Cherry Blossom Procession 4 7 13

[16:31] <Minaplo> [The doctors had left them alone.-
[16:47] <Minaplo> [Pope Pius lay in the bed, his skin pale and waxy. His eyes fluttered, heavy and languid.-
[16:54] <Minaplo> [Michael and Leona sat on the little armchairs at his side. Michael's eyes were a little wide and his hands kept clenching; Leona's face was impassive, even hard.-
[16:55] <Minaplo> ["I shouldn't complain." Said Pius. "Shardlake, Romanov, those three poor girls- they didn't have this chance."-
[16:56] <Minaplo> ["A few days isn't much of a chance." Said Michael.-
[16:57] <Minaplo> ["It's enough. The Lord knows that much can change in a few days. It is how we remember the precious nature of time." Said Pius. "Not everything of importance has to be a years-long epic, Michael."-
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["I know." Said Michael, his voice quiet and strained. "But…"-
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["But?"-
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["If you go to sleep, you won't wake up." Said Michael; his voice cracked. "I don't know if I'm ready."-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["I know. We humans rarely are." Said Pius. He shifted slightly, sitting up a little. "There's a lot between us that's yet unsaid, so let's get it all out."-
[17:03] <Minaplo> ["What?"-
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["We need to talk about your direction, son." Said Pius, his voice growing ever firmer. "Putting William behind you, the Templars behind you, was a wonderful step, but now you seem wandering and aimless, a little…"-
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["I don't think that's true." Said Michael. "I've been fighting with the UEF, been helping out…"-
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["But you haven't really made up your mind on what you want to do after that- and you haven't decided who to spend your life with…" Said Pius.-
[17:13] <Minaplo> [Michael frowned. "Max, you're dying. Please don't waste your last moments lecturing me…"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["I will. Because I care." Said Pius. "I haven't ever approved of you sleeping around, but it's gotten worse recently-"-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["That's not your business." Said Medea.-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["Seriously. We've been over this before, Max. I'm not hurting anyone. It doesn't matter. Fucking hell." Said Michael, his face reddening slightly.-
[17:43] <Minaplo> ["Didn't you sleep with Mary Caine?" Muttered Medea. "Hypocritical-"-
[17:43] <Minaplo> [Pius sighed.-
[19:29] <Mianplo> ["I'm not worried about your partners. You're smart and empathic enough to keep from hurting them." Said Pius. "I'm worried about you, Michael. You've a big heart. It's one of your strengths, but you feel in love easily and struggle with keeping within your own boundaries."-
[19:30] <Mianplo> ["Besides, this sort of behaviour always peaks when something's eating at you." Added Pius. "I was the same way when I was your age, all told."-
[19:33] <Mianplo> [Medea glanced at Michael; she took in his grim, resigned expression.-
[19:37] <Mianplo> ["Perhaps you're right." Said Michael. "I work with the UEF because it's the right thing to do. And to atone for my previous mistakes. I don't regret what I'm doing, but I don't feel essential." Said Michael.-
[19:39] <Mianplo> ["No, that's wrong." He muttered, clutching his hands together. "I don't think I need to feel essential, as though without me the UEF would fall apart. But I'm still trying to sort things out. My identity's more my own, but I'm still looking for something that feels essentially me."-
[19:42] <Mianplo> ["I'm frightened, too." Said Michael. "You're-" he coughed. "And Fatima, I hope to God she's doing the smart thing right now and getting out of town, but I really fear she won't be able to, and we'll have to fight her."-
[19:42] <Mianplo> ["I miss her. And whatever you've said, you're wrong: I do hurt others. I hurt her a great deal. And I'm scared of what'll happen after all this is over, whether she's alive or dead."-
[19:43] <Mianplo> ["… But that's my problem." Said Michael. "Max, why bring this up now? We should be-"-
[19:44] <Mianplo> ["Saying goodbyes?" Pius chuckled. "I spent my life wanting to help those around me. This is how I want to say goodbye. To try and help you one last time." He turned to Medea. "And you as well."-
[19:44] <Mianplo> [Medea snorted.-
[19:44] <Mianplo> ["… I know. You blame me." Said Pius.-
[19:45] <Mianplo> ["Not wholly, but yeah, a great deal of it's on you." Said Medea. "You should've done more, looked harder into it. We were children. You wanted to spend your life helping others, but where were you then?"-
[19:46] <Mianplo> [Michael remained silent.-
[19:54] <Mianplo> ["… No, you're right." Said Pius quietly. "I didn't do enough. I didn't know, but I knew something was wrong… I am complicit. I don't have the right to ask forgiveness."-
[20:01] <Mianplo> ["But I am genuinely happy that you're here. That you're back with your brother, and your life is your own. I cannot help fix your past, but I would've done anything to have helped with your future." Said Pius.-
[20:09] <Mianplo> ["Thanks." Said Medea after a moment. "… I'd accept your help, too. Not because I forgive you. But because I think you're not lying when you say all that, and we need all the help we can get."-
[20:10] <Mianplo> ["Yes…" Said Pius. "You two. Stick together. Support one another. Be each other's confidant and friend. You're both living your own lives, but…"-
[20:10] <Mianplo> [His eyes flickered shut.-
[20:10] <Mianplo> [Michael was halfway out of his chair before Pius's eyes reopened.-
[20:11] <Mianplo> ["Stay awake, Max." Said Michael tersely. "Please."-
[20:11] <Mianplo> ["I'm so tired, though."-
[20:12] <Mianplo> [Pius let out a long, low sigh. "I'm not very old, am I? But I feel like I've been doing this for a hundred years."-
