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He Who Fights With Monsters
Summary: Nietzsche is an asshole.
Who: Leo Stenbuck, Noriko Takaya
When: April 8, NCA 120
Where: Exelion


Two hours ago, the Space Noah-class capital ship Shirogane docked with the Exelion, for resupply of everything from ammunition to the shitty rations allowed them thanks to the Federatino's ongoing food supply problems - more rice and Velveta, /mm mm good/ - and for minor repairs to damage sustained from the firing of the Hyaku Shiki's Mega Bazooka Launcher during the recent battle of La Vie En Rose.

As such, all personnel have been given a day of shore ('shore') leave: they are free to dick around on the Exelion as they see fit until the Shirogane ships out again tomorrow. Many of them have done just that, absconding into the depths of the humongous ship.

Others have not.

Leo Stenbuck, clad in the go-to A-LAWS Casual of teal tank top, uniform pants, and boots, is sitting on a large crate of head vulcan ammunition on the space quay, watching as repair technician teams work on patching up the damage the ship took. It isn't very much, thanks to the E Field, but even a little vulnerability can be the difference between a shot glancing off the hull and a shot tearing through the crew deck.

He doesn't seem to be in the greatest of moods, judging by how, upon closer examination, he's not so much watching the techs as he is staring into the middle distance in their general direction.


CLONG. CLONG. CLONG. CLONG. CLONG. CLONG. CLONG

An absurd racket becomes audible from some distance away - coming down the hall toward the ship dock, clong, CLONG, CLONG, what the /hell/ is that sound??

It becomes obvious: It is Noriko Takaya, dressed in her policy-defying Top Squadron outfit of a leatord with a shirt over top, jogging along at a rapid pace. She stops, but doesn't /stop/ - she starts jogging in place.

Presumably, the gigantic iron sandals are not part of the uniform.

Huff. Huff. Puff! Puff! "Man! That's seriously the Shirogane!?" she enthuses to the air. The crew ignores her; they pretty much are used to this by now. "It's really cool!" she continues. "Not as cool as the Exelion, of course, but wow! And the ATX Team is on it..."

Clonging stops, as she sees something out of the corner of her eye - stops her running to glance over. "Huh?" she mutters. "Leo...?"


The noise Noriko's iron sandals make - which is technically classified as an 'infernal racket' - grabs Leo's attention, and he turns his head to stare at Noriko as she clongs in place, gushing about how great the Shirogane obviously is. Perhaps shockingly, he's actually looking /at/ her, too, and not just in her direction.

Exactly /where/ he's looking isn't so clear; in truth, he is giving himself a headache trying to simultaneously stare at her legs and at the ridiculous iron sandals.

He looks sharply away when Noriko looks his way, but after a moment decides the jig is up; he sighs heavily, looks back at Noriko, and offers her a weak wave. He can at least manage courtesy, even if everything is terrible forever.


Noriko Takaya is a True Top Pilot, and therefore gets to make whatever noise she pleases. It's the law!

Noriko seems pretty comfortable with her outrageously minimal clothing. It comes from growing up thirty years ago, or something. She plants hands on her hips, apparently either oblivious or uninterested in where this might draw the eye, and chirps, "Hey, Leo!" with a friendly smile and a tip of her head. She steps over - surprisingly light on her feet despite the IRON SANDALS, but it still makes some noise. "You seem pretty tired..." She frowns, head tipping in that way busybodies like her have. "Did you...have another nightmare...?"


Leo watches with something between confusion and horror as Noriko approaches him. He can't help but imagine them - him, sitting around sulking (which he's at least aware enough to know he's doing), and her, in a ridiculous outfit wearing giant iron sandals - in some sort of retarded after-school special, probably about drugs or something.

It's almost - /almost/ - enough to get a smile out of him, even in his current state.

"Yeah," he confirms after a moment of awkward silence, swinging his gaze back towards the working tech teams. "A nightmare. Something like that." When he considers attempting to explain that his dead girlfriend who Noriko thinks is really alive may or may not be haunting him because Gendo Ikari may or may not be trying to end the world somehow, the situation stops being so amusing... especially when he reminds himself that if he DID tell her, there's a very real possibility that NERV would have him disappeared.

Correction: there may or may not be a very real possibility that NERV would have him disappeared.

Working through all this only takes another second and a half, after which Leo says, without looking back at Noriko, "Nice shoes."


