Cherry Blossom Procession 4 1c

[02:19] <AdEvaGM> [Within a few minutes, the Federation guests would be led to a large audience hall; a long, wide space of fine wooden floors and a light, airy feeling. The sun shone through open doors and windows, gleaming off the myriad wine glasses that had been laid out on ornate wooden tables for the benefit of the guests.]
[02:26] <Raphael> Raphael kept to Misato's shoulder, holding her arm in his. Even through that veneer of social politeness it was obvious how restless he was, as though he'd start to pace at any moment. His eyes kept flickering towards the other doors.
[02:41] <AdEvaGM> [Misato glanced toward Raphael, smiling just a little. "Here, let's get a drink, eh? Take the edge off…"]
[02:44] <Raphael> "… Right. Sorry." He frowned for a moment before letting his face relax into something less at odds with the party atmosphere… although with Raphael it was always going to be a question of degrees. He led her over towards the table, his free hand on her elbow.
[02:46] <AdEvaGM> [Misato took a glass of wine, took a tiny sip, then gave it to Raphael before getting one of her own. "You ok?"]
[02:51] * Raphael gave her a thin smile. "Perfect, Admiral. I've never had a date at a coronation before."
[02:54] <AdEvaGM> ["It's not actually a coronation." Said Alexandre casually, smoothly emerging next to Raphael. Although he seemed relaxed and light, he had his eyes on Mana- who was talking happily with Roku- a careful manner. "Little technicalities, mind, but that's monarchy for you…"]
[03:00] <Raphael> "It's not?" Raphael glanced between Misato and Alex. "… Everyone seemed to think it was."
[03:02] <AdEvaGM> ["Nah." Said Alex. "A coronation, strictly speaking, requires a crown, and the Japanese don't have a crown. They have a throne instead, which makes it an enthronement."-
[03:02] <AdEvaGM> [Alex shrugged lightly. "Like I said… Little technicalities."]
[03:05] <Raphael> "Mmm," he shrugged, conceding the point. He was quiet for a moment, even going so far as to glance over his shoulder before he continued. "Are you and Asuka alright?"
[03:05] <AdEvaGM> ["Asuka's fine. She thinks Kuzmin was trying to perv on her." Alex leaned towards Raphael slightly. "And after overhearing that little gem of a line earlier about- what was it, 'mixed blood'? I'm pretty sure she's right."-
[03:06] <AdEvaGM> ["One of these days we'll find someone from the Soviet Union who's actually still working for them that isn't insane, perverted or a war criminal." Muttered Misato.]
[03:11] <Raphael> "We live in hope, ma'am," Raphael said, quickly tipping back a generous portion of his own drink. "What did you two make of the delegation?"
[03:13] <AdEvaGM> ["I'm not thrilled at the fact that they've brought enough raw firepower to wipe the city off the map, to be honest with you." Said Alex lightly. "Ezekiel's not always easy to get along with, but just this once I'm glad we left him and his at the hotel."]
[03:22] <Raphael> "Confident, though. So many of their ringleaders in one place."
[03:27] <AdEvaGM> ["That's Mary's doing. She rarely shows herself anymore… She wouldn't be here if she weren't absolutely confident. So of course she wouldn't be worried about bringing along her big guns." Said Alex, gazing fondly at Asuka, who was currently quarrelling with Michael over whether or not kicking Kuzmin in the face would be worth Yanmei's scolding.]
[03:27] <AdEvaGM> ["Oh, by the way, if Ezra appears and Mana runs off and hugs him or what-have-you, do you want me to stop her? This is hypothetical, but think fast, it'll only be for a second because they're coming through that door right now." Said Alex quickly.-
[03:28] <AdEvaGM> [Alex was right; the UN delegation had caught up. They began filing into the room, again Ezra and Sarah first, followed by von Brandt and Mary- arms linked- and then Aline, the Ayanami, and Agatha. Finally at the back came Gadhavi and the others.]
[03:32] <Raphael> "Let her go. She deserves a hug, if that's what she needs," Rapael murmured. He was watching the entrance from the corner of his eye. "More than that and one of us can check on her."
[03:40] <AdEvaGM> ["Oops, there we go." Said Alex, draining his glass of wine; for the UN delegation had begun to disperse now, Ezra and Sarah striking out for neutral territory; as they went, they caught Mana's eye.-
[03:41] <AdEvaGM> [Mana stared at them, took a few faltering steps, glanced back with a frown at the Federation line and, on realising that no one was going to stop her, ran across the room, met Ezra and Sarah halfway, and threw herself at them. They both caught her, and in a second they were a big knotted mess of hugs, kisses, laughter and a few tears.]
[03:47] <Raphael> "… as I said, she deserves it," Raphael said, and even in spite of the rest of the UN arrayed behind them he managed a small smile.
[16:39] <Minaplo> ["Man. They've really missed each other…" Said Misato quietly.-
[16:41] <Minaplo> ["Heads up, they're not the only ones." Said Alexandre, peering over his spectacles at Roku.-
[16:42] <Minaplo> [Aksel had been scanning the room the instant he'd entered; the moment he saw Roku he broke ranks and ran towards her. She quickly met him and, although blushing at the no doubt many onlooking eyes, swept him up in a tight hug and a long, deep kiss.-
[16:43] <Minaplo> ["All these happy reunions, dear dear." Said Alexandre.]
[16:58] <Raphael> "Makes a nice change, I think," Raphael said, although he'd averted his eyes before the actual kiss with a small frown.-
[16:59] <Raphael> "… Hopefully I'm not making a mistake here."
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["That makes two of us. Oop, Asuka's calling me." Said Alex. He clapped Raphael on the shoulder. "Good luck, chief."-
[17:02] <Minaplo> [With that, Alex strode off toward Asuka, who had not actually called him, merely turned toward him. Once the two met up, they both turned towards Ezra, Sarah and Mana, who were just starting to break apart, although Mana still remained in a tight side-hug with Sarah.-
[17:03] <Minaplo> [Misato, on the other hand, continued to watch Aksel and Roku with a frank, appraising look. The two lovers were talking animatedly; their expressions were bright and joyful.]
