How Beautiful A Thing Can Be, A Breath Will Tear Away

[08:58] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> [A grubby, grey November 27th dawned over Paris-2. Deep below the city, in the Medical District of NERV’s Geofront, in a small guest room with a bed and desk…]
[09:03] <Yanmei> It had been a trying week so far. A synch test that had apparently gone poorly, a visit to Ariadne that had left her feeling lonely and tight-lipped, and the general sense that she was sinking deeper and deeper into something terrible with a dwindling number of lifelines to her disposal.-
[09:06] <Yanmei> But now, a certain Zhang Yanmei was trying to sleep some of that off, huddled under a warm blanket with her arms around herself. This was a struggle as well, but she had finally made progress and was now snoring softly.
[09:09] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> [… But her sleep, no matter how hard-fought, would soon be interrupted. Someone was pushing her shoulder. "…Mei."]
[09:11] <Yanmei> "Ngh." She tried to bury herself deeper under the blanket.
[09:16] <Zhang`Mingzhu> ["…Anmei." More pushes. A faint voice she could perhaps recognise, barely, as Isaiah’s. There was a sense of urgency…]
[09:18] <Yanmei> Isaiah? She made herself stir then, even groggily pushing herself up to blink at him.
[09:20] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> [He was dressed in his Nurse’s uniform, a tired expression on his face… Perhaps Yanmei would remember that he hadn't come to bed last night? Perhaps not…-
[09:20] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["Yanmei? It’s your mum…"]
[09:24] <Yanmei> That sank in quickly. As did a sense of terror. "Mom…?" Her eyes widened, and she started to pull herself out of bed, stumbling around for her shoes and a bathrobe. "She's… please don't tell me she's…" but she was mumbling it more to herself than to him.
[09:25] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> [He sank onto the bed with a weary sigh, but there was a little smile on his face. "She’s awake."]
[09:26] * Yanmei stopped. She stared over her shoulder at him.
[09:26] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["D-Dr. Clement and the rest of the medical team assigned to her worked on her through the night, and… She’s awake. She's even stabilised…"]
[09:30] <Yanmei> "…" Yanmei sort of sat down where she was, a tennis shoe in one hand. "She's okay. She's… okay?"
[09:32] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> [He nodded groggily to her. "S-She’s still very hurt, and some of her injuries… We weren't able to fix. But she's alive, and she's coherent…"]
[09:36] * Yanmei nodded slowly. She stared down at her shoe, gripping it tightly, as if she was worried that someone might stroll along and snatch it away. "May I see her?" It only now just occurred to her to -ask-.
[09:36] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["Y-yeah. She’s… She's waiting for you right now."]
[09:40] * Yanmei nodded again. The shoe went on, and so did its twin, both tied with shaking hands. Then she stood up and found a sweater to throw on in lieu of a more proper bathrobe. It was not all that warm, but she didn't care. She took special care not to sprint through the door, even looking back at the tired Isaiah, as if wondering what he would do himself.
[09:40] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["Yanmei…?" He called out before she left.]
[09:41] <Yanmei> "…yes?"
[09:41] <Zhang`Mingzhu> ["What do you want me to do?" He glanced over at the cot that held the sleeping Elizabeth.]
[09:43] * Yanmei followed his gaze and fell silent for a few beats. "I might be a while," she realized out loud. "And you’re tired too. Rest here, okay? Until she wakes up…"
[09:43] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["Alright." He murmured gratefully, falling back on the bed. "Love you."]
[09:46] <Yanmei> "I love you too." She wanted to kiss him, but he was too far away, and her mother’s room waited. She was waiting for her. "Come find me once you're both awake again?"
[09:46] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> ["I will." He promised.]
[09:47] * Yanmei left, closing the door quietly. She started down the hallway at a brisk walk… which turned into a controlled jog.
[09:48] <Zhang`Mingzhu> [The observation window was so close- as was the door. Unlocked, this time.]
