For The Love Of Life 1 5 5

[16:33] <Raphael> It was a regular thing, or at least as much of one as their respective schedules could achieve…-
[16:33] <Raphael> The UEF was a faction where eccentricities reigned supreme among its ranking officers - as NERV before it had been - and that tended to mean that more… level-headed members of the command structure tended to band together out of mutual understanding. -
[16:34] <Raphael> Among the SOS and its related contacts, one of these groups had achieved the regularity and air of a support group. It had started simply enough - post-shift drinks or meals, dissecting the events of the week - and had eventually become a sort of bi-weekly ritual. A grasp at sanity among the insane.-
[16:34] <Raphael> Tonight, though… tonight was substantially more subdued than normal, with so much of the ship preparing for upcoming assault on the Singularity Egg including many of its regulars - Euphrasie, Isidor, Victor Pai and any number of others. That Raphael and his sole companion had happened to have intersecting breaks was the only reason it was happening at all.-
[16:34] <Raphael> Even then at least one of their minds seemed partially elsewhere, Raphael casting suspicious glances at their surroundings - A similarly subdued Blue’s Bar and Grill, though far from an empty one - as though waiting for the careful truce he had with its proprietor to break.-
[16:35] <Raphael> … The food was quite good, though. He cut another slice of steak and chewed it thoughtfully.-
[16:35] <Raphael> "I’m afraid my company’s lacking tonight, Lieutenant," He says when his mouth is finally empty, giving the other officer across the table a smile. "We’re both better off for a proper meal, at least."
[16:57] <@Minaplo> ["Quite fine, sir." Said Lieutenant Cornelia Archibald, glancing up at him with a small smile. Unlike Raphael, she was micromanaging- with her right hand, she worked on a data tablet, which took up most of her visual attention. As she dutifully tapped away on it, she would occasionally use her left hand to pick up some of her food- a plate of seasoned fat french fries along with pieces of grilled shellfish and octopus cooked in a simmering mix of garlic, chilli, sage and olive oil. Accompanying this was a small boat of aioli.-
[16:59] <@Minaplo> [Also, there was salad.-
[17:04] <@Minaplo> ["I can't exactly vouch for my own company either, sir." She said, glancing up again, nodding towards her pad. "Old habits."]
[17:09] * Raphael waves a hand. "Comfortable silence suits me just fine, and if the work needs to be done it needs to be done. I should probably be following your example."
[17:15] <@Minaplo> ["If you don't mind me saying, sir, you seem well enough prepared as is."]
[17:18] <Raphael> "Perhaps. Being forced into the defensive role makes me uneasy, I suppose." He smiles a little sheepishly, sawing off another slice of steak.
[17:21] <@Minaplo> ["But you performed so well during the Geofront assault, sir."]
[17:23] <Raphael> "Better than I'd hoped, certainly." He allows. "But a bit of an oddity when you consider the rest of my time here."-
[17:23] <Raphael> "Nevermind that, though - I'll be fine. What are you dealing with?"
[17:28] <@Minaplo> ["Calibration programmes for battleship capital weapons in zero gravity, sir." She said. "Positron weapons perform differently to what I'm used to in outer space. Without the effects of the earth's magnetic field on their ionization path, the delivery path is much straighter, and the absense of air particles leads to a tighter long-range cohesiveness…"-
[17:29] <@Minaplo> ["Sorry, sir. I'm getting carried away."]
[17:32] <Raphael> "Not at all. The deeper physics are beyond me, I won't deny that, but I'm getting the gist." He says sincerely as his fork delivers another piece of meat to his mouth.
[17:33] <@Minaplo> ["I'm glad." She said with a smile, looking up… Only for her eyes to focus on something over Raphael's shoulder.]
[17:34] * Raphael blinks once, still chewing, before craning his head around to follow Archibald's gaze.