[17:09] <Raphael> "Now Admiral, it's rude to stare," he muttered, giving her a gentle nudge.
[17:13] <Minaplo> ["Oi." She nudged him back, slightly harder. Nonetheless, she turned away- at least a little.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["I'm not the only one, you know." She said, nodding slightly toward Narendra Gadhavi, who stood by the entrance, leaning back against the wall; he watched Aksel and Roku with a detached expression. Every so often he took sips from his wine.]
[17:17] * Raphael had to bite back a snarl. "They have to be baiting us. We're going to need to stay on opposite sides of the room just to avoid a fight," he muttered. "Hopefully Chiisana knows better than to get within spitting range of von Brandt…"
[17:18] <Minaplo> ["There's nothing wrong with a fight breaking out here, honey." Said Misato quietly. "So long as everyone- especially Her Majesty the Emperor- sees that you didn't start it."-
[17:19] <Minaplo> ["That said, probably best to avoid it, yes."-
[17:24] <Minaplo> [Meanwhile, Roku and Aksel were starting to move. Roku had gestured toward the wine table, and they'd started moving toward it; on the way, Roku's gaze had drifted toward Misato and Raphael. With an expression of determined confidence, Roku began steering Aksel and herself toward them.]
[17:25] <Raphael> "Oh."-
[17:26] <Raphael> Raphael's expression didn't shift, there was no hint of fear there; He even managed to smile as he watched them get closer. His voice betrayed a very different set of feelings. "Oh dear."
[17:29] <Minaplo> ["Oh dear indeed." Muttered Misato.-
[17:30] <Minaplo> [Aksel, on the other hand, didn't notice until it was too late; his eyes widened and for a second he had a desperate moment in which he nearly started walking backwards, like a deer faced with a sudden wolf. But he was still holding onto Roku's waist and, more important, she was holding onto his. They kept moving forwards.-
[17:31] <Minaplo> [The two whispered to each other quickly as they approached; this continued right up into they were but a metre away.-
[17:32] <Minaplo> ["Admiral Katsuragi, Captain Guillory, there's someone I'd like you to meet." Said Roku with a firm smile. "This is my boyfriend, Aksel. Aksel, this is Admiral Katsuragi Misato and Captain Raphael Guillory."-
[17:33] <Minaplo> [It was the first time Raphael had seen Aksel up close without a barrier or a mask on either of them.-
[17:36] <Minaplo> [The identity was unmistakeable, but now Raphael could see the differences; Aksel's skin was smoother and springy, lacking the faint lines of Raphael's years. He also didn't bear the telltale signs of a history of injuries- broken noses or scars for example. His eyes also seemed a little wider and open. He looked like Raphael… But a younger one, a Raphael who could pass as twenty easily.-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["Uh…" Aksel boggled at them for a moment, before launching into it. "Good… To meet you! Ma'am." He said quickly to Misato, carefully keeping his eyes on hers as he spoke. He then turned to Raphael. "And uh… Captain Guillory, good to meet you. Haha."-
[17:37] <Minaplo> [Aksel awkwardly stuck out his hand.]
[17:45] <Raphael> … the hand received an extended, contemplative look, stretching out until just before it reached the point of true awkwardness. All five fingers there; No stub of a missing finger.-
[17:45] <Raphael> Finally he took the man's hand and met his eye. "Mr. Heiden. Pleased to meet you."
[17:47] <Minaplo> [Misato and Roku watched this with interest, and they weren't alone. Across the room, Ezra, Sarah and Mana had engaged Alex and Asuka in conversation; despite this, Alex and Ezra both managed the feat of paying attention to Raphael and Aksel without looking like they were.-
[17:48] <Minaplo> ["H-heh." Said Aksel, giving Raphael a big stupid grin. "…"-
[17:49] <Minaplo> [He pulled his hand back after a second, grabbed Roku around the shoulders and pulled her a little closer, almost angling her between him and Raphael. "Anyway, this is Roku." He said hastily.-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["Hey-"-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["We know." Said Misato with a grin.-
[17:50] <Minaplo> ["W-Well, I mean, you would, but, you know, that doesn't mean you can't just stop and appreciate that this is Roku because there's a lot there to appreciate, you know. Isn't she great? I think she's great. Look, she's blushing, isn't that cute? It's maybe the cutest thing ever and if you disagree you're wrong."-
[17:50] <Minaplo> ["Aksel…"]
[18:01] * Raphael kept up the same appraising stare before turning to look at Roku. "Well then…"-
[18:01] <Raphael> "Lovely to re-meet you as well, Roku," he said, giving her a small smile.
[18:02] <Minaplo> ["Hahahaha. He re-met you." Said Aksel.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [This earned Aksel a swift elbow in the side ("Ow!") and Raphael a swift whack in the shins.-
[18:03] <Raphael> "Ow!"
[18:04] <Minaplo> ["God." Muttered Roku, smiling ruefully.-
[18:06] <Minaplo> ["But I meant it all, though." Mumbled Aksel.-
[18:07] <Minaplo> ["I know you did, honey." Said Roku. She leaned forward and whispered something to him. He reluctantly nodded.-
[18:07] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[18:07] <Minaplo> ["So… Roku tells me you guys… Have a penguin." Said Aksel haltingly.]
[18:13] <Raphael> "… Well, Misato does." He glanced at her, the dim hope that she might be willing to assist rather than enjoying the show still alive him his chest.