[20:12] <Mianplo> [His eyes met Michael's.-
[20:12] <Mianplo> [Michael reached out a quivering hand and took Pius's own.-
[20:13] <Mianplo> ["Did I ever tell you about how I became a priest?" Said Pius.-
[20:13] <Mianplo> ["You didn't." Said Michael.-
[20:16] <Mianplo> ["It wasn't for some noble ideal." Said Pius. "I was going to be an artist, after all. There was a year, though, when things went badly for me. Badly by pre-impact standards at any rate. My parents divorced, and my hands were damaged in a road accident. I was barely able to paint anymore. I began to drink a lot."-
[20:20] <Mianplo> ["You may remember that I was an orphan." Said Pius. "Losing my adoptive parents… That hurt. Losing my painting hurt too. It seemed like I was in a hopeless situation."-
[20:21] <Mianplo> ["That year, Mary Caine invited me to a function held on the Caine property, in support of the art scholarships the family funded, like the one I used to get into university. I went, and… It was miserable. People I didn't knew, people richer and happier and… More able than I was."-
[20:22] <Mianplo> ["I remember running from the party in a panic." He said. "In my daze, I stumbled into the Caine chapel."-
[20:23] <Mianplo> ["It was a humble little place. I knew the family catacombs were below, but the chapel itself was tidy and clean and… Totally empty. I found myself in a seat, just enjoying the relief."-
[20:23] <Mianplo> ["But I felt empty." Said Pius. "Like I was standing a little out of my own body, disconnected from it."-
[20:24] <Mianplo> ["Then Mary came in. She'd been looking for me." Said Pius. "She sat down next to me and asked what was going on. And I broke down. I told her everything, hoping she might know how I could get away from myself."-
[20:26] <Mianplo> ["She held me." Said Pius, his voice becoming a whisper. "And she told me that wherever I was, I could turn to her for help, because she was my friend, and she loved me."-
[20:27] <Mianplo> ["After she left, I remember… Mm… Looking up at the altar, questioning why she wanted to help me, whether I deserved it."-
[20:29] <Mianplo> ["And then I felt something." He said. "A sudden… Warmth inside me. It was warm and strong and quick, and it made me cry. I felt hope, and happiness, love, and the idea that I had a future."-
[20:31] <Mianplo> ["It was powerful. I can't possibly describe it. It was like being hugged by something massive and invisible and so… Beautiful."-
[20:31] <Mianplo> ["I remember thinking at the time… You are called to serve. That's what I thought. Suddenly out of nowhere."-
[20:32] <Mianplo> ["So I did. I joined the priesthood, and I served. I hoped that I would feel that warmth again, that moment of pure joy and love. I wanted to feel it again, more than almost anything. And I never have."-
[20:33] <Mianplo> ["And perhaps I never will." Said Pius. "Tonight, I sleep, and then I go to the Lord, or perhaps elsewhere, and who knows what happens next?"-
[20:34] <Mianplo> ["You won't go to God or whatever." Said Medea. "You'll go to the Eternity Drive."-
[20:35] <Mianplo> ["No, I won't." Said Pius. "I know I won't, because I know you'll destroy it first. You, and you, Michael, and all of the rest…"-
[20:36] <Mianplo> ["We will." Said Michael, his grasp tightening. "We will, Max. And you'll go to the Lord. You'll be free, along with everyone else."-
[20:36] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Pius. "And maybe I'll see Mary again, too…"-
[20:37] <Mianplo> ["Mary died in Impact." Said Pius. "I know that now. For years, I hoped that she'd survived in some way, but… The woman I loved is gone."-
[20:37] <Mianplo> ["… Michael."-
[20:37] <Mianplo> ["Yes?" Said Michael.-
[20:38] <Mianplo> ["… I'm tired." Said Pius. "Sing me that old, cheesy lullaby you always used to sing for me. Send me off one last time."-
[23:12] <Mianplo> [Michael stood up.-
[23:13] <Mianplo> [But he didn't say anything, not for a few minutes. He opened his mouth a few times, but no sound came out; his expression wavered, and his grip on Pius's hand tightened. He placed both his hands around the old man's own, and closed his eyes.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["The echoes of childhood whisper violence,", began Michael.-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["Cold wind beating out of the past,"-
[23:23] <Minaplo> [Rage in your throat, muffled silence…-
[23:23] <Minaplo> [Asuka sat in her own hospital armchair, next to Alexandre's side. She'd been there a lot, in the past few days.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> [In her left hand were the forms she needed to sign for the procedure to go ahead. In her right were her a10 connector clips; without them, her hair cascaded across her shoulders in a broad fiery sheet.-
[23:25] <Minaplo> [She stood up, slowly, and bent over Alexandre, kissing him gently. "I'm sorry." She mumbled.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> [She left the procedure forms on the bedside table.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> [Hold on; I will stand fast.-
[23:27] <Minaplo> [Asuka stopped at the door and looked back at Alexandre. He hadn't moved, not even a little. He wheezed as he breathed; the wheeze had grown worse, little by little, with every passing hour.-
[23:27] <Minaplo> [She opened the door with a shaky hand and walked out.-
[23:44] <Mianplo> [In the darkness your guardians had left you,-
[23:46] <Mianplo> [Blue stirred, his sight bleary and foggy. Pain shoots through his body, pain and hunger, utterly ravenous hunger. His distorted memory flashes images and sensations- spurts of blood, the taste of flesh on his tongue…-
[23:46] <Mianplo> [None to hear your cries, none to defend you…-
[23:46] <Mianplo> [He was weak. Weak without and weak within. He tried to pull himself forward, not really heading anywhere, simply hoping to move.-
[23:47] <Mianplo> [He managed a few centimetres before slumping back against the ground.-
[23:47] <Mianplo> [Hold on; I will stand fast.-
