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Shirley and Ino

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            Ino Atom Nix had no idea what to think when Girlborg, err, Shirley Fenette she reminded herself, it had almost been a year, she had to remember her teammates’ real names on the…Justice Society of Japan, right.  She had no idea what to think when Shirley took her out on the town.  “We should, um, hang out more,” Shirley had said nervously.  “We see each other almost every day at work but we barely ever talk!”

            Ino could hardly remember her because of her condition but if a normal person said that, then it must be true.  So she had agreed, and Hon’kale was incredibly distraught that she was leaving her alone for an entire day.  “You’ll be with…”

            “Nia!” called Nia helpfully from the kitchen, where she was whipping up something truly wretched for Simon’s dinner.  It always struck Ino as odd how Simon’s name was spelled Simon but pronounced ‘Sea-Moan’…what had she been talking about?  “You’ll be with Nia all day,” she said hurriedly.  A whole year and she was still forgetting the names of the people that had adopted her…and they were mostly normal names, unlike Hon’kale which was clearly made up, how come no one had noticed that?  Or was she wrong?  Was “Hon’kale” just really common in some part of the world, like Smith or Mohammed or Li or Gonzales or Nguyen or Zhang or….

 

            What?  There was ice cream now.  It was green and slick looking.  “It’s called gelato,” said Shirley cheerfully.  Ino gave her a blank look.  Shirley blinked nervously.  “It means ‘frozen’ in Italian I think,” she said, trying to be helpful.  Her cheeks reddened.  “You said you wanted to try something new so I got you pistachio flavor and now you’re just staring at it and maybe I should have gotten—”

            She was starting to ramble.  Ino checked her note cards—she had several of them taped to the inside of her coat, depicting several important facts about her teammates (someone had gotten mad about her writing their weaknesses and just leaving them around but they weren’t around they were with her coat)—and noted that that was a thing Shirley did sometimes when she was nervous. Ino didn’t remember Shirley being nervous around her very often.  She wondered what to do.  Ino tasted the ice cream and flavor exploded into her mouth and she almost choked.  “It’s good,” she said.

            Shirley heaved a sigh of relief.  “Oh thank goodness I was starting to worry…”

 

            Starting to worry?  She hadn’t been starting, she had been worrying.  What was the deal?  Ice cream—gelato she scribbled hurriedly into another note card—was all well and good but nothing to be upset over.  “Why are we doing this again?”

            They were now in line for a carousel at some park or other.  She didn’t even know what part of the city they were in now, and her ice cream was gone and had been replaced by a shiny red shopping bag.  There were shoes on her feet (actually sheepskin-lined short boots with wonderful traction)—she could have sworn she’d left the house barefoot what the hell?—and Shirley was grinning at her excitedly.  “Oh right, your memory thing, I forgot.”  Her eyes widened in shock.  “Oh God I’m sorry you’re probably really sensitive about that I’ll go away forever—”

            “About what?” Ino said.  She hadn’t already forgotten that of course but she got the feeling that Shirley was a bit fragile and needed protection.  She decided she liked hanging out with Shirley though, and was curious as to what she had apparently bought.  Shirley smiled uncertainly.  “Well, um, anyway we’re here because I wanted to get to know you better or something and…”

            What was the deal with Shirley anyway?  She was like, part machine and went to some fancy school for American and British businessmen’s children or something.  She’d been bitten by a magical robot and was now like, anime Spider-Man.  Why had that comparison come up in Ino’s mind?  Because Shirley had suffered loss—no, not that comparison, the anime one. 

            It was, Ino decided, because of her looks.  She was pretty sure, but like, unrealistically so, like no one could ever hope to look like Shirley Fenette.  She was the unrealistic standard of beauty that ‘the media’ was imposing on children, whatever that meant.  Her gaze drifted downward.  That was another thing, Shirley was really skinny but somehow also busty.  Like, realistically, you can either have one or the other, unless you’re Shirley Fenette apparently.  As a whole, with her long, brilliant orange hair, huge, hazely-green doe eyes, and innocent little face, she wasn’t pretty like a doll, she was pretty like how dolls were pretending to be.  Did that even make sense?  Ino shook her head rapidly, trying to shake off the haze.

 

            She gasped as a gust of cold air hit her, cutting right through her coat—her wonderful fabulous fashionable leather coat—as if it were paper.  “You should put on your scarf,” said Shirley, hugging herself closely.  Ino raised an eyebrow.  “You bought it earlier,” she said with a little giggle.  “It’s in the red bag.”

            Ino looked out in front of her as she rummaged in the bag with her left hand.  They were on a sort pier jutting out into the sea.  The day was late and the sky overcast; the distant clouds seemed to be leaking golden-red sunlight but the ocean itself was dark and churning.  A high wind carried the squawking of seagulls, making for their nests on a distant island of rock, along with droplets of freezing spray.  There were a few lumps of ice floating out in the water—it really was freezing around here, what the Hell were they doing out?

            Wait.

            No.

            That…

            Could it?

            Ino looked at Shirley, gazing longingly out to sea.  She remembered thinking about how pretty Shirley was earlier in the day.  Was this…a date?  Did Ino even like girls like that?  Was that even a thing people worried about?  Wouldn’t she look stupid, wondering about her sexuality if people went on dates with members of the same gender all the time?  Or something.

            Ino’s face felt red.  Why was she even thinking about this sort of thing?  They were just doing stuff because…Shirley wanted to get to know her better.  Yes, she’d said that.  Wait.  That meant go on a date.  Of course it did, she saw it in some movie or other!  And she was probably being the worst date ever, wasn’t she?  She didn’t have any money and had no illusions about who had bought the fabulous red silk scarf that was suddenly in her hands, or rather had been there for an unknowable amount of time.

            Fuck it.  She would take a chance.  Ino stood up on her tiptoes and gave Shirley a kiss.  Shirley turned impossibly red and jump back about fifty feet, no doubt aided by her being a cyborg.  “Oh God I don’t like girls like that!” She called.

            Oh.  Ino cocked her head.  “Are you sure?” she asked, striding towards Shirley.  “Because this felt an awful lot like a date.  Is that even a thing that people worry about?  I meant to ask.”  She produced her pen and pack of note-cards.

            Shirley covered her mouth in something like horror.  “Oh God I’m sorry I played with your emotions like that!  I had no idea I was even doing it!  I’m a terrible temptress apparently—”

            “You’re a good friend, I think,” said Ino.  Shirley’s mouth became locked in the shape of a little ‘O’.  “I hope I didn’t offend you.”

            “Not at all,” Shirley insisted, closing the distance between the two of them.  She had a radiant smile.  “I think—”

            A fiery streak crossed the sky before landing only a few yards away.  The impact left a crater and caused the girls bounce a foot into the air, curiously close enough to feel the weight of the impact without being otherwise affected by it.

            A hulking Face Unit crawled its way into a standing position, muttering to itself in Cockney English (without the ridiculous rhyming slang of course) with a voice that resembled an electrical filter placed over the gnashing of gears.  “Bloody kids and their bloody taffy.  It’s fookin’ ungentlemanly is what it is, winnin’ a fight through trickery like that—” Its glowing eyes focused on them behind its creepy, skull-shaped mask.  “You two’ve been around the ol’ Monado, ain’t you?”

            They didn’t answer.  It smashed its fists together.  “Right then.  Here’s what’s gonna ‘appen.  I’m gonna take the most helpless lookin’ one a’ the lot,” it paused consideringly and extended a metal claw.  The Face Unit went back and forth between the two of them, “ummmmm, you,” it said decisively, aiming its claw at Shirley.  She gasped.  “An’ I’m gonna ‘old you ransom until the Monado wielder shows up and gives the bloody thing up to me.”  He leered at Ino; its face didn’t move because it was just a metal mask but somehow she could tell it was leering in its soul, or mind or whatever machines have.  “You I’m gonna eat—”

            Shirley stepped forward with a growl and held both of her hands to her temples, focusing all of her power at the metallic monster.  Sparks and streaks of smoke began to emit from the creature.  “Run away,” she said.  “Go get the others I can’t hold him off much longer—”

            It fired white-hot laser beams from its eyes and Shirley leapt back just in time to avoid being incinerated.  The attack did serve to break her concentration, however, and the monster strode up to her on great, tromping feet like steam-shovels and caught her up in its palm as if she weighed nothing at all, raising her high into the air.  “Can you guys even do that?” she screamed, beating her hands against its mechanical forearm to no avail.

            The Dace Unit chuckled.  “It’s a new software update,” he explained.

            “Really?” Ino asked.

            “No not bloody really!” he screamed, turning his attention to the smaller girl just as she summoned her keyblade and began shooting shadowy black fireballs at him through it like an over-large pistol.  “Ow, ow, how excruciating, I am in agony,” he said before yawning exaggeratedly and taking a swipe at an incoming fireball, shooting it back at Ino.  She back-flipped out of the way, just as Lightning had taught her (or rather as she had copied from Lightning), landing in an expert two-handed Ochs stance, glaring down the length of the blade at the monster.  “I’m immune to magic you little chit,” it spat.  “Mechon armor is damn near invincible unless you’ve got the Monado or a couple of nukes up your skirt there….”

            Oh no she couldn’t afford to slip away during a combat situation but now that he’d said that she couldn’t help but remember a movie Hon’kale had made her watch.  There was another invincible robot and the heroes defeated him by…making him destroy himself.

            She couldn’t copy a machine, not a full machine, but Shirley was still kind of a person or mostly a person or something.  Ino could tell, because she’d been watching while the other girl had attacked the thing with her technopath abilities and well, she’d just picked it up, just like that.  She couldn’t explain her own powers and didn’t even remember her origin story (Hon’kale assured her that that must mean it’s badass) but she knew when she could do a thing and now she was...doing a thing!

            Her mind slammed against the brick wall that was the Mechon’s internal defenses.  It was a bit like Kyubey’s telekinesis, but instead an organic feeling barrier that followed emotional logic it was like feeling a computer with the inside of her head…or something.  It was so damn strong though, she didn’t think she could—“Shirley,” she shouted, scowling in concentration, “let’s do it together!”

            Shirley blinked, not quite sure what was going on.  Ino briefly wondered whether she would be able to control Shirley with her own powers to get her to use her powers in some kind of creepy psychic chain but an instant later Shirley nodded and now the pair of them was fighting back the Mechon.  Out of the corner of her eye Ino watched it lower her to the ground, and saw that Shirley was glowing.  She could see it now that she had Shirley’s power.  It was like a spirograph halo and a pair of wings made entirely of fractals.

            But mostly, she watched the Face Unit raise its left arm, glance at it in terror, and ram it through its own chest.  Ino made it pull out a glowing red fuel cell, and it fell to the ground, as dead as a machine can be.

            Shirley walked up to her, smiling one of her self-conscious little smiles.  Shirley pushed Ino’s black bangs out of her face and looked into her clear blue eyes.  She bent down, closer, closer…

 

            “How was your day, Ino?” Nia asked brightly as she walked back into the house.  Hon’kale was lying on the floor, eyes spinning, no doubt half-dead from trying to eat some of Nia’s cooking.  “I heard there was some trouble down at the wharf?” Nia was concerned.  Ino smiled; she was such a sweet lady.

            Trouble?  She didn’t remember.  She barely remembered anything.  Something sweet, new shoes, and…an angel.  “It was nice.”