[18:23] <Minaplo> ["He's really not something I have." Said Misato. "He's part of the family, you know. No one owns him. He's very smart."-
[18:23] <Minaplo> ["Like… Feral smart?"-
[18:24] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Misato cheerfully. "He understands human speech, he can do maths up to the fifth grade, and I bet he could go all the way if he weren't a big fat lazy bird~"-
[18:25] <Minaplo> ["In fact, one christmas he even bought Raffy beer for christmas. Good beer, too."-
[18:25] <Minaplo> ["How good?" Said Aksel eagerly. "I like beer, the best one I've had is Tooman's." Said Aksel proudly, as though he'd just told Raphael he'd bathed in champagne.]
[18:37] <Raphael> "Ah, proper ration beer," Raphael smiled. "I can recommend some good ones to try for when you're out with Roku, if you want."
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["Sounds great." Said Aksel. "Hold on."-
[18:43] <Minaplo> [He reached over and plucked a glass of wine off the table. He eyed it critically before taking a healthy mouthful.-
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["…!" His eyes instantly widened; he nearly spluttered.-
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["… You okay, honey?" Asked Roku.-
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["This is wine, right?" Said Aksel. "It tastes different. Tastes better. But different. What's going on?"]
[18:47] <Raphael> "It probably costs more than most people make in a month," Raphael said. "Only the best for the Emperor."
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["Honey, didn't you drink wine on the Damocles?" Asked Roku.-
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["Nuh." He said. "I drink beer. I only drink wine when I'm with you."-
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["O-oh." Said Roku, suddenly blushing again; this drew a confused but warm smile from Aksel.-
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["W-well, you know. The wine we had was… I didn't have a lot of choice."-
[18:50] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Aksel. "The two flavours of wine, white and red!" He said, turning to Raphael with pride.-
[18:51] <Minaplo> [Misato gave up; she pulled herself out of the circle, buckled and began to laugh, long and loudly.-
[18:51] <Minaplo> ["…?" Aksel stared at her in confusion. It was an expression Raphael understood intimately.]
[18:53] * Raphael was biting his lip, one index finger balanced along the bridge of his nose. "Don't mind her, Mr. Heiden. She has little fits. It's terrible, really."
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["I see." Said Aksel, squinting at Misato. "How weird."-
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["Aksel, honey, wine comes in a lot of flavours." Said Roku gently. "The colour just depends on the type of grape they use."-
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["Oh."-
[18:55] <Minaplo> [Aksel stared down at his wine. "I didn't know."]
[18:56] <Raphael> "I wouldn't worry about it, Aksel. I spent most of my twenties thinking the same thing."
[18:56] <Minaplo> ["Oh, really?" Said Aksel; he brightened immediately.-
[18:57] <Minaplo> ["Aren't you French, though?" Said Roku with a frown.-
[18:57] <Minaplo> ["Im-pact." Said Misato, cutting back in, having controlled her giggles. "Fucked the grapes for years. Happened everywhere."]
[18:59] <Raphael> "Right. Impact," Raphael agreed. It was true enough for his purposes.
[19:01] <Minaplo> ["Right."-
[19:01] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[19:01] <Minaplo> ["So anyway, yeah. Penguin." Said Misato. "His name's Pen-Pen. I would've loved to bring him, actually, but he didn't want to."-
[19:02] <Minaplo> ["What does he do?" Said Aksel.-
[19:02] <Minaplo> ["Oh, not much. Drinks, watches tv, annoys little girls…"-
[19:03] <Minaplo> ["What else?" Said Aksel.-
[19:03] <Minaplo> ["That's basically it."-
[19:03] <Minaplo> ["What, all day?" Said Aksel, his jaw dropping.]
[19:03] <Raphael> "His day-trading career never really took off."
[19:04] <Minaplo> [Aksel's face brightened up. "Oh, he was a trader once? That's great! There's a guy in my band who's awesome at that, he always knows the best deals. Is that how he got you your beer?"]
[19:05] <Raphael> "… You know, it probably is," Raphael admitted.
[19:07] <Minaplo> [Roku frowned, but Aksel ploughed on. "What a legend. You know, Philippe'd love to be here- Philippe's the trader guy I meant- all this wine and… And… Posh stuff. I bet he'd totally be better at all this…"]
[19:20] <Raphael> "You're doing fine. You can blame it on genetics if you want, although I'm not entirely sure if that's… uh, how that works for you," he frowned a little and pressed on.-
[19:21] <Raphael> "Which is to say that I'm not particularly comfortable with all of this either, but the Admiral needed the company."
[19:47] <Minaplo> ["Admiral knows how to find good looking company then, eh?" Said Aksel.-
[19:47] <Minaplo> [After a second, he made vague gun-like hand gestures with his hands.]
[19:48] * Raphael gave them a puzzled look.
[19:57] <Minaplo> ["…" Aksel flailed his fingers for a moment before awkwardly folding his arms for a moment. He then let his hands just hang a little loose. "Ahem."-
[19:58] <Minaplo> ["So uh… How did you folks meet?"]
[20:05] <Raphael> "Oh, just through friends in France," he said, seeming to relax now that the digital weaponry had been disarmed. He gave Misato a quick, fond look. "One of our superiors was holding a party and we both happened to be invited."
[20:10] <Minaplo> [Aksel stared at Raphael for a moment. He then, as quickly as he could, turned, looked at Gadhavi, then back to Raphael.-
[20:10] <Minaplo> ["No shit?"]
[20:15] * Raphael nodded seriously. "Thankfully not every superior is Gadhavi. Hopefully you're learning that now that Marshal Caine is seeing to you?"
[20:19] <Minaplo> ["Y… Yeah, actually." Said Aksel, a little sheepishly. "I didn't trust him at first, but shit's working out, you know… Actually, Ezra was the one who suggested I should come. Said he wasn't happy with how the UN delegation'd panned out and so I should come and he'd work it out with the UEF that Roku could come too."-
[20:20] <Minaplo> [Roku's expression had become dark and withdrawn at the mention of Gadhavi. At the mention of her name, though, she smiled and squeezed a little closer to Aksel. "I should go thank him later~"-
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["Yep yep." Said Aksel. "Yeah, he's alright, old Ezra, isn't he…?"-
[20:24] <Minaplo> [Aksel stared over at Ezra- who had just grabbed Asuka around the waist and began dusting his knuckled roughly against her scalp, causing her to shriek and kick- before turning back to Raphael.-
[20:26] <Minaplo> ["So. Met at a party, huh?" Said Aksel brightly. "Fun way to meet. What happened?"]