[17:41] <@Minaplo> [A woman had just entered, flanked by three watchful, suspicious battleship marines- Raphael would be able to tell that their bolters were loaded. The woman herself was young, probably looking about eighteen or nineteen. She was tall, with dark olive skin and straight white hair, most of which was hidden in a fine pink silky shawl and headscarf wrap. She was wearing a dark green dress that fell to about the middle of her stocking-covered shins. She wore a pair of black leather slip-on shoes.-
[17:42] <@Minaplo> [She looked around the room, taking it in, noting the people and faces- her eyes lingering momentarily on Raphael's face- before she headed over to the bar.]
[17:45] <Raphael> … the change in Raphael's expression is subtle, but in the moment Fatima watched him she'd likely recognize it. The look of unconsciously assessing a threat, calculating. A soldier's expression.-
[17:48] * Raphael lets out a thoughtful noise as she leaves the doorway, turning back to Archibald. "Interesting. I expected her to be confined to quarters."
[17:57] <@Minaplo> ["So did I." Said Archibald. "I suppose they're treating her like they did Ezekiel."]
[17:58] <Raphael> "I suppose. The difference is we couldn't really -stop- Ezekiel if he set his mind to it."
[18:01] <@Minaplo> ["Lucky for us."-
[18:02] <@Minaplo> [Mr. Blue was fiddling with his drinks wall when Fatima approached him. He froze, looking over his shoulder.-
[18:02] <@Minaplo> [Raphael would notice that Blue suddenly had a knife in his right hand, but neither Fatima nor Blue made any aggressive gesture. They talked in quiet voices, Blue's expression dark, before Blue finally nodded and poured Fatima a glass of orange juice.]
[18:16] <Raphael> "… huh." Raphael murmurs, the faintest shadow of a smile on his lips. "And another old friend of Mr. Blue's, to boot. Very interesting."
[18:18] <@Minaplo> ["He's lived a full life, hasn't he?" Asked Archibald, her work temporarily forgotten about as she watched.-
[18:18] <@Minaplo> [Fatima took her orange juice now, turning about, looking around the room at the tables…]
[18:22] * Raphael doesn't make much effort to hide his interest, such as it was, toying idly with the remains of his meal.
[18:23] <@Minaplo> [And so it wouldn't be long before Fatima caught his eye. She looked at him levelly for a moment, before resolutely walking over to their table. "Peace on you- is anyone sitting here? Do you mind if I sit?"]
[18:34] * Raphael is already out of his seat by the time she reaches the table, hands folded neatly behind his back as he greets her with a small nod. "The seat's free and-" A split second gap and a glance at Archibald to assess the mood, making sure this wasn't a misstep by her assessment, "-You're quite welcome to join us, ma'am. Please, feel free."
[18:40] <@Minaplo> [Fatima leaned back slightly, blinking several times as she stared at Raphael. After a minute she gives him a smile and a small nod. "Thank you very much." She sat down.-
[18:40] <@Minaplo> ["You must be Raphael Guillory."]
[18:45] <Raphael> "You expected Pilot Ikari." He smiles a little, seeming unperturbed. Once she was seated he retook his own chair. "Naturally. Sometimes I forget."
[18:46] <@Minaplo> ["No, I knew who you were." She said with a smile. "I simply wasn't expecting quite a warm welcome."-
[18:48] <@Minaplo> [Archibald was watching this exchange with interest, taking the opportunity to put a piece of octopus in her mouth.]
[18:55] * Raphael shrugs a little at this, seeming to take it in stride. He gestures towards Archibald, managing to catch her mid-octopus either through accident or design. "And this in Lieutenant Archibald. Lieutenant, Pilot Nejem."
[19:00] <@Minaplo> [Archibald quickly swallows her morsel, offering a hand to Fatima to shake. "Cornelia Archibald, Warfare Officer."-
[19:00] <@Minaplo> [Fatima took the hand and gave it a small shake. "Pleased to meet you."]
[19:06] * Raphael sets his plate and cutlery to one side as he lets the introductions happen. "You're settling in, I hope? I admit, the Lieutenant and I were rather surprised to see you wandering."
