. Claudine follows, and then the three of them begin walking around the platform to look at the selection of animals.
"There are so many!" Claudine exclaims. "And so well-made."
"Ojou-sama?" Maya says calmly. "Is there one that strikes your fancy?"
Elle looks all around at the different choices as they walk and gives a timid response.
"Is there a mole?"
Claudine flinches a little at the mention of such an unfavorable animal, but nonetheless she scours the selection.
"I don't think I see one of those."
"Unfortunately, neither do I," Maya frowns.
Elle's shoulders slump a little bit, and her caretakers are about to fret until the girl suddenly makes an excited little cry.
"Ah-!" She gives an exuberant tug to Maya's hand and pulls her forward while Claudine hastily follows. Elle stops in front of a yellow creature with a long neck. "This one… I like it…"
Both Maya and Claudine have to hold back expressions of contempt for the giraffe and remind themselves it's just an innocent statue.
"Very well," Maya says with a nod. "Allow me." She picks Elle up from beneath her arms and brings her up onto the saddle while Maya sits behind her, having the girl hold onto the pole at the center of the giraffe's back. Claudine sits on the animal beside them - a lion - and turns toward them.
Elle grips the pole a little shakily at first until she realizes Maya is right behind her to keep her secure. She leans back against her and gets comfortable. Maya chuckles softly, and in spite of the fact that Claudine is just a little jealous - of Maya or of Elle, she isn't entirely certain - she smiles fondly as she watches them.
After another moment or so, the ride begins to move and the music starts to play again. Lights blink to life in all different colors as the animals rise and fall.
Elle kicks her feet up and gasps in delight, marveling at the joyful display. Maya keeps one hand on the girl's shoulder, but reaches out the other across the aisle to Claudine. Claudine gives a little huff, but eventually accepts.
The two of them hold hands as their giraffe and lion continue bobbing up and down slowly. Elle finally smiles for the first time since they've met her here today, and she seems to have forgotten the fear of being separated from her mother for the moment.
They ride the carousel for several minutes, and all the while Elle keeps on smiling.
When the ride is finally over, the little girl seems to have become an entirely different person. She hops off the giraffe's back and as soon as Maya follows Elle hugs her immediately.
"That was so much fun, Mariavera!"
Though a little surprised at the girl's change in mood, Maya smiles and pats her head again.
"I am absolutely delighted to hear that, Ojou-sama."
Claudine's lion had ended up high on its pole, so Maya offers a hand to help her down. Claudine gives her a glare that says 'I can do it myself, thank you very much!' but for the sake of the child she doesn't snap the comment and just accepts the offer instead.
Once they've all stepped down off the platform, Elle is doing a little less clinging to and hiding behind Maya, and instead is holding her hand and leading the way forward a little.
"Is there more?" she asks. "Can we do more, Mariavera?"
"But of course," Maya smiles. Though she's delighted Elle is beginning to break out of her shell, she can't help but notice Claudine is looking a little dejected. Maya motions her over and puts an arm around her waist. Claudine bristles.
"Hey! Just what do you think you're-"
"Today, Saijou-san and I are acting as the Ojou-sama's caretakers, thus we should stay close together, wouldn't you agree?"
"You are so-" Claudine has to stop herself from making the usual aggravated comments. Instead she heaves a sigh. "Elle-chan? Just know Onee-chan isn't always this cranky, all right? Mariavera is just a very annoying woman when you get to know her."
Elle blinks up at Claudine, puzzled.
"Mariavera is the nicest," she says.
Claudine sputters, but holds her tongue. Maya chuckles again.
"Now then," she says. "What ride shall we look for next?"
Since Elle hadn't been bothered by and had actually enjoyed the spinning carousel, they decide to try the teacups next. Maya and Claudine sit on either side of Elle and allow her to control the wheel to spin their cup as much or as little as she likes. They lock arms behind the girl's back to ensure she's steady as the ride begins moving.
Elle doesn't touch the wheel at first and instead clings to Maya in excitement as the platform moves around in slow circles.
"Are you having fun?" Maya checks.
Elle looks up at her and nods.
"Then I am glad. And you, Saijou-san?"
Once the ride has set its pace, Elle begins turning the wheel of their cup. She spins them very slowly, squealing when the cup actually moves in accordance to her actions. She giggles, and her laughter causes the older girls to smile tenderly.