[20:29] <Raphael> "Nothing." Raphael said quickly. "It was all very civilised and adult. A lot like this, as a matter of fact."
[20:30] <Minaplo> ["Wait, that's not what happened." Said Misato with a frown. "We did some game dancing, and Sophie cuddled Pen-Pen, and then we got drunk and…"]
[20:31] <Raphael> "Different party, ma'am."
[20:34] <Minaplo> ["You guys have a lot of those, then?" Said Aksel.]
[20:37] <Raphael> "We used to. Can't say we have recently, though…"
[20:38] <Minaplo> ["We should make the most of what we've got then." Said Aksel.]
[20:42] <Raphael> "Agreed."-
[20:43] <Raphael> "But enough about us," he said. "From what Roku's told me, life must be very different for you and your team now that you're free of the Synfront."
[20:47] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah, absolutely." Said Aksel happily. "Our bedrooms are bigger, right, and the kitchen's only for us, we don't have to share it all around. We also get more stuff. Food, clothes…"-
[20:48] <Minaplo> ["Ezra's got us learning about money and stuff now so we don't need to trade for everything, although we still do trade a bit." Said Aksel. "It's easier to mingle too, y'know, with the Promisedlanders, and Agatha's always bringing her Phantoms up, and that lot're a riot, you know…"-
[20:48] <Minaplo> ["They had a party once and set fire to a room accidentally." Added Roku.-
[20:49] <Minaplo> [Misato's eyebrows rose; she instantly began looking around for Agatha.-
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["Oh man, hahaha. Roku, did I tell you about Lysander's girlfriend…?" Said Aksel eagerly.-
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["He has a girlfriend now?" Asked Roku with some surprise.-
[20:50] <Minaplo> ["Well… Maybe not, like… They're not…"-
[20:51] <Minaplo> [Roku waited patiently.-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["Anyway, Lys went out one day and he comes back to our common room, and he's brought, uh… Rosella, that's what her name was. And Lys was just… You know. 'Did you know that the water in blahblahblah goes blahblah and then there's a boat that rises and' all that. And she just ate it up! She loved it. They must've done that for hours and hours. They ended up falling asleep on the couch."-
[20:55] <Minaplo> ["The next morning I'm out making breakfast, and she's still there." Said Aksel; he frowned. "It was a bit weird to be honest. She was very cheerful though. 'Lys is so smart, isn't he? He must read so much. I should read more and see if I can find things he doesn't know!'"-
[20:56] <Minaplo> ["Anyway, good on them I guess." Said Aksel happily.]
[21:17] <Raphael> "Good for them," Raphael agreed. "I'm glad you and your team have had the chance to experience a little more freedom. Hopefully the rest of the Synfront gets the same when all of this mess is done, hmm?"
[21:18] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, that'd be nice." Said Aksel. "I've got a friend back in the Synfront who Ezra isn't allowed to bring up to the ship…"-
[21:19] <Minaplo> [He looked over at Misato. "Actually, she- er. She…"-
[21:19] <Minaplo> [Misato watched him. "Yeah?"-
[21:19] <Minaplo> [Aksel flushed. "She looks like you, er… I mean."-
[21:19] <Minaplo> ["… Oh!" Said Misato after a moment. "Ah…"]
[21:24] * Raphael blinked, silently examining Misato for a moment as she processed this.
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["She scolds me a lot." Said Aksel eventually.-
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["D-Does she? Heh." Said Misato, momentarily shooting Raphael a desperately awkward look.]
[21:35] * Raphael cracked a hesitant smile. "It's nice to know some things don't change."
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["You jerk." Misato shoved him in the shoulder; nonetheless a small smile played on her lips.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> [At that moment, waiters began to pass through the hall. One of them passed by Raphael and the others; he presented to them a silver platter full of small sandwiches.]
[21:52] * Raphael rolled with the shove, visibly relieved at the presence of the smile. With a murmur of thanks he snagged one of the sandwich squares, popping it into his mouth to fill time as the awkwardness slowly drained out of the circle.
[21:53] <Minaplo> [Aksel went to take five or six; Roku placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. Aksel hesitated; then to cover for his faux pas, he graciously split his handful between himself, Roku and Misato.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> [The waiter then moved on, leaving the group alone once again.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [Roku eyed her sandwich for a moment with a critical eye before biting off a corner. A mildly satisfied expression crossed her face before she spoke. "I meant to ask earlier, but did Suzie ask to come, Raphael?"]
[22:05] * Raphael laughed. "Royalty and fancy dresses in Japan? Of course she did. A bit too serious a trip for her to come, unfortunately…"
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["She sounds like a little Chii." Said Roku with a bright smile. "Still, it's a pity. I like Suzie.-"-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Of course you do, look at how much she ate after you cooked for us~" Chirped Misato.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["Well yes, but… We should bring her back some souvenirs. Does she have a kimono?"-
[22:08] <Minaplo> [Aksel, meanwhile, was not paying full attention. He kept looking over at someone else…-
[22:09] <Minaplo> [Alexandre Fontaine, who was busy trying to fend off a triple-hug from Ezra, Mana and Asuka. During the melee, Alexandre managed to look over at Aksel…-
[22:09] <Minaplo> [Aksel caught his eye, held it, then with great deliberateness, held up one of his little sandwiches, shoved it into his mouth whole, chewed and swallowed.-
[22:10] <Minaplo> [Alexandre's expression was one of utter bemusement; it lasted just long enough for Ezra to side-tackle him into Mana's waiting arms, an action which caused a long stream of murmuring from an unimpressed Colombian diplomat nearby.]