[23:47] <Mianplo> [I will stand fast; I will stand fast.-
[23:48] <Mianplo> [Matthias sat by Lexie's side. Like many tonight, he sat in a hospital chair, listening to the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor.-
[23:49] <Mianplo> [He sorted through his ration pack and began to set up the main meal.-
[23:49] <Mianplo> ["Nnnngh." Lexie groaned, stirring slightly. Her eyelids started to flicker.-
[23:49] <Mianplo> [Matthias dropped the ration pack carelessly and leapt to his feet. "Lexie?"-
[23:49] <Mianplo> ["M…ttias?" She mumbled, a little sob in her voice. "Hurts…"-
[23:50] <Mianplo> ["It's okay. I'm here." He took her hand gently and rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. "It's okay."-
[23:50] <Mianplo> [You are safe in the daylight at last.-
[23:51] <Mianplo> ["Well then." Said Alphonse, pouring the ninth glass of wine- one for each person sitting around the table. It had been stolen from somewhere and setup awkwardly in what was essentially an abandoned storeroom. Plastic chairs ringed the table.-
[23:53] <Mianplo> [To Alphonse's left sat Casey Cole, Cornelia Archibald, Minerva Linden and Albert St. Francis; to his right sat Daniel Forrest, Liliya Lytvynenko, Rosamund Prescott and Paris-Alexander Macquarie. Each had their own glass of wine, filled near to brim.-
[23:55] <Mianplo> ["We were all trained with an ordained purpose: to be the commanders of an international paramilitary force dedicated to carrying out the will of Seele." Said Alphonse. "For good or evil, that purpose will soon come to an end."-
[23:56] <Mianplo> ["Most of us were Companions; Casey wasn't, but she understands same as us." Said Alphonse. "I don't know what the future will bring, or what purposes we'll find for ourselves."-
[23:56] <Mianplo> ["I think I'll help rebuild Britain. But more to the point, I'm going to start a family." Said Alphonse.-
[23:57] <Mianplo> ["Gonna start tonight, Wellington?" Asked Forrest.-
[23:59] <Mianplo> ["Definitely not." Said Alphonse curtly. "I wouldn't talk either, Forrest." He eyed Forrest's arm pointedly, which was snug around Liliya's waist.-
[23:59] <Mianplo> ["Hmph."-
[00:00] <Mianplo> ["I wouldn't be averse to it." Said Liliya lightly. "That goes for the rest of you, either. We could die tomorrow."-
[00:00] <Mianplo> ["Hear, hear." Said Minerva cheerfully, downing her glass.-
[00:00] <Mianplo> ["You were supposed to wait to the end of my speech, Linden." Said Alphonse.-
[00:00] <Mianplo> ["We're planning sex romps, now, Al. Speech is over by default."-
[00:01] <Mianplo> ["I hate you all, but fine." Said Alphonse. "No one hear is permitted to die. All of us are needed in the new world, and it'd be a real shit to waste you all on something like Mary Caine."-
[00:01] <Mianplo> [With that, he downed his own wine to the cheers of the gathering.-
[00:01] <Mianplo> ["Fuck you, Wellington! I'll die on my own orders-"-
[00:02] <Mianplo> [Nightmare and fear, they have no power here…-
[00:22] <Mianplo> ["I wish it were all as simple as they hope it will be." Said Augustine, patting Sophia's hand.-
[00:23] <Mianplo> [She eyed him. She was no longer suspicious of the enigmatic prime, but she wasn't exactly to hug him either.-
[00:23] <Mianplo> ["Caine will have something up her sleeve. She always does." Said Augustine. "When that happens… Who knows what'll happen?"-
[00:24] <Mianplo> ["But in this one instance, I want to take the ambiguous and make clarity of it." Said Augustine. He withdrew his hand; sitting in Sophia's palm was an amulet. A golden circle, bounding a silver triangle, in which sat, in pearl, the outline of an eye shedding a tear. It hung off a golden chain.-
[00:25] <Mianplo> ["The Weeping Eye is my sign." Said Augustine. "It means nothing except me, which is to say it means as much as you want it to mean. It will not protect you from death."-
[00:26] <Mianplo> ["But between you and I, the Eye is a covenant, drafted in the eons past when the stars were young. By it I promise you that you do for me only that which you will, and that through me, your freedom is guaranteed."-
[00:27] <Mianplo> [Sophia eyed it, her eyes narrowing as she held it up to the light. Eventually, she placed it around her neck.-
[00:27] <Mianplo> [She looked at Augustine and, slightly awkwardly, smoothed out his fringe.-
[00:27] <Mianplo> [His eyes widened in surprise; then he laughed.-
[00:27] <Mianplo> ["I will see you soon, my very good friend."-
[00:27] <Mianplo> [He turned and left, leaving Sophia to her Phantoms.-
[00:28] <Mianplo> [She fingered the amulet, rubbing her thumb over the eye. Sudden words came to her lips, bidden by an old memory-
[00:28] <Mianplo> ["The First and Final Prophet."-
[00:28] <Mianplo> [I will stand fast.-
[01:10] <Mianplo> [Noise. The jingling of a bell. The crash of a door.-
[01:10] <Mianplo> [I will listen to the terrors that tried you.-
[01:10] <Mianplo> [Blue stirred. Someone else was in the room.-
[01:10] <Mianplo> [They stood over him. His hairs stirred, his neck twitched; he wanted to fight, as broken as he was, he wanted to kill-
[01:11] <Mianplo> [I will cradle the child that breathes inside you.-
[01:12] <Mianplo> [Something was placed on his head. Something soft and slightly bent, but instantly recognisable- his hat.-
[01:12] <Mianplo> [It was as though he'd slipped into a warm bath. The jagged edges of his frayed nerves were soothed and quieted. The pain in his legs lessened, and his hunger began to peter out.-
[01:13] <Mianplo> [Arms beneath his body, lifting him. He saw his benefactor.-
[01:13] <Mianplo> ["Oh, Blue…" Murmured Rei. "It's alright now. You're safe."-
[01:13] <Mianplo> [Though you take the shape of a hundred ancient horrors…-
[01:18] <Mianplo> [Tsubaki stood on the deck, watching the frozen sunset. She was still wearing her prison garb.-
[01:18] <Mianplo> ["It's pretty." She said, turning toward Ritsuko.-
[01:18] <Mianplo> [They weren't alone; Maya stood to Ritsuko's left, whilst Mana stood at Tsubaki's side.-
