Disclaimer: Sheo Darren does not own Gunslinger Girl. Rolito Miranda is his original creation.
Elsa listlessly shambled after her handler. Her vision, so sharp, now seemed distorted, as if she was a goldfish peering at the vast, waterless expanse just outside the curvature of its bowl.
I shamed Sensei. I humiliated him in front of other people.
She blamed that other girl, Triela, for being so bloody-minded. She also heaped responsibility on Triela's handler for not, well, handling his ward.
But most of all she blamed herself.
I don't deserve him. He doesn't deserve the likes of me.
Incapable of ignoring him, she faced his–
"Are you okay?"
"You look like you got cut on the lip," Rolito murmured. "Let me look at your mouth."
She raised her chin. Immediately she wished she hadn't. Seeing her handler wincing made her wince sympathetically.
"Damn… Triela decks helluva hard. I really pity Hilshire. He's got a real virago on his hands."
Again Elsa silently cursed Triela for being the object of what sounded like slight praise thinly disguised as damnation. Rolito was her handler! How dare that- that virago (to quote her Sensei) try to steal him from her? Rolito was Elsa's and Elsa's alone. All half-Dutch, half-Algerians should get knifed by a sociopathic assassin. Or psy-warred by their bespectacled roommate over a photograph.
"Does it hurt?"
Now that she had his full attention once more, she fidgeted. "No…"
"It looks like it's going to swell."
Elsa caught her breath. Sensei isn't mad at me, she realized. He's mad at my injury.
"Since the ounce of prevention failed, it's time for the pound of cure." Rolito took her hand. She found comfort in those strong, calloused fingers clasping hers. "Come on, Elsa. Let's have Doc Bianchi fix you up."
"I'm fine, Sensei!"
Again she held her breath. Her denial startled her as much as it did her handler. "I'm fine," Elsa lamely repeated. "This is nothing…"
"You're not fine. You're a cyborg. You don't heal the same way as people do. I'm not an expert, but you might need some surgery on that."
By now she knew his frown to be that of worry and not anger. But she persisted. "If we go to the doctor, he'll ask how I got injured." Seeing she'd gotten to Rolito, Elsa continued to plead. "If he heard that I fought with another cyborg, you would get into trouble because of me."
"What, you want him to think that I hit you?" was his incredulous retort.
"No! You'd never do that, Sensei! It's just…"
"Elsa." Rolito's tone brooked no dissent. "We're going to Doctor Bianchi. And if he asks what happened, we will tell him the truth. And if that means I get into trouble," and the iron severity in his brow hardened into steel. "I've been in trouble before. I can survive this." But then his gaze softened, warmed, as he regarded her fondly. "But what I cannot accept is that you suffer. You come first before anything or anyone else. Do you understand?"
Even as she meekly submitted to his request, Elsa felt pride refilling her chest.
He worries for me. I am important to him.
"Next time," and the tips of Rolito's mouth slightly curled upwards. "Dodge or block. And don't head-butt unless you have no other choice. It's not tactically sound. You run the risk of concussing yourself along with the enemy."
"I will, Sensei!"
I won't let you down, Rolito. I'll never let you down again. I swear.
Before that happens, I'll kill myself first.
If looks could kill, both Elsa and Triela would have been goners the moment they spotted each other.
Elsa was more than willing to make up for her glare's lack of lethality by charging Triela for Round Two. But Rolito's fingers closed tight upon her hands just as she was about to bolt forward.
"Hi, Triela. Hello, Hilshire." He smiled at them. "I'm glad we found you. We were going to look for you after this-"
To finish this fight? Elsa eagerly hoped. Maybe Rolito did spoil for vengeance as much as her! She was sure her sensei would make mincemeat out of that useless Hilshire. Then she would show him what she could do to Triela. I'm going-
"-to apologize to you," Rolito finished.
And to Elsa's eternal horror, her Sensei bowed deeply to Hilshire and Triela.
This was not happening…
"Miss Triela, I deeply apologize for rashly grabbing Hilshire. I thought I was helping you out. But I had forgotten that he is important to you. Hilshire would never really hit you because he is a good man."
His obsequious display appalled Elsa to no end. Why was Sensei apologizing? He did nothing wrong; that Triela started it! She gulped. Is he going to make me bow, too? Madre de Dios! Please, God in Heaven, anything but that!
And then she spotted the dark dash of color cast across Triela's cheeks. If anything, Hilshire looked even more ill at ease.
"You don't have to bow," Triela mumbled. "You're an adult. Act like one."
Hilshire's scolding worked this time. "I know, Hilshire, thank you very much." Triela sighed. "I accept your apology, Mister Miranda. Please get up."
But the man remained bent. "Thank you, Miss Triela. I promise that I will think before I act the next time around. Also please do not hold a grudge against Elsa. She was only protecting me from the consequences of my rash action."
"I'm not angry at her, Mr. Miranda. I understand why she did it. I did just the same. So please stop bowing…"
"She is a good girl," Rolito insisted.
"She is," Triela agreed.
"She is just shy. I'm the only one she's seen and known her."
Elsa was now trying hard not to smirk.
"That is why I would like to ask you to become her friend," Rolito continued.
Not even that dampened her cheer. Not even Triela hastily agreeing to do so ruined her mood.
