An introspective piece of Henrietta transitioning from our oh-so lovable little girl into something fractured and jaded.
The crossover aspect is so inconsequential with this one chapter alone that I nearly only categorized the fic under Gunslinger Girl.
I don't remember my birth date. I don't care to remember, and I don't want to remember. It doesn't matter now and it didn't matter then; after all, I had Mr. Jose to think about. Mr. Jose to work with, Mr. Jose to teach me, Mr. Jose to care for, Mr. Jose to protect wholeheartedly, Mr. Jose to love.
Mr. Jose to love.
But I do remember that I was very fond of my first birthday. I don't mean the day I was born. If you were to ask me about it, I would say that was merely a prelude to my real life, as I knew it then. My life from before was nothing more than a deluge of hazy familiarity but one that I ignored. But even now…I don't know what that prelude really was like.
My true birthday was the day I first opened my eyes to this world of blood and smoke and saw my older brother, protector, mentor for the first time as he inquired to my health and laid my first gun on my bed sheets.
It scared me that I knew immediately what to do with such a thing.
Henrietta, he had called me. Henrietta, my name. It's still my name to this day. Henrietta…Henrietta…Henrietta—
It had been a nice quiet celebration of my arrival day, my birth day. Mr. Jose, I recalled quite clearly, had saved his gift giving until last, at the most cruelest possible moment, until I wriggled in my seat with all the impatience of a supposedly remorseless, emotionless gunslinger girl.
I sat there calmly, quietly, knowing my older brother too well. Far too well to be put off by his sudden aloofness and restraint with compliments, smiles, and those ilk—and were those secretive glances of mischievousness thrown my way?
He waited until everyone had left the party. Somehow, I knew he would. In the throes of my eagerness, impatience, and anticipation, all the other girls streamed into a foggy din of chatter and murmurs and inconsequential things. They didn't matter. Only Mr. Jose did. Only Mr. Jose did when he approached my seated form and held out those two warm hands.
That hastily wrapped bundle was altogether adorable, and though I knew it foolish, as I blushed prettily I unwrapped the gift as if there was gold to be found underneath.
It was not gold. Gold was useless. What Mr. Jose gave me that night was…incomparable.
"…Henrietta? Why are you—?"
I realized that I was crying and I rushed to stop myself. Yet the tears kept coming. Why did they keep coming? I couldn't stop crying. Why couldn't I?
"It's b-because," I had sobbed, I clearly remember now, "Mr. Jose is so kind to me."
He only smiled and held my hands and waited for me to stop.
Mr. Jose was terribly ill on my next birthday. Voice so hoarse, he apologized to me so many times as I sat with him in that nondescript hospital room. Was his voice so hoarse with sickness…or with regret?
I assured him it was alright, that everything was okay, and that his abrupt absence did not ruin the day. My day. I told him that just seeing him safe and alive was a present far too precious, too cherish, for the likes of me. He fell silent at that and let my ten-year-old hands clasp one of his own. Night fell and still I would not leave. I was so exhausted from my worry, from my stress, that I fell asleep at his bedside. After I had sworn to guard him.
He pretended not to notice, not when he knew my greatest joy at the time would be to be at his side through the night. I rested fitfully with Mr. Jose's hand resting on my head, that soothing warm seeping through my hair. Though he knew I expected no gift from him, nor wanted one—not when news of his improving welfare was enough for me—he still managed to rummage up something. An apology gift, when no party was injured, he gave to me.
A cute little toy, all soft and fluff inside and out with all the charm that only a teddy bear could possess. He'd once asked me before if I'd like a soft, plush toy, like Triela's frequent Christmas presents from Mr. Hilsher, but I'd responded that I'd like his presence much, much more. He must have still seen the gleam of happiness, though, in my eyes.
I was a very starved child back then.
He promised me his present for me next year would not be so impromptu and hastily prepared and that it would be sure to make me very, very happy.