[22:20] <Raphael> "Uh…" Raphael had to tear himself away from the odd exchange, pulling his full attention back to Roku. "Rei bought her one on our first visit. She'd been given a katana by Pilot Akagi the night before, so she was rolling around the house showing off both at once… she thought it was very regal."
[22:27] <Minaplo> [Roku laughed. "Oh, that's lovely… Isn't it, Aksel?"-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["Huh?" He said, drawing his gaze away from Alexandre and the others. "Oh, er… Sorry. Who's Suzie?"]
[22:37] <Raphael> "My daughter, Mr. Heiden."
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["Oh, man!" Said Aksel; his face lit up and his eyes widened. "You have a kid!" He swivelled between Misato and Raphael, a huge grin on his face. "Hey, congratulations! That's awesome!"-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["Heh heh." Misato laughed, reddening a little.]
[22:42] <Raphael> Whatever stern act he'd been projecting shattered like a china plate dropped off a bridge. "Adopted daughter, pardon me. One day I'll learn to lead with that…"
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["Hey, no." Said Aksel. "Adopted or not, a kid's a kid. Right, dovey?"-
[22:45] <Minaplo> ["Haha, quite right." Said Roku with a fond little grin. "Aksel's fond of kids, in case it weren't obvious."-
[22:46] <Minaplo> ["Working with Roku means running into 'em sooner or later… Besides, Captain, we'll probably end up adopting ourselves one day. I can't have kids." He added.]
[22:52] <Raphael> "Ah," Raphael nodded slowly, frowning a little. "Like the Iron Guards. I hadn't even considered that…"-
[22:52] <Raphael> "You're right, a daughter's a daughter. I don't mean to make it sound like she's any less. And she'd like you, I think." That last pronouncement was said after a brief pause, as though he were admitting it to himself.
[22:57] <Minaplo> [Aksel beamed, as though Raphael had just said that Aksel was the best person on Earth.-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["Hey, honey?" Said Roku, gently cutting in. "Sorry to leave you, but Admiral Katsuragi and I need to speak about something by ourselves. We'll be back in a moment, ok?"-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["… Haha, s-sure!" Said Aksel, his grin suddenly wavering.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["That's alright?" Said Misato, looking at Raphael.]
[23:07] <Raphael> "Uh." For a moment he seemed to consider saying no, but this was an Ancient Ritual he had no power to resist. "… Sure."
[23:09] <Minaplo> ["Thanks." Misato gave him a quick peck on the cheek before she and Roku quietly slipped away, leaving Raphael and Aksel alone.-
[23:10] <Minaplo> [Aksel leaned around Raphael for a moment, watching them go, before pulling in and turning towards Raphael. "Admiral Katsuragi's pretty friendly." He said. "Way friendlier than I was expecting…"]
[23:16] <Raphael> "Your friend's that bad, hmm?"
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["Nah, Beatrix's strict but she's pretty cool. She took the time to spill coffee on Gadfly to cover for me being late 'cuz I stayed over Roku's for the night once." Said Aksel fondly.-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["But nah, it was the Admiral part that put me off. I was expecting her to be more of an asshole."]
[23:34] <Raphael> "Ah. You don't have much to worry about from Misato so long as you're keeping Roku happy," Raphael said, waving a hand. "And you seem to be doing a decent job of that."
[23:39] <Minaplo> [Aksel grinned.-
[23:41] <Minaplo> ["Roku's pretty fond of Admiral Katsuragi. She's talked about her a few times. Auntie Misato, she calls her." Said Roku. "From what I've gathered, all her sisters seem to feel the same way. It's pretty curious…"]
[23:45] <Raphael> Raphael allowed himself a little smile. "Misato's always tried to look after them in her own way. It was just Roku's sister Rei at first, but when the others started going through some of the same difficulties Rei referred them back to her and the Admiral did the best she could. She's proud of them, I think."
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["That's pretty cool." Said Aksel.-
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["Heh. It's kinda like you and the Admiral are their actual parents." Said Aksel with a smile; but try as he might, he couldn't keep an edge of envy out of his voice.]
[23:56] * Raphael went quiet for a second, eyeing Aksel closely. In a move that seemed to surprise even him he reached out to pat the other man on the shoulder.-
[23:56] <Raphael> "… I don't know about that. We've just helped where we could. Mostly they became amazing people all on their own."
[23:58] <Minaplo> [The gesture startled Aksel, and it showed; for a second he looked at though he'd been shocked. Nonetheless he quickly rallied. "H-heh, you're right about that. Roku's like a goddess to me."-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [At that, he looked around, and frowned slightly. "Do we have any chairs…? We don't. Okay. Wanna go outside?"]
[00:00] * Raphael gave a quick nod. "Certainly."
[00:03] <Minaplo> [A quick walk would take them into the outside, where the air was fragrant and the breeze cool.-
[00:04] <Minaplo> [After settling down on a step, they got to talking. "Roku's never told you guys how we met, did she?"]
[16:12] <Raphael> "… no," he said slowly, "It's never come up."