[01:18] <Mianplo> ["Yeah, it is." Said Ritsuko.-
[01:19] <Mianplo> [Though you strike at me and flee into your sorrow…-
[01:19] <Mianplo> ["We're sorry, Tsucchin." Said Maya, a sudden sob in her voice. "We didn't know what you were going through-"-
[01:19] <Mianplo> [Mana suddenly seized Tsubaki around the waist, pulling her tight. "We're idiots-"-
[01:20] <Mianplo> ["There's going to be punishment, Tsucchin. A lot of people were hurt." Said Ritsuko. "… But we take some of the blame, too. We put too much on you. But you can trust us now. We'll stick by you through whatever you need to go through."-
[01:20] <Mianplo> [Tsubaki's eyes widened a little- and then she smiled.-
[01:21] <Mianplo> [The world was a different place to her now. The turgid, rotted love, built up in her over years of synchronisations and self-hatred and confusion and yearning… It had been drained from her like poisoned blood.-
[01:25] <Mianplo> [Her mind was at last cool and quiet.-
[01:26] <Mianplo> [She put an arm around Mana- and another around Ritsuko. Maya stept in a little as well, resting against Ritsuko's shoulder. Ritsuko looked rather uncomfortable, but she hid it fairly well.-
[01:27] <Mianplo> ["I love you, sis." Said Tsubaki quietly.-
[01:37] <Mianplo> [Asari passed unnoticed. He had been enjoying his freedom on deck when the Akagi clan had arrived.-
[01:38] <Mianplo> [He eyed them now from a distance, his hands behind his back.-
[01:38] <Mianplo> [He smiled, nodded once, then left via the elevator.-
[01:39] <Mianplo> [In the bowels of the ship he found his teammates, all newly-free- and already at the training fields.-
[01:39] <Mianplo> ["We were waitin'." Said Toji.-
[01:39] <Mianplo> ["Did you enjoy your walk?" Asked Hikari gently.-
[01:40] <Mianplo> ["… Yeah, I did." Said Asari. He took in a deep breath.-
[01:40] <Mianplo> [Then picked up the ball. "Three-on-three skins vs shirts, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit?"-
[01:40] <Mianplo> [Hold on; I will stand fast.-
[01:40] <Mianplo> [I will stand fast; I will stand fast.-
[01:41] <Mianplo> ["We'll have to say goodbye to the little man tomorrow." Said Frédéric.-
[01:41] <Mianplo> ["I don't want to see him go." Said Sophie. "But I get it. I'm giving him to Mazarin to look after."-
[01:42] <Mianplo> [The two sat by little Patrice's crib. Their growing baby boy was fast asleep, one pudgy arm curled around a plush EVA-01 toy.-
[01:44] <Mianplo> ["Smart." Said Fréd. He sighed.-
[01:44] <Mianplo> ["We can't think of this as the last time." He said, a little firmer. "Okay?"-
[01:45] <Mianplo> ["Okay." Sophie leaned against his side. "One way or another, it's nearly over…"-
[01:45] <Mianplo> ["It's been an adventure." He said with a chuckle. "But I'll be glad to rest my feet. Maybe go on a world holiday."-
[01:45] <Mianplo> ["Mmm. We can invite Aline along." Said Sophie.-
[01:46] <Mianplo> ["And Sera, too." Said Fréd.-
[01:46] <Mianplo> ["Take our entertainment with us?" Said Sophie with a grin.-
[01:46] <Mianplo> ["Sure, those two oughta be good for a laugh. Besides, Sera deserves to spend time with his little nephew." Said Fréd.-
[01:47] <Mianplo> ["Unless…"-
[01:47] <Mianplo> ["Unless?" Asked Fréd.-
[01:47] <Mianplo> ["We let Sera babysit at home…?"-
[01:47] <Mianplo> ["Ooooh."-
[01:48] <Mianplo> ["Actually, we shouldn't tease. He'd do a good job. He's got a good head on his shoulders." Said Fréd. "Patrice always liked him…"-
[01:48] <Mianplo> [A moment of silence.-
[01:48] <Mianplo> ["We're gonna free him." Said Sophie. "And all of them."-
[01:48] <Mianplo> ["We will." Said Fréd.-
[01:48] <Mianplo> ["I love you."-
[01:48] <Mianplo> ["I love you too."-
[01:53] <Mianplo> [You are safe in the daylight at last.-
[01:54] <Mianplo> [They sat together in the tub, the hot water high and slowly rising. Kou on the left, Go on the right.-
[01:55] <Mianplo> [He'd shown up at her room; gently, he'd taken her hand and led her here, and now they sat, quietly, their arms around each other.-
[01:56] <Mianplo> [Go had wept and Kou and wept, and the two had listened to each other, but neither of them had spoken.-
[01:56] <Mianplo> [Nightmare and fear; they have no power here.-
[02:08] <Mianplo> ["… It was a little strange meeting yourself, yes." Said Chiisana. "I suppose I should be used to something like this, yet…"-
[02:11] <Mianplo> ["What it feels like is looking at a living, breathing what-if. I can't really explain how unnerving it truly is." She said.-
[02:12] <Mianplo> ["But… It's something I'll have to live with." She said, putting her arm around Makoto's. "C'mon, let's go home. I don't want to waste what time we have left."-
[02:12] <Mianplo> ["Sure thing. Dinner's on me tonight, alright?" Said Makoto warmly.-
[02:12] <Mianplo> ["Aw~"-
[02:13] <Mianplo> [The Empress watched the two figures as they walked away. Her expression was impassive, although an on-looker might see- just for a moment- a hint of sorrow. But it was soon gone, and the Empress walked away, her own what-if to live with.-
[02:13] <Mianplo> [I will stand fast.-
[02:13] <Mianplo> [Birds flash upon a branch in winter.-
[02:15] <Mianplo> [Marianne rubbed her eyes.-
[02:16] <Mianplo> [Preparations upon preparations. Plans, paperwork, repairs…-
[02:17] <Mianplo> ["How much have you slept this week?"-
[02:19] <Minaplo> [Marianne looked up at the entrance of her ready room. Juno Winter-Lorenz stood in the doorway, a bottle of wine and a pair of glasses in hand.-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["About three hours a night, why? What's that wine for?" She asked suspiciously.-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["I thought we might enjoy a little drink together." Said Juno. "May I come in, my marshal?"-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["… Sure." Said Marianne. Juno hastily stepped in and took a seat.-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["Lots of people are taking the opportunity to spend time with friends and family before go-time." Said Juno. "You should do the same."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["Eh." Marianne shrugged. "I left Yanmei with Isaiah, and my other friends are with their partners too…"-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["And of course, all of my family is in the Eternity Drive, so."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["Oh."-
