Cherry Blossom Procession 4 7 14

[15:46] <Minaplo> [The VIP quarters on the Gendo lacked the sheer opulence of the Dorian, yet were still perfectly comfortable in a communal, collegiate way: a handful of single bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, all connected into a single common room. This particular one had not been decorated by its occupants, but still bore a sofa, a dining table, a television and an empty bookshelf, bolted to the wall.-
[15:49] <Minaplo> [Three people currently occupied the room- Rei, San and Chiisana. The three sisters sat around the dining table, talking in low, quiet voices. Each had a bowl of noodles, which they occasionally refreshed from a large bowl in the middle of the table.]
[15:55] <Raphael> Eventually they would be interrupted not by the harsh sound of the door buzzer, but by a soft knock on the door.
[16:10] <Minaplo> [Rei looked up. "Come in." She said. At the sound of her voice, the door unlocked.]
[14:02] <Raphael> Raphael stepped inside a moment later. The last time Rei had seen him had been through a tiny Dirac portal during the battle aboard the Dorian, looking more than a little harried. The hours since had given him time to compose himself, but he was obviously worried as he looked around the table. Eventually his gaze finally settled on Rei, offering her a small, pained smile.-
[14:02] <Raphael> "I hope I'm not interrupting…"
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["Oh, please." Said Chiisana.-
[15:06] <Minaplo> [The words seemed to act as a coded command for the three sisters. They stood, approached, and within a minute Raphael found himself seated at the table, a fresh bowl of noodles placed in front of him and a glass of red wine at his hand.-
[15:06] <Minaplo> [Rei watched him intently over the bowl of her own noodles, offering him a far more energetic smile.]
[15:31] <Raphael> It caught him by surprise, but Raphael didn't bother trying to avoid the Ayanami Blitz. In the end he was left sitting opposite Rei, one finger tapping on the edge of the wine glass as he tried to assess that smile.-
[15:31] <Raphael> Eventually he gestured towards the closed bedroom doors. "The others are resting?"
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["A few." Said Rei. "This is our dorm, but not all of us actually stay here. I actually use Alphonse's room most of the time. Roku's spending time with Aksel, that kind of thing."]
[15:46] * Raphael gave a nod, taking another look around the table. "… How are you three?"
[16:01] <Minaplo> ["Better than we were a few days ago. I think that's safe to say." Said Chiisana. "It's… Extremely refreshing to be back amongst friendly faces."]
[16:12] <Raphael> "Well we missed you too," he said quietly, offering Chii a firmer smile.-
[16:12] <Raphael> "Is everyone else holding up? I was particularly worried about Ni and Go."
[16:14] <Minaplo> ["They're… Doing okay." Said Rei. "Well, Ni's kind of hard about these things, so she keeps up a mask of toughness and just gets to work, but she's probably pretty sad. We're keeping an eye on her…"-
[16:14] <Minaplo> ["Go's real frightened." Said San. "Mortens was gonna sacrifice her, but Hachi took her place, so she's got a bit of survivor's guilt going on too."-
[16:15] <Minaplo> ["She's spending time with Rustami, which is good, I think. He seems to know a bit about living with survivor's guilt." Said Chiisana.]
[16:18] <Raphael> "Yes…" he muttered, taking a sip from his wine. "I'm worried about Rustami as well, but I don't want to invade his space. If you're speaking to Go, please let her know I'm willing to help out however I'm able?"
[16:20] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Rei with a smile.]
[16:37] * Raphael was quiet for a few seconds, picking at his noodles with a fork. "I'm so sorry about your sisters," he said. "They deserved far better."
[16:42] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, they did." Said Rei after a moment. "All of us do."]
[16:57] <Raphael> "Yes. You do," he said quietly.
[16:59] <Minaplo> ["Including you." Said Chiisana, reaching out to wrap a firm arm around Raphael's shoulder. "You look like roadkill."]
[17:03] * Raphael looked momentarily surprised, then let out a short, sharp laugh. "Oh, I know. I've been avoiding mirrors."
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["You should work on looking better instead of avoiding mirrors, then." Said San firmly.]
[17:12] <Raphael> "Do you think you could talk Ezekiel into making a smaller time bubble just for me?"
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["You don't need a time bubble!"]
[17:16] <Raphael> "I disagree, ma'am."
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["Don't ma'am me." Said San.-
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["Oh, stop. Raphael's going to Raphael, and you're not going to make him better by grumping at him." Said Chiisana, who'd had to turn away to hide a short laugh.-
[17:25] <Minaplo> ["Seriously though, Raphael. You need to rest and eat properly for at least a day." Said Rei, her brow knotting in worry.]
