|Strength and Weakness|
|Summary: Humans are weak creatures, who never know whether to laugh or cry. But after so long alone, three girls learn that in each other, there is also strength.|
Merida Island is a tremendous, slightly ridiculously massive subterranean structure, and perhaps the best indicator of this is its hangar, which is nothing less than the hollowed-out center of a /mountain/, one face of which is a door, facing into a two kilometer runway which is itself hidden behind trees, which are mounted on retractable platforms.
There is a reason Mithril has only recently opened Melida Island to Katharon personnel. Even now, they'll only tell the coordinates to certain ship captains.
At the moment, personnel are standing near the doorway deeper into Merida, while awaiting a little passenger plane from Onogoro, which Tessa anticipates will contain Cagalli Yula Athha, come to visit her sister.
Tessa herself is instead deeper in:
A familiar sight to Cagalli, perhaps - the long rows of beds, with winding corridors that burrow deeper into the island. Tessa is waiting at the start of a hallway down toward one of the private rooms, where 'that girl' is waiting. Tessa's fingers have found their way around a pen, which she is clicking and spinning furiously.
Cagalli's trek from the plane to the medical facilities of Merida Island is an uneventful one; she's made this journey under far worse circumstances than these. By comparison, this is downright easy.
She makes her way in toward the medical ward, a little nervous about seeing Tessa face to face after their last conversation; enlightening though it was, it was a little on the rough side. Nevertheless, she offers the young captain a quick wave and a pleasant, "Hi, Tessa," glancing down at the pen for a moment.
"... I thought you only fiddled with your braid when you got nervous," she teases.
"You should stay off your feet until you've fully recovered," they said. "You should probably get a few more days of rest," they said. "We've adjusted your pain medication," they said. "We also put your commlink in the nightstand next to your bed," they said.
Sitting upright in a bed in that private room is one Rachel Miu Athha, the bangs along the right side of her face clipped back, while layers of gauze and bandage cover the left side. Her right knee is drawn upward, with a modest notepad propped on her thigh. Notes are jotted along the corner, but it ultimately looks as though she's drafting ideas that relate to Mobile Suits; notes about connections and rotors, a better amp for the emitter array in a beam saber.
While the ideas aren't new and unique, there's a certain uniformity and organization to the notes and drawings, the likes of which you'd more often see drafted by a certain person on this certain island of surprising importance.
Shifting the pad to the side and setting the pen down atop it, she seems a little distant, distracted... and staring off at the opposite wall, wondering if she should dare pick up the remote control and see what could possibly be on TV.
"Well, no, Audi! I don't think you looked dishonorable last night - you just need to watch how much you're drinking before you play with fire, that sort of thing." Quatre is in the Medical Ward, certainly, but at the moment, within another patient's room. Specifically, one of the Maganac, badly burned from a 'party trick' he'd tried to perform the previous evening. Quatre can't really stand the sight of the guy - full-thickness burns are not pretty in the best of times.
"Just, ah--- well, Rashid's already telling her you were doing the trick to impress her. Maybe it'll work out for you? I'll see about getting her a bouquet! She'll love it. It'll read..." Quatre holds his hands out, thumbs and pointer fingers making an imaginary box.
An hour after Quatre leaves, one of Mithril's mechanics recieves a bouquet of flowers. (- Meribeth. Your beauty is inspiring, and your eyes burn brighter than the sun, hotter than the desert winds of my homeland! But not as hot as the fire, or the burns. I will see you when I recover! -Audi)
Winner is stepping out of a nearby private room, dusting his hands off on his standard, dark blue vest. The youth eyes Cagalli and Captain Testarossa (Captain?? That's right, right?). His smile is contagious, ice-breaking.
"Hey! What're you guys doing down here? It's not the most entertaining place, heh.."
Colonel, actually. She's only "Captain" when she's being the Captain of the de Danaan. It's a Navy thing.
