Disclaimer: Nier is owned by Cavia and Square-Enix. Some of this was inspired by the song "Shine" (Anna Nalick) and the hair-starlight image is from Howl's Moving Castle (film version). Rating is for language and references to violence.
Kainé waited as she listened, the wind ruffling the hem of her short dress. She needed this time to ignore the surface – human – sound of the wind and listen for the thin shrieks and scrapes of Shades. Nier never noticed until the Shades were right on top of him, and even Weiss seemed mainly deaf to incoming danger. She didn't usually warn them either. It made fights interesting.
It was an overcast, opaline sunset, and, as she scanned the rock ledge, the low gullet of the ravine, the only shades she saw were those cast by the failing light. From behind she could hear the first cracklings of fire and a soft squeal of surprise from Emil. What'd he expect anyway? Of course he could light a fire.
Satisfied that there were no Shades nearby plotting an ambush, Kainé made her way off the ledge, down to the hollow where Emil sat, cautiously (tenderly?) feeding wood scraps to the fire. Actually, sat wasn't the right word. He'd sit for half a minute, but then as he leaned forward, intent on his task, he'd slowly lift off the ground, and he wouldn't notice until he was a good two feet in the air. Then he'd shove himself back down again, clamp at least one hand to the ground as an anchor, and glance around guiltily. But the minute he took his mind off it, there he was bobbling back up again.
Kainé sat down across from him. "Forget about it, Emil. It doesn't bother me."
Emil had just anchored himself for the fifth time in two minutes. He didn't have much of a neck (he reminded Kainé a bit of an owl, and she wondered if he could rotate his head all the way), so he craned back his upper body to look up at the sky. His face wasn't as mobile as it had been, but there was still apprehension in it. "It's just that, I'm still not very used to – this – and I don't know if..."
Kainé didn't laugh. Laughter never came instinctively to her, unless it was during a battle (and that wasn't precisely laughter). But she snorted and kept her eyes well off Emil as she reached for her travel pack. "What, are you scared you're going to go floating off and never come down?" Her voice dropped, lost its roughness. "Don't be an ass."
Emil was the one who laughed, though it was a touch uncomfortable. "I guess you're right." By the time Kainé looked over, he was a foot and a half in the air and no higher, hovering nicely with no sign of drifting away into the late summer twilight. He seemed to have his legs folded up under his tattered cloak.
She grunted, the nozzle of her canteen between her side-teeth.
"I'm... I'm glad I was able to unpetrify you." Emil had his head ducked, as much as that was possible. "Even if – even with this body. If this was the only way to help you, then I don't mind."
Kainé heard the uncertainty in his voice. No matter how simple you made your words, you couldn't sort out your regrets so tidily. Kainé looked down at herself; there'd been times when she'd been unwilling to see her own body (an assertion Weiss would never believe, considering how little he thought of her clothing). Even in battles now, when she glanced down and saw a trail of blood down her stomach or hip, she thought of bullies – punches, rocks, being rolled and rattled to the edges of the Aerie's precarious walkways. The abyss reeling under her. Some might say that once she'd escaped the bullies she'd only made things worse for herself. No matter what Weiss said about the rest of her, her left arm was always scrupulously covered.
"Thanks, Emil," she said a heartbeat before she'd decided to. "It's rough, I know."
"No, it isn't." He shook his head, rocking his entire body. "You told me to take pride in myself. Remember?"
Kainé cleared her throat. Then abruptly lay back and looked straight up (in lieu of the fire, which was too bright, and Emil, who somehow seemed brighter). She'd already marked the evening star on the horizon and another point of light that was maybe a planet. Weiss would know. Above, a few stars shone faintly, the sky still too light for them.
"I remember," she said.
He said something so softly that she didn't catch it, and then he said something else, and Kainé frowned because she'd better have not heard that right. "What did you say?"
"I said I – I want to be like you."
Kainé glanced at him, then jerked her eyes away. Back to the stars. She kept her voice under a shout, but barely. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Bone jangled; Emil shifted position. "You aren't afraid of anything. And you aren't ashamed. And if anyone talks down to you, you just call them an asshole, and that's that. You don't... You don't let it stay with you."
"Don't swear like that." Emil saying asshole, that was seven shades of wrong. And Kainé just focused on that, how awful it would be once Emil started saying things like damn and hell and damn it to hell and this was probably her fault, Goddammit. It was much easier than focusing on the other thoughts rioting around her skull: twisting with her arms over her head, the wooden slats of the Aerie's walkways slamming into her back; boot heels gouging her ribs; the half-tumble, half-lunge as she dodged a handful of pebbles; the useless mewl of her own voice; Grandma none too gently washing the blood out of her hair; the trick of light in Grandma's eye that was like a smile as she curled Kainé's braid over her thumb – What kind of hair is this? It glitters like a star; the length of her left arm, pale skin ribboned with blood, lying far past her reach.
"I'm sorry," Emil said. "But still, I'm not going to be ashamed of how I look."
With a jolt, Kainé pulled her left hand away from her face. She'd been kneading her left eye-socket.
Got a problem, Sunshine?
"I think they're wonderful too."
Kainé snapped back into herself. "What?" And, caught off guard, she found she was looking at Emil.
He gestured up. "You were watching the stars. I do that too. I mean, even before." He clasped his hands, bones rattling softly together. "They were the only things I could look at that never turned to stone." He tilted his head back. "They couldn't be hurt."
Kainé watched Emil, slowly drawing her gaze up and past him. It was darker now, the stars burning clear.
Hey, you listening, Sunshine?
Kainé shook her head and said, too soft for Emil to hear, "What sunshine?"