[02:22] <Minaplo> [Juno placed the glasses down and filled them up.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> ["Then let me be your friend for an evening." Said Juno.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> ["Why?" Said Marianne.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> ["Why? Why else? I don't have anyone here myself." Said Juno. "I heard you were free. And also…"-
[02:24] <Minaplo> ["I'm interested in getting to know you better." Said Juno. "You've always intrigued me. You're smart, friendly, and of course I find you attractive. I don't have any other reasons."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["I see."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> [After a moment, Marianne took a glass. "Thank you."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome, my marshal." Said Juno warmly.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> ["… I don't think I'm ready for a romantic relationship right now, though." Said Marianne. "I kind of get that's what you were hoping for."-
[02:26] <Minaplo> ["Mm, you're perceptive, but I didn't have my hopes up. Now's… Not a good time." Said Juno. "Promising commitment on a night like this one is… Foolish."-
[02:27] <Minaplo> ["Agreed. Something for teenagers and idiots." Said Marianne with a little smile.-
[02:28] <Minaplo> ["To teenagers and idiots, then." Said Juno, raising her glass; Marianne clinked her own against it.-
[02:28] <Minaplo> ["You're right, though. I may as well relax." Said Marianne. "I'm mostly doing this out of anxiety, now; we're as prepped as we're going to be."-
[02:28] <Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said Juno.-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["… You know, I have some food of a more luxurious nature stashed away in my quarters." Said Juno. "Don't ask how I got it-"-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["How did you-"-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["Ah-ah." Juno shook her head. "If you don't tell anyone, I'd be happy to cook it up for you tonight…?"-
[02:29] <Minaplo> [Marianne eyed her.-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["Nothing romantic. I promise." Said Juno seriously. "Just some good food and company."-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["… Alright. I can do that."-
[02:30] <Minaplo> [Juno smiled; a moment latter, Marianne did too.-
[02:30] <Minaplo> [Ice in the sun begins to splinter…-
[02:44] <Minaplo> ["… We used to grow our own food, so yeah, I ended up being a pretty good cook." Said Zhengsheng, siphoning spoonfuls of hot pot into three bowls- one for him, and two for the Simonides twins.-
[02:45] <Minaplo> ["An engineer and a great cook? What a catch~" Trilled Sophia Simonides. Elene rolled her eyes with a near-audible 'click'.-
[02:45] <Minaplo> ["Is she-?" asked Zhengsheng.-
[02:45] <Minaplo> ["Extremely." Said Elene curtly, pulling the bowl towards her. "It's gross, stop it."-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["I can't help it." Said Sophia with a giggle. She took her own bowl. "Thanks, Zhengsheng~?"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> [Their eyes met. Sophia took a mouthful of hot pot, slowly, seductively-
[02:46] <Minaplo> [And instantly spat it out. "ohmygod"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["What?! What's wrong?!" Shouted Zhengsheng.-
[02:46] <Minaplo> [Sophia coughed. "My mouth! My mouth! It's so hot, what did you put in this?"-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Ohhh."-
[02:47] <Minaplo> [Zhengsheng laughed sheepishly. "Sorry. I forgot to mention… I'm a son of Shu, if it isn't spicy then it just isn't food."-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Hell yeah." Said Elene, picking her own bowl up.-
[02:47] <Minaplo> [Sophia groaned. "Spicy food sucks."-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["Sorry. I'll add some cream to it…?"-
[02:48] <Minaplo> [The doorbell trilled.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["huh? Come in?" Said Zhengsheng.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> [The door opened.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["Hello." Said Eufemia. "Sorry for interrupting. I spoke to Admiral Katsuragi, and she suggested I might like being here…?"-
[02:49] <Minaplo> [Elene's gaze narrowed slightly as she tried to put a face to a name.-
[02:49] <Minaplo> ["Oh, you're Eufemia, right? The Brazilian pilot?" Said Sophia warmly. "She's allowed, right, Zhengsheng?"-
[02:49] <Minaplo> [But Zhengsheng was already grabbing a fourth bowl. "Make yourself at home, pilot."-
[02:49] <Minaplo> [Eufemia smiled.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [You will walk with no fetters to bind you…-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [Isaiah watched through the transparent surovite.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [Euphemia One turned around, her head bowed.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [Slowly, Isaiah picked up the phone.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> [Euphemia did the same.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry." Said Euphemia.-
[02:50] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["You made a mistake. A major mistake. People died." Said Isaiah.-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["You have to ask their forgiveness, not mine. But I came to see you, regardless. Do you want to make things right?"-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Euphemia.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Then learn this and learn it good: you don't get any more chances." Said Isaiah. "Conditioning, social pressures, whatever, I understand it, but it ends now. You're free."-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Free?"-