[19:09] <@Minaplo> ["I convinced your command that confining me to a single room went against the spirit of our ceasefire."]
[19:10] <Raphael> "Impressive."
[19:11] <@Minaplo> ["According to the comm transmissions of when you first arrived, you convinced command of quite a lot." Said Archibald, her attention back on her work.-
[19:12] <@Minaplo> ["I won't deny it." Said Fatima, sipping at her juice.]
[19:23] <Raphael> "Given the particulars of your arrival, sending someone -without- a sense of tact would be foolish in the extreme and I wouldn't apply that to Caine." He said mildly.
[19:27] <@Minaplo> ["Wise of you." Said Fatima. "But yes. I told the Chancellor that I wished to have a degree of freedom to visit the food services as well as the medical services. I have heard things of this Bar and Grill."]
[19:31] <Raphael> "About the service or the proprietor?"
[19:31] <@Minaplo> ["The service. The proprietor is already known to me." Her gaze grew flinty.]
[19:33] <Raphael> "Ah, so it goes both ways!" It's the sound of a man who's answered a pressing question. "I was curious. I couldn't see your face when you spoke."
[19:34] <@Minaplo> ["So you were watching us. Not unusual." She glanced towards the bar, where Blue was occasionally throwing her a suspicious look.-
[19:35] <@Minaplo> ["How ridiculous." She muttered.]
[19:37] <Raphael> "How's that, ma'am?"
[19:38] <@Minaplo> ["Running an establishment like this, I mean. I wonder how much of it is just a joke, and how much is a scheme on his part."]
[19:42] <Raphael> "About the establishment? Hard to say. There's a good deal of sincerity about it as well, I believe." He taps a fingernail thoughtfully. "… At least as much as sincerity has any role in his head."
[19:45] <@Minaplo> ["The food is sincerely good at least." Said Archibald. "If a little heavy."]
[19:45] <Raphael> "That much is true."
[19:52] <@Minaplo> ["You two come here often?"]
[19:55] <Raphael> "Personally? No." He says with a brief glance towards the bar. "I can't speak for the Lieutenant."
[19:59] <@Minaplo> ["Twice a week on average." Said Archibald without missing a beat. "He does good seafood."-
[20:04] <@Minaplo> ["I see." Said Fatima.-
[20:05] <@Minaplo> [Fatima took another sip of her orange juice, allowing the silence to settle.]
[20:07] <Raphael> "How far back does your history go, ma'am? If you don't mind me asking."
[20:08] <@Minaplo> ["I first met him when I was a child."]
[20:09] * Raphael looks a little surprised by that. "I see."
[20:14] <@Minaplo> ["There's a story there, if you care to hear it."]
[20:20] <Raphael> "If you're offering, certainly. I thought it would be rude to ask."
[20:43] <@Minaplo> ["But you're interested."]
[20:45] <Raphael> "As most people with history with the man likely would be."
[20:50] <@Minaplo> [She inclined her head.-
[20:50] <@Minaplo> ["I would have been eight or nine. I was living in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, with my sisters at the time."]
[20:50] * Raphael nods, leaning back and lapsing into polite silence.
[20:54] <@Minaplo> ["At the time, the central government had collapsed. For a year and a half at this point the city had been under siege by Boko Haram, but at the time of this story, the Niger Delta Liberation Army had arrived from the south. We were a battleground between the two forces."]
[15:44] * @Raphael nods solemnly.
[15:52] <Minaplo> ["Mr. Blue… Or as he was known back then, Jesiah, was in the city as well as part of a Christian aid group, distributing food and supplies. We helped out, because they used to give us a little more if we helped out."]
[15:54] <@Raphael> Another nod. It lined up with the story Blue had offered him - although said story also put a rather darker spin on her mention of a "Christian aid group".
[16:10] <Minaplo> ["At the end of the day, we were on our way home when we were attacked by men with weapons. To our fortune, Mr. Blue had followed us home. He dispatched them."]
[16:11] <@Raphael> "He followed you?"