Tessa looks up, when Cagalli approaches, still fingering that button, tap tap, tap tap, "Oh," she says, and after a moment manages to stop herself - sliding the pen into her uniform shirt's pocket. She smiles at Cagalli, but it's oddly...strained. Tired? Exhausted, even, as if she hasn't slept. She tips her head. "Yes, I suppose that's true," she says, with false mirth. "How have you been? I'm sure Rachel's eager to see you.
Her eyes track over to Quatre, and she frowns a little, as if she only just remembered he's even here. "Ah, Mister Winner," she says, nodding and smiling, still a little...off. "Ah, Miss Cagalli was just coming to visit someone..." Tessa looks back, over her shoulder, not a hundred percent sure if Rachel is good for two visitors. Actually-- "I'll go check," she says, and steps away, knocking twice and then sliding the door open. "Rachel?" she asks, calling into the room cautiously. "Cagalli is here. And Mister Winner, too, actually..."
The Princess of Orb gives Quatre a small smile back; hers isn't /quite/ as enthusiastic, perhaps, but it's every bit as genuine. "I was, uh, going to see --" she starts, but in the end lets Tessa answer; it's a little easier. "-- yeah," she finishes, a second or two later.
As Tessa heads to check if Rachel's okay to have visitors, Cagalli glances over to Quatre, asking, "If you didn't come here to see her... do you have another friend down here, too?" That's kind of a disconcerting thought -- yet there isn't really a whole lot else that'd make sense. No one /likes/ hospitals.
She glances after Tessa after a second, wondering just what has her so exhausted. She can't have been up that late just over Rachel, or over the talk they had... right?
She hates staring at the wall. It lets her mind wander, and start thinking of things that it probably shouldn't. What happened between Tessa and herself, worries about her own life, and the lives of the people around her. Japan. Will her eye work? Who are the people that Mithril are trying so hard to find out about, and the people that she knows and cares about associated with them?
All of those thoughts start to speak into the corners of her mind, until it's broken up by the door sliding open and Tessa's head sticking through the door. Looking at her with the same blank, vacant expression she's managed to maintain so well, Rachel grips the bed control and sets the angle up a little bit higher to sit a little straighter.
"My sister...? And Quatre? No, no, come on in, it's okay," she says, a little bit more light and life cropping up in her voice. "I'm feeling okay."
A quick smile. "No, it's alright - I've got something I need to be doing. Tell her I said hello!" He's off down the hallway in moments, towards the ward's elevators.
Tessa looks a little worried at that blank expression...but nods. She perhaps knows the source of it better than anyone. She pulls her head back to see Quatre's retreating back. She feels a little bit relieved.
She's not...entirely sure how this is going to go. Her self control is a little shot, even now, a day or so later. It's the sleep deprivation, by now, more than any residual from the event itself. But still.
"Ah, Cagalli," she says, waving. "Rachel's OK to see you, please come in."
Tessa precedes her inside, taking up a position next to Rachel's bed, hovering close at hand. Doesn't she usually give people more space than that?
Her eyes track to that notepad, and she recognizes its significance instantly; she frowns, just a touch.
A little nervous about the whole affair now, as Tessa seems downright /frazzled/ at this point, Cagalli nevertheless gives a little wave to Quatre and heads in after Tessa.
It's the second time she's seen Rachel in a hospital bed -- though this time the emotions are almost completely different. Really, everything about this situation is different from the first time -- but in a good way, really.
She glances down at the pad, saying in the most teasing tone she can muster, "... and a designer, too? God, is there anything you're /not/ better than me at?" Her tone shifts to something a little more serious as she adds, "... Did everything go OK? Are you feeling all right? Do you, uh -- do you need anything?"
Rachel sits upright just a little bit more. Oddly enough, there's a lighter air around her; not as melancholy or downcast as it has been in the last few weeks. Hands settling onto her lap, the younger sister shakes her head. "No, no, this isn't-- this is just-- they're ideas, that's all, nothing special. I don't have a lot to do while I'm in here, so..."
