|Kill Gundam, Get Steak|
|Summary: Louise Halevy clumsily courts a rebounding Leo Stenbuck.|
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy codec noise \9_6/
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck takes a little bit to answer, thanks to warning the Federation at large about how Daitarn 3 is unfuckable. Eventually, "Hello?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "Leo, it's me. I saw the news about Anaheim -- that was you, wasn't it?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "Yeah. Well, partly. I had to convince a few people. The Shirogane's actually supposed to be docked at La Vie en Rose full time, while we're investigating them, but we keep getting bounced around because we can Jump."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "I -- thank you /so much/. You... you listened."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "Did you find anything?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck sounds like he's smiling. "Not me, personally, no. They're still looking into things. Lots of phantom revenue, disappearing charity donations, that kind of thing. And... of course I listened. It's not like you're the only one who suspected them, and if you're right, they're as bad as the Trailers."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy switches comms back. "Still -- thanks. I knew Wong Lee was up to no good from the moment I met him at a cocktail party."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "And... how did it go -- against Yazan? I could feel how it was going for you, but I didn't get a good look."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says nothing for a few seconds, and then, "He got away. But I destroyed his mobile suit. He won't escape, next time. And the Gundam was... amazing."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "Did you do alright? I was trying to find you, afterwards, but..."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "I took down one of their new heavy assault units -- the ones that look like Battlemechs with Minovsky engines. You've seen them, right...?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "... And then I almost took another Gundam down. The GN Cannon -- the raw power..."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "... the Gundam he gave you -- the name really is right, isn't it? They're a sign of his love -- for us. For humanity."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says nothing for a few seconds, and then, simply, "Yeah." He pauses, and then continues, "I wish I could have seen you do it. That new assault one you mentioned, it's the green kind, right? With the big gun?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "Kind of like those, but hers was red. An ace-type."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck sounds like he's grinning. "Even better, then. I knew I made the right choice when I picked you for the GNX Team."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy matches Leo's tone. "I want to be a good wingmate -- for you."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck, after a few moments, more gently says, "Me, too. For you, I mean."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy takes a breath. "I... don't know if I ever really thanked you for the pictures. Of -- the Gundam."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "-- oh! That actually reminds me, uh, I've got some more for you. More pictures, I mean. From Ame-no-... uh, from A-n-M. There was a Celestial Being Gundam there, and I..."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "Actually..."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy, awkwardly, "I helped one of the cooks on the Shirogane out with a little money trouble... I could call in a favor and we could have dinner some time -- together, I mean. Rather than just going to the mess. Just the two of us. After everyone else leaves, I mean."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "You could show me then, maybe. If -- if that's OK."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck transmits several seconds of silence, and then, suddenly, "How about tonight?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy, startled, "Yes!"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "I mean -- I'll need to call the cook -- what do you want to eat?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "You know, whatever. I'll eat anything. -- oh, except soy stuff, I'm allergic to soy."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "A-all right!"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "Well... just let me know when I should show up in the mess, then, I guess?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Louise Halevy says, "Well... how about an hour after the usual dinner hour? So everyone has time to clear out, and..."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "Yeah, okay. Sounds good."
About an hour after dinner is officially through being served in the Shirogane's mess hall, one of the doors into the large, empty room whooshes open, and Leo Stenbuck steps inside. He apparently has not seen fit to dress up for the occasion; he's still wearing the boots and uniform pants of the standard A-LAWS uniform (that also doubles as his flight suit, these days), the now-everpresent strip of white cloth tied around his head, the long ends hanging loose down his back.
In lieu of the fancy dustered top, he's wearing a simple, tight-fitting tank top, albeit one of the same color and complete with the A-LAWS crest on the left breast. It may not be fancy, but it does an excellent job of accenting the muscle he's finally put on in the past few weeks.
He is also, surprisingly, carrying a bottle of what looks to be champagne.
Leo takes a few steps into the mess - far enough for the door to shut behind him - and then pauses, slowly turning to scan the room. There does seem to be a table set, but... "Louise?" the young man calls, hesitantly.