[16:18] <Minaplo> ["Hehehe." Aksel grinned. "One of the things Roku did when she was at the Synfront was do volunteer work with refugee families. Of course, we can't let an Eva pilot wander around by herself, so me and my team provided security."-
[16:33] <Minaplo> ["So the first time we're doing this, right, we just sort of stand apart, making sure there's no threats from anything… Then at the end of the day, Roku cooks up a big meal for the refugees. At the last moment she says to us, 'Hey, you've been working pretty hard too, why don't you guys join us?'"-
[16:34] <Minaplo> ["I was a little hesitant at first." Said Aksel with a laugh. "But she seemed so earnest and… Good. And she had such a pretty smile, and her food smelled divine, so I went along with it. Now, you know, I'd always been interested in cooking, I'd even started studying it when I could, but ah… This? This was the work of a master."-
[16:35] <Minaplo> ["So after everything, I helped her pack everything up and I told her just how great her food was. I said I wanted to be as good a cook as her, because food seemed awesome, so… Would she work with me?"-
[16:36] <Minaplo> ["She said yes." Said Aksel fondly. "So after that, a few nights a week I'd go over to her apartment and we'd work on food. Different recipes, different techniques, all these ingredients I'd never seen before, just… Us working together on something we enjoyed, making something great."-
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["And man was it great." He said with a grin. "Yeah, it's no wonder we fell in love considering how much fun we had. It all just felt natural, you know? I started to live for those days where I could cook with her, or escort her during her trips, and… Well, she started to feel the same way. Things went from there."-
[16:37] <Minaplo> [He laughed, blushing a little.]
[16:48] * Raphael laughed as well, but his attention seemed divided and his gaze was locked on one of the rows of trees disappearing into the distance. Finally he turned to Aksel. "She loves you, you know. Really and truly. Roku… both sides of this war have hurt her in ways she doesn't deserve, but you're something she chose for herself. Remember that, alright?"
[17:01] <Minaplo> [Aksel watched him quietly for a little bit with those guileless eyes.-
[17:02] <Minaplo> [Eventually, Aksel spoke with a smile: "I won't forget. We've chosen each other, and no one can make me forget that."]
[17:06] <Raphael> "Good man." Raphael gave a quick, approving nod before turning his attention back towards the garden.
[17:08] <Minaplo> [Aksel gave Raphael an accepting nod before turning his gaze too back to the garden.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["I nearly gave up." Said Aksel. "For good. After I returned to the Synfront and realised Roku was gone."-
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["Hell, not 'nearly'. I did give up. Tried to off myself, but it didn't stick. So I just sat in my room and did nothing."]
[17:18] <Raphael> "What brought you out of it?"
[17:20] <Minaplo> ["Ezra Caine." Said Aksel with a wry chuckle. "Here, you have time to listen to me babble about it?"]
[17:29] <Raphael> "If you want to talk about it, sure."
[17:30] <Minaplo> [Aksel nodded.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["He showed up out of the blue one day. Introduced himself. Said he wanted to spar. I told him to fuck off at first, but he mentioned that he could help me and Roku, so… I went with it."-
[17:46] <Minaplo> ["He told me, after we'd sparred," Said Aksel, "That… It was easy to look at a situation from the outside and see what's going wrong, but the people in the situation didn't have that luxury."-
[17:46] <Minaplo> ["So he told me… He'd be my outsider. He'd be the one watching on, getting the whole picture, and so he'd know what had to happen for me and Roku to be happy together."-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["I… I didn't get it at first, why he was doing it." Said Aksel slowly. "He said that for starters, he needed my help, and so I needed to be strong for that. But he also said it was because he wanted to see me happy."-
[17:50] <Minaplo> ["That's the part that confused me." He said. "Why would he just want me to be happy? It's not like he knew me."-
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["… But then I suppose Roku's the same." Said Aksel; and he smiled to himself. "She wanted those refugees to be happy and safe and loved, even though she didn't knew them and didn't have to do anything with them. She just gave herself over to them to make them happy just because she felt that was right."-
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["I guess Ezra's the same. People who can love other people without knowing them… No." He shook his head. "People who love other people as the default."]
[17:54] * Raphael nodded. "It's a rare quality - one you won't find much, even outside of the Synfront. We need to respect it where we find it."
[17:55] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, you're right." Said Aksel slowly. "I wonder…"-
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Anyway." He smiled wryly. "I was pretty slow to trust him. Especially when he transferred us to the battleship. Things improved immediately, but they improved a little too quickly, and in pretty specific ways. My first instinct was that it was a trap. That he was giving us exactly what we wanted so he'd love us without questioning it."]
[17:57] <Raphael> "Entirely reasonable, given the way I'm told they treated you."
[18:03] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Aksel with a nod. "And it's kinda my job to look out for the others."-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["… But he seems so fucking earnest." Said Aksel. "He had that look in the eye, the look Roku'd get when she explained about why she helped the refugees or whatever. I dunno, maybe I'm naive… But at the end of it all, I decided that I'd put my faith in him."-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["I was still floored as hell when he brought us up at the summit, though." He said, smiling awkwardly. "Also, I guess like all the world knows that Roku and I are a thing now, but damn."]
[18:13] * Raphael chuckled. "It gave me a bit of a shock as well, for what it's worth."
[18:14] <Minaplo> [Aksel laughed. "Yeah, it was fucking weird, right?"-
[18:15] <Minaplo> ["… Well. I guess you and I aren't really strangers to the fucking weird." Said Aksel awkwardly.]
[18:19] <Raphael> "I suppose. Can't really say I could've pictured this scene a couple of years ago…"
[18:22] <Minaplo> ["I'm not even a year old." Said Aksel.]
[18:23] * Raphael let out a whistling breath. "Is that… young for a Solomon?"
[18:26] <Minaplo> ["Naw. I'm one of the oldest there is." Said Aksel.]
[18:34] <Raphael> "Christ…"
[18:38] <Minaplo> ["There's a guy on the battleship." Said Aksel. "He's over seventy years old. I can't even imagine that long."-
[18:38] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[18:39] <Minaplo> ["I uh… I don't know for sure." Said Aksel slowly. "But I know this… Me… Must've been weird to you. Maybe worse than weird. Probably worse. We're told that part of why we use other peoples' faces is to unnerve 'em or their friends."-
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["And y'know, I can get that." Said Aksel. "I spotted one of Roku's sisters here earlier, Chiisana. And it's weird. The face, the body, they're the same, but the person inside it… Yeah, it's a little weird. It was weird with Prime Sophia bein' here and all too."-
[18:43] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["I didn't choose to look like this." Said Aksel. "I didn't choose to live like this. I didn't choose to live in a shitty hole in the ground. If I had the choice I'd live… Somewhere like this. It's nice here. Really nice. The plants here aren't dying, the city's not crumbling…"-
[18:45] <Minaplo> ["I chose Roku." Said Aksel, and it was barely a whisper. "That was really the first choice about my life I made."-
[18:50] <Minaplo> ["So I was afraid. That you'd not like me." He said. "That you'd hate me for what I was. That Roku'd end up having to handle that backlash… That being with me would start to hurt her more than it already has."-
[18:51] <Minaplo> ["But… You've been welcoming. Friendly. So… Thanks. It means a fucking lot."]
