For Blame

[13:35] <Yanmei> The S2 agent that had driven Yanmei up to her apartment in the hours following her arrival from the Sahara, was not a talkative fellow. This was just as well, because Yanmei was not in a talkative mood. Or rather, she was saving her words for something more vital. -
[13:38] <Yanmei> For a while she lingered outside of the apartment, fiddling around with her regular cell phone. It was late. Almost 12 in the morning. She should have been resting instead of loitering. But she only made her move after she had hit the 'send' button for her text, quietly turning the knob and pushing the door in. Quiet. Marianne was still at work, and Isaiah was…?
[13:44] <Isaiah> [He didn't seem to be in the living room, but the light was on. Yanmei could smell the scent of cooking in the air… And yes, something was in the microwave for her. Isaiah's NERV uniform was hung over a chair- unusual for him to just leave it lying around.]
[13:47] * Yanmei moved past the food for now. She wasn't hungry - her stomach was in knots. He would be in his bedroom. Or… her bedroom, rather. The one she used to have before he moved in with them and she in turn moved in to share a room with Marianne. She… knocked. Deep breath.
[13:53] <Isaiah> "…" Silence, then… "Come in."
[13:54] <Yanmei> Awake. She opened the door slowly. "Isaiah? I'm sorry it took so long to get back…"
[14:00] * Isaiah was lying on his bed, on his side, staring at the wall- as Yanmei entered however he turned over, sitting up. He had a wearied look on his face, but his eyes were concerned. "Are you alright, Yanyan?"
[14:03] <Yanmei> "It was… a rough battle." Yanmei moved closer. Dared to sit down on the edge of the bed. "Everyone else is banged up pretty badly. I managed to stay out of the hospital for a change this time around."
[14:06] <Isaiah> "I'm glad." Said Isaiah quietly.
[14:07] <Isaiah> "Did they manage to get Shinji back?"
[14:07] <Yanmei> "They did. As for who's inhabiting his body… I'm not really sure. At least he's someplace safe, though?"
[14:09] <Isaiah> "That's good. Aline will be happy with that, at least." Said Isaiah, a hint of relief on his face.
[14:12] <Yanmei> "Yeah." Yanmei sighed, her shoulders sagging a little, tiredly. "How much of things did you see? Surely they had a feed going for medical staff as well?"
[14:14] <Isaiah> "… Pretty much everything. They let us watch in the Command Centre." Said Isaiah. He leaned forward now, putting his hands on Yanmei's shoulders, and started to massage them.
[14:20] * Yanmei didn't shrug him off, but she didn't relax either. She just sat there in silence for a while. "You called before… when things were over."
[14:22] <Isaiah> "I did. I was worried." Said Isaiah gently. "I probably should've waited, though, but I knew you'd be tearing yourself apart."
[14:29] <Yanmei> "I'm okay, Isaiah." But it was more like she was saying it to herself quietly. "I'm fine."
[14:33] * Isaiah released her shoulders now, and instead hugged her around the stomach from behind, resting his head on her shoulder. "No, you're not, Yanyan." He said simply.
[14:39] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei put her own arms around him, almost mechanically. She didn't break down, though. It had been a long trip home. A piece of cork wedged in the mouth of a bottle for a long time didn't come free easily. "… tired…" she admitted at last.
[14:59] <Isaiah> "I know." Said Isaiah gently, lowering himslef down into a resting position, along with Yanmei. "You're not alone in that…"
[15:03] <Yanmei> "You too, huh?" Yanmei let herself fall back so that she was staring at the ceiling. "…" There was more that she had to ask him, wasn't there? -
[15:04] <Yanmei> It made her want to shiver. "You… saw everything, huh? Are you okay?"
[15:05] <Isaiah> "I… Well. I had some things I wanted to ask you, but they can wait…"
[15:09] <Yanmei> She knew it. She closed her eyes a moment. "You can ask me now. You're probably going crazy yourself…"
[15:09] <Isaiah> "I…" He paused, tightened his grip- not in a harmful way, more in a protective way. "Is it true that… 05- little Rei is in 05…?"
