This Too Shall Pass 3 4 13

[15:26] <Raphael> The Quarantine Ward of the Dorian's medical ward had become an unpleasantly familiar space for Raphael over the past fortnight, and after four days of separation following Caitlin's release he'd found himself back there once more. Today he'd finally been cleared to make a long-delayed visit…-
[15:26] <Raphael> Ayanami Roku had been held in quarantine for over two months following her recovery from the Synfront, almost entirely without visitors. Official reports were that this was due to critical injuries and security concerns, although the isolation she had been subjected to was extreme given what he'd been told. The people he'd pressed for information - Marianne and Sarasvati in particular - had been silent on the issue, and the other Sisters hadn't seemed any more informed than he was.-
[15:26] <Raphael> Whether it was the recovery of Caitlin that had prompted his clearance to visit or something else, Raphael didn't know. There was a lot to talk about, and as he approached the door to her room he tried to ignore the concern that all the delays had only made the topics more confronting.
[15:36] <Minaplo> [The first thing Raphael would notice was that unlike Caitlin's room, there was no strip of one-way transparent surovite here. No way to look in.-
[15:38] <Minaplo> [There were a pair of Marines on duty; they stood to attention as Raphael approached.]
[15:48] <Raphael> Raphael turned over his papers, making polite small talk as one Marine radioed in to Command for confirmation. A few minutes later the door was opened and Raphael stepped through, trying to hide his misgivings.
[15:59] <Minaplo> [It would take a second for Raphael to process the utterly unexpected scent of hot butter, frying fish and lemon.-
[16:06] <Minaplo> [Indeed, if he'd been expecting a sterile cell like Caitlin's had been, he would be disappointed. Instead of a little hospital bed sat a larger, fuller double-bed quite like Raphael's own. The floor was carpeted a dark blue, and the walls were papered light yellow with red hibiscus flower patterns gently swirling from floor to ceiling. There was even furniture- a bookcase, a wardrobe…
[16:06] <Minaplo> And a kitchen. Not a fully-stocked one, but it had a refrigerator, a stovetop oven, and a coffee machine, along with numerous cupboards.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> [Roku herself was standing in front of the stove, a piece of crumbed fish frying lightly in a pan. She didn't seem to have any visible injuries. She wore a pair of denim hot pants and a loose yellow tank top beneath a white apron.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> [As Raphael entered, Roku turned her head towards him.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> [She gasped, then whirled around- for a second her eyes had widened. All too quickly they narrowed.-
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["Oh, it's… Right. Sorry."]
[16:14] <Raphael> Not the most auspicious of starts. If it hurt or surprised Raphael, though, he didn't show it. He waited by the door for now, one hand raised in what was almost a placating gesture.-
[16:14] <Raphael> "No apologies required. It's fine," he said gently. "I'd asked them to warn you, but apparently not…"
[16:27] <Minaplo> ["They did, don't worry. You can't expect just a warning to work though, can you?" Said Roku with a small smile.-
[16:28] <Minaplo> [She nodded toward the corner, where a cute little round table and a pair of frail-looking chairs sat. "Take a seat."]
[16:31] <Raphael> Raphael did, lowering himself down into one of the chairs with care. "This is… I admit, I had expected something a little more spartan. I'm glad they made some effort."
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["I have kind sisters, and I'd go crazy if I didn't have anything to do." Said Roku. "And cooking makes me happy."]
[16:53] * Raphael nodded a little, which didn't quite serve its purpose while Roku faced in the opposite direction. "How have you been?"
[16:54] <Minaplo> ["Honestly…? Restless. Really restless." Said Roku.-
[16:55] <Minaplo> [She sighed. "There was a time there, about a month or so, where I just wanted to lay in the dark by myself, close my eyes, forget the world… Just sink into happy memories, or nothing at all."-
[16:57] <Minaplo> ["… I don't really have it in me to maintain a good long fugue state, though." She said with a small smile. "And then I started getting good news, and…"-
[17:00] <Minaplo> [She gestured around the room with her off hand. "I'm going nuts. I wanna run and jump and exercise and stuff. I wanna shoot some targets, you know…? I keep finding myself rearranging the furniture. I did it three times last week."-
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["And I'm reading a lot." She said, gesturing at the bookcase. "Usually reading and rearranging furniture at the same time… I mean, I probably shouldn't if I want to string out things to do, but I can't help it. It feels, uh… Unstimulating if I'm only doing one thing at a time."]
[17:10] <Raphael> "At least you won't need to wait much longer," Raphael offered. "I've been told you're not far away from being released?"
