All characters © Miwa Shirow


That Which Educes Kindness

Although Haine Rammsteiner's body was near indestructible, impervious to tearing bullets or splintering knives, it was not completely impregnable. The cold weather demonstrated this quite clearly, breezing through the thin fabric of his coat and sending a chill running down his spine. It was doing none to improve his mood.

"So?" he asked, voice somewhat muffled by a faded scarf that was doing a measly job of keeping him warm. "What do you need me for, sensei?"

The Bishop strolled past the wooden pews with a smile, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his church had no central heating system. His fair hair billowed out behind him like some silky scarf, and his breath was visible in front of him.

"Haine, will you do something for me?"

Haine scowled. "I'm here, aren't I? What is it?"

"I have to run a few errands this evening," the Bishop began, twirling his cane. "Will you read to Nill before she goes to bed? She has a slight fever, and I need to go fetch some medicine."

The albino gave the Bishop a flat look that clearly said: I don't do bedtime stories.

"Don't worry! I have some books upstairs—just read her anything—a fairy tale, or something happy with bunnies and rainbows and all."

At this Haine raised an eyebrow. "Bunnies and rainbows?" he repeated. Two words a bloodthirsty gunman wouldn't be caught dead with in his mouth. In response the Bishop gave a goofy grin and a wave of his cane. It was one of those looks where you could tell that behind those sunglasses, filmy eyes were crinkled up and laughing at him.

"Fine," Haine acquiesced, slumping his shoulders and beginning to walk down the isle.

"Oh, may God bless you, Haine-kun!" The Bishop trilled, clapping his hands together as he sauntered out of the church and into the night.

Ironically, it was then that Haine sneezed, bringing his hand up to his face instinctively to muffle the sound. Damn this cold weather to hell, he thought darkly while rubbing his nose, which had turned quite pink.

2.

The only part of Nill that he could actually see was her face, as the rest of her was buried under a mound of multicolored blankets. Her cheeks were slightly pale, with a rosy tinge dusting them. Upon Haine's entrance her eyes brightened considerably, and she sat up in her bed.

"Get back under there," Haine ordered, and with a gulp Nill snuggled quickly back under the covers.

He pulled up a rickety chair, ensconced into it, and opened the black hardcover book that he had brought along. The girl looked at him questioningly from beneath her quilts.

"I might as well read to you until sensei gets back," Haine explained, trying to keep the begrudging tone out of his voice and thumbing through the pages until he found one to his liking. Nill smiled gently and closed her eyes. Her small wings, almost the same shade as the pillow, fanned out from underneath her.

"Ah, let's see…here we are. Have you ever heard of The Little Mermaid, Nill?"

With her eyes still closed, Nill shook her head once.

Haine sighed. "Well, it was an old story, almost like a fairy tale. Children used to watch it when a man named Walt Disney once made it into a cartoon movie, around a hundred-or-so years ago." He paused to clear his throat gently. Tch. Reading bedtime stories…like some goddamn nanny. I'm really not cut out for this.

"Ahem," Haine began, as Nill pulled the blankets up to her chin. "The Little Mermaid. Um…Once upon a time, there were people who lived under the sea with fishtails instead of feet. Now, this story is about one such mermaid, a princess named…"

3.

Naoto didn't mind that her annual wardrobe lacked anything falling past her knees. Unlike most women she felt quite comfortable in skirts, loving the feeling of freedom as the wind swept around her legs. Besides, if any man decided that they wanted to see her skirt at a slightly different angle, Naoto could guarantee that he would be adding "surgical costs" to his monthly bills in no time.

Even when the temperatures dropped practically into the freezing subzero, Fuyumine Naoto denied herself the use of flannel pants. Some would call it abnegation. Naoto called it luxury. Even now, as she made her way over to the Bishop's church, she found enjoyment at the prickle of the gust on her skin.

It was troublesome, really, to pay a visit at this hour. But, Naoto couldn't wait until morning. Her katana needed some mending tape, as she had unfortunately run out after that mishap with those "playful" twins. At least Naoto's trip was brightened slightly by the prospect of checking up on Nill. That girl always improved her mood, even after the most grueling of days.

Her first assignment went down the drain with a pitiful little burble when Naoto saw that the Bishop was nowhere to be found. It was unusual for him to be out, but not unheard of. The night was fairly early; too late for visiting, but not so far into the evening that the dogs of this city had gone to sleep.

Naoto, with her mind set on checking up on Nill, made her way into the next building. She unbuttoned her coat as warm air greeted her; thankfully the adjacent residence did have heating. Her footsteps were light and catlike lest Nill be sleeping.

When she reached the bedroom Naoto paused, suddenly detecting Haine's voice from behind the door. That monotonous drone could have belonged to no one else. Naoto peered into the room through a tiny crack in the door, slightly curious despite herself. She was holding her breath, although the fact remained unknown to her at that time.

"…So the sea witch took the mermaid princess's voice away in return for her legs, and told her that she must receive her prince's kiss of true love within three days."

Naoto merely stared blankly at the spectacle presented to her through the crack in the door. Just a few days ago she had seen this same person choke a little girl until she vomited and gargled on her own bubbling spittle. And now, he was…

Through her little peekhole the Blade Maiden noted (and not without some amusement) that Haine appeared to be rather engaged in his storytelling, surprisingly so for such an uncharacteristic task. She had seen him discuss battle plans with less zeal.

Naoto permitted herself a tiny grin and made herself comfortable on the floor.

4.

"And then the prince married the mermaid princess, and they lived happily every after. The end."

Naoto's eyes flew open as soon as she realized Haine had stopped speaking, surprised at herself for almost dozing off. Knees cracked slightly as she rose, and she pushed open the door. Haine had also stood, turning out the light next to a sleeping Nill's bed. As soon as she'd entered he bristled, color rising thinly to the pale skin of his face.

"How is she?" Naoto nodded towards Nill. The blankets piled on her rose and fell in a steady, rhythmic motion.

Haine mumbled a "Fine," not meeting her gaze. He hoped dimly that she hadn't heard him reading that soppy story.

Naoto's dark eyes fell to his side. "Give it to me," she ordered suddenly, hand out.

"What?"

"The book."

Haine glared at her suspiciously, but nonetheless handed her the black book that he had been reading from (and was careful not to make any physical contact with the woman as she took it). Once it was in her hands Naoto looked it over, opened it to the first page, and stared. Her eyes twinkled—an expression seldom seen, and one that made her face positively beautiful.

"Church guestbook" she read. "Name, address, comments. That's a lovely story, right there." Naoto walked over and promptly dropped the book into Haine's hands. He said nothing, but wore an expression that was as close as the gunman could get to embarrassment.

"That was a surprisingly nice thing you did," Naoto told Haine, to fill the uncomfortable silence. Her tone had become softer, and not just to accommodate the sleeping Nill. "Perhaps there is a tame pet somewhere underneath that wild dog of yours."

And with that she left, leaving Haine standing in the bedroom like the world's biggest fool. After a moment he tucked the book back into his coat to return to the church podium and headed over there to do so. On his way out, he smiled to himself in the darkling where no one but the moon could see.

The End.