[15:14] <Yanmei> "It's hard to believe, isn't it? 05 was pretty… pretty horrifying?" she supposed. When it took over Silas during the battle, she felt… dulled somehow. "Little Rei…"
[15:16] <Isaiah> "Little Rei…" Isaiah let out a shuddering sigh. "She was worse than 04… 01 could hold 04 back, but he never stood a chance against Rei… I-I don't know what to say. Why would they do that to her?"
[15:20] <Yanmei> "Her parents were in on it. I don't know -why-. I haven't asked. I don't want to," she spat the last few words, a distint trickle of anger coming through.
[15:22] <Isaiah> "…" Isaiah was silent. "That's…" … "A betrayal of what a parent should be." He muttered.
[15:25] <Yanmei> "…are -you- okay, Isaiah?" Her anger was shifting to, what, fear? Certainly apprehension. She turned her head to look at him.
[15:30] <Isaiah> "I… Don't know." Admitted Isaiah. He was staring at the roof as well, but slowly turned to meet her eyes. "Rei… Died violently, before her time. She should have had a chance to live longer. To -live- at all. But… This isn't what I wanted. She's now a prisoner in that… Thing, and it's not her fault. This is worse than making Shinji a pilot, but I… I don't know what to do."
[15:36] <Yanmei> "There's nothing you can do," she murmured, turning away again. "There's nothing any of us can do…"
[15:38] * Isaiah let out a shaky sigh. "I know. I wish we could make her happy… I wouldn't mind if she were just…"
[15:39] <Yanmei> "…just? Just happy…?"
[15:41] <Isaiah> "Just happy… J-Just…" He choked.
[15:43] <Yanmei> Now it was her turn to hold him. She didn't know what else to do. "We'll think about this," she mumbled. "Put our heads together?"
[15:46] * Isaiah took a deep breath as Yanmei held him. The tears- the expected tears- didn't come in their usual rush, but in a quiet trickle. "You're… Right. Where there's life, there's hope. I-It'll work out somehow."
[15:49] <Yanmei> "Hope. Of course, there's hope." Lying through her teeth. She didn't mean to, but… what else was she supposed to say? If it would make him stop hurting, she would indulge in fairytales. "We'll work something out."
[15:51] <Isaiah> "Right…" Murmured Isaiah. "I-I guess… It could have been worse."
[15:56] <Yanmei> "Yeah, maybe?" Her gaze dimmed a little. Worse. There could be few things that could be worse, but there was one slowly taking form in her mind now.
[15:59] * Isaiah was silent for awhile. Eventually he spoke again. "Rei and you fought… She nearly tried to kill you. And I'm -really- glad she didn't, I… If it came down to it, I'd want you to be the one to live."
[16:01] <Yanmei> "I didn't die then. And if it should happen again, I won't die then, either," she said calmly. "Trust in that."
[16:03] <Isaiah> "I will. Yanmei?"
[16:03] <Yanmei> "Yes?"
[16:04] <Isaiah> "I love you."
[16:04] <Yanmei> "I love you too, Isaiah."
[16:07] * Isaiah was quiet. Nothing else had to be said.-
[16:09] <Isaiah> [Time passed. Before long the darkness of the winter night started to slowly creep into the frosty light of a morning.]
[16:12] * Yanmei was awake long before the morning light hit the room. More accurately, she had never quite drifted to sleep. She turned over to look at Isaiah one last time before sitting up and standing quietly.
[16:13] <Isaiah> [Isaiah had taken a long time to drift off. Yanmei had been able to tell- a sense of his breathing, heart rate, perhaps- but now he was quite asleep.]
[16:17] <Yanmei> She tiptoed quietly from the bed, the room, the apartment, even. It was -cold- out, but she didn't think about her coat until she was standing in the hallway outside again. And then she rubbed the back of her neck wearily.