'Is she okay?'
Her gaze drifts to Tessa for a moment, but her attention returns to Cagalli in short order, head shaking as her eye closes. "I'm fine, don't worry about it. It feels a little awkward, but I haven't had a proper eye in that socket for the past ... eight years? Looking around feels a little weird, since I can kind of... y'know."
Her fingers lift a little, wiggling around. "Feel it."
Her left hand falls back to her side, over the pen. It takes her a second, but she seems to start spinning the pen between her fingers.
"I haven't had a chance to call Amuro about when I can get back on the Argama, though." Pause. "What about you? I'm sorry I couldn't go back with you after the mission. I haven't even had the chance to take a look at my Astray before all of this started."
In some ways, Tessa is faring worse than Rachel ever did. She doesn't have to overcome the fear of her emotions, the doubt and the pain of asking herself what the name of this pain in her heart was....Which just leaves her to stew in her heart's horror.
She gives Rachel a reassuring smile, but it's a little hollow. Then, eyes back up to Cagalli: "The specialists say everything went wonderfully," Tessa says. "She'll need to undergo some rehabilitation - not just to get used to the implant itself, but also having two eyes again will require significant work. Ordinarily, we'd pull a pilot off the rosters for months until they could be fully rehabilitated, but..."
Ordinarily, this is where Tessa would silently admit to herself they were shucking the rules due to sheer demand for skilled pilots. Instead she finds herself admitting that it is solely because Rachel wants to get back out there. She fidgets, uneasily, catching herself in the act.
Rachel's mood has improved, even if Tessa's hasn't; that's /some/ cause for happiness, at least. Resisting the urge to just full-on hug Rachel, Cagalli settles for giving her a gentle pat on the hands, saying, "I'm really glad that you're fine. I've been in surgery a couple times myself lately, so I... kinda know how it goes. I mean -- I'm /still/ kinda feeling a little weird, and it's been weeks."
Nodding to Tessa, Cagalli says, "... I gotcha," deciding not to press Tessa on this one. She looks like she's had it rough. "If she feels she's up to it, then all right. But I want you to make /sure/ she doesn't do anything stupid before she's ready, OK?"
A wry smile crosses her face as she notes, "If there's another Athha running around and taking stupid risks before they're good and ready to take them, who's better at drawing /and/ music /and/ weapons design, God, what am /I/ gonna' do?"
With the hand patting on her own, Rachel's palm turns upward to catch and hold onto it for a moment, looking at Cagalli with the corners of her mouth quirking upward. She's needed the physical contact. She really, really has. What happened between herself and Tessa is one thing, but this, here, now... it feels comfortable. It feels 'right.'
Is it? Could she? Will it?
Slowly, her mouth forms a bit of a smile.
"I'll be fine, soon enough. I'm made of tougher stuff than that, remember?" she asks. "I got into the cockpit of a Mobile Suit-- and handed someone their rear end-- when other people should've been in traction." Nevermind Amuro was absolutely furious with her, and she started quite a lot of trouble because of that little stunt.
In regards to her apparent talents, her cheeks color a little. "S-Stop it, I'm not that great at it..."
The white-haired girl turns her attention to Tessa, pausing. "Oh, did Quatre not want to come in?" As she asks this, the pen in her hand continues to spin fast, her thumb now clicking the end in a very rhythmic, systematic fashion.
Tessa will recover. Just give her a couple days.
She politely refrains from horning in on the sisters' reunion, merely standing by, smiling benignly if tiredly, warming a little at the sisters' brief clasp of hands, but covers it up by humming, "Commander Mardukas made the medical team come up with procedures for restraining a headstrong patient after that," with a little grin. "They've been out of practice, since Mister Bidan's been busy elsewhere."