At one point, the momentum has Elle sliding and bumping into Claudine, who catches her readily.
"Oh! Are you all right?"
Elle blinks up at her and nods.
And to Claudine's delight, Elle continues hugging her for the rest of the ride.
Claudine is quietly bubbling with joy, and Maya's heart is warm at the sight of them.
When the ride is over and they all stand up to exit, Elle keeps hold of one of Maya's hands as well as one of Claudine's from now on.
"Wasn't that fun?" Claudine smiles.
"Yes!" Elle bounces up and down between them. Maya and Claudine begin swinging their arms gently with hers. "Where can we go next?" Elle wonders.
Claudine looks to her partner, who has been silent since they'd left the teacups. But she isn't worried about Maya; rather, she's very amused.
"Elle-chan?" she says sweetly. "Do you think we could pause the rides for a little while? It seems Mariavera is starting to get hungry."
Maya blushes as she's called out.
"N-Not at all-"
"Oh, please. We both know you're a glutton. If you don't eat something soon you'll keel over. So, Elle-chan, how does some lunch sound?"
Elle looks back and forth between the two of them, but frowns.
"But… I don't have any money…"
Both Maya and Claudine stop dead in their tracks as a pang shoots through their chests at the childishly-innocent comment. They quickly get to reassuring the girl.
"Please do not concern yourself, Ojou-sama."
"That's right! Onee-chan and Mariavera will pay for everything, don't you worry."
Elle's smile returns and she squeezes both their hands.
The girls make their way to the main food court area where every kind of smell imaginable floats around through the air. Everything sweet and salty and sour and fried and iced fills their lungs and begs them to give into temptation.
Claudine can tell Maya is already losing herself, so she makes sure to remain strong.
"Now then, Elle-chan. I know we're at an amusement park, and that means special treats. But we should at least keep it balanced with something nutritious, yes? Do you have any allergies?"
Elle shakes her head. "No."
"All right. Then we'll start with a healthy lunch, and we can have the sugar after. Tendo Maya, that goes for you, too."
Maya dips her head.
Maya and Elle secure a table while Claudine waits on line to order. She returns to them within a few minutes with a circular container filled with sections of fruit slices and vegetables. After passing out napkins and water bottles, Claudine opens the container and encourages Elle to choose first. The girl takes an apple slice, Maya chooses pineapple, and Claudine chooses a strawberry.
They all settle in and eat slowly. Whenever Elle gets a bit of fruit juice on her cheek, Maya leans in to gently wipe it with a napkin.
Claudine admires the sight of them; she'd always suspected Maya to be the type who was surprisingly good with children in most regards, but it's incredibly adorable to see it happening in real life.
"So, Elle-chan?" Claudine says. "Tell me about the first time you saw Mariavera onstage."
Elle perks up immediately, and her eyes go wide and sparkly.
"It was amazing! Mariavera was shining on the stage!"
As the little girl goes off excitedly rambling, Maya turns redder and redder until she's the color of the strawberry at Claudine's lips.
"You're too much," Claudine chuckles to her. "The most prestigious adults in the field sing you praises and you don't bat an eyelash, but a single child turns you to mush."
"It is different with children," Maya mumbles. "Adults want only to be impressed. But the children want nothing of the sort. To inspire even one of them to the point where I could make her smile so much…" Maya tapers off, grinning and blushing.
Seeing her so happy from making Elle so happy has Claudine's heart skipping a beat.
"I suppose you're right… You're something else, Tendo Maya."
Little by little, they pick away at the food, until only some vegetables remain. Elle seems cautious of them, so Claudine proudly picks up a carrot and pops it into her mouth. She eyes Maya to have her to the same.
"Now now, Elle-chan," she says, though her eyes pointedly remain on her partner. "We mustn't be picky. Vegetables will help us grow up strong and healthy."
Maya pouts slightly, but obeys Claudine's silent command and picks up a slice of zucchini to bite down on. After seeing Maya eat one, Elle quickly picks one up and chews it as well. Claudine makes sure they finish every last veggie before standing up to throw away the garbage.
"Very good, you two. Now then, I've got to head to the restroom, so you can choose the desserts." She gives Maya a stern look. "Just control yourself, will you?"
"But of course."
By the time Claudine finishes washing her hands, she expects to return to the picnic table to find it covered in funnel cakes and ice cream and cookies. But she's rather impressed that there is only one funnel cake present, though she is a bit miffed to find Elle with a cotton candy in each hand. As she sits back down, Claudine gives Maya a glare.