[02:53] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Free to make your own decisions. To live as a moral, fully realised human being who doesn't let others force them into evil. Do you understand what I'm saying?"-
[02:53] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[02:55] <Minaplo> ["Yes. I believe I do." Said Euphemia, lifting her head. "… I want that for myself. But I don't know if I'm strong enough to achieve it without help. Can I… Ask you for my help?"-
[02:55] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Isaiah. He gave her a small smile.-
[02:55] <Minaplo> [And she returned it.-
[02:55] <Minaplo> [All the love you have wanted will find you.-
[02:56] <Minaplo> [Blue awoke within the clean linens of a hospital bed. It was quiet and blessedly cool.-
[02:56] <Minaplo> [The nurses had smartly kept his hat upon his head.-
[02:56] <Minaplo> [The door opened- and in came Rei.-
[02:56] <Minaplo> ["Hi, Blue."-
[02:56] <Minaplo> ["Miss Rei." Said Blue. He looked up- then looked away. "You saved me. I fucked up. I promised not to kill-"-
[02:57] <Minaplo> ["I know." Said Rei.-
[02:58] <Minaplo> ["I don't think I can be trusted. Look, I even broke my own legs just to make sure."-
[02:58] <Minaplo> ["I tried so hard, Miss Rei. I really did. And I fucked it. All because I lost my damn hat- I-"-
[02:59] <Minaplo> ["I trust you." Said Rei.-
[02:59] <Minaplo> [Blue fell silent.-
[02:59] <Minaplo> ["I don't think you would've attacked me." Said Rei.-
[02:59] <Minaplo> ["You don't know that."-
[03:00] <Minaplo> ["No, you're right. But I think I'm right too. I can't prove it, but somehow… I think my instincts are right on the money." She smiled.-
[03:00] <Minaplo> [It made him lighter, warmer. "You're too damn nice to me."-
[03:01] <Minaplo> ["If I were only as good to people as they thought they deserved, I probably wouldn't have friends." Said Rei. "But I love them anyway, and make sure they know it."-
[03:01] <Minaplo> ["Speaking of…"-
[03:01] <Minaplo> [Alphonse stepped through the door, carrying a table. "Evening, Blue."-
[03:02] <Minaplo> [Matthias came after, carrying a very large food bag. "Blue."-
[03:02] <Minaplo> ["What's all this?" Asked Blue.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> ["You've fed us plenty of times, so it's time to return the favour." Said Alphonse.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> ["I cooked." Said Matthias. "It's very good."-
[03:03] <Minaplo> [Rei just beamed.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> ["You idiots." Muttered Blue. "You should be spendin' this time together with your loved ones. You might not get another night alone, y'know?"-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["Don't worry too much about that." Said Rei happily. "The night's still young. Besides, we are spending time with our loved ones. You’re family, Blue."-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["M'not."-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["You are."-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["Please." Said Blue, his hands gripping the sides of the bed. "Don't waste-"-
[03:05] <Minaplo> ["Blue." Said Rei, gently but firmly. "Let yourself be happy."-
[03:05] <Minaplo> [Blue stared at her. Then his face twisted, like he was in pain; and then he started to cry. "Miss Rei- damnit- damnit-"-
[03:05] <Minaplo> [Rei held him. He tensed at first- and then the tension slowly left his body.-
[03:06] <Minaplo> [Hold on; I will stand fast.-
[03:06] <Minaplo> [I will stand fast. I will stand fast…-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [Kaiden Peters sat in his office, enjoying the last few crumbs of a ration-issued chocolate brownie when his doorbell sounded. "Come in!"-
[03:07] <Minaplo> [The door opened, revealing none other than Minerva Linden.-
[03:07] <Minaplo> ["Madame President." Said Peters, leaping to his feet and snapping a salute.-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["At ease, general." Said Minerva. "May I come in?"-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["Of course, Madame."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> [Minerva entered. "How are you going?"-
[03:09] <Minaplo> ["Well, Madame. All my preparations are done. We took more losses than I like, but our guys? They're damn well good to go on your say-so, Madame."-
[03:09] <Minaplo> ["That's good." Said Minerva. "But… What about you?"-
[03:12] <Minaplo> ["Me? I'm… Alright, Madame. Been sleeping a bit bad what with the time freeze and all." Said Peters. "I'd have liked to say goodbye to the folks, y'know, but what can you do?"-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["I know how you feel." Said Minerva, taking a seat near his table. "Please, Minerva will do."-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["Yes, Madame. er, Minerva. In that case, just call me Kaiden."-
[03:13] <Minaplo> ["Got it." Said Minerva with a laugh.-
[03:14] <Minaplo> ["I just came back from a little reunion party with the other Companions." Said Minerva. "It made me feel a little melancholy."-
[03:14] <Minaplo> ["That's no good." Said Kaiden.-
[03:16] <Minaplo> ["Oh, it's nothing unusual. I often feel a little melancholy. Sometimes I feel a lot melancholy." She said with a smile. "I don't quite know why."-
[03:16] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Kaiden, nodding. "Anything I can do?"-
[03:17] <Minaplo> ["I'll be okay." Said Minerva. "I figured though… Maybe I should spend time socialising a bit before the big day. You understand? Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"-
[03:17] <Minaplo> ["What do you wanna know, Madame-?"-
[03:18] <Minaplo> ["Well, you have family back home?"-