[16:17] <Minaplo> [She nodded. "At the request of our mother. We were only children, after all, and the roads were dangerous."]
[16:17] <@Raphael> "I see."
[16:19] <Minaplo> ["We collected the fallen weapons. We intended to sell them later," Said Fatima, "But one of my sisters had other ideas."]
[16:23] * @Raphael nods one more time, glancing sideways at the long-silent Archibald to see what she was making of all of this.
[16:24] <Minaplo> [Archibald was still working away and eating at the same time, but the semi-frequent glances up at Fatima reveal that she was still paying attention.-
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["Abeni, my sister, she suggested that we should not sell the weapons, but -use- them." A soft, fond smile came to Fatima's lips. "She said, we would be heroes if we tried to clean up the streets, and we could fight the invaders, and of course we could collect -more- weapons and sell the ones we didn't need, too."]
[16:30] * @Raphael raised an eyebrow. "Big goals for children that age." He says mildly, obviously hedging his response.
[16:31] <Minaplo> ["Risky." Said Archibald. "Untrained children armed with adult weapons is a poor mix. And wouldn't selling weapons like that just create more armed gangs on your streets?"-
[16:31] <Minaplo> [Fatima let out a warm laugh. "That was part of her pitch! She said that we could just clean -them- up too and take the weapons again, a self-perpetuating cycle…"-
[16:32] <Minaplo> ["But it was a big goal. And foolish. And went bad very quickly." She grinned.]
[16:33] * @Raphael nods strongly at Archibald's response, obviously pleased to have someone voicing what he felt. Fatima's words, meanwhile, earn a slightly more muted response. "I am… not surprised, I am sad to say."
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["Most wouldn't be. I managed to haggle Abeni down to only selling to buyback schemes. Nevertheless, our first 'operation' went poorly enough. It was only with, again, the help of Jesiah that we weren't all killed. After that, he decided to train us."]
[16:47] * @Raphael blinks. "… You weren't joking about having a long history."
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["No, I wasn't." Her smile faded. "This is why our mission to capture him was the only mission we've failed in the last five years."]
[16:52] <@Raphael> "Ah. Your side made its own attempt to collect him, then? Hardly surprising."
[16:53] <Minaplo> ["Back then it was your side, too."]
[16:56] * @Raphael smiles thinly. "True enough."
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["In any case, that is the basic story." Fatima glanced back over towards Blue, who was handing a tray of drinks over to a strawberry-blonde waitress. "He eluded us once, and I do not intend to let lightning strike twice when it comes to him."]
[17:03] <@Raphael> "So he trained you, you parted ways and many years later - this time as one of the more feared mercenary groups in the world - you were called by Caine to bring him in?"#
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["As it goes." Said Fatima. "He trained us for three months, after which point the UN Third Army under Lachapelle arrived to break the siege. He and his group left after that and let the UN take over aid programmes in Nigeria."]
[17:09] * @Raphael nods slowly, leaning forward slightly. "So I must ask what exactly he did to stoke that ire. It would seem to me that his role in your life was a net benefit. Saved your life, ensured that you -kept- living…"
[17:22] <Minaplo> ["Lives are not balance sheets." Said Fatima, pausing to sip her juice. "It is true that without him or his friends we would not have become what we had become. But his actions have hurt many that I consider friends or more, and besides, his escape from us was not gentle. He avoids killing if he can, but he is happy to cripple if needs be, and my sisters bear scars, large, small, physical and no, from that encounter."]
[17:25] * @Raphael offers a single nod. "Hence my question. I was curious as to the reasoning."-
[17:26] <@Raphael> "And yet I suppose I am curious about why you took the contract in the first place, given your history."#
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["Multiple reasons." Said Fatima. "The request did not come directly from Caine, anymore than, say, a Paris pilot's did at the time. It was a very dear friend who requested this of us. A friend who believed he could rely on us when he asked for it."-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["And besides, he was dangerous. As you no doubt found out yourself sooner or later." She said.-
[17:43] <Minaplo> ["Walpurgis Night tries to avoid turning down contracts as well. Bad for the image." Said Archibald, glancing up. "Isn't that right?"-
[17:43] <Minaplo> ["As you say." Said Fatima.]