"I thought I'd said to control ourselves, hm?"
Maya bows her head in guilt.
"My apologies. She could not decide between strawberry or blueberry, therefore-"
"You're such a softie," Claudine sighs. "As long as she doesn't get a stomachache, it's fine."
So while Elle alternates between taking bites of her cotton candies, Maya and Claudine take pieces from the funnel cake. Claudine pulls out her phone to check for any calls or messages from security or their friends, but sees nothing yet.
Once they're done, Claudine ensures everyone finishes their water before they take off through the park once again. After the meal, they keep things light and easygoing for a while.
First, they find an enclosed butterfly garden, where they spend almost half an hour walking the little paths together, watching the insects and smelling the flowers.
At one point, Claudine holds out her finger for a yellow butterfly to land on. Elle claps and squeals and tries it for herself. Eventually, a little white butterfly flutters over to perch for a few seconds before flying off. She jumps up into Claudine's arms in glee, and Claudine gives her a little twirl.
Maya finds a few fallen flowers and presents one to each of them; a daisy which she tucks into Elle's hair, and a rose for Claudine. It's a highly romantic gesture, but Claudine accepts nonetheless, and they continue their walk while holding hands with Elle between them.
Next, they find a maze that stretches across a huge flat area with a castle at the front. Their mission is to make it through to the end to rescue a trapped princess.
"Well?" Claudine smiles. "What do you say, Elle-chan?"
"Let's go save her," she says. "Then we can get married."
"They certainly grow up quickly," Maya chuckles. "Saijou-san, the Ojou-sama may get married before we do."
"We aren't getting married!"
The three of them enter the maze together and begin navigating. It's quite simple and clearly designed for children, so Maya and Claudine try to let Elle lead the way.
The dead-end walls are painted with dragons or ogres. Whenever Elle shrinks away from them, Maya steps forward pretending to unsheathe and invisible sword at her hip.
"Fear not, Ojou-sama. Your knights are here to protect you."
Claudine quickly joins in and plays along.
"That's right. We shall protect you on your way to the princess. We are quite skilled with swords, in fact."
They play it up for her, giving her subtle hints when she can't figure out a path and praising her in relief when she finds the right one.
Little by little they progress through the maze until at last they come to the end, where an actress wearing a beautiful blue dress and a flower crown thanks them for rescuing her and guides them out.
As they head back into the park, Claudine gives Elle's hand a squeeze.
"She was rather pretty, wasn't she?"
"Mm," Elle nods. "But I changed my mind… I think I only want to marry Mariavera."
"Oh my," Maya smiles. "Saijou-san, it seems you have some competition."
"Haah? Since when was I a candidate? Elle-chan can have you."
"My, I never knew you to give in so easily."
"In this case my opponent is a child."
"Actually," Elle speaks up, drawing their attention. She looks to Claudine honestly. "Onee-chan, you can marry Mariavera. Mommy always tells me I have to wait a little longer to get married."
"My, my, Saijou-san," Maya grins. "It seems your opponent has forfeited. Do you accept the offer for my hand in marriage?"
But while going through the park hand-in-hand with a young child between them, they already do appear to be quite the couple.
They next come upon a small roller coaster, not one that Karen is likely begging Mahiru to go on right now, but rather one meant for families. The seats are large enough to accommodate adults and children, and the track only goes around in a wide circle with a few small hills, but nothing upside-down, backward, or fast-paced. It's more of a train ride, really.
Elle expresses interest, and her caretakers determine it shouldn't be anything that might upset any stomachs after lunchtime, so they agree.
When it's their turn, Claudine and Maya sit on the ends with Elle in the middle, and she clings to each of their arms in excitement as seatbelts are fastened.
The coaster follows the tracks at an easygoing pace, and all the other children on the ride are squealing in delight as well. Elle laughs as they climb up one of the hills and then roll down a little more quickly, feeling a blast of air. Luckily Claudine is certain to keep the daisy Maya had given Elle secure in the girl's hair.
The coaster takes them around the track several times before coming to a stop and letting everyone off. As their trio gets up, Elle is more energetic now than she's ever been.
"It was fun," she says with a lively smile.
"Very good." Maya pats her head again and Elle hugs her. She then turns around to hug Claudine too, and Claudine can't help but melt.