[16:19] <Isaiah> [It was quiet, and still, and lonely. No one was around…-
[16:19] <Isaiah> [Ding. A nearby elevator?]
[16:21] <Yanmei> Someone was coming. She tossed her hair, tried to assume her usual smile… but settled for a placid look instead, walking slowly, as if she had an idea of where she was going but was in no hurry to get there.
[16:22] <Isaiah> [The elevator doors opened, and…-
[16:22] * Alexandre emerged, looking… Actually not tired at all. He looked like he'd slept well. But when he saw Yanmei he was obviously surprised. "Oh-!"
[16:26] <Yanmei> "…Fontaine?" The hell? She had stopped walking completely by now.
[16:26] <Alexandre> "Zhang? I was just coming by to see you. Where are you going?"
[16:29] <Yanmei> "…" She did't really have an excuse lined up. The one that sprang to mind at that second made her sound lame. "Just taking a walk."
[16:30] <Alexandre> "Excellent. I'll come with you. We can grab coffee."
[16:31] <Yanmei> "W-what?!"
[16:33] <Alexandre> "Yes, that'll be good. I'll shout."
[16:35] <Yanmei> "Shut up! You know that's not what I meant." She turned away from him, glaring down the opposite side of the hallway. "What's with you, anyway? Why aren't you…?"
[16:39] <Alexandre> "Why aren't I what?"
[16:43] * Yanmei thought of the pictures in his apartment. Happy ones, and a few less happy ones, but ones that reminded her of an extended family all the same. A younger Atticus sulking, with the original living Silas Caine draping an arm around him encouragingly. -
[16:46] <Yanmei> "… you really want to take me out for coffee?" Her voice was skeptical, almost accusatory. She had to swallow back a lump that threatened to stifle it. "Why?"
[16:49] <Alexandre> "Because it's 8 in the morning and you probably haven't slept a wink, have you? And you'll be a bitch to talk to otherwise."
[16:55] * Yanmei turned her glare at him fully now. That, added to the red-rimmed, dark-circled eyes, did not make for a pretty face. She seemed to be doing… something internally. Thinking, or shuffling emotions around, or collecting herself. In any case, there was a rather long pause on her part.
[17:01] <Alexandre> "We can even go to a cafe and get some breakfast. Something weighty. Fresh bacon, eggs…"
[17:04] <Yanmei> Ugh. She wasn't going to run away. It's not like she could, anyway, without losing face. "You'll pay, I'll assume? I left my wallet in the apartment," she told him stiffly.
[17:09] <Alexandre> "I did say I would."
[17:11] <Yanmei> "Fine." She tossed her hair again, and strode toward the elevator.
[17:16] * Alexandre followed after!
[17:21] <Yanmei> [The cafe in question was a low-key place even during a time when it should have been bustling with hurried office workers stopping in for coffee and bagels on the way to work. The two of them, sitting side by side at an old-fashioned counter, got plenty of great service from the moment they popped in.]-
[17:22] * Yanmei had just ordered coffee so far. Hot. Because it was cold out, and she had forgotten her coat, and she could only be grateful that the walk to the place hadn't taken all that long.
[17:24] * Alexandre had ordered hot coffee, as well as a plate of eggs, delicious bacon, slices of buttered toast, fried mushrooms, fried bananas… It smelled irresistable as he tucked in.-
[17:24] <Alexandre> "So."
[17:28] <Yanmei> "So." She avoided looking at him. Her reflection in the mug of coffee was preferable.
[17:29] <Alexandre> "How do you feel?"
[17:33] <Yanmei> "…" The reflection's gaze wavered uncomfortably. After a long moment of hesitation… "… I don't know how to explain it."
[17:34] <Alexandre> "Then just say whatever you want without stopping." Said Alex quietly.
[17:37] <Yanmei> "He was my friend too, you know?" She was tired. The mug of coffee briefly found its way to her lips. "And I… I think I killed him."
[17:39] * Alexandre quietly sipped his coffee. "Don't blame yourself. It was the right thing to do."