She doesn't even notice when her fingers find her braid, slung over her shoulder - start to play with the strands, curl them around her fingers. "You're fine, Cagalli," Tessa says, but there's not enough energy in it to really come off as the laughing reply she meant. "You have your own talents! Like..." A hand rises, cupping under her chin. ... ...and hanging there... ... ...and... "Uhm. Basketball?"
A glance down, toward Rachel now, her free hand falling to the side even as her other subconsciously fingers through her braid. "I think he had to go somewhere," Tessa admits.
Cagalli is awful at basketball, and tries her best not to look crestfallen about it.
"I think he said he had something else to do, yeah -- I dunno if he expected to run into you," Cagalli says, when Tessa explains Quatre's situation to Rachel; it's a lot more comfortable than discussing her evident lack of talent at pretty much anything. "... or maybe he just got cold feet," she says, a smile suddenly crossing her face.
"... yeah, that was -- really cool, but if you could never do that again, the flying while you should be in bed thing," Cagalli says to Rachel, expression still a little wry. She glances down at the pen again... then at Rachel... then at Tessa.
"... Did I miss something? Is it clicky pen day?" she asks, feeling like she's missing something.
She would've been fine if things had ended there-- that Quatre was busy, that he had to handle something else. Instead, now she looks at Cagalli with a tilted head and a quizzical expression that suggests she honestly has no idea what her elder sister is talking about. "What would the temperature of his feet have to do with it?"
Attention is also called to the pen twirling in her left hand, the gesture almost unconsious and natural. She'd never done it before, but with the pen in her hand...
Looking to her hand, to the pen still twirling in it, Rachel closes her hand in a sharp, swift fist, catching it short and holding it for a few moments. The expression on her face seems to soften down while she looks at her lap in lieu of a stare at the floor or her feet. The smile fades, and she puts the pen down on the pad. If Cagalli's still holding Rachel's hand, she might feel her sister squeeze just a bit.
"N-No, it's not like that..." she says, looking toward Tessa.
Tessa, on the other hand, is well known for fiddling with whatever's in arm's reach. Her braid is the most common target simply because she can always reach it, but she's been known to thwak pencils against clipboards during meetings and click and twirl any pen she may be able to find.
That would be Cagalli's first clue. The second is when Rachel looks up at her, and Tessa's hand, seemingly automatically, finds its way to rest on Rachel's shoulder - reassuring, but for whom? And surely Cagalli knows by now...Tessa has never been physical, never been one to touch another person very much. Indeed, even off-duty she calls all but her dearest friends Mister and Miss, like a subordinate or a stranger.
Tessa's teasing regarding Quatre dies in her throught, and her face turns dark. They whisper in the back of her head - you don't have to worry about it, you know. If you'll just let go a little bit, we can...!
Her grip on Rachel tightens - fractionally. Can she know? Is she even equipped to think about the psychic war that rages in Tessa's head, constantly? But Tessa gets that look on her face, uneasy. "It was..." Tessa begins, trying to decide how to say it. She hasn't even really explained it to Rachel, not properly. Mithril command forbids her from talking about the Whispered in any depth.
She wonders if any of it leaked through to Rachel - those secrets. Whispered. Resonance. She hasn't asked. Hasn't had the heart to ask.
Tessa's eyes divert, uneasy, not even able to finish the sentence with a halfhearted lie. "It wasn't anything to worry about," she manages, eventually - what can Cagalli even do about it? It's not a lie if the truth would only make Cagalli suffer, right?
The Princess, realizing that Rachel basically gets almost /nothing/, explains, "I mean -- he thought about seeing you, got nervous, and ran off. It's -- something you do when you like a person but aren't sure how to tell them," Cagalli tries to explain, squeezing Rachel's hand back as Tessa places hers on Rachel's shoulder.
"... okay," she says to Tessa, nodding to the other girl. It's -- a little weird to see so much of Rachel's mannerisms in Tessa, and so much of Tessa's in Rