She wasn't always like-- this. What she is. There was once a time when she was small and soft and cute and young; when her spine was not so ramrod straight and her mind was not so focused. There was once a time when she was just a child and not yet a Kirijo, no matter how short that time might have been.
And although her father could never decide if he liked that in-between stage where she was simply herself and simply young, torn between doting on her and wishing that she would just grow up already and become a Kirijo proper, it was necessary. For learning to speak comes before eloquence and learning to walk comes before stepping out into the world to save it from itself, and even a prodigy begins with baby steps. She learned to write like any other, albeit a little sooner than most; it was only later that she moved from characters to letters and from there to any language that she could wrap her head around.
She likes them. She likes words. She likes learning them for the sake of simply knowing them, although that is less important than learning them so that she might do business more effectively once she takes over the Group. For that purpose, she learns English and then Chinese, amazing all her tutors with her sharp mind and her skill. Words are like people; she shuffles them around on the backs of her eyelids and commands them to do what she needs, and just like those around her, they obey. It's easy.
For her father (even though he never asked) she learns English and Mandarin, but she learns French for herself, so of course she is most at ease with it. She loves the smooth way the words run together and how elegant the letters look in her writing, all contractions and dashes and lines sliding into each other and locking together.
She does not tell him this, of course, but merely practices all three over and over and over, striving for the fluency that is just at the tips of her fingers. She has a mind for this; but then again, it seems that she has a mind for everything.
A proper little Kirijo indeed. She straightens her clothing with childish fingers and straightens her spine with a pride that seems too big for her small body, eyes bright and determined, and her father sees in her such hope for the future of the Group that he cannot help but smile. His hand at her shoulder is warm, eternally reassuring, and he will never know just how much that light touch means to her.
Thank you, she says to him, in every language that she knows, and then; je vous aime, papa. Je vous aime.
And when he asks her what that means she just smiles as if it is nothing, because it is so much better that he does not understand.
(the pride of Kirijo has no place for her love)
There hasn't always been the Dark Hour. There hasn't always been the need for her to rise up into a green night and burn as brightly as she can to shear the Shadows away. There hasn't. That time is now a distant memory, but that does not change the fact that it was once there, uncelebrated in its normalcy.
And there was once a time when she would sleep clear through the night, unbothered by the need to save the world or pass exams or live up to the family name. Once her father or her mother tucked her into bed, she would roll over obediently and shut her eyes and not move until sleep overcame her, because her parents had told her to, and so it must be done.
And so it was always done.
The only times she would awake would be during the occasional storm, when the crash of thunder and the brilliance of lightning would rouse her from dreaming and open her red little eyes to the dark. Then she would lie for a time and watch the almost rhythmic explosions going up one after the other, eyes slowly drifting shut as the pounding of rain against the roof of their manor lured her towards sleep. She was very young, after all, and not used to being awake at so late an hour.
Times change, though; nowadays she does not so much sleep as nap between going to school and fighting off Shadows, passing from one day to the next with the drive of need. And the only explosions she ever watches are Akihiko's Zio spells going off one after the other, mowing down Shadows in time with her every Bufu.
She doesn't mind the trade-off. Her eyes stopped burning long ago and there is always something on the horizon, whether it is an assignment or a Shadow, so she doesn't have time to stop. She's a Kirijo, after all. It's just another fact of life.
She just wants to make her father proud. It isn't so much about the Group or about saving the world or about getting where she needs to in life -- it's about her father. It has always been about her father.
So she walks with him in Tartarus of her own accord, a Kirijo in every way, and misses the note of pride in his voice when he tells the others that this is her own decision. And she misses entirely the way that his face crumples when she leaps in front of a Shadow to save his life with her own, exploding from within with the brilliance of her soul made manifest, sudden and raw and blinding. She misses that because she passes out from shock soon after, and so lies limp as her father's emotions boil over and scald those around him, made fierce by the reality of what his daughter's life has become.
For my father, she thinks, as she learns to fence so that she might strike down Shadows and save him from the shame that nips at his heels.
For my father, she thinks, as she sits up all night studying and aces every test that she writes.
For my father, she thinks, as she puts her Evoker to her temple and pulls the trigger without hesitation, body rocking hard with the force of the bullet blasting through her brain.
For my father, she thinks, every time. Every time.
In the end, he just wants to save her, for he is not as cold a man as his demeanour might suggest. But she is too young to understand that, because for all the languages she can speak, there is not one in which he can say this to her that she will understand.
She's so young. So small.
But she is a Kirijo.
Sitting in a chair in their living room that is too big for her, she would hold a notebook bent against her knee and write out mathematical equations, each as carefully done as if this were Composition work. She burns through her homework fastidiously as soon as she is home from school, diligent and perfect.
Her mother and father sit on different chairs on the other side of the room, each absorbed in reading. For her mother, a novel; for her father, a report about finances for the past quarter.
She looks down at her simple division and swears to herself that she will do better and better and better until there is no more room to improve. She fills up page after page of the notebook, far beyond the work that they have been assigned, and as she cuts her fingers on the corners of the paper, her expression does not change.
A body on the ground. Blood in the mouth of the man who was flung to the side. Bits of the Shadow splattered everywhere. Takeharu Kirijo kneeling. Stars spinning across the ceiling in faint arcs that follow the line of her vision. Hearts pounding.
Her head in his lap.
Don't worry, Father. I chose this for myself. I'll protect you...
Daddy! she had once said, before she grew old enough to learn that father was the only correct thing she could say. Her arms were short and chubby and soft; her hair was a mess of pretty red curls that were not yet long enough to be properly tied back.
Trundling across the floor to be swept up high in his arms, he had looked at her smiling face and thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay if she wasn't quite a Kirijo yet.
But now there is only this, the future that her grandfather has given her. There is only the dead look in her father's eyes and the Evoker sitting lonely on her desk.
The moon rises green from the horizon and Tartarus looms in the distance, mocking lonely she who is not yet old enough or strong enough to brave its heights alone. She turns the Evoker over and over in her hands, listening through Penthesilea for the susurrus of a Shadow on the prowl, and knows and knows and knows that she was born for precisely this.