[19:11] <Raphael> "Well… you're welcome," Raphael said quietly, looking distinctly abashed. "If I'm honest, you probably caught me at a good time. Until very recently I wasn't in my proper body, and hearing that there was someone out there wearing my face when I wasn't… I was angry, but I know now that wasn't your fault."-
[19:11] <Raphael> "Besides, I got a stern talking to from Chiisana - you should say hello to her if you get the chance, by the way, she'd love to meet you - about making sure I gave you the chance you deserved, and if there's one Ayanami you do not want to cross…"
[19:11] <Minaplo> ["Damn."-
[19:12] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I'll make sure to say hi." Said Aksel. "It sounds like I owe her, I-I…"-
[19:12] <Minaplo> [Quite suddenly, Aksel's eyes began to water; then tears began to splash down his cheeks. "F-Fuck. So many p-people've helped us and I had no idea."]
[19:23] <Raphael> … for a moment Raphael was left looking deeply, painfully awkward, with his brow furrowed and hand hovering stupidly in mid-air. Eventually he managed to cautiously rest a comforting (?) hand on Aksel's trembling shoulder.-
[19:24] <Raphael> "It's the least you're owed, alright?" He said, voice a little too gruff for the situation at hand. "Don't worry about it."
[20:04] <Minaplo> ["T-Thanks." Gulped Aksel. He placed his own awkward hand over Raphael's. "I-I'll try."-
[20:05] <Minaplo> [He stayed like that for a few minutes more, until his tears dried and he was able to clear his throat.-
[20:07] <Minaplo> ["Man. It's pretty lucky that Roku and Admiral Katsuragi had to have that talk, huh?" Said Aksel. "They ended up giving us a great chance to talk."]
[20:12] <Raphael> "Funny how these things happen," Raphael said seriously.
[20:13] <Minaplo> ["No kidding." Said Aksel. "Still, can't all just be me, though. I mean, uh, I feel like I've been rambling about myself a whole lot, so…"-
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["So! You! Captain Guillory." Said Aksel. "Ah… That Admiral. What a woman, huh?"-
[20:21] <Minaplo> [He punched Raphael playfully in the shoulder.]
[20:26] <Raphael> "Uh… yes. Yes she is," he said carefully, scratching the back of his neck.
[20:28] <Minaplo> ["So what's she like when she's not at a coronation?"]
[20:43] <Raphael> "Not all that different, really. This is much more her sort of arena than mine… she's better at putting herself forward than I am," he said, returning his hand to his lap now that Aksel seemed to have calmed down.
[20:44] <Minaplo> ["Ah. So she's more open, and you're a little more… Uh, reserved."]
[20:51] <Raphael> "In a lot of ways," he chuckled.
[20:52] <Minaplo> ["So…"-
[20:52] <Minaplo> ["… Not like Ezra and Sarah then." Said Aksel awkwardly.]
[20:55] <Raphael> "No," he agreed hurriedly. "Definitely not like that."-
[20:55] <Raphael> "It took me a long time to get more open in -private-, let alone in public."
[20:57] <Minaplo> ["Really? But you seem so comfortable."]
[20:58] <Raphael> "I'm faking it most of the time," he admitted.
[21:00] <Minaplo> ["No shit?" Said Aksel, his eyes widening slightly. "That's… Huh."]
[21:04] * Raphael shrugged. "Less than I used to be, but I was lucky to have the right skills. You give orders, hmm? So you'd know how to look confident, even when you might not be?"
[21:04] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah, I guess that's true."]
[21:05] <Raphael> "Mmm. It's not perfect, but it works more often than it doesn't."
[21:14] <Minaplo> ["Well, if it works, it works." Said Aksel.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> ["I uh… Does that mean you really did meet and get drunk like the Admiral said? Because… Er, no offense, but that seems like it's more likely a scenario."]
[21:19] <Raphael> "You will never know, Mr. Heiden."
[21:23] <Minaplo> ["R-Right." Said Aksel, coughing.]
[21:27] <Raphael> "Alright." He said, patting his hands against his knees. "We should probably head back in, hmm? I haven't heard any shouting, so obviously things are relatively calm, but…"
[21:30] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, sure. Wonder if Roku and the Admiral's finished up…"]
[21:30] <Raphael> "I'm sure they'll understand." Raphael said amicably, getting to his feet.
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["Sure."-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [They headed inside- and it did indeed seem as though Roku and Misato had finished up; they were now standing with Chiisana as well by the wine table.-
[21:34] <Minaplo> [As they walked inside, however, they heard a silky voice from the wall just to the left of the door: "Careful the two of you don't fraternize too much." Said Narendra Gadhavi. "Wouldn't want to let loose any little secrets."]
[21:53] <Raphael> Raphael's turn was unhurried and calm, meeting Narendra's gaze with an even smile. "Go and see to the others, Mr. Heiden. I'll be right with you."
[21:55] <Minaplo> ["…" Aksel's expression was uncertain as his gaze flicked from Raphael's face toward Narendra's, but he slowly nodded. "Got it. Be careful."-
[21:55] <Minaplo> [With that, Aksel headed off, leaving Raphael to confront Gadhavi.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["Captain Raphael Guillory." Said Gadhavi with a small smile. "I'm Narendra Gadhavi, the Director of NERV. How do you do?"]