"Now, Elsa, why don't you and Triela hug?"
That, however, killed the moment deader than dodos.
"But unless you two hug, I can't be sure that you've forgiven each other." And Rolito said it so glibly, too.
"Are you making fun of us?" Triela demanded.
"He is not!" Elsa shouted her down, automatically defending Rolito despite her own distress.
"Elsa," he reminded her.
"Triela," Hilshire muttered to his own ward.
"Yes, Sensei," Elsa mumbled.
"Yes, Hilshire," Triela likewise muttered under her breath.
And so the Spanish girl and her rival blonde put their arms around each other most gingerly, as if afraid of contracting cooties or the like.
"Don't get any ideas," Elsa grumped. "I'm only doing this because Sensei asked me to."
"He's making fun of you," Triela pointed out sourly.
"He is not."
"He is, too."
Elsa's retort was to tighten her embrace into a bear hug. And Triela, despite knowing better, pettily retaliated with one of her own. They were soon grimacing as they stepped on each other's feet as well.
"Aren't they cute?" the apparently oblivious Rolito gushed to Hilshire.
The two girls' glares heterodyned together into a stare that could have gone through a mountain. It certainly penetrated into the thick skull of their target.
"Fifth Amendment," Hilshire passed.
"You have no romance in your heart, Hilshire," Rolito chuckled.
Elsa and Triela shuddered together. "I hate to say this," Elsa groaned, "But you're right. Sensei is teasing us."
"I wish I wasn't," Triela sighed.
Elsa's cut required little more than a bandage. Triela's broken nose would need some repair, though.
Rolito made Elsa apologize again. She did so without protest. A cut lip for a broken nose? It was worth it. She did not like Triela one bit. She declared as much once out of earshot of her pet peeve.
"I can't stand her, Sensei! She disrespects her handler; she acts like she knows everything…"
"You're just jealous because she got more punches in than you when you fought," Rolito chuckled.
"No, I'm not!" she protested.
"Be it as it may, Elsa, you need to learn to get along with Triela. You'll be working with her in the future."
"But I don't want to work with her." That came out almost as a whine. "I want to be with you."
"I feel the same, Elsa," he told her. "But there are times when I might not be around. I don't want you to be lonely without me."
Elsa couldn't imagine Rolito absent in her life. Such a possibility not only confused her. It terrified her. What could steal her Sensei from her?
Stopped in her tracks by that sobering thought, she saw him stop as well.
She reached out, took him by the hand and squeezed gently. "Please don't say that, Rolito," Elsa whispered in a tiny voice. "Please don't say you'll leave me. Please don't leave me…"
And then she was in his strong, warm arms.
Just to make sure he was truly there, she sank her face into his chest and breathed his scent. This way, she could hear his heartbeats. They were slower, his blood pressure lower, as if he remembered something that calmed him immensely.
"I won't abandon you, Elsa. I will never abandon you. I'm sorry I frightened you. I was just worried for you. I won't worry you that way again, I promise."
And all was right with her world.
After a while, Elsa finally agreed to try and get on Triela's good side. "I don't know about this, Sensei," she admitted, "But I'll try."
"I'm sure you'll be good friends. She's a nice girl."
"How can you say that? She treats her handler badly." In Elsa's opinion, that was a heinous crime.
"Ah, but Triela's a tsundere," Rolito averred.
"Tsundere. It's a person who treats another person coldly because he or she actually likes that other person."
That was the dumbest thing Elsa had ever heard. "Why would they do that to the person they like?" she exclaimed.
"Many reasons, Elsa. The girl –let's say it's a girl," and here Rolito was grinning. "It's usually a girl. Say, she might find it difficult show that she likes a boy. She might not know how to show her affection. She might not want people to know that she likes him, but at the same time she wants to show that they are close."
Elsa's pretty brow furrowed as she thought it over. "Then… that means…"
"That's correct," Rolito confirmed.
"That means Triela is in love with me?" Elsa exclaimed.
"Exactly!" Only then did Rolito realize his glaring gaffe. "Wait, what was that?"
"That's disgusting!" She wanted to throw up. Or find Triela and beat her up. "I knew there was something wrong with that girl!"
"Just wait a minute, Elsa! You got it wrong! It's not you Triela likes!"
"I do?" Her expression soured even more. "What, do you mean Triela likes you, Sensei?
"I'm really going to kill her," Elsa vowed.
"So Triela actually likes Hilshire?" the massively relieved Elsa summarized.
"She's a Grade A tsundere," Rolito confirmed. They had both calmed down now and were enjoying themselves at Triela's expense. "She treats him coldly because she wants him to always be apologizing to her."
"He's kuudere. He's outwardly cool to her, but deep inside, he wants to hug her to his broad chest."
"How is it that you can hug me but Hilshire can't?" Elsa pointed out.
"That's because I'm AWS-9M Awesome and Hilshire isn't," was his lofty answer.
"As in an eighty ton Assault Mech's worth of awesome."
By now she knew he was pulling her leg. And that led to…
"Sensei, did you deliberately go overboard when you were apologizing to them?"
"You could never take me to court, Elsa," he told her in a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth tone.
Elsa grinned. Her Sensei was awesome, indeed.
To be Continued