[17:48] <@Raphael> "He was dangerous, yes. Is, to a… different extent." A slight frown. "In any case, thank you for indulging me."
[17:50] <Minaplo> [She nodded towards him. "You're welcome. You seemed to seek genuine understanding, so I do not mind if that is the case."-
[17:50] <Minaplo> [Archibald looked up at this for a moment, peering at them both curiously.]
[17:57] * @Raphael smiles again, a little more honestly this time. "I do."
[18:00] <Minaplo> [Fatima was staring, now, peering into Raphael's eyes. "I've been told about your eyes." She said quietly.-
[18:00] <Minaplo> [Archibald popped another piece of octopus in her mouth, chewing slowly as she watched intently.]
[18:11] <@Raphael> The response from Raphael is sharp, to the point of being almost habitual. Eye contact breaks, his head turning towards the table as much as possible without losing her from his field of vision entirely. His posture curls very faintly, as if he was turning inwards on himself. There's a faint, automatic reddening around his ears.-
[18:13] <@Raphael> "… They're just eyes, ma'am." He mutters. Even his voice seems less… natural. More closed.#
[18:19] <Minaplo> ["There is no need to be shy." Said Fatima softly. "They are lovely eyes, yes. Gentle and trustworthy, innocent, even. But they are not the loveliest eyes I've seen."-
[18:19] <Minaplo> [Archibald's eyebrows rose.-
[18:30] <Minaplo> [It was at this point that one of the waitresses approached the table, placing down a plate of food in front of Fatima before heading off. Small pieces of chicken crumbed with cilantro-infused crumbs, dusted with a spice mix of paprika and saffron, and cooked in the juice of preserved lemons. The chicken sat on a small bed of yellow, fluffy cous cous. Embedded in the cous cous were small cherry tomatoes, their skins bright red, their forms round and tight; and slices of cooked eggplant, as well.-
[18:31] <Minaplo> [The waitress glanced at Raphael and Fatima before wordlessly heading off.]
[18:33] <@Raphael> "I'm not being shy." It was hard to say whether this was a lie, but he -seemed- to mean it. "I simply do not care for the effects this shape ten- Thank you, miss - tends to have on people."
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["I must ask you to be specific. Do you mean your shape, or your field?"]
[18:36] * @Raphael sighs, straightening a little. Eye contact is, carefully, resumed. "My field, I suppose."
[18:37] <Minaplo> [She's still staring!-#
[18:45] <Minaplo> ["You have nothing to fear." Said Fatima, her smile widening. "I have been told that your field has less effect on those whose hearts are not free, and my heart is not free." She patted him lightly on the hand. "I did not intend to discomfort you. I do find your form attractive, but I felt it was responsible to admit it freely and get it out of the way, to give you some piece of mind."]
[18:47] * @Raphael considers this, matching her stare for a long moment before nodding slowly. "Understood. Thank you."
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["Besides, I suspect your tribulation is near an end. Earlier I encountered some young man named Armin…?"]
[18:52] <@Raphael> "I see. I haven't encountered him myself yet."
[18:53] <Minaplo> [Fatima took a minute to start on her dish.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["There was an altercation." Said Archibald, back to her work. "After the pilots returned, I mean. The Emissary became aggressive."]
[19:00] <@Raphael> Under better circumstances Raphael may have avoided discussing this in front of Fatima, but the news catches him off-guard. "The -Emissary-? Really?"
[19:02] <Minaplo> ["That's what I heard." Said Archibald. "He accosted Ayanami Go over her apparently poor performance during their mission. Apparently he was very angry about it." Said Archibald, pausing to take a bite of fish. "He was interrupted by the Lance's avatar, Armin."]
[19:07] <@Raphael> Raphael's expression shifts rapidly for a moment, before settling on a rather stony one. "I see. Pilot Go is unharmed, I hope?"