Noriko would probably have some trouble with that one - Leo would have to push through her slightly anime-addled thought process to get her to start taking him seriously.

On the other hand, when Noriko starts taking something seriously, God help whoever she may be set against.

She frowns, worried. "You have a lot of those, huh...?" she murmurs, not even attempting to hide her concern. But Leo hops back into the conversation before she can work out anything else to say, so she blinks, looking down and holding one giant sandal out for perusal. "Hah!" she laughs. "These? These are pretty old, Onee-sama used to wear sandals like this for training, back before we were even picked."

...funny, Kazumi doesn't really seem like the type, does she?

Either way, Noriko clongs over to plop down next to Leo on the ammo crate, unless he just absolutely refuses to make room like a jerk. "They're weighted, see," she says, as if the MASSIVE NOISE were not an indicator. "Gunbuster takes a lot of physical strength - the harness wires are pretty resistant, since they have a lot to read. And besides..."

Hands find their way behind her so she can rest her weight on them - legs kick, lazily against the ammo crates. Whack. Whack. Ignoring the sound of iron on wood. "I guess I just enjoy it," she muses.

She tips her head his way, offering, "How about you?" with a little grin. "Anything? Workouts or hobbies, or something?"

That train of thought jumped the track midway through the sentence; Noriko does not seem to have noticed.


Leo is... passing, let's say, in Japanese - you don't date a Japanese girl for over a year and not pick up a little - but he's still not entirely sure who Noriko means by 'onee-sama.' He's not terribly up on the organization of the new Fraternity Unit, let alone the old Top Squadron, and he /definitely/ can't imagine Kazumi Amano wearing anything like... /that/.

He decides, after a moment of contemplation, that Noriko means Jung; she seems the type to tromp around in huge dumb sandals.

Bitch.

Noriko is unlike most of the women Leo spends his time with, but that doesn't mean her behavior is /entirely/ alien to him. Rei used to jump tracks a lot, too; on the rare occasions that they'd actually get into a talk for the long haul, it wasn't uncommon for Rei to simply decide that they were done with one topic and start on a new one.

She still does it, too.

Maybe.

The memories of Rei do a lot to sour Leo's mood even more, but he's too exhausted to get /that/ worked up, so he settles for crossing his arms tightly over his chest and looking vaguely irritated. "Boxing," he answers Noriko curtly. "Running, jumping rope, punching bags. That kind of stuff. S'how I got these." He gestures vaguely with his folded arms, kind of a broad shrug, presumably to indicate the muscles on and underneath them. "Used to be skinny."


Noriko has a soul, already giving her an edge over most of Leo's lady friends. HEYOOOO

"Boxing, huh? I did a little of that. Gentle Chapman." Jesus, did this chick just study over EVERY evil high-ranking maniac in the DC!? (answer: only the nice ones) She glances over and down as Leo shows off his arms, a little, but shows the strength of will not to squeeze on a guy who seems pretty glum. "Yeah? Well, you've come pretty far, then," she chirps. "Keeping in shape's good - useful, you know? A lot of pilots think they can just get away with situps every so often, or something. But I think if you slack off with your body, your mind is gonna fall off, too." She takes a slow breath, huffing it out into the open air. "Even if your machine doesn't care how strong you are, keeping it up helps you keep your head clear and your energy up." She grins, a little doofily, off into space...and then glances at Leo, her face falling. This...should she even ask this...?


Leo listens in silence to Noriko's words, his gaze still locked on some invisible point in the distance. If you slack off with your body, your mind is gonna fall off, too.' That statement, too, almost makes him laugh, but for entirely different reasons than the after-school special image.

He finally started putting on weight when Rei died. For him, at least, it's like his mind and body are in counterbalance; like he's traded his sanity for six-pack abs. It's a ridiculous concept, of course. The body doesn't really work like that.

Of course, maybe he's not as fit as he thinks he is.

"Yeah," the young man agrees tiredly with Noriko, when she finishes. "Important to stay in shape. And to be able to defend yourself. S'why I carry this." He unfolds his arms, and reaches down to his hip, where his massive, gold plated, diamond-decorated revolver sits in a holster.

He draws the weapon out, and despite his foul mood, he can't help but show off in front of a girl; he spins it as he draws it, twirling it easily around his finger as he lifts it up to show Noriko. Once his arm is raised, he catches the weapon by the hammer, cocking it to bring its spin to a halt.