Even when still recovering from a near fatal mission Mr. Jose thought of me. Thought of only me…I waited eagerly for the next year. I waited with baited breath. I waited…with all the joy of a little girl with her beaming, smiling face.
And when I turned eleven, Mr. Jose gifted me with his death.
I was, as you can imagine, quite shocked. Too shocked.
They say that once a machine body claims one as her's…she can never ever choose another. They say that once the older brother's died, the fratello's broken in two, and that the machine body was useless, unusable, expendable.
I had become useless. Unusable. Expendable. Not to the Agency, in my mind, but to myself. I'd failed Mr. Jose. I'd failed that mission. I'd failed…to save him.
They say that once a fratello is broken, with the remaining machine body's mind shattered irrevocably, that she's become useless, unusable, expendable.
Whereas Claes had completely shut down, I'd immediately rose in fury as my denial washed over me and turned its enormous rage on every single person around me.
Why is he DEAD! I had screamed. THEY SAID HE WAS FINE—THAT HE WAS JUST FINE!
Consequently, I hated liars. Abhorred them.
It was then, only then, that I just—stopped. Fell down to the floor, body and mind broken, eyes staring mindlessly up at that blank, slate, blank ceiling, and I thought ludicrously, inanely, "He's never broken a promise before..."
Mr. Jose was a very reliable man. If he said he would do something he would have done it. If he told you he would do this for you he would have done it. And if he said that when your next birth day came, that upcoming cherished personal day that he would be there to give you your dAMn gift and smile at you and laugh and say, "Oh, Henrietta, didn't I tell you that you'd love your present?" all after you'd look up at him with shining eyes having just seen what he'd given you and you'd go, "Yes, Mr. Jose. I love I-I-I-i-i-t-tittt-ttitttyouyouyyouLoveyouJoseIloveyOu, I LOVE YOU." wouldn't you know in your heart that he would be alive to do all this?
He didn't really die. He couldn't have died. He's Jose. He was my rock, my foundation—my raison d'être—of course he couldn't have dIEd.
After being locked away for several hours on end, which strangely felt like days, I was finally carted off to be redone. They grew sick of me, apparently. And yet they still saw a bit of worth left in me, after all. Not when I could still kill so ferociously.
I had the rather vague thought that I'd be put down like a lame animal. I'd have preferred that, you know. I'd have wanted to see Mr. Jose again soon. I rather liked that idea.
But I would be conditioned again. If I had my mental conditioning done again, with all the new advances in the conditioned mental response project, and without Mr. Jose to stop them from destroying my mind, my very essence, then whose to say that, oh, maybe I'll forget all my memories?
I thought they'd gotten rid of that side effect long ago; obviously, I was wrong. I was very wrong. Rather than getting rid of this liability, they instead exploited and harnessed it as a tool. They even kept it from our older brothers.
A tool to keep their machines in line…? I'll never know. Was I so…bad, then? Was I a bad child, Mr. Jose?
Knowing this you must be confused: How ever did I escape this tragic fate of mine? To not end up like poor, poor Claes, who couldn't even remember her handler after she was reconditioned, experimented, and enslaved?
Simple. I Stopped them just as they did to me. Just as they did to Mr. Jose. Just as I did to anyone in my way.
And they never bothered me again. Never, ever, ever…
"What's wrong, Mr. Rock?" I said to one horrified Rokuro Okajima of the Lagoon Company. "What ever is the matter with you? Don't you want to hear how I kILLEd the men who killed Mr. Jose? I smelled of bLood and smOke that night. I smelled of retribution. And Mr. Rock…" leaning closer to the shocked Japanese man, I whispered, "I would do it all over again, again, and again. All for Mr. Jose. Jose. Jose…"
Jose. For you I'd commit those murders all over again. I'd torture and kill—all for you.
I love you.
Do you love…me?
I consider this a subtle crossover with the anime Black Lagoon. Technically this can stand as a oneshot for Gunslinger alone, but I can keep going if people want me to. I just rather liked the horrified face Rock gets when he meets children utterly stripped of their innocence.