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["Mmmhm. Yeah, don't worry, I'm counting the days. They're having me right next to Go."]
[17:14] <Raphael> "She'll be overjoyed," Raphael smiled. "Go's a sweetheart, but growing up under Asuka and Hachi's thumbs has its effects…"
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["No kidding."-
[17:16] <Minaplo> [The fridge door suddenly burst open of its own volition, hiding Roku from Raphael's sight. A minute later it closed; she now bore two plates, both containing that succulently-smelling fish as well as a rich, creamy potato salad.-
[17:16] <Minaplo> [Roku sat, placing one of the plates in front of Raphael. A pair of knives and forks- wrapped in napkins- appeared in the air suddenly.-
[17:17] <Minaplo> ["Bon appetit- that's how you say it?"]
[17:50] * Raphael nodded quickly, giving the utensils a bemused look. He glanced up at her. "Bon appetit."-
[17:50] <Raphael> "Sometimes I forget Chiisana isn't the only one capable of showing off with AT Manipulation," he grinned.
[17:54] <Minaplo> [Roku beamed. "You should see some of us, though… I've seen Go lying in bed, holding her book in the air and flipping the pages with her Field whilst she unwraps a chocolate bar… I think someone told me Sho uses it to get special angles on her clothes."]
[18:04] <Raphael> "I can believe it." He opened his utensils and used them to cut a slim slice of fish before popping it into his mouth.-
[18:04] <Raphael> "Mmm," he murmured, still chewing. By the time he'd finished he was smiling again. "That's delicious, Roku."
[18:08] <Minaplo> ["Thanks." She said with a grin. "You haven't had the chance to taste my cooking before, huh?"]
[18:09] <Raphael> "I haven't, no, but I'd certainly heard about it."
[18:11] <Minaplo> ["That's not why you're here today though, is it?"]
[16:26] <Raphael> "… No, ma'am," he said finally, pushing around his potato salad with a fork. "There's a few things we need to discuss, I'm afraid."
[16:31] <Minaplo> ["I see."]
[16:34] <Raphael> He gave her an awkward smile. "I didn't really intend to drop it all on you right away, but I suppose there's no point dancing around it."
[16:36] <Minaplo> ["Not really."]
[16:40] * Raphael sighed. "Have your sisters told you much about what's been going on in the outside world?"
[16:42] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, they've kept me updated about the war."]
[16:46] <Raphael> Raphael nodded, staying silent just long enough to swallow another mouthful of his meal. "Have they told you how Caine managed to hold you for so long without our interference?"
[16:48] <Minaplo> ["… You mean June?"]
[16:49] <Raphael> "Ah," there was a definite touch of relief to his voice. "So you were told. I wasn't sure."
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["They do a pretty good job, keeping me informed." Said Roku levelly. "One of my bodies with a soul that thought it was me, ensuring it'd go looking for Aksel… The whole thing is sickening, but what's worse is how close it came to success. You have to applaud their ability to plot if nothing else."-
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["Last I heard, though, June had been reduced to LCL…?"]
[17:15] <Raphael> "Mmm." Raphael murmured. "Well, that changed this week. We made an attempt at reincorporisation."-
[17:15] <Raphael> "There was another trap. The Angel Iruel was hidden within the core soul, and the procedure released it. It tried to take control over the Dorian, and only Sarasvati was able to stop it…"
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["… Damn, they really did a number here, huh?"]
[17:24] <Raphael> "Absolutely," he muttered. "Sarasvati was badly injured in the attack, but she's recovering. She sealed Iruel in her own systems though, so there may be side-effects we can't predict."
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["… Inside?" Roku's eyes widened. "Oh no- she took the bullet…"]
[17:28] <Raphael> "… yeah."-
[17:28] <Raphael> "Surov's doing everything he can, obviously. He wanted to find a different solution, but she insisted that it was the best way. She probably saved the ship in the process."
[17:31] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[17:31] <Minaplo> ["Urgh." Roku's shoulders slumped; she ran her hands slowly through her hair. "That's so like her. Damnit!"]
[17:41] * Raphael nodded sadly. "I'll keep you in the loop. I can see what I can do about getting you visitation privileges, if you want them."
[17:45] <Minaplo> ["Sure. Sara's been around here plenty in her own time, so I owe her that."]
[17:47] <Raphael> "She thinks very highly of you. One of the only times I've seen her angry was when she told me about what was done to you."
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[17:51] <Minaplo> [Roku's gaze fell down toward her plate. Her brows drew together; she let out a long sigh.]