Light gleams along the golden barrel, as if to say, 'LOOK HOW UNNECESSARY THIS IS!!'


An unsound body or an unsound mind - either can throw off the whole. Noriko's not really in a position to offer such council at the moment, though...

"Yeah, right?" she laughs, chuckling into the hangar...and then blinks, as Leo pulls out a gigantic, wildly unnecessary gun. They're soldiers; having guns is OK. Noriko tends to eschew them because one time Master taught her how to pitch a stone hard enough to knock a man unconscious, but still.

...that said...she frowns at it, startling upright at the thing, her heavy sandals clanging against the wood with surprise. "Huh!?" she squawks. "That's...huge! And..." frown. "Completely ugly!" OH SHIT, NOW IT'S ON. She scoots away, a little, to get a better look at it, and ends up squinting at the megabling weapon, leaning in toward it thoughtfully. "Man, who coats a gun in gold and diamonds?"

pause. She glances toward Leo, realizes what she's said, blushes, and laughs, "S-sorry! Not that it's...bad...or, anything..."


If Leo is bothered by Noriko's exclamation, he makes no indication of it. In truth, he isn't, really; he isn't crazy about the ornamentation, either, especially after the time he dropped it and one of the diamonds came out and he had a panic attack and had to pay like eight hundred dollars to get the stone reset. But it isn't like he can just get rid of it. Because...

"This gun fired the bullet that killed Jamitov Heinman," Leo explains quietly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "The man who did it gave it to me. Then he died, too." Leo's eyes refocus from the middle distance onto the gun held in front of him.

"But it's okay. It didn't stick," the young man continues, after a short pause. "He shouldn't have, but he came back from the dead." Frowning thoughtfully, Leo lowers the weapon back into its holster. He may be speaking metaphorically - in a sense - for Zechs, but... him, and Rei, and Lamia... "Seems like there's a lot of that going around, lately," he mutters.

Ha ha! Gallows humor.


Noriko's eyes widen. "Whoa," she murmurs, with a little more appreciation. Jamitov Heinman. Noriko was gone for much of his excesses...but even she recalls the man. "That guy," she says, surprised.

And then Leo confuses her. The man who gave it to him died, but it didn't...stick. "So, wait, he's a zombie?" she asks, blankly. "Uhhh." It's not the Devil Gundam, because then he would not be nearly so even-headed about it. Maybe he just faked it? How totally cool!! But then he references others - and Noriko tips her head down, glancing off toward the Shirogane. Others indeed - Lamia Loveless. And she remembers that Leo is having some really weird problems coping with Rei's situation...

"Yeah," she murmurs distantly. Speaking of Rei... ...but...

She fidgets, nervously. She really ought to ask him, because who else would she ask? On the other hand, she was there when he went completely mad at Rei on the radio...she wonders how he'll react if she brings it up now.


IMAGINATIONLAND

Noriko Takaya asks her question. Leo Stenbuck, overtaken with rage, transforms into a hundred-foot tall dragon with seven heads, and starts breathing fire all up in this bitch. Also, he eats the Shirogane.

REAL LIFE

Leo just sighs and shakes his head. She obviously doesn't get it - not that he can blame her. He's being awfully cryptic. Maybe it's because of how cryptic the visits from Rei are-- no, from Not-Rei, he reminds himself, a grimace flashing across his face.

Or maybe it's /why/ the visits from her are so cryptic.

"Nevermind." Leo lifts his hand off his re-holstered firearm and crosses his arms over his chest again, content to sit in silence. Because he's /difficult/, he doesn't speak up again when Noriko doesn't.


Depressing: That is in fact pretty much exactly what Noriko is worrying abuot.

Noriko can be very wise; she's suffered deeply, and knows what pain is, even if not the particular kind of pain Leo is experiencing. She is also kind of slow, however. She has pretty much figured it out, by now, but not with the snappy speed that Leo no doubt hoped for.

Leo sighs and mopes some more, holstering the super firearm. Noriko leans back, again, eyes tracking to a light in the ceiling and just meditating on it for a while.

Eventually, she asks, "Hey, uh, you've dealt with some...tricky people, right?" she murmurs. "I was asked to help get a pilot in shape, but I hear she's kind of...uhm." Your ex-girlfriend who drives you into fits of psychosis. "Not...very outgoing. Like, really, the type who's kind of hard to engage, you know? Idunno if smiling and thumbs up are gonna be enough..."