They walk around a bit more, admiring the gift stands and kiosks, until they hear someone calling an announcement over all the other noises and music.
"The children's fairytale story time play is about to begin!"
Naturally, the Stage Girls pick up on the word "play" and turn their heads. And even Elle turns her attention in that direction.
"A play…?" She tapers off in wonder, subconsciously squeezing their hands tighter.
Maya and Claudine share a knowing look; even though Elle isn't aware of exactly who they are or how they know her other self, they can get away with this much.
"Ojou-sama?" Maya begins. "Would you perhaps like to go watch the play?"
Elle looks back and forth between the two of them.
"Mariavera, Onee-chan… can we?"
"Bien sûr!" Claudine beams. "After all, Mariavera is a very skilled actress, as you know. She loves the stage, as do I. And since you've seen her play, I know that means you're a fan of theatre too, Elle-chan."
Elle just nods again and again, her eyes shimmering more and more.
So they bring her toward the children's story time area, where little benches are set up in front of a small stage decorated with flowers and plants. A banner draped in the background reads "Fairyland Stories," and the set is painted with trees and butterflies.
They find seats near the center as other families fill in around them, all with eager, squealing children. Maya and Claudine each keep a hand on Elle's back, sharing an amused smile with one another over the girl's head.
A few minutes later, the play begins.
The story is about a fairy princess who is searching for her childhood friend, a human girl who was forced to move far away. The fairy goes through many forests and towns looking for her. She asks a fox who tries to trick her, then a boy who tries to capture her.
The woman narrating the fairy's plight makes a grand story of things with her tone and inflection, which Maya and Claudine can tell is exaggerated for the sake of helping the children understand the emotions. They take mental notes on the performance, as is only natural of them being Stage Girls themselves, while Elle is fully immersed in the story.
And then, as the play is nearing its conclusion, the narrator suddenly changes the pace of the story.
"As it would turn out," the woman says. "The fairy princess' long-lost friend was right beside her all along, in the very town that bordered the forest the fairy had been searching from!"
The crowd gasps in awe, and the young actress of the princess smiles and opens her arms in joy.
"My friend! She was beside me the whole time!"
"Everyone," says the narrator. "Who is the fairy princess' long-lost friend? May we please have a volunteer from the audience to come up onstage?"
At this, a soft chatter breaks out amongst the crowd. Claudine and Maya share a glance, then look to Elle who has grown quiet and still.
They're thinking similar things; how the teenage Elle had once told them she couldn't join them on their ReLive stages because in reality she was too young to be a proper Stage Girl.
But this… this could be a segue, the first step into getting little Elle to become a part of their world - the world of the stage.
Claudine gives Maya a cautious tilt of her head; they don't know what this might start if they allow it to happen. If this could truly be Elle's first time onstage, how might it influence her future career, or how might it affect her the next time they encountered her on the giraffe's stage? She can tell Maya is having similar queries in her own mind.
But when they both look once more to the little girl bursting at the seams with silent excitement, both older girls smile and know their answer. Claudine gives the girl a nudge, and Maya prompts her.
"Ojou-sama? Why don't you raise your hand?"
"Eh…?" Elle looks up at her, then to Claudine, and back again. "Can I?"
"Of course. You love the stage, do you not?"
"Yes…" She looks again to Claudine, who smiles and gives her a pat on the head.
A big smile breaks out across Elle's face as she raises her hand high. The narrator is humming to herself as she searches the crowd, then lays eyes on her.
"Ah! There! Please come on up, little princess!"
Elle gasps and jumps to her feet, while Maya and Claudine encourage her with pats on the back. Timidly, Elle makes her way up the aisle and to the stage, where the woman helps her up. She guides her to stand beside the actress who had played the fairy princess and spreads her arms wide.
"And at last! The fairy princess found her long-lost childhood friend! And they all lived happily ever after!"
The actress takes Elle by the hand and brings her to center-stage for all to see. Everyone cheers and applauds, but no one as much as Maya and Claudine do.
They can see the wonder in the girl's eyes, that astounded, elated feeling of standing onstage for the first time in front of a roaring crowd. Even though she had only been a guest appearance with no lines or actions, there was still something to be said for her being chosen out of all the others. She had been selected to stand upon the stage for the very first time here today.
Maya and Claudine stand up to applause as the actors of the play have Elle take a bow with them.