[18:00] <Raphael> Raphael didn't press on immediately, whether to allow Roku some space or to accomodate his own need to gather his thoughts. For a while there was just the sound of clinking cutlery as Raphael shifted his food around.-
[18:00] <Raphael> "… Even with all of that, we successfully reincorporised June," he said. The name came out with a slight hitch, as though he'd been intending to use a different name. "She… didn't reincorporise in your form, precisely, though there were some anomalies."-
[18:00] <Raphael> "Which is how we found out that they'd used one of my sisters' souls as a base."
[18:01] <Minaplo> [Roku had listened watchfully, but as Raphael finished she let out a small gasp; she covered her mouth with her left hand.-
[18:01] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[18:02] <Minaplo> ["I… I don't know whether to offer you my condolences or my congratulations."]
[18:04] * Raphael made a sound that had more in common with a sharp exhalation than actual laughter. "I haven't made up my mind either," he said. "Very pessimistic of me, according to Doctor Delgado. He's probably right."
[18:04] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Uh… Is she okay?"]
[18:11] <Raphael> "… Yes. Mostly, yes," he said carefully. "She's healthy and reasonably happy, given the circumstances. Most of the time she seems the same as she ever was."
[18:11] <Minaplo> ["Glad for that at least." Said Roku with a small sigh of relief.]
[18:17] <Raphael> "That said, there are things about her restoration that Surov can't seem to account for. She's older than she was at the time of her death, and she's taken on certain Ayanami traits that seem to have come from you."-
[18:22] <Raphael> "There's been no evidence of changes to her personality or memory as far as I or anyone else can discern, but I figured you should know."
[18:22] <Minaplo> ["What sort of traits?"]
[18:24] <Raphael> "A change to the colour of her hair and one eye, along with Ayanami-equivalent strength and fitness."
[18:27] <Minaplo> ["Hmm… Alright, I see."]
[18:31] <Raphael> "Doctor Delgado's still working with her, so if she shows any sign of retaining your memories one of us will speak with you."
[18:32] <Minaplo> ["Okay, no problem…"]
[18:38] <Raphael> "…"-
[18:40] <Raphael> For the next minute or so he grew extremely interested in exploring his meal, as if unlocking the true secrets of the potato salad could help him avoid the next topic of conversation. No such luck.-
[18:41] <Raphael> "… We probably need to talk about Aksel."
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Roku levelly.]
[18:55] * Raphael set his cutlery aside with a sigh and elected to fold his hands on the table instead. "I'm sorry for the role I had to play in keeping you two separated, for a start."
[18:59] <Minaplo> ["Apology accepted." Said Roku.]
[19:11] * Raphael spent a few silent seconds turning that over before he pressed on. He took a deep breath, as if preparing himself for a decisive strike, but when he spoke…-
[19:11] <Raphael> "… Does he make you happy?"
[19:15] <Minaplo> ["Extremely." Said Roku calmly.]
[19:27] <Raphael> "Then that's all that matters." There was a strength behind the words, almost like he was insisting on it.-
[19:27] <Raphael> "I'm not anything to you, realistically speaking. I don't know you like I know some of your sisters. I feel a certain… responsibility-" he frowned as if he wasn't satisfied with the word, even as he pressed on, "-to the Ayanamis, but I don't think that instantly qualifies me for anything in return."-
[19:27] <Raphael> "The offer's there, tough. I know the things you've been put through have built up your independence, but if there's further help I can offer I will, even if it's just someone to be quiet and listen."
[19:32] <Minaplo> ["I understand." She said quietly. For a minute, Roku focused on eating.-
[19:32] <Minaplo> [Then she looked back up. "What if I asked you to resign?"]
[19:32] <Raphael> "…"-
[19:34] <Raphael> He watched her intently. "I'd ask you why, for a start."
[19:35] <Minaplo> ["And would any reason I give influence your decision?"]
[19:36] <Raphael> "Seeing as I've offered to resign from my post once within the past week? Quite possibly."
[19:40] <Minaplo> ["Alright. What if I wanted you to resign because war is stupid, this whole thing's a mess and I don't want you caught up in it?"]
[19:46] <Raphael> "Hm."-
[19:46] <Raphael> "Then I would voice my fears that not helping the war would be tantamount to helping Caine," Raphael said politely.
[19:50] <Minaplo> [Roku rested her head on her right arm and sighed; she wore a flat, dissatisfied expression.]
[19:55] <Raphael> "Which is the wrong answer, I see," Raphael said. "I'm not stopping you if you have a better option, Roku. I'm only trying to make the best choice available. If I'm missing something, tell me."