Noriko may be slow, but her particular word choice works in her favor this time. By 'tricky people', Leo assumes she means 'Cyber-Newtypes'; he has an extensive history working with them, after all. Especially, he notes bitterly, if you include the fact that apparently I was sleeping with Ralla and nobody told me.

Now she's gone, of course. Probably dead, too. He can only assume Noriko's heard the rumor that Soma told him has been going around; he doesn't know if she believes it or not, but he figures either way, denying it won't do him any good. No one believes him about anything, lately.

His internal tangent of self-pity and despair almost distracts him from actually answering the question, but he does, eventually, get around to it. "If it's a Cyber-Newtype, they'll do whatever you tell them to," he explains bluntly. "But they won't be excited about it, and if you try to tell them to be, you'll just confuse and upset them. So don't."


Noriko would totally believe you if you actually said any of this. However, Noriko has been tested and registered; she has slightly less psychic capacity than an inert block of lead. So she just intuits that he is moping, and wonders if she's already gone too far.

He answers anyway, somewhat to her relief...except she frowns, a little, at his summary. Cyber-newtypes...Coach told her about them, once, but she's never seen one. Is Rei like that? And how awful...to actually do that to someone...

There are times Noriko understands quite clearly why the Commander and her Master did what they did in the way that they did. It is an understanding that runs deep in her - a disgust with the darkness that surrounds them, and the knowledge that only fighting back with all their souls can change a thing. But they have bequethed the future to her...she can't just get angry every time she hears about something she doesn't like.

"I see," she murmurs, uneasily. "I don't know if they're like /that/...I've just heard they're pretty..." Hm. Her eyes finally lid downward, thoughtfully. "I don't know. I'll keep that in mind, though."


Leo frowns, but his eyes stay fixed firmly on the middle distance, as they have for... well, most of the conversation. "If they're not a Cyber-Newtype, then I don't know what to tell you," he says apologetically. He goes to continue, but hesitates, as he tries to decide whether he wants to turn the cynicism up to 11.

Short answer: yes.

"But," Leo assures the young woman next to him, "If you just tell them to do it, there's a good chance they'll do it even if they aren't a Cyber-Newtype. At least if you do it right. People do what they're told to do. They believe what they're told to believe."

He sniffs disdainfully, and adds, "Especially in the military."


"I heard a rumor she's a Coordinator," Noriko murmurs, and only then squeeks slightly and hopes Leo didn't notice that she totally didn't mean to even admit that part. "B-but I've worked with ZAFT a while, so I know that doesn't mean a whole lot..."

Hum! Try to move the topic along --but Leo does it for her, and Noriko frowns at the cynicism even she can detect in his heart.

Sigh. "Humans are weird creatures," she muses, distantly. "We never even know if we should cry or laugh...we listen to orders even if we don't like them, and we get sad when someone is hurt, even if they've hurt us." She hums, adding, "Something like that?" with a little laugh. "I've followed orders I didn't like. I've done things I probably shouldn't be excused for..." She helped with...that day, for one - flying intercept as the colony fell, believing sincerely that the world would be better for it. And then - helping Master Asia to grow the power of the Devil Gundam. Hum. Her eyes slide closed. "I wonder if that's how much it takes to realize how important it is, to know why you're fighting? I hope not..."


Apparently, some part of Noriko's words hit a nerve with Leo. His eyebrows raise, as if in surprise... but he keeps his gaze fixed on the distance until Noriko is done talking, and for a good ten secodns afterwards.

And then his jaw sets stubbornly, and he finally turns to look at Noriko again. "Newtypes aren't the only ones who can understand each other," he says, bluntly. "Sympathy - even for people we don't like - is what makes us human. But..."

He looks away from Noriko again, breaking the brief eye contact, and continues, "... some people don't have any sympathy. People like that... people who love war... people like Yazan Gable..."

His voice hardens when he says the name, taking on a distinctly unnerving edge. "They're not human anymore. They're not even animals, because animals don't know any better. People like them... they don't have a place in the universe. They're better off dead."

It is, all things considered, kind of a weird tangent.


Noriko glances over when Leo seems to turn even further inward. "Right," she says, affirming his statement - and he goes on.

People like Yazan Gable. He was in the DC only briefly while she still was. But even without that - the man was nearly a legend among the DC. A ruthless, hateful man, psychotically enjoying all the death he could possibly sew.