Louise has had what might be a 'panic attack' about the whole situation; she still isn't sure that she can do 'normal people things' yet, and as such, has spent a little too much time agonizing over what to wear, whether this is a good idea, whether her acquaintance will follow through...
Fortunately, everything seems to fall into place. Finally wearing her civilian clothes after months and months of wearing /only/ her uniform and fancy dresses, Louise walks into the mess slowly, from a different entrance, having heard Leo from the other side of the door. "I'm here -- I hope I'm not too late," she says, glancing to the bottle of champagne.
"I asked the cook to see if he could do steak... it might be a cheap one, but it's better than the usual dinner," she says, with a small smile on her face. He really does remind her of Saji, she thinks -- and unlike Saji, she won't hold him back with her wounds.
"Right on time," Leo assures Louise with a grin when she makes her appearance; he proceeds immediately towards the one set table, gesturing for her to meet him there. "And steak sounds awesome."
It doesn't take more than a few seconds for Leo to reach the table - the Shirogane may be a big ship, but a battleship mess hall is a battle ship mess hall. "Oh, uh," he begins, gesturing with the champagne bottle with one hand while he pulls his chair out with the other. "I brought this. I picked it up awhile ago, and I figured since we were celebrating, we could try some. If you want to, I mean."
Joining Leo at the table, Louise sits down in short order; she straightens her clothes out a little, then says, "I'd really like to try it. I... think I only like drinking when it's with one other person." She decides not to /explicitly/ bring up New Years' again, but the implication is definitely there.
"I hope this isn't interrupting anything," the young lady says to Leo, shortly before the cook comes out. He is a squat, fat man; this is a sign of quality, because you can't trust a skinny cook.
He asks them how they take their steak. Louise takes hers medium.
Leo waits until Louise sits down before sitting down himself, setting the bottle of champagne on the table after he has. "I've never actually done it before," he admits. Well... except once, he adds mentally, his thoughts drifting back to Excellen Browning, eggnog pusher. He opens his mouth to continue, but then the cook comes!
Leo takes his steak rare, possibly even rare as hell, because when you grow up eating grody-ass synthetic meat - and even then, only rarely, because your dad works IT for Nereidum instead of being a hotshot scientist /fuck you Camille Bidan/ - the taste of cow blood is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Once the chef has departed, Leo continues, "And don't worry, I'd rather do this than anything I would have ended up doing by myself." He flashes the young woman a smile, and then adds, "You look great tonight, by the way."
Louise blushes a little and turns away; where before the... accident she would've gotten loud and obnoxious about it, now she's just not sure how to react. Still, it's Leo -- she can be comfortable around him, right? Sometimes she can even feel him, hundreds of meters away, in a combat zone. Once you're /that/ close...
She settles for an awkward, "Thanks... you look really good, too. I just noticed how much you've grown -- since the first time we met." She adds, "It's still hard to think of you as a 'Gundam' pilot, now, too. But... the 1 Gundam is different, isn't it?" Her mind drifts back to military matters so quickly -- it's such a part of who she is, now. She can't quite escape it even in a situation like this.
Leo's smile widens at the compliment; his self-image has improved dramatically since his growth spurt, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel good to have his ego stroked. It falters a little - but only a little - when Louise turns the conversation towards Gundams. He hadn't really considered, before, how she might feel about it, what with her feelings about... well, 'Gundam' as a whole.
"It's hard for me, too," he admits, still smiling slightly. "But... Gundam is just a name, I think. An important name, yeah," he concedes, leaning forward onto the table to rest his elbows and hands on it. "That's why Ribbons made it a Gundam. To show how important we are to the future."
"But still just a name," the young man continues. "A Gundam is just a mobile suit. It's the runner, not the frame, that makes the difference."
So he did it to take power away from Gundam -- and put it in Leo's hands, her hands? That eases Louise up a little, and she nods to him, visibly becoming a little less tense on the subject. "I guess you're right," she says, nodding. "It doesn't matter whether the machine's a Gundam or not... if Celestial Being comes at us in Wanzers, we'll still shoot them down."