[17:46] <Yanmei> "Don't say that!" Even that comparatively sharp edge to her voice duller than usual. "There was nothing right about what happened."
[17:46] <Yanmei> ^was duller
[17:49] <Alexandre> "No." Said Alexandre. "There wasn't. But even then, you reacted as best as could be expected under the circumstances."
[17:52] <Yanmei> "I knew from the beginning." Her eyes narrowed at her cup. "'Something's going to go wrong,' right? He and Silas Caine had some connection back then. You don't die protecting a stranger you barely know." Her fingers gripped the handle tightly. "Why was Atticus even there?"
[17:54] * Alexandre sipped his coffee. "We didn't think four Evangelions would be enough. We needed a T-RIDEN-T pilot. Atticus had the background required, and…" Alex averted his eyes. "Any other Neospartan would've been a risk. Tsubaki is special, thanks to her synchronisation. But…"
[17:56] <Yanmei> "But?"
[17:57] <Alexandre> "Atticus was the only Neospartan to resist conditioning. And he'd changed so much, become so different… None of us thought he'd still be so easily controlled by Silas."
[18:03] <Yanmei> "Could he have refused the assignment?" Yanmei swallowed, hard. "He d-didn't want to be there. You could tell. He loved that stupid, ugly machine, but he was… worried? Scared? He wasn't himself!"
[18:05] <Alexandre> "He was given the opportunity to decline, but…" Alex swallowed. "He said it was his duty, to assist his fellow pilots, and to… Save his big brother."
[18:09] <Yanmei> "What the hell does that even mean?! Assist us, but save him?"
[18:10] <Alexandre> "…" Alexandre sipped his coffee.-
[18:11] <Alexandre> "Atticus loathed conditioning. He probably saw Shinji's state as giving Silas nothing more than a half-life. Making him a zombie. Thinking about it, detatched, safely here in Paris-2, it must've been easy for him to think like that. But the moment Silas started speaking, using phrases he'd once said to Atticus… I guess it was just too much."
[18:20] * Yanmei let her shoulders sag. The ripples flowing across the surface of her drink started to fade as she released the handle and held her head with both hands, elbow propped up on the counter. "I… can understand that. I don't mind that he shot me. I don't -care- . He just… he should have survived. Even if it meant not being there, he should have…"
[18:23] <Alexandre> "He should have." Agreed Alex. "But… He didn't, and as inherently unfair as that is, that's war. And you shouldn't blame yourself for pulling the trigger."
[18:26] <Yanmei> "What am I supposed to blame, then?"
[18:30] <Alexandre> "Maybe you could blame war." Said Alex. "Or blame Azariah. Or you could stop, and think… Maybe there is nothing to blame. Maybe these were just a series of unfortunate events, that we could do nothing about, and simply had to suffer through."
[14:13] <Yanmei> "N-no…" Yanmei shook her head. "That's even more cruel. He fought so hard against so many things. Unfortunate events! To die because of unfortunate events!"
[14:41] <Alexandre> "Cruel? Perhaps…" Said Alex quietly. He sipped his coffee. "I think it's the best kind of death, myself."
[14:45] * Yanmei didn't even lift her head. "What are you even saying? Why aren't you angry?"
[14:46] <Alexandre> "Angry? At who? You?"
[14:53] <Yanmei> "At me. At… everything? He was one of your brothers." Nothing was falling from her eyes just yet, but her shoulders had started to shake a little bit. "I… admired him. The freedom he wanted so badly… I wanted him to find it someday. For this to happen…"
[15:00] <Alexandre> "Well. I was, at first." Said Alex. "Angry and upset. Confused at what had happened. I still am in a way, but…" Alex shook his head. "I couldn't be angry at you. In fact, I'm -done- being angry at you. I've spent far, far too much time being angry at you, Yanmei, and I'm honestly kind of sick of feeling like that. So I took a step back, and… It's fairly obvious that you're not deserving of that anger." Alex nursed his coffee back and forth.-
[15:01] <Alexandre> "It might sound weird, but I think it's better he died by a hand that cared for and admired him, that didn't want to pull the trigger, that would never take an iota of joy out of his death, than by someone who would revel in it."
