Triela's day had been perfect right up to the moment where the bloodcurdling howl nearly launched her out of her clothes and skin.
An Admissions Spin-Off... Sort Of...
Sheo Darren doesn't own Gunslinger Girl.
The Princess' Day Off
That beautiful morning, she awoke to gentle sunlight and the pleasant melodies of songbirds drifting in through the wide-open windows. No uneasy visions of an erotically-inclined Hilshire. No inner forest fire that was her period. Certainly no Claes moving about the room like an earthquake to ruin her nine-hour beauty sleep.
The long, unbroken, disturbance-free rest energized her. Triela felt as strong as all the mechanical bodies in the world.
Bring on all of Padania and the Mafia and Amalgam and even that Crazy Horse that the Americans are so worked up about. I'll take them on!
Unlike Claes, who briefly showered in the morning to freshen up and set serious washing for later, Triela bathed twice, early, regularly, thoroughly and whenever she could. Today was no exception. She splurged on a long and splendid soak in soapy water for nearly half an hour before rinsing off under the shower. A thin layer of baby oil gave her olive-tanned skin a positively youthful glow.
She drew her dresser wide open. There was no question as to what she would wear. The turquoise spaghetti strap dress stood out in a space filled with matching sets of starkly masculine shirts, dark pants and dapper coats. She grinned.
Beware, all ye Sons of Deutschland of stolid sensibilities and absent humor…
For extra effect, she slipped on white women's gloves, her only shoulder purse and delicate leather sandals. She was in no hurry. Looking good was paramount. Today's imperative: make a lasting impression on Hilshire.
The compact world of the Social Welfare Service and its population contributed to her good mood. No one bothered her for advice or assistance. Henrietta was out shopping with Mireille– and if there was anyone who could handle anything, it was the Corsican marvel. Claes took on her garden by herself (a small miracle, Triela might jokingly add, her roommate being prone to dragooning the first poor soul she ran across into temporary servitude). Rico and Angie were also busy. And so on. Her day was blessedly uncluttered.
Yesterday's mission was just as hassle-free. No need to move like greased lightning, block bullets with her forearms arm or empty shotgun slugs into some recalcitrant pistol-packing terrorist. She didn't even need a gun. The Padania informer took one look at her before promptly pissing in his pants. The criminal underworld was now quite leery of adolescent girls. So, no need to drop by Dr. Bianchi's for repairs that would eventually (and ironically) kill her in the end.
Best of all, she and Hilshire got along marvelously.
Priscilla once put Hilshire's behavior around Triela as that of a man who was trying to get to know a potential girlfriend better. Triela happened to be within extreme hearing range. The result was unmitigated disaster for the unsuspecting Hilshire. Already at odds with her handler due to their distinctively incompatible personalities (she was willful while he was a dork), Triela now unleashed a barrage of witty antics custom-tailored to needle one particular German bulldog. It was no contest.
Then that Padania assassin changed everything. In the midst of a life-and-death duel, Triela discovered emotions and realizations she'd never before thought she had. Rage that the pistol Hilshire gave her had been stolen and was being used against her. Shame that she had to be rescued by her handler. Determination to make it up to him. And in the graveyard silence that followed Pinocchio's termination, she lay content upon Hilshire's broad chest.
Close after that catharsis came a long series of dreams involving herself and Hilshire in disturbingly fond scenarios: having dinner dates at hotels, kissing passionately, confessions of true love and pleas for marriage. A lively psychotherapeutic conference with Claes dragged the kicking, screaming truth out of her.
Triela cared for Hilshire. He was important to her. She wanted his attention and favor and love.
She loved him.
At first she had vociferously and vigorously denied the existence of such feelings. Triela wasn't interested in the role of laughingstock of Section Two. Not over some drab dunce like Hilshire. She wasn't head-over-heels Henrietta, soak-it-all-up-like-a-sponge Rico, Marco-Marco-look-at-me Angelica, ooh-Sandro Petra, "…" Beatrice or (however unkind the admittedly apt appellation was) be-my-Valentine-or-Elsa. And while she would admit to having feelings for her handler– "We're conditioned to do so," she had told Fermi– she vehemently denied any romantic interest.
But after comparing herself to Claes, who lacked a handler; and following a heartfelt talk with Angelica, who once lost her handler (and even now was losing Marco yet again through no fault of anyone involved), and through a brief nightmare concerning poor, poor Elsa asking for deliverance from an unhappy, unrequited, undead love…
Triela realized that she was lucky to have a handler. A handler who was a good man. Who honestly cared for her.
Who loved her.
Everything fell into place after that. She smiled more often at him. Did what he requested of her if it was reasonable and within her capabilities. Hung on his every other word. Tried her best to love him for who he was– and found out to her everlasting wonder that the "task" wasn't as difficult as she had always told herself. Or as unpleasant as she'd always made it out to be. No, no, it was actually fun.
His response was encouraging. Okay, frankly, a smile suited his face the way a Rottweiler looked on a lawyer. (All right, maybe it was unfair to the Rottweiler. And perhaps to the lawyer, too. But lawyers were nasty, nasty critters who needed to be taken down hard.) And she would break his hand before she'd let him ruffle her hair. Who did he think she was? Henrietta?
And he wasn't half as handsome as, say, Marco. And that was saying a lot. At least Marco had a girlfriend. Who wore corrective eyeglasses. Which raised questions about her eyesight and her taste. 'Nuff said.
But Hilshire did better than his best. When Triela lost her temper and challenged him to rebuke her or hit her or up her conditioning, he only stared at her in the most neutral manner he could summon, until she ended up blushing and apologizing. He didn't completely turn a blind eye to her prancing about in a rather slinky dress; rather, he acted appreciative– ogling out of the corner of his eyes, hiding his definitely wrong interest behind a wall of pretended disinterest.