Her resolve reinforced, she finally finds a topic to move onto that isn't entirely military-related. "People supplying Celestial Being with other machines... that reminds me -- would you mind letting me take a look at some of the files from La Vie En Rose some time? I don't know... /that/ much, but I know my way around money OK..." She knows she won't find anything that an actual Federation accountant wouldn't, but she wants to see it for herself. She wants to be right.
Leo just smiles and nods his agreement, obviously happy Louise understands where he's coming from. He's still, however, plenty glad to move away from the subject; talk of the Anaheim investitgation may not be much more pleasant, but at least it isn't talk of Gundams.
"Sure," he says casually, as if it were the smallest request in the world. "They want us to keep an obvious presence there anyways... I'll take you in and let you poke around one of the computers. I didn't understand most of it, when I looked, but."
As Leo speaks, he fishes into one of his uniform pockets and comes out with a multitool; after a moment, he produces a corkscrew out of it, and goes to work on the bottle of champagne.
"Good!" Louise says, actually, genuinely happy about that; she got Anaheim taken down, and she knows it. And now she gets to examine the fruits of that particular labor. What could be better than knowing, for sure, that you've changed the world for the better?
"Do you want me to get that?" Louise asks; she has a little more experience popping these than Leo probably does. Meanwhile, in the background, the sounds of delicious, sizzling meat can be heard, if one listens very closely; the food must be getting close to being ready.
"No, no, I've got it," Leo insists, being a prideful and stubborn teenage male. "Just gotta-"
Miraculously, Leo manages to avoid hitting himself in the face with the cork, probably because he used a corkscrew like some kind of animal. Instead, the multitool just clatters out of his hands, making him almost drop the bottle; the sudden surge of champagne doesn't help, although just as miraculously he manages to avoid getting anything more than his arms and a little bit of his chest wet.
Once the champagne has calmed, Leo looks sheepishly up at Louise, grinning. "Champagne?" he offers, posing as if ready to pour.
In spite of herself, Louise has a little laugh at Leo's expense. "Nice work," she says, with a smile on her face. "I'll take a glass of that," she adds, as if there was really any doubt. She looks at the droplets on Leo's arms and chest, a little surprised at how well he just played it off like it was nothing -- a lot of guys would've gotten way more embarassed.
The food arrives, thank God. It is cheap steak -- probably no surprise, considering the circumstances -- and comes with a side salad as well. "Thanks," Louise says to the chef, still grinning like an idiot at Leo's little gaffe. "We're even now," she assures him, before he retreats.
While the chef lays out the food, Leo pours two glasses of champagne. Well. 'glasses'; the plastic half-mug-half-glass things are a far cry from champagne flutes, but they'll have to do. He sets the bottle down out of the way again once he has, nods his appreciation to the departing chef, and then reaches for his silverware.
He stops before he actually picks it up, changes his mind, and picks up his mug of champagne, holding it aloft out towards Louise. "Cheers," he prompts with a grin, his eyes sparkling.
"Cheers," Louise agrees, clinking her own half-mug half-glass with Leo's... insofar as plastic can clink. Taking a long drink shortly thereafter, she looks down at her food, considering it carefully; she decides to go with the salad first, taking her first few nibbles. It's surprisingly adequate -- you can screw up a cut of steak but you can't really screw up greens /that/ badly.
"You mentioned a picture before," she says, after swallowing her first bite; she's still curious to see it, since it involves her most favorite thing in the world -- Celestial Being getting its ass handed to it. "You brought it, right?"
Leo takes a similarly long drink, though he doesn't swallow the last of it immediately. It's his first time having champagne, and he wants to savor it. He sets his glass down a few seconds after Louise sets down hers, and then picks up his silverware and beelines for the steak. He's in the middle of a too-large bite when Louise asks her question, and he accelerates his chewing and swallows quickly before answering.
"Right, right. I almost forgot!" His left hand goes for his muglass of champagne, while the right goes back into his pocket; it comes out with his phone, which he fiddles briefly with while taking a sip of champagne. After a few seconds, a holographic screen springs up out of the phone, and he sets it down on the table and pushes it towards Louise.