[03:19] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. My folks're pastry chefs." Said Kaiden. "And I got three siblings… They're all off living their own lives, too, all over the country. Well, one's in Canada, but…"-
[03:19] <Minaplo> ["Mmhm." Said Minerva. "What about your partner?"-
03:20] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I don't have one." Said Kaiden with a laugh. "I was drafted right outta college. Spent all the time since in the army- I didn't really have the time, you know?"-
[03:21] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I know the feeling." Said Minerva. "The Companions kept me busy too. And then the war efforts…"-
[03:21] <Minaplo> ["You higher-ups do a lot of work, huh?" Said Kaiden. "Meetings, paperwork, plannings…"-
[03:21] <Minaplo> ["So much. Have you enjoyed your own taste of staff officerdom?"-
[03:22] <Minaplo> [Kaiden laughed. "It sure as hell gets kinda dry after a while. Not a long while, either."-
[03:23] <Minaplo> ["Look forward to more of it."-
[03:24] <Minaplo> ["Nooo." Said Kaiden. "Seriously. You know I was gonna be an engineer, right? I never actually wanted to be a military leader."-
[03:24] <Minaplo> ["I didn't either." Said Minerva softly.-
[03:25] <Minaplo> [The silence thudded home.-
[03:25] <Minaplo> [After a few awkward moments, Minerva rose. "I shouldn't keep you. It's late, you'll want all the sleep you can get."-
[03:25] <Minaplo> ["O-Of course." Said Kaiden.-
[03:26] <Minaplo> [Minerva walked out of the doorway- then turned. "Mr. Peters- Kaiden- I didn't… Come here for just a social visit. Actually, I kind of did, but… I came to ask you something."-
[03:26] <Minaplo> ["What is it?" He asked.-
[03:27] <Minaplo> [She took a deep breath. "Would you like to spend the night with me?"-
[03:27] <Minaplo> ["… Errrrr."-
[03:27] <Minaplo> [Kaiden stared at her, waiting for the 'gotcha' moment, but it never came; her expression was deathly serious. It was too late; he was already flushing.-
[03:28] <Minaplo> ["We could die tomorrow. I don't want to be alone tonight." Said Minerva.-
[03:29] <Minaplo> [Kaiden swallowed. "T-This is really sudden. I don't know what to say. Uh, is this appropriate?"-
[03:29] <Minaplo> ["No, not at all." Said Minerva.-
[03:30] <Minaplo> ["Well… I don't know… You're my commander-in-chief." Said Kaiden. "It seems…"-
[03:30] <Minaplo> ["Besides. You're… Very pretty, ma'am, but you're also very young. It feels, y'know… Bad."-
[03:31] <Minaplo> ["I'm your commander-in-chief and I'm very young?" Said Minerva, giving him a little smile.-
[03:31] <Minaplo> ["That seems like a dumb set of counterpoints, but yeah." Muttered Kaiden.-
[03:32] <Minaplo> ["Don't worry about it." Said Minerva. "I understand what you mean. I'm not that young, though. I've… Seen a lot of ugly things in the world. A lot of those came when I was even younger now."-
[03:34] <Minaplo> ["My training was brutal." Said Minerva. "I don't think you can really understand what they put us through. I spent so much of my life being dominated by others. Being forced to do things I didn't want to do, to learn things I hated."-
[03:35] <Minaplo> ["Kaiden, for once, I'm choosing something I do want. You should trust that I know what I'm doing."-
[03:36] <Minaplo> ["I mean, of course I do, Madame. It just- sorry." Said Kaiden. "I don't know what to think."-
[03:37] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Minerva. She smiled. "I'll leave you be."-
[03:38] <Minaplo> ["Okay. Goodnight, Madame."-
[03:38] <Minaplo> [She turned to leave.-
[03:38] <Minaplo> [A moment later, Kaiden had stepped out to follow her. "If we fuck up, the world's a goner, right?"-
[03:39] <Minaplo> [Minerva slowed. "That's right. Mary Caine destroys us and has total control over life and death."-
[03:39] <Minaplo> [Kaiden swallowed.-
[03:39] <Minaplo> ["Aw, shit. I don't want to be alone tonight, either. Lead on, my captain."-
[03:39] <Minaplo> [Minerva stared at him; and then she beamed and took his hand.-
[03:39] <Minaplo> [You are safe in the daylight at last.-
[03:40] <Minaplo> [Surov looked small.-
[03:41] <Minaplo> [The Sol Sphere had tortured him, of that there had been no secret. They had forcibly torn his mechadendrites and many of his cybernetics out.-
[03:41] <Minaplo> [He looked small, and felt weak and tired.-
[03:42] <Minaplo> [Still, he wasn't alone.-
[03:42] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati had set up a table in the lab. She shared it with Navah, Achille Adler- to Surov's dismay yet also quiet happiness- and finally, Isha Misra, who sat to Sarasvati's left.-
[03:43] <Minaplo> [They were laughing, enjoying a meal. The last meal, they kept saying.-
[03:43] <Minaplo> [Surov knew that victory was not guaranteed.-
[03:44] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati… His daughter. She was animated tonight, beside herself with joy to be with Adler, her other father. Delighted to be sharing a table with Isha, her teammate and friend and- potentially more-? The thought baffled Surov, but it didn't anger him.-
[03:44] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati's decisions were gold to him.-
[03:44] <Minaplo> [He approached the table.-
[03:45] <Minaplo> ["I hate to ask." Said Surov. "But I'm not ready for our upcoming battle. I need my cybernetics back, and I need them tonight."-
[03:45] <Minaplo> ["… I need your help." He said to Adler and Sarasvati. "Can you help me?"-
[03:46] <Minaplo> ["I've wanted nothing more than to put you back together, Barzy-baby." Said Adler fondly.-
[03:46] <Minaplo> ["Offer rescinded. I'll manage on my own." Said Surov, abruptly turning away. Navah had crept away from the table to throw a blanket over a nearby Sera de Pteres, who was slumped, asleep, over a workshop bench.-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["… No, I won't." Said Surov, turning. "Can you help me? Please?"-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Sarasvati. "We'll all help."-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["What'll I do?" Asked Isha.-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["Just help me and follow my instructions." Said Sarasvati.-