[15:09] <Yanmei> "…" She wasn't so sure. The idea just made her even more miserable. "I wish it hadn't happened," she whispered. If only he was still walking around in the desert out there. They hadn't found his body.-
[15:11] <Yanmei> If only he could have ejected and found a new life, with his ties to NERV severed from his assumed death. But that was just a bullshit fantasy. She had seen the wreckage. She hadn't seen him eject from it. And if she made herself believe in that, she would only look like a fool later on.
[15:13] <Alexandre> "So do I, Yanmei." Said Alex sadly, reaching out and putting a comforting hand over her own. "So do I."
[15:15] <Yanmei> It took some time, but she was eventually able to drink from her coffee mug again, although its contents were growing lukewarm. Swallowing was a chore, but she managed it.
[15:17] <Alexandre> "… Asuka came by this morning."
[15:18] <Yanmei> "…!" That got her attention. She looked up for the first time in what seemed like ages, and then shunted her stare aside, half-miserably. "She didn't come with you."
[15:21] <Alexandre> "Well, no. She's been on high alert for a few days, so she was pretty tired. She crashed at my place after she came by, but… She was worried about you too."
[15:22] <Yanmei> "Tell her I'm fine." Yanmei rubbed her face. "Maybe I should tell her myself?"
[15:24] <Alexandre> "I think she'd like that. You guys missed her birthday, after all. No fault of yours, of course." Said Alex. "But… Well. She wanted me to remind you that you're not alone in this. We know what it's like to have friends die." Said Alex heavily.
[15:28] <Yanmei> "I know." Kneading her temples, now. Her spine started to straighten out a little bit. "This… is war?" She remembered what could have happened with 00 now, and fresh wave of sickness hit, but she held steady for now.
[15:29] <Alexandre> "It is." Said Alexandre quietly. "And I guess you've proved one thing?"
[15:30] * Yanmei glanced to him out of the corner of her eye.
[15:32] <Alexandre> "Whatever you think about yourself…" He drained the rest of his coffee. "Never doubt that you're worthy of your position."
[15:38] <Yanmei> He said it so convincingly. She stared outright, forgetting about the coffee or even what her hands were doing until a little splash of it hit the counter. "I'm surprised to hear that from you?" she tried to play it off, setting the mug down and reaching for a napkin.-
[15:39] <Yanmei> "Thank you." … "For the meal," she added.
[15:41] <Alexandre> "Don't mention it, Violet." He said, ruffling her hair with a smirk.
[15:44] <Yanmei> "Tch," she tried to bat his hand away in annoyance with a closed fist, a coffee-stained napkin now clenched in it of course. With her free hand, she tried to smooth down her hair again, and then to haughtily toss it. "Just when I thought you were getting less annoying…"
[15:45] <Alexandre> "Some things never change."
[15:49] <Yanmei> "Stupid," she muttered, sliding off her stool. "I'm going home to get some rest."
[15:50] <Alexandre> "Sounds like an idea. Wouldn't want to worry that boy of yours…"
[15:52] <Yanmei> "He's probably still sleeping too." She offered an over-the-shoulder parting wave. "Goodbye, Fontaine."
[15:53] <Alexandre> "Hey, Yanmei. Before you go."
[15:54] <Yanmei> She paused once more, a few strides away from the door, and half-turned.
[15:54] <Alexandre> "Call me Alexandre already."
[15:56] <Yanmei> "I'll think about it-" she hadn't been smiling before, but now a small one turned up… and it was decidedly obnoxious, "-Fontaine."
[15:57] <Alexandre> "Tch…" He smirked back.
[15:59] <Yanmei> And she was gone, out the door. It was still cold. Maybe even colder than before, with the city breeze slicing brutally through the thin sweater she was wearing. It was unpleasant, but she she could bear it.

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