It is displaying a picture, ripped from his GN-XIII's main camera, of the Cherudim Gundam; a GN Lance is buried in its abdomen, and the GN-XIII appears to be jumpkicking it through space. "There's a few more," Leo says informatively, and indeed there are.
Prompting the phone to advance one picture treats Louise to a similar picture to the first, except with the Gundam pinned to the side of the space fortress the battle raged around by the lance, still through its midsection. Advancing one more picture gets her a photo of the Cherudim Gundam, now a few hundred meters away and still pinned, being consumed by a massive burnt orange beam blast from off-camera.
"... This is the same battle I was at, wasn't it?" Louise asks, recognizing some of the space geography. "I remember -- I could feel it going well, even if I was focused on doing my part... and this was you, wasn't it?" Not all of it, obviously -- she knows how well they did, knows that by the end it was two-to-one between aces -- but just the same.
"It's really amazing. A year ago I never would've thought that we could pull something like that off against a Gundam... I guess the world really is changing for the better," she says, taking another quick drink of champagne. After a bite of her salad, she says, "Soon Celestial Being will just be a memory."
'Mother... Father... I wish you could see the way the world is changing,' she thinks to herself. Soon they'll break Celestial Being's backs -- and soon there won't be a single other person who has to suffer the way she did. Not now, not ever. She'll lead humanity into its peaceful future at Ribbons's side.
"Thank you," she says, a little quieter, tone a little warmer. "I ... I really mean it."
Leo smiles, pulling the phone back across the table towards him. He fiddles with it a moment, deactivating the holographic display, and then slips it back into his pocket. "I know," he says, picking up his silverware again. "I promised you I'd put a stop to them, and that's what I'm going to do." He manages to look at her eyes the entire time... but peripheral vision is part of being a pilot, and certain new developments do not escape his notice.
That's funny, Leo thinks, I don't feel cold at all.
"Anyways," he continues, attemtping to push the conversation on to lighter fare, "Thanks for inviting me out here to do this. This is great." As if to prove it, he takes another too-large bite and starts chewing.
"It really is," Louise says, squirming a little more than she'd probably like to be; she hates being obvious about herself. She hasn't really felt comfortable doing so since her life fell apart -- but then, it's not /that/ strange, alone like this, right?
Nibbling at her steak a little -- not much, just sort of prodding it with her fork, Louise continues, "I mean it -- thank you. When we fly together, I -- I want to do better, because I know you're doing your best." She adjusts her shirt again, trying to hide a little... but sadly, it doesn't work out all that well.
"I -- I'm a little scared about it, but..." she starts, before holding up a hand and waving it a little. All at once, her ability to express herself falls out -- if it was ever there in the first place. "-- N-nevermind!"
Chew, chew, chew, swallow. Leo's eyes flit downwards to Louise's chest when she tugs at her shirt; they don't linger there, but the adjustment really, really doesn't work out in favor of stealth. Blessedly, he elects not to stare or comment.
"Don't be embarrassed that you're scared," he insists, a few moments after Louise attempts to dismiss the topic. "I was scared, too, when I first started. It'll get easier, the more you do it. And I'm here to protect you," he adds, flashing another smile.
He reaches out for his muglass of champagne, drains it, and sets it back down. He hesitates suddenly, as if forgetting something, and then blurts, "Oh, right, one sec," scoots his chair back, and leans down to collect his multitool from the floor.
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck hisses, "Dude if you're there I need you pick up."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "Huh? Leo?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "I can't talk long. What does it mean in those games you play, when the girl is, uh, nipply, but it isn't cold or anything?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "Is she sick?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "See if she's sick."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck sounds hushed. "I'm pretty sure she's not-- what would that even matter?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "I don't know!! Maybe it's like goosebumps?"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "I get goosebumps all the time when I have, like, a cold."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck hisses, "What good are these games if you don't-- ugh!"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "I didn't say I got that far!!"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck says, "Ugh... okay, thanks. I have to go."
<Radio> Tightbeam from Masaki Andoh says, "Just check her eyes or something! Why's it even matter??"