[19:56] <Minaplo> ["No, it's not that." She said. "That's a perfectly acceptable answer."-
[19:57] <Minaplo> ["But you know, all my actual life I've had to fight." She said. "Now? You have no idea how desperate I am for this to be over so I can get away from- this."-
[19:57] <Minaplo> ["Aksel's got it even worse. He can't even run away. He literally can't leave."-
[19:58] <Minaplo> ["We want to. We both want to ditch this entire war, only we can't. We don't have a choice. But all of you people- you're different. Not just you, but Caine also. You all have a choice between war and something else."-
[19:59] <Minaplo> ["It's just sad to see that freedom be wasted on this."]
(17:21) * Raphael accepted all of this in silence, occasionally offering a little nod of understanding.-
(17:22) <Raphael> "Sometimes…" He paused to examine her with dark eyes. "… I would never say that my lot is a worse one than yours or Aksel's. That so many have so little say in this war is a crime in a very real sense. All that said, sometimes choice and freedom can be a trap of their own."
(17:23) <Minaplo> ["In what way?"]
(17:48) <Raphael> "Because sometimes the world offers you a choice that isn't much of a choice at all."-
(17:48) <Raphael> "I could take my family and leave this idiot war - I suspect you underestimate how dearly I want that sometimes. I can't do this job as easily as I used to," he said. His eyes remained firmly locked with hers. "Leaving the UEF would be an option, at least until Caine assassinated us. Messily, I suspect. Or I could stay close enough to the UEF's protection to be able to get the news as people
(17:48) <Raphael> I loved who wouldn't or couldn't leave our banner were killed, possibly in ways I could've prevented."-
(17:49) <Raphael> "I have a 'choice' only insofar as there's a least worst option."
(17:55) <Mianplo> ["Yeah, I know." Said Roku quietly. "The sort of person you are limits the choices you're willing to take…"-
(17:56) <Mianplo> ["Heh. When Sarasvati planned our escape, I insisted on rescuing Juu first. Of course, Juu was gone by then, wasn't she?" Said Roku.-
(17:56) <Mianplo> ["Sarasvati insisted we rescue ourselves, though…"-
(17:57) <Mianplo> ["Then later on I nearly jeopardised our escape because I couldn't bring myself to kill a Stormtrooper who'd been kind to me."-
(17:57) <Mianplo> ["That's what makes me so angry." Said Roku quietly. "Either Mary Caine fashions a prison for us, or she knows what we're unwilling to do and builds her plans around it. We just keep cutting off our options, and she keeps pushing us into those cages."]
(18:01) * Raphael nodded.-
(18:01) <Raphael> "… Did he survive?"
(18:02) <Mianplo> ["I assume so. I wasn't able to hurt him, and Sara was waiting on me…"-
(18:04) <Mianplo> ["Dunno what happened to him in the end. Maybe he's still alive in the Synfront. Maybe he died in battle."]
(18:12) * Raphael looked down at his plate for lack of a better option. There was still a good-sized chunk of fish resting in the centre, but… perhaps unsurprisingly his appetite no longer seemed to be there.-
(18:12) <Raphael> "… I used to entertain the idea of getting you girls away from NERV."
(18:13) <Mianplo> ["Oh?"]
(18:32) <Raphael> "I shouldn't phrase it as though it was some noble thing. It was… selfish, in its way. As if your freedom could make up for my past mistakes," he said quietly. "But I couldn't do it, and Rei made me realize I was viewing you more as things to be saved than the people you were."-
(18:32) <Raphael> "I wasn't predicting a future like this, though."
(18:35) <Mianplo> ["What were you predicting, then?"]
(18:36) <Raphael> "That's a good question," Raphael muttered. "I wish I could tell you. I suppose I thought it really would be as simple as fighting the Angels and then returning to normal life. By the time I learned otherwise… too late."
(18:43) <Mianplo> ["Seems like we're always too late."]
(18:44) <Raphael> "Quite."
(18:44) <Mianplo> [Roku leaned back in her chair with a quiet, low sigh.]
(19:06) <Raphael> "… I'm sorry. I doubt I'm doing anything to help your mood."
(19:18) <Mianplo> ["Don't worry." Said Roku; she gave him a small smile. "It's been- refreshing, so to speak."-
(19:19) <Mianplo> ["I know, it might not look like it." She added. "But I think about these problems when you're not around too, you know. Distracting myself from them doesn't help me any."-
(19:19) <Mianplo> ["… Not really sure what to do about them, though. about the issues raised."]
(19:35) <Raphael> "Nor am I," he murmured. "Especially when all of the powerful players on both sides already have their pieces arranged."
(19:41) <Mianplo> ["Wouldn't be so bad if it didn't feel as though the other side was better at the game."]

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