When the show is over, they go up to the stage to collect her and are offered a photo with the cast. Though they're hesitant being that they aren't actually related to her, Elle insists on the photo.
So the three of them and the actors of the play get their photo taken, and all three girls are given a copy. Elle tucks hers away in her dress pocket for safekeeping, and Claudine folds hers into her wallet. Maya, however, marvels at hers for a while.
"My," she says dreamily. "It feels like a family photo, wouldn't you agree, Saijou-san?"
"We're not her parents, you know… And speaking of…" She pulls out her phone to find no new calls or messages, and it's already 2PM. She sighs. "We should probably start heading back soon…" she says quietly, so as not to upset Elle.
Maya's shoulders slump.
"What a shame. I was very much enjoying our time together with our little one."
"She isn't ours!" Claudine snaps. "Might I remind you we're technically committing a crime right now?"
"I disagree," Maya says. "We are acquainted with her after all, therefore it isn't as though we are total strangers."
"Her mother doesn't know that!" Claudine hisses. "She doesn't know about the revues!"
"Ah. You may have a point…"
Elle is standing a foot or so away from them, gazing up at the stage and set as the cast begins preparing for their next show. Claudine sighs again.
"What have we done…"
"Surely only inspired her imagination further."
"Which may be good or bad for us in the coming days…"
"We shall surely find out soon enough."
They let Elle gaze at the stage for a moment longer before taking her hands again and gently coaxing her away.
"Ojou-sama?" Maya says kindly. "It's about time we head back to wait for your mother."
"That's right," Claudine says. "Would you like anything else to eat, or some water before we go?"
Elle shakes her had.
"No…" She lets out a little yawn and rubs her eyes. Claudine and Maya smile.
"It must've been a long day for our Ojou-sama."
"Let's get you back now."
They begin their walk back, going a little slowly to compensate for Elle's sleepy pace. But not five minutes later, the little girl stumbles between them, and they both have to hold her up. Elle yawns again, and Maya takes it upon herself to lift the girl into her arms to let her rest against her shoulder.
She and Claudine walk quietly for a few minutes, casting fond smiles at her. Then, Maya pauses briefly, catching Claudine's attention.
"Hey, Tendo Maya…?" Claudine follows her partner's gaze to a Ferris wheel not far away. Maya shakes her head.
"No… Ojou-sama had said she doesn't care for heights."
"She's asleep," Claudine reasons. "And the line isn't long. If you want to do one thing for yourself today, I think you deserve it, Tendo Maya." Claudine puts a hand on the small of Maya's back and gives her a light push forward. "Come on."
They only wait a minute on line before getting their carriage. Maya sits on one seat with the sleeping Elle in her lap, and Claudine sits across from them.
The door closes and they slowly begin to ascend over the park. Claudine checks to ensure Elle is really out cold before speaking softly.
"Hey, Tendo Maya. Are you feeling all right?"
Maya blinks in surprise.
"Never better. Why do you ask?"
Claudine shuffles her feet a little.
"It's just… Elle… she knew you previously from a play… and now she's met you here again today. I just… don't want anything to happen like before…" It pains her to recall the time Maya had disappeared and nearly been erased. She flinches at the memory and has to look away.
Maya softens, keeping Elle in one arm and reaching for Claudine with the other, resting her hand on her knee.
"I will be fine, Saijou-san. I can't imagine anything of the sort happening a second time. And even if it did, I know you would come to my rescue once more."
"Mechante… don't make me go through that again."
They reach the top, and the colors and sights of the park below and the sky above surround them in a tranquil silence. Claudine slowly shifts over to sit on Maya's other side instead, resting her head on her shoulder. Maya tenderly wraps an arm around her and keeps her close.
They both close their eyes and rest for a moment on the way down and for the next few cycles until it's finally their turn to step off.
At that point, Maya picks up Elle again, and they head for the entrance of the park where they'd planned to meet up with the others. And just as they're a few minutes away, Claudine feels her phone buzzing. She answers promptly.
"Hello? …Yes. Yes, of course. We're on our way right now. Thank you."
Maya gives her a hopeful look, and Claudine nods.
They hurry the rest of the way back to where they'd started all this today, finding that all of their other friends have already arrived.
"Ah!" Nana calls out. "Here they come!"