<Radio> Tightbeam from Leo Stenbuck hisses, "Ihavetogobye!"
Thank God he doesn't say anything or this would end up much, much worse. In any case, Louise says, "... that's kind of -- um --" she starts, before abruptly finding the texture of her steak very interesting and saying, "Nevermind."
Taking a few bigger bites, Louise washes them down with another long drink of champagne; she's starting to run out, which means it might be time for a second glass. A little bit of a blush starts to enter her cheeks -- not much, but just a little.
"Um..." Having been somewhat ignorant of the extent to which Leo has been dating half of the Federation's girls age 15-19, Halevy decides to ask something dumb. Blame the champagne. "So, uh -- would you like to go on another date, once we're not docked with La Vie En Rose anymore?"
It takes Leo something like twenty seconds of fumbling around underneath the table to actually get the multitool; he only surfaces as Louise is finishing her question about 'going on another date', and says, a little too quickly, "Sure, totally. That'd be awesome."
Only then does he pause and try to figure out what she actually just said. He caught something about 'another' - does she want to have dinner again sometime? He hopes that's what it was, and he didn't just agree to something he wouldn't actually want to do. Oh, well; it'll probably be fine.
Leo removes the cork from his multitool, sets it on the table, and quickly folds up the tool and stuffs it back in his pocket. That done, he proceeds to the bottle of champagne and pours himself another muglass. After a moment of contemplation, he tops Louise off, too, without waiting to be prompted.
"So," he says brightly, as he sets the bottle back down. He hesitates immediately afterwards, unsure of what to actually say, and settles for going at his steak again with gusto.
Louise's expression brightens a great deal when Leo agrees to another date; she takes another long drink of champagne, having gotten a good deal deeper into her steak while Leo was rummaging under the table, leaning back. Eventually, she says, quietly, "Hmm... maybe we could see a movie, or..." Maybe she will just take him shopping and make him buy her things.
That sounds like it might be nice, actually -- even if she can't /quite/ recapture what she had... it's as close as she can get without holding someone else back.
"Anyway -- this is pretty good steak for a ship..." she notes, glancing down toward it. "I bet they found it when they were searching La Vie En Rose. I wouldn't be surprised -- of /course/ they're doing great, if they're selling to Zeon /and/ Celestial Being." Disgusting, she thinks.
Louise's obvious delight elicits much the same from Leo. In fact, he's in an increasingly good mood all-around; he wonders, briefly, if that's the influence of the champagne.
In truth, it probably is. There's a definite blush to his cheeks, even after only a glass; Leo may be hard like Petrelli now, but he's still pretty small and light. That, combined with inexperience, means his tolerance is awfully low.
Despite this, he washes his last few bites down with a swig of champagne. "Probably," he agrees. "At least some good's coming from it, though, right?" He flashes yet another grin as he cuts himself another bite of steak. "Thanks again for the invitation. I'm having a really good time." Bite, chew, chew, chew.
"I am too," Louise says, grinning at Leo as she finishes her meal, having not spent some of her time 'having a conversation' and also probably having a smaller steak besides. "So, um... hey..." Louise, now dangerously close to finishing her second glass due to an accelerating rate of consumption, asks what might be a dangerous question. "I want to look over the data from the GN Cannon and the 1 Gundam's first sortie and see where we can improve -- will you come back to my quarters and help me out?"
She wonders briefly if this comes off the wrong way, but does not think /too/ hard about it. After all -- Leo's trustworthy, right?
In truth, Leo had already begun trying to think of a way to invite Louise back to his quarters without it seeming... improper. The Man from Jupiter made his feelings about romance very clear, but, well... surely something like this wouldn't count, right? And... it hasn't been that long since... but he's so lonely. The nightmares are back, since that day, and...
Leo swallows his bite of steak and washes it down with a quick swig of champagne. When he sets his muglass back down, he pushes it pointedly away from him; at least he's wise enough to know when he's had enough, and it's definitely starting to go to his head.
After a moment, he smiles again. "Yeah," he agrees. "I think I'd like that." And then he returns to his food, eating with a suddenly renewed haste and vigor.