[22:05] <Raphael> "Well, thank you. Glad for the opportunity to meet one of your best soldiers."
[22:06] <Minaplo> ["Oh, he's not one of mine anymore…" Said Gadhavi sleekly. "He's one of Caine's now. Ezra Caine's, that is."]
[22:07] <Raphael> "That's a shame."
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["Oh, it's not, I assure you." Said Gadhavi. "Nonetheless, as the overseer of the Solomon Knights, I still feel some responsibility for his behaviour, so allow me to apologise for his talkativeness. I understand it can be a grating flaw."]
[22:19] <Raphael> His smile widened a fraction. "Not at all, Commander. To be frank it was a welcome change from the two-facedness and double-talk that sometimes makes up these events."
[22:21] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi laughed. "Well, amen to that. You're right, a few honest soldiers like us breaks up the monotony nicely."-
[22:21] <Minaplo> [He drained his glass. "Fancy yourself another drink, General?"]
[22:24] <Raphael> "…" He gave a small shrug. "Certainly."
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["Excellent."-
[22:26] <Minaplo> [It was a quick trip to the wine table on this side; by the time they got there, the last occupant- Juno Winter-Lorenz- had permitted herself to be led away by the talkative Canadian Prime Minister.-
[22:26] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi took two flutes of red, one of which he handed to Raphael. "There you go."]
[22:31] <Raphael> "Thank you," he said. He leaned one hip against the table to allow himself a peripheral view of the wider party without taking the rest of his attention away from Narendra and took a quick sip.
[22:33] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome."-
[22:34] <Minaplo> ["So, what did Heiden talk your ear off about?"]
[22:35] <Raphael> "Oh, this and that," he said airly. "No state secrets, I assure you."
[22:36] <Minaplo> ["That makes sense." Said Gadhavi. "Caine may be more frivolous politician than soldier, but he's not foolish enough to let Heiden hear anything he shouldn't."]
[22:37] <Raphael> "Mmm."
[22:42] <Minaplo> [Meanwhile, Aksel had returned to Roku and the others; Roku and he were back in each other's arms as they talked with Misato and Chii.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["Mmm." Murmured Gadhavi, his tone dissatisfied.]
[22:45] <Raphael> "Problem, Commander?"
[22:46] <Minaplo> ["Oh, you'd know better than I." Said Gadhavi, tipping his flute every so slightly towards Roku and Aksel. "The fool doesn't even know she's doing it."]
[22:50] <Raphael> "And what exactly is she doing?" Raphael said, seeming politely curious and entirely unaware of the edge that had slipped into his voice.
[22:54] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi chuckled indulgently. "You of all people would know, General. She's controlling him. Influencing him. Seducing him, whatever you want to call it."]
[23:05] * Raphael took a sip of his wine, gaze focused on Narendra over the rim. "Really."
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Gadhavi with a chuckle. "I mean, I know you're probably… Vaccinated, or whatever it is they call it, but I'm afraid, heh, that we're not so safe from their talents."]
[23:10] <Raphael> "So you would allege that the Ayanami's have mind control abilities that we are aware of and have the capacity to "vaccinate" against, but Mary Caine - who largely bankrolled the Project - is somehow unable to do the same for her elite soldiers and highest military officers."-
[23:10] <Raphael> "Seems like a very plausible idea, Commander," Raphael said, eyes wide with utmost sincerity.
[23:12] <Minaplo> ["…" Gadhavi eyed Raphael, his eyes narrowing a little. He frowned. "But you have to." He said. "You're… All in there. The reports say as much. You're linked to half of them, if you didn't have a vaccination you'd be overwhelmed by them."-
[23:15] <Minaplo> ["…" Gadhavi's eyes widened now. "That's what's happened, isn't it? You poor bastard. The bitches got to your head."]
[23:17] <Raphael> "Ah." Raphael said, the pleasant, relaxed smile returning. "Now I see why Marshall Caine got the top job, Commander. I'd been honestly curious."
[23:19] <Minaplo> [But Gadhavi wasn't smiling. He had a grim look about him. "Don't joke around, General. We can help you." He said urgently. "We can get you away from them. Von Brandt is teaching me how to block them out, he can do the same for you."]
[23:31] <Raphael> "Oh, -von Brandt- can help me. Excellent. That you're more terrified of the Ayanami's entirely hypothetical powers than you are of letting that man anywhere near your head says a great deal," Raphael said. He drained his glass and set it gently back on the table.-
[23:31] <Raphael> "Tell me, Commander, how do you explain Roku 'letting you' kick her in the face so hard you broke her skull? Did she just happen to feel like spending some more time in Medical?"
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["It's insidious." Said Gadhavi, his tone desperate yet eager, as though he were teaching Raphael a necessary truth. "Roku's not one of the stronger ones, so it needs to have time to build up. If you hit them fast and hard, you can knock them off balance. Even then, you have to be careful. You have to focus on contrary emotions. I saw a man- a career soldier, Mohammed Walid Shire- turn his
[23:36] <Minaplo> back on the UN after only half an hour in her presence, even if the actual defection took much longer."-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["I know it's hard for you to believe, trapped as you are, but you don't have to live like this." Said Gadhavi urgently. "You're not alone."]
[23:48] <Raphael> "This is pathetic," Raphael muttered icily. He turned and began walking unhurriedly back towards the others.
[23:49] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi looked heartbroken. "Guillory. Don't do this. Don't turn your back on me- von Brandt can help you. Shi tried to control him, he said so, and he resisted her! It's possible…"]
[23:52] <Raphael> "Good luck, Commander. Never lay a hand on one of them again."
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["We'll kill them one day, Guillory. When that day comes, you'll be thanking us." Said Gadhavi, regaining his composure with alarming haste.]
[23:57] <Raphael> Raphael said nothing. His shoulders shifted as he straightened his jacket on the way back towards his side of the room.

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