Noriko has worked with a few people like him. Gauron, she thinks, remembering her distasted for the man. She hums, cracking her eyes open to squint over toward Leo.

"...that's just running away," she murmurs, a little harder than she perhaps meant to. "Calling someone inhuman is just a way of avoiding the truth." Huh? But she speaks on, thoughts just spilling out of her head: "We humans have an infinite power inside of us - inside of our hearts is deep darkness as well as bright light. The memories of our past, and the hopes for our future..." Hum. She levers up, sitting more upright, hands landing on her knees. "To just say someone 'isn't human' is wrong. I've...been there. Done stupid things. Awful things. I don't mean Yazan Gable is a good man - I heard him, too. I agree with you that he can only possibly hurt people. But, just letting yourself decide there are horrible monsters out there is the wrong thing, I think."

She pushes off, clong clong, sandals hitting the floor as she spins around and folds her hand behind her back, grinning. "If there's someone that horrible out there...doesn't that mean there has to be someone the opposite? A pure, wonderful person..." She tilts her head, questioning. "I don't know anyone like that, but...humans are an infinite, wonderful race. So I think it's OK to try and get there, step by step."


Leo listens carefully to Noriko's statements, even if he never makes any indication of it; one of his first major influences after coming to Earth was Zechs Merquise. It's where he learned to monologue, and before he learned to dish them out, he had to learn to take them.

There's a long stretch of silence when Noriko finishes speaking, as Leo rolls her words around in his head and formulates a response. Eventually, he speaks again.

"I used to think you were right," Leo admits. "That all life was sacred... that even bad men didn't deserve to die, because they were people, too. Because they might redeem themselves, someday. Because only God - not us - had the right to choose who lived and who died."

"And maybe you /are/ right," he concedes. "Maybe I am running away. Maybe I've convinced myself that..." His voice falters, there, because since Not-Rei last visited - no, since he last saw Not-Rei - the thoughts he've been having mean there are so, so many ways that sentence could end.

Leo swallows, and continues, "That Yazan is less than human, because I want it to be okay, what I'm going to do to him when I catch him. Maybe he's not a monster. Or maybe he is. And maybe I am, too."

Leo closes his eyes, and hunches slightly forwards. When he next speaks, it's with the air of someone who is reciting something... which is, of course, because he /is/ reciting something. "'He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.'"

He pauses, and continues, without opening his eyes, "Some asshole in the middle ages said that. Rei told me about it, once. ... I forget why."


Leo speaks, and Noriko listens. She hums, thoughtfully, at his indications - philosophers and thoughts a little over her head.

"I didn't say that, though," she muses. "Sometimes you know you have to do something. Hurt someone. Kill someone. Fight, or die, or honor someone nobody likes - whatever. And that's OK. Sometimes someone really does need to die."

She turns more fully - clenching her fist and holding it up, over her heart. Her eyes burn - the kind of intensity in her heart that comes from someone who believes: fully, completely. Utterly. "But don't ever say it's because they're not human. That makes it easy. And easy...easy is the one thing it should never, ever be."


The thoughtful frown on Leo's face deepens at Noriko's claim. She's right, of course; he knows she's right. A truly good person would never find it easy to take a life, no matter how evil the person they were killing was.

Leo stirs, suddenly, sliding forward off of his ammo crate seat and dropping onto his feet. He turns and takes a step down the space-quay... but then he hesitates, and reaches out to pat Noriko on the shoulder. "Then," he begins, voice full of resigned sadness, "I really am a monster."

And then he starts walking, moving deeper into the Exelion, his hands folded behind his back. When he catches Yazan... he's going to make sure the man suffers before he dies. He's going to make him feel the fear, the pain, the sorrow that he's made so many people feel, that he's made /him/ feel. His death won't be quick, or clean.

But - at least for Leo - it will be easy.

And it will be /satisfying./


Noriko's eyes widen, slightly, at that touch - and then further, like plates, when he murmurs his reply.

She whirls on him, but he's going - leaving. She reaches out her hand to him, open with fingers trailing as if just reaching will stop him.

How do you reply to that? How do you help someone who has decided they have lost? She doesn't know. Her heart does not contain the answer. Coach would know. Master would know. Gentle Chapman or the Commander would know.

Her heart sinks, her shoulders slump. "Leo..."

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