[17:37] * Raphael leaned back in his chair, letting his smile fade. "I know, hon. I promise I'll try."
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["We'll help." Said San.]
[17:56] * Raphael waved a hand. "I appreciate it, but I'd much prefer you took some time for yourselves. I'll be ok."
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Too bad."]
[17:57] <Raphael> "Too bad, hm?"
[18:06] <Minaplo> ["We take time for ourselves by taking time with others. It's just our way." Said San smugly.]
[18:13] <Raphael> Raphael remained stone-faced as, with excruciating slowness, he raised his left hand level with his own mouth and began making jabber motions.
[18:17] <Minaplo> ["What a rude old man."]
[18:20] <Raphael> "This is how I take time for myself."
[18:20] <Minaplo> ["By teasing innocent people like me?!"]
[18:21] * Raphael dropped his hand, smiling a little. "Sorry, San."
[18:30] <Minaplo> ["Don't let up now." Said Chii airily. "She needs a peg or two dropped."]
[18:31] * Raphael raised an eyebrow. "Does she…?"
[18:43] <Minaplo> ["She's not at all innocent, and you're not all old. I reckon that calls for a peg-drop."]
[18:44] <Raphael> "Maybe another day," he said, still smiling.-
[18:49] <Raphael> He glanced at Chiisana a moment later, expression more serious now. "… I don't want to overstep my bounds, but it may be worth one of you speaking to the Empress before our time in this bubble ends. If you choose not to I understand, of course, but she did not take the news about Hachi, Kyuu and Juu well."
[18:59] <Minaplo> ["… I guess that should be me." Said Chiisana.]
[16:41] <Raphael> "There's a good person underneath the hurt, I think. Of course she'd probably be furious with me for intervening, but there's still too much of you in there for me to leave well-enough alone," he said, giving Chiisana a little grin.
[16:43] <Minaplo> [Chiisana laughed.-
[16:43] <Minaplo> ["Maybe I should send Makoto first, then~"]
[16:44] <Raphael> "Hah. Whatever you think is best, ma'am."-
[16:44] <Raphael> "… he came through the battle alright, I take it?"
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, he was fine. It might be better if he were a little injured, he barely leaves me alone."]
[16:47] <Raphael> He gave her a look of mock horror. "You're the one that chose him, Ms. Chiisana."- "… 'Ms. Chiisana'. You know, Misato told me how silly that sounded years ago, but I could never quite bring myself to correct it. Oh well."
[16:47] <Raphael> <bleh>
[16:52] <Raphael> [16:47] <Raphael> He gave her a look of mock horror. "You're the one that chose him, Ms. Chiisana."-
[16:52] <Raphael> "… 'Ms. Chiisana'. You know, Misato told me how silly that sounded years ago, but I could never quite bring myself to correct it. Oh well."
[16:53] <Minaplo> ["Would Mrs. Hyuga sound better?" Asked San smugly.-
[16:53] <Minaplo> [Chiisana huffed, but her face burned red.]
[16:57] <Raphael> He shook his head. "The number of weddings when all this is done will be just intolerable. It'll last longer than the war."
[16:58] <Minaplo> ["You'll have to make yours a short one then." Said Chiisana, whilst Rei laughed, cooed and clapped her hands in agreement to Raphael's statement.]
[17:03] <Raphael> "I can try," he chuckled. "The Admiral wants a beach to be involved, last I checked."
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["Naturally." Said Chiisana.-
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["But I hate sand." Said San.]
[17:06] <Minaplo> <"It's so… Sandy">
[17:07] <Raphael> "You have my permission to float, San."
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["I was going to anyway. Dumb sand."-
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["If you think the weddings are bad…" Said Chiisana, smirking at Raphael. "You should see the UEF baby boom coming nine months after this week."]
[17:17] * Raphael gave a grim sigh. "That will be somebody else's problem."-
[17:17] <Raphael> "Or a lot of somebodies, more likely."
[17:18] <Minaplo> [San and Chiisana both glanced at Rei.-
[17:18] <Minaplo> [Rei scowled.]
[17:21] * Raphael snorted, and gestured at the other two. "If the Empress is right about the Ayanami genes, you two should be just as worried. The tidal wave of Ayanami babies will be recognized as the next Impact."
[17:23] <Minaplo> ["Makoto's overjoyed by it." Said Chiisana. "'There's no way mum and dad can be disappointed with my kids now!'"]