[03:48] <Minaplo> ["Same as usual, then? I can do that." Said Isha, picking up the last spare rib.-
[03:48] <Minaplo> [Surov took it from his hands and swallowed down the meat.-
[03:48] <Minaplo> ["Hey!"-
[03:49] <Minaplo> ["Time for food later. For now, work." Said Surov. "Poyekhali!"-
[03:49] <Minaplo> [Nightmare and fear, they have no power here…-
[03:49] <Minaplo> [Asuka walked down the corridor. Eva had been kind enough to inform her- NeoSpartan party in one of the big group dorms.-
[03:50] <Minaplo> [She didn't really feel like going. Yet… She also didn't want to be alone.-
[03:50] <Minaplo> [And at least she could score some wine and food.-
[03:53] <Minaplo> [As she walked, she focused on her hair, pulling it into bunches so she could clip her A10 connector clips back on. She usually did this with a mirror- they'd probably end up a little crooked. No matter.-
[03:54] <Minaplo> [She came to the NeoSpartan room. The could already faintly hear the sound of laughing and arguing, the telltale signs of a NeoSpartan party.-
[03:55] <Minaplo> [She hit the doorbell. A moment later it opened.-
[03:55] <Minaplo> [Sitting around the dining table were Edgar, Eva, Pham, Nataniel and Remy. They were playing cards, and Eva was winning. Disturbingly, Edgar was mostly naked.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["Strip poker?" Asked Asuka.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["No." Said Remy.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["No?" She looked at Edgar. "But-"-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["It helps me bluff." Said Edgar.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["Gross." Said Asuka, stepping into the room. "Is there any room for me?"-
[03:57] <Minaplo> ["'Course. We left a chair for you." Said Eva, pulling out a chair. Asuka quickly sat.-
[03:57] <Minaplo> [There was one other empty chair at the table. "Who else is coming?"-
[03:58] <Minaplo> ["No one." Said Pham after a moment.-
[03:58] <Minaplo> ["… Oh."-
[03:58] <Minaplo> [Asuka looked around at them all. People she remembered from her bloody childhood. People she'd fought both alongside and against.-
[03:58] <Minaplo> [Their number had once been a lot larger.-
[03:58] <Minaplo> [… What was one more?-
[03:59] <Minaplo> [Asuka took her hand of cards.-
[04:00] <Minaplo> [It was a strictly average hand. The sort you could edge into a win if you were smart. If your opponent were real sharp, however, you probably didn't stand a chance.-
[04:01] <Minaplo> [… Already she was feeling Alexandre's absense. He would've taken this hand and smirked, smug as you please. He was good at winning with a bad hand.-
[04:03] <Minaplo> [It was like a preview of the future. The future she had chosen.-
[04:04] <Minaplo> [Her hands shook.-
[04:04] <Minaplo> ["Asuka? You alright?" Asked Edgar.-
[04:04] <Minaplo> ["I'm fine. Don't worry. I just…"-
[04:04] <Minaplo> [She couldn't do it.-
[04:05] <Minaplo> [How sad was this? She hadn't been able to go a straight minute. It was just too late. She'd already chosen her life. Asuka didn't know when or how, but at some point, she'd made it. She only realised it now.-
[04:05] <Minaplo> ["I just made a terrible mistake."-
[04:05] <Minaplo> [She threw her cards on the table. "I gotta go."-
[04:06] <Minaplo> [She bolted out of the room.-
[04:06] <Minaplo> [I will stand fast.-
[04:06] <Minaplo> [Doctor Tenma was already in the room.-
[04:06] <Minaplo> [Asuka practically bodychecked the door in her haste. "WAIT!"-
[04:06] <Minaplo> [Tenma leapt a foot into the air. "Wh-"-
[04:07] <Minaplo> ["I left!" Said Asuka. "I decided I needed to be out on the field, so I left, and I didn't sign the forms, but… I fucked up!"-
[04:08] <Minaplo> ["I fucked up, Doctor. I thought I could live my old life, but I can't. Not anymore. They don't need me fighting anymore. They can win without me. I know they can."-
[04:09] <Minaplo> [Tenma stared at her.-
[04:09] <Minaplo> ["So I'll do it. I'll sign the forms and donate my organs and make him whole again, because I need my life whole again, and I can't go back to it. I can't. Not anymore. I-I've changed. I don't know when, but…"-
[04:10] <Minaplo> [Tenma wordlessly handed her the files.-
[04:10] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." She said, suddenly grabbing the hapless doctor into a tight, almost angry hug. "Thank you."-
[04:10] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome."-
[04:11] <Minaplo> [When she let him go, she was crying, but she was also laughing. "Fuck, I'm dumb. H-Here, hold on-"-
[04:11] <Minaplo> [Asuka signed the forms hastily and thrust them at him.-
[04:11] <Minaplo> [Tenma took them. He eyed them.-
[04:11] <Minaplo> ["This signature's terrible."-
[04:11] <Minaplo> [Asuka laughed. "I know. I'm hyped on adrenaline. I'm not sorry."-
[04:12] <Minaplo> ["… I think you made the right choice. But you don't need me telling you that. It seems like you're pretty comfortable with it. Goodnight, Asuka." Said Tenma, smiling as he left.-
[04:12] <Minaplo> [But Asuka was already forgetting about him. She walked over and took Alexandre's hand.-
[04:13] <Minaplo> ["I can live without you." She said, her hand squeezing his tight. "But I don't want to. Get it? So you'd better fucking live. I love you."-
[04:13] <Minaplo> ["I know you can hear me, too, asshole."-
[04:13] <Minaplo> ["One. Okay? One kid. No more. If we have twins, I'm gettin' the second put up for adoption. Just one."
[04:14] <Minaplo> ["Shut up. I know what I'm doing."-
[04:14] <Minaplo> ["I love you. Idiot."-
[04:14] <Minaplo> [I will stand fast.-
[04:14] <Minaplo> [Michael fell silent.-
[04:15] <Minaplo> [He didn't know when Max's eyes had closed. The man was asleep, breathing calmly, quietly, utterly at peace.-
[04:15] <Minaplo> [Michael swallowed, big beads of tears filling his eyes. "Goodbye, Max."-
[04:16] <Minaplo> [Medea took him in her arms and held him.]

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