[19:09] <Minaplo> ["Unharmed, yes. She became emotionally disturbed, but apparently Armin calmed her immediate fears and Mr. Gabriel-Wei soothed the rest."]
[19:17] * @Raphael grunts. "I'll try to speak to her later. Whether there'll be time before the battle, though…"
[19:37] <Minaplo> ["What about the Emissary?" Asked Fatima.]
[19:42] <@Raphael> "Him too."
[19:44] <Minaplo> [Archibald frowned. "If you like, I could accompany you, sir, when you go to speak to the Emissary."]
[19:46] * @Raphael tilts his head. "… If you'd like. You have an interest, Lieutenant?"
[19:47] <Minaplo> ["I'm a little more familiar with Ezekiel, sir, since he's been given a work station on the bridge, and often joins me for lunch." Said Archibald. "I believe I could help the general effort, so to speak."-
[19:47] <Minaplo> ["If that's alright with you, sir."]
[19:48] * @Raphael takes a deep breath. "I believe that would be helpful, Lieutenant. My thanks."
[19:49] <Minaplo> ["Sounds to me like you'd prefer an armed squad." Said Fatima with a small smirk.]
[19:53] <@Raphael> "A bit of an exaggeration."
[19:53] <Minaplo> ["Is he really so dangerous?" Asked Fatima curiously.]
[19:55] <@Raphael> "In terms of capabilities, yes. Temperament? Not at all." Raphael says, scratching his cheek. He still looks a little distracted.
[19:56] <Minaplo> ["They don't even warrant him with an escort these days." Said Archibald lightly.-
[19:57] <Minaplo> [Fatima glanced over towards the door, where Mr. Blue was irritably trying to shoo the three heavily-armed Marines away from the entrance and into a seat.]
[20:01] * @Raphael seems to come back to himself a little, following the glance. "… You're a slightly different case I'm afraid, Pilot Nejem."
[20:05] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Fatima, looking back at Raphael. "Letting a known enemy roam the ship, freely able to enter sensitive areas or commune with dangerous prisoners? Folly."]
[20:08] <@Raphael> "Mmm."-
[20:09] <@Raphael> "Which reminds me - I heard a little about your team's role in the battle at the Geofront. I don't know whether it was on orders or not, but you have my thanks for not injuring the Pilots unnecessarily."
[20:13] <Minaplo> ["They fought a little harder than most." Said Fatima, making a mild adjustment to her headscarf. "It isn't in our interests to cripple or kill a pilot, but it nearly came to that considering their resistance."]
[20:15] * @Raphael nods slowly. "Pilot Zhang does not give up a fight lightly."
[20:22] <Minaplo> ["Nor do the Ayanamis. The… Eldest one? Ayanami Rei? Is that the correct form?"]
[20:22] <@Raphael> "It is."
[20:24] <Minaplo> [Fatima nodded. "She held out even when the others had fallen."]
[20:30] * @Raphael smiles wider and more easily than it has throughout the rest of the conversation. It's a natural expression. "That does not surprise me."
[20:34] <Minaplo> [Archibald grinned a little to herself as she peered down at her work.-
[20:39] <Minaplo> ["I did not think you would be." Said Fatima with her own easy smile. "Still, I would not mind a rematch eventually. Perhaps she could have some help from the redoubtable SOS."]
[20:46] <@Raphael> "… More likely than I would prefer, under the current conditions." Raphael says, frowning slightly.
[20:48] <Minaplo> ["Yet less likely than you would think." Said Fatima, with a small smile. "I suppose it depends on how ambitious SOS becomes, but Caine dislikes having her irreplaceable- that is, to say, non-clone- pilots anywhere but in an Evangelion."]
[20:50] <@Raphael> "Mmm. I suppose we'll have to see."
[20:57] <Minaplo> ["Well, until then." Fatima took another mouthful of her meal.-
[20:58] <Minaplo> ["I shared my story. Now, it is your turn." Said Fatima, placing her fork down. "Tell me about Valletta."]

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