Beside them, Claudine and Maya see several staff workers, as well as the guard who had called Claudine on her cell phone. And amongst them all is a frazzled woman holding a plushie of a green mole, pale from distress and relief when she spots her daughter in Maya's arms.
As her mother rushes forward, Maya nudges the girl awake and transfers her over. Elle wakes with a squeal.
"Oh, Elle! I was so worried!"
The woman begins to sob apologies to her daughter for losing sight of her, then immediately turns to Maya and Claudine.
"Thank you both so much… I was beside myself…"
"It was no trouble at all," Claudine assures her.
"Yes," Maya nods. "We simply wanted to allow her to have a fun day in spite of the situation."
"Did you?" Elle's mother asks her, still cradling her in her arms. "Did you have fun with your Onee-chans?"
Elle, who is now clinging half to her mother and half to Andrew, nods.
"Yeah! We went on so many rides and we ate cotton candy. Ah, but we ate vegetables, too. And we saw a play! Mommy look-" Elle pulls out her photo to show her mother. "I got to stand onstage for the first time ever! I was a Stage Girl!"
"My… you certainly were… Even if Mommy was getting gray hairs, that sounds like a wonderful day you had."
"Yeah!" Elle hugs her mother's neck again, and her mother hugs her tighter.
"Thank you again," she says to Claudine and Maya. Her gaze lingers on Maya for a moment. "You… pardon me, but have I seen you before?"
"Mommy!" Elle says. "She's Mariavera!"
"Oh my! So she is," the woman gasps. "And I met you at the mall once when Elle had wandered off… It seems we just keep running into you."
Maya bows slightly.
"It is my pleasure to keep meeting with your talented daughter," she says. "Though next time I hope it can be under less stressful circumstances."
"Yes, I agree."
A few more minutes pass of Elle's mother thanking them and offering any kind of token of gratitude, but Maya and Claudine politely decline it all. At last, they wish Elle goodbye, if only for now.
"Perhaps we shall meet again someday," Maya waves.
"Oui!" Claudine smiles. "Stage Girl Elle-chan!"
Elle waves to them both and then to the rest of the girls before her mother walks off with her out of sight.
Now, the nine girls share a look, but decide to discuss things once they're in private.
They exit the park, then wait until they're on a quiet sidewalk on the way to the bus stop before they start bombarding Maya and Claudine with questions.
"How was it?"
"Did anything happen?"
"No Korosu popped out somehow, right?"
"Do you think this will affect our next ReLive somehow…?"
As they all walk to the bus stop and wait for their ride, Claudine and Maya reassure everyone that the day was a success for Elle, and that they all had a great deal of fun. Everyone is relieved and hopeful that nothing odd will happen because of it, and they all begin sharing about their day at the park.
By the time the bus finally arrives, everyone is a little tired out. Nana and Junna chat quietly about what to make for dinner, Karen, Hikari, and Mahiru play games on their phones together, and Kaoruko and Futaba listen to music together.
As for Maya and Claudine, their day babysitting has caught up to them. Claudine is struggling to keep her eyes open, so Maya gently wraps an arm around her and invites her to rest her head once again. Claudine relents, pressing close.
"What a strange day…"
"Strange indeed," Maya agrees, resting her head softly on top of Claudine's. "But still enjoyable, yes?"
"It was like a sneak peak into our potential future together."
Claudine huffs and Maya chuckles.
And just a few seconds later, both girls are dozing off cuddled close together, dreaming of a stage they have yet to stand upon.
A/N: This was such a fun one! Not specifically romantic, but they were pretty much married with a child anyway; the sort of thing I could see happening in canon. Claudine being jealous of Maya cuz Elle only likes her at first but also being secretly jealous of Elle for taking Maya's attention.
And yeah, I tried to justify this borderline-kidnapping as best I could ahah. They know her! Maya's met her mom! It's fine... (Also sorry if the amusement park was too Americanized, especially the food. But we needed to have Claudine being the healthy mom while Maya is the mom who spoils their kid secretly with extra sugary stuff).
When 0mn said 'amusement park' I knew right from the start I wanted to add in a children's stage play for this to explore the possibility of Elle's first time on stage being witnessed by Maya and Claudine. I just think it'd be so precious. (Also it's sort of based off personal experience cuz when I was super young I got chosen to go onstage to play a part in a fairytale play, though I was a dog... but I digress lol)
I hope you enjoyed! Please review!