And he had finally stopped buying her teddy bears and suits. Triela could not believe the day he gave her a nightie. A grey nightie? True. A bribe in exchange for her pictures of Farmer Claes? Definitely. But it was indisputably the cutest apparel in her possession, beating her sole pair of pajamas by a good margin.
The change in their relations showed. Their team chemistry was superb. They seemed able to instantly read each other's mind, anticipate what the other needed, and automatically compensate for the other's sake and comfort. Their sterling teamwork rivaled even Henrietta and Mireille's locally-legendary oneness.
Sure, Triela kept to her taunts and teasing. They were integral parts of her personality. Not to mention lots of fun. But Hilshire had learned to tolerate her mischievous demonstrations. He even seemed to have learned to enjoy them. He certainly didn't mind the dress. One of these days, if he kept this good humor up, Triela decided she might actually learn to be openly affectionate to him.
Priscilla joked that the end of the world must be coming to an end for that to happen.
Triela and Hilshire startled the intelligence specialist by laughing out loud and in unison. It really was scary. Even to those who knew better.
And so she basked in the sheer wonder of the splendid day–
"What the hell is this trash?"
–until the vitriolic exclamation from the room next to her hit home in much the same way her M1897 Trench Shotgun spoke its mind to PRF and Mafiosi.
The yeller sounded like Claes. Which meant it could not be Claes. Triela's roommate and best friend did not scream out her frustrations like some common human being. No. Claes evilly plotted behind the shadows to bring down the source of her displeasure. Triela knew this well, having made the mistake of crossing her once over a set of silly photographs. The resulting low-intensity conflict had marked Triela's psyche rather indelibly, despite brainwashing drugs and deliberate attempts to forget.
So, bearing in mind that past ordeal, storming the room was the sign of either her extremely strong friendship with Claes or a hidden masochistic thirst for further psychological trauma at the clever hands of her devious roommate.
Triela found her dark-haired best friend staring the desktop computer in a very familiar-looking shirt and pants.
"Claes! What's the problem?"
At last Claes craned her head around to look at her– and then recoiled like Dracula to the cross. Triela wondered if there was some sort of horrible mark or disfiguration on her face– like, say, a red pimple dot painted by a laser pointer mounted on a sniper rifle, or a rash from a highly-infectious and deadly disease.
"Speak of the devil," Claes murmured in shock.
A tanned brow wrinkled at the offered ingratitude. "Excuse me? What was that, bookworm?" Triela demanded.
Her counter-moniker brought Claes out of her dazed funk. "Sorry, Triela... You were the last person I wanted to see."
"Strange. You seem to be the only one with that opinion. For one, Hilshire absolutely loves my looks." Then she noticed Claes' clothes. "Is that my shirt?"
"And are those my pants?"
"Why are you wearing my clothes?"
"I didn't have any at hand at the moment. I asked Beatrice to get me some clothes. She brought these."
"Wow." The blond shook her head in wry amusement. "I suppose I should be thankful you're not wearing my underwear…"
Pale Scandinavian cheeks colored.
"You're wearing my underwear?" Triela demanded.
"You do know I can use this against you…"
"Can we set that aside for later?" was the rather flinty request.
"For later, then." Triela smirked over her minor victory. She looked over the LCD screen. "So what's with the monitor? Bad pixel or something?"
Violet eyes flickered towards the computer screen. "It's not important…"
"Claes, I have known you forever. And in all that time, you have never yelled. You slap people to provoke them into traumatically remembering their forgotten pasts, you practically hiss like a snake from Egypt–" the clever simile courtesy the poem Metamorphosis by Christopher Smart, one of Hilshire's English reading homework "–but you never yell. So anything that gets you riled up like that cannot be 'not important'."
Claes actually smiled a little. "Very well," she allowed. Her right hand gestured to the screen of her computer. "Read it," she ordered.
"Okay, okay." Triela moved over to the desktop PC and primly sat herself, making sure that her dress did not catch on anything. "Admissions by Sheo Darren. Is this another one of your porn novellas?"
"You're pointier than Hilshire Mk Ein."
"Fine, fine, Fraulein Freda. I am at your eternal command."
A tanned face turned pale as the blood drained rapidly from it with every single line her suddenly-oxygen-deprived brain took in. Unlike Claes, she did not read in silence, but mouthed aloud every word she eyed, vocalizing louder and louder as embarrassment and then disgusted indignation shoved aside her initial shock.
"This is… this is…"
The kicker was that the last, climactic ululation was supposedly hers. Triela gargled.
"Well?" Claes demanded.
Triela displayed her excellent command of English, German, French and Dutch by cussing nonstop for five minutes without repeating a single swear word. She ended with "He's dead! This Sheo Darren guy is dead!"
"My sentiments exactly," Claes agreed. "We'll need help in cracking this case."
"I know where to get it," Triela growled.
Thus did doom happen upon one Victor Hartman when least he expected it.
To Be Continued/Tsuzuku/Itutuloy
Author's Note: Sometimes I wish to travel back in time and punch the younger me for being a moron. Then I go over this and find it in my corroded parody of a beating heart to forgive Past Sheo for having a working heart and warm blood.
Crazy Horse is one of the many epithets of Jeremy Colt, the original character of Person With Many Aliases, a good chap whose works you should read and review.
The third chapter will take a while to complete due to my busy schedule in real life. Hilshire, your suffering is on standby. I might even finish Snow Claes first. And wouldn't that be something?
Thanks to all who read this.