[09:50] * Yanmei ran for the door, not even looking through the observation window, and stumbled to an ungraceful halt, breathing hard. "M-Mom…?"
[09:51] * Zhang`Mingzhu was lying in bed, a thin white sheet covering her. As Yanmei entered, she slowly turned to look at her.-
[09:52] <Zhang`Mingzhu> Burns on her face. Or rather, burn scars, deep, distorting and twisting her cheeks, chin, parts of her lips, her left eye… They were hideous and extensive, covering most of her left face. A bandage was wrapped tightly around her forehead as well as down much of the burned side.-
[09:53] <Zhang`Mingzhu> Her left arm, what was visible of it, was also deeply burned, and at some parts it was only too obvious where the heat had burned away the flesh completely.-
[09:53] <Zhang`Mingzhu> Yanmei would also realise, eventually, that where there should’ve been a bulge, a bump where her mother's left leg was… There was nothing at all.-
[09:53] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "… Hello, blossom."
[10:00] <Yanmei> The changes stunned her. Never before has she seen her mother so… vulnerable, and utterly and irreversably injured. Not even biogel could help with this. And yet, hearing her old voice brought her to the brink of tears, breaking her own speachlessness. "Mom… oh Mom." She wanted to run to her. Refrained, because she didn’t know how much her mom would like it.-
[10:01] <Yanmei> "I was scared! I was really really…" She was trying to approach more slowly, with dignity, but her fumbling words spoiled all that.
[10:05] * Raphael has quit IRC (Quit: <Mina‘Haplo> ’T' is for Tao, who is Tsundere as hell :|)
[10:07] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I know." Mumbled Mingzhu. There was something groggy in her voice as she held a burned hand out towards Yanmei. "I…"
[10:12] <Yanmei> Seeing that bandaged hand reach out to her nearly broke her. Yanmei reached her mom’s side, and for a moment, she seemed as if she would throw herself at her, but she refrained with that too. So many burns and injuries. "I'll stay here with you until you're feeling better, okay? Just… don't go away…"
[10:12] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I’m here to stay, Blossom." Said Mingzhu, shaking her head as if to clear away the cobwebs. "What happened…?"
[10:14] <Yanmei> "An Angel attack." Yanmei wiped her eyes. "You've been asleep for a long time. NERV China was destroyed. Beijing was…"
[10:15] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I… I remember the Angel." She mumbled. "Akagi. Is Akagi safe?"
[10:19] <Yanmei> "She made it through! She stayed with you until the rescue crews made it there." It only now occurred to her that she hadn’t spoken to the woman, or even thought much about her until now.
[10:19] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "That’s… Good. And… What about 08, 09, 10?"
[10:20] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> «09, 10, 11*»
[10:26] <Yanmei> "B-badly damaged. They’re still rebuilding parts for them. That Angel was destroyed, too."
[10:30] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "It was…?" Mingzhu winced suddenly, holding her ribs, before nodding. "How… How many died…?"
[10:33] * Yanmei was quiet for a long while. Still, she couldn’t just avoid the answer, even if she wanted to. "Several million. It attacked other cities too, before we could get to it…"
[10:33] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Several… Million…" She closed her eyes. For a long time she was quiet, breathing deeply, in and out…-
[10:33] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "…"-
[10:34] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "Who… Killed it?"
[10:37] <Yanmei> How to convey that frantic battle to her? Yanmei tried her best. "All the active EVAs were gathered in Paris, along with our special ground troops. We were split into teams. One went into the planet’s orbit for an offensive attack, and the others stayed behind to defend the Geofront. Somehow, we pulled it off and destroyed it."-
[10:41] <Yanmei> "I was on the space team." Yanmei's hand twitched, and she struggled with the desire to reach for her mother's own hand, at least the less-injured of the two. "At the time, I thought you were… None of the doctors had told me what had happened. I'm not even sure what day it was that they found you. It hurt so much!"