[17:24] <Raphael> "That seems like a good reason for parenthood," Raphael said blandly.
[17:27] <Minaplo> ["I wouldn't say it's a 'reason' so much as it is one of the anxieties that make up a third of Makoto's entire physical form."]
[17:30] <Raphael> "A third… actually seems generous, but I'd trust you to know."
[17:34] <Minaplo> ["The other thirds are secret competence and awkward adorable admiration."]
[17:36] <Raphael> "Good to know, ma'am."-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["The fourth third is what I call untapped sex appeal."]
[17:36] <Raphael> "… You were holding onto that until I spoke. I know you were."
[17:37] <Minaplo> [Chiisana beamed.]
[17:37] <Raphael> "Terrible," he muttered.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["Not that untapped." Muttered San.]
[17:38] * Raphael lowered his head into his hands.
[17:39] <Minaplo> ["Come on, don't tease Raffy anymore. Let him speak." Said Rei, even though she had to stifle giggles.]
[17:42] * Raphael waved a hand without looking up. "No, no, don't mind me. I know my role."
[17:47] <Mianplo> ["Good." Said Chiisana, at the same time Rei went "Aww, no!"]
[17:53] * Raphael kept his head down for a moment, letting himself enjoy the laughter and sparring. Eventually he sat up, though, his gaze clear and sharp.-
[17:54] <Raphael> "… have you girls checked on Yui since you got back?"
[18:06] <Mianplo> ["Yeah." Said Rei, her laughter fading.]
[18:07] <Raphael> "How bad is she?"
[18:10] <Mianplo> ["Pretty bad."]
[18:13] <Raphael> "… is there anything I can do?"
[18:16] <Mianplo> ["Thanks, Raffy, but not really. She just needs some time, I think." Said Rei.-
[18:16] <Mianplo> ["Winning the battle and getting rid of the Drive would help, but that's not unique to her." Said Chiisana.]
[18:25] <Raphael> "Yeah…" He raised his glass of wine and began to work through it quickly. When it was empty he set it aside, out of reach.-
[18:25] <Raphael> "I'm not sure if you knew, but I worked with Gendo a lot before he died. Sometimes it's difficult to track who knows what in this mess," he frowned. "He entrusted some things to me, either out of trust or spite or both. I think it was probably both."
[18:30] <Mianplo> ["Typical." Said Chiisana; Rei frowned.]
[18:41] <Raphael> "Whatever they had planned for when the bubble comes down, it sounds like I have to give it my say so," he said, sounding very tired all of a sudden. "I wish I knew more about what form that would take, or what it'd ask of you girls, but I don't, and I'm out of time to find out."-
[18:41] <Raphael> "I'm sorry for that."
[18:44] <Mianplo> [There was a silence around the table.-
[18:44] <Mianplo> [But Rei was the first to act. She sat down next to Raphael and hugged his side. "Oh, Raffy. It'll be alright."]
[18:56] * Raphael looked bewildered by the gesture. "Rei, no," his voice was rough, but there was a faint tremble to it as he tried to remove her arms. "This isn't— I came to give you the choice to say no, but I can't even make myself do that! How can you not want more from us?"
[19:04] <Mianplo> ["Hm…" Rei's arms only tightened. "There's lots of people out there who are doing their best. You're one of them. I really, truly believe that. If you had more to give, you'd be giving it. So I trust that your decision'll be the right one."-
[19:04] <Mianplo> ["That's all I really want. I don't know if there's more I'm supposed to want."]
[19:05] * Raphael looked around the table, waiting for a dissenting argument.
[19:44] <Mianplo> ["I only know a little about what's coming." Said Chiisana. "To me, it seems like a path to freedom… And I do want freedom. But I think you'll learn more when the moment comes, and if I trust anyone to look out for our liberty, it's you."-
[19:44] <Mianplo> [San simply said: "I'm with Rei."]
[19:49] <Raphael> Raphael stared at the three of them, silent and confused. For a while he just let Rei hold him.-
[19:49] <Raphael> "… I'll try not to let you down."
[19:52] <Mianplo> ["Despite what you might think, I struggle to remember a time you have as of yet." Said Chiisana warmly.-
[19:53] <Mianplo> ["Silly Raffy." Said Rei with undisguised fondness. She held him a little tighter.]
[19:55] <Raphael> "…"-
[19:55] <Raphael> "Yes," he said quietly, and laid his head against the top of hers. "I think you're right."

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