[10:42] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I’m sorry…"
[10:47] * Yanmei shook her head, her voice stuck for the moment. Finally, she worked it free. "We worked through its defenses, and wore it down, and finally defeated it. It was a long fight. And at the end, even when I stabbed it that last time, it didn't make up for anything." She shook her head. "Because Colonel Lachapelle was gone, and so was Beijing, and so were you."
[10:51] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "…" Mingzhu shifted her gaze up towards the roof, a sort of weary despair floating in her eyes. "Yanmei… You did it." She said quietly, a tiny smile coming to her lips. "I failed… I failed so miserably at my duty. But you… You succeeded. You… You and the others…" She coughed. "I… I think you have… Surpassed me…"
[10:54] <Yanmei> A sort of slow-dawning worry. Maybe she shouldn’t have said all that. She shook her head again. "N-no… I still need you. Please don't say that!"
[11:05] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "That isn’t true." Murmured Mingzhu. "You… You are young, strong. Capable of standing like an adult now. I am no longer whole…" She shook her head. "I am scarred. I am hideous. I am weak and broken. Weak and broken. Weak and broken…"-
[11:05] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Broken. Broken. Broken…"
[11:16] <Yanmei> "You’re not!" Her voice grew in both volume and desperation. Some irreplaceable thing was slipping away, and she was scrabbling to stop it. "You're my mom! You'll always be strong and smart… so much smarter than I am… and more graceful. And e-everything I admire. You're still that person, no matter what happens!"
[11:29] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I was scared." She mumbled, her voice pained. "I-It showed me. I-I was scared, of becoming… Of becoming a mother, your mother. And so I… I couldn’t face that responsibility." She was shaking her head frantically, lifting her hands to her temples. "I tried to be strong, to throw myself into my work, where I was strong, but I was a weak mother- w-without him, I didn't… I-I didn't have
[11:29] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> any confidence in anything else. I-I didn’t feel strong being a mother, so I-I ran… I hoped that it would be alright, but I-I knew you needed me, a-and so long as you needed me, I… I felt as though just -trying- to be a mother was enough, even if I was too afraid to do anything more than make a show of it." She grimaced. "M-my work is broken. My daughter doesn't need me anymore. She's
[11:29] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> stronger than I am. So much stronger. She grew strong without me. She never needed me…" Her voice was rising in volume now. "I’m worthless…"
[11:40] <Yanmei> "Wh-what are you saying?" Now her own fear was bleeding through amid the desperation. "Do you even know why I'm here? I'm the way I am because of you! I can only get stronger because of you. You… you said I was your hope…" It sounded like pleading in her own ears, but she was far beyond caring. "Mom…" She reached out to her. "P-please, Mom…"
[11:46] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Don’t…" She shook her head furiously. "D-Don't say that to me. I-I'm… I'm not the one who makes you strong. So stop… Thinking that you need me…"-
[11:46] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> She gripped Yanmei’s hand tightly, painfully so. "I-I'm the one who needs you…"
[11:52] * Yanmei hung her head miserably. She didn't know what to say, or how to fix this. She could only stay silent like an idiot, clutching her hand.
[11:54] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Help me, Yanmei." Whispered Mingzhu.-
[11:55] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "Help me. Please… Please… I-It… My head…"
[11:56] <Yanmei> "Your… head?" She leaned forward, frantic. "It hurts? M-Mom, what’s wrong? Should I call a doctor?"
[11:57] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "It spoke… I-I heard it in my head…"
[11:58] <Yanmei> "It spoke to me too. It said such terrible things." Anger flashed across her face. That goddamned monster! "They’re lies, Mom. You can't listen to them! It was just trying to hurt you!"
[12:04] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "No. It did something far worse. It showed me the truth." She muttered. "I… I’m not the mother you deserve."
[12:12] <Yanmei> "Listen to me, okay? Back then, it showed me the things I thought I would never have. Things that I really wanted to come true. Taunting me…" She shook her head. "It… it showed me running in a stadium. And you were there! And you looked so proud." Her grip tightened. "I love you. You love me too, right? Isn't that enough?"
[12:19] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "I… I love you too. But… But I’m not the one who can say if that's enough or not."
[12:21] <Yanmei> "It's more than enough. It's all I've ever wanted…"
[12:25] * Zhang‘Mingzhu was quiet. For a long time she just sat there, staring up at the roof, not saying anything.-
[12:25] <Zhang`Mingzhu> …-
[12:25] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "… What’s the date…?"
[12:26] * Yanmei hesitated. "N-November 27th. You've been asleep for a long time," she said again.
[12:26] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "…" Mingzhu smiled.-
[12:27] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "My Blossom turns 16 years old tomorrow…"
[12:28] * Yanmei blinked at that, as if surprised. "I… I almost forgot. You’re right."
[12:30] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Have anything planned?"
[12:31] <Yanmei> "I do now." She nodded. "I’ll spend it here, with you. Maybe the doctors will let us go outside for a while too."
[12:33] * Zhang‘Mingzhu nodded quietly. "I’d like that… I remember that I missed your last birthday at home." She stared up at the roof.-
[12:33] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Where’s that young man, Isaiah? Will he be here tomorrow?"
[12:34] <Yanmei> "I think so. Do you want to talk to him too for while?"
[12:36] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Yes. I think it’s important…" She blinked slowly. "… They decided not to make him a pilot, didn't they?"
[12:37] <Yanmei> "That's right," Yanmei smiled. "He doesn't have to fight."
[12:38] * Zhang‘Mingzhu nodded, shifting over slightly and patting the bed. "Yanmei?"
[12:39] * Yanmei sat down gingerly, as if slightly worried about injuring her further. "Yes?"
[12:40] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "Do you love him, Yanmei?"
[12:41] * Yanmei shifted, her cheeks suddenly flaring pink. Finally, she nodded shyly.
[12:46] * Zhang`Mingzhu smiled. "My blossom is in love. Does he love you, too?"
[12:47] <Yanmei> "Y-yeah," she mumbled, that blush not quite waning. The fact that she was doing it in front of her mom made it that much more embarrassing. "I’m sure of it."
[12:52] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "That’s good. That's good. A loving partner…" She blinked slowly, lethargically. "My blossom really has become a beautiful young lady." She let out a tired sigh.-
[12:53] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Your father had such beautiful eyes." She rambled, slurring a little.
[12:54] <Yanmei> "He did?" Yanmei kept her voice quiet, low. It must have been a struggle for her to even stay awake as long as she had.
[12:57] <Zhang`Mingzhu> "They were warm and brown. Inviting." She sighed, her eyelids flickering. "I wanted to grow old with him, Yanmei. I wanted him to be able to see our grandchildren." Her hand’s grip was becoming gentle. "Are you going to grow old with him…?"
[12:58] <Yanmei> "Yes Mom…" It was hard for her to even imagine something that far ahead, but anything to keep her happy.
[13:01] <Zhang‘Mingzhu> "Good…" Her eyes closed, now. "… Mei…"
[13:02] <Yanmei> "Yes?" she whispered, but she wasn’t sure if she had already fallen asleep.
[13:03] * Zhang‘Mingzhu had drifted off, washed out by pain, exhaustion and medication. She lay there, feebly holding Yanmei’s hand.
[13:10] * Yanmei watched awhile. Finally, when she was sure that she was sleeping, and when minutes had ticked by without an interruption from doctors or nurses… she turned her back to the observation window, clenched her teeth, and bowed her head, shoulders shaking pathetically as the tension from the past few weeks pushed hard against the barrier she had erected around it. It was a meager posture, but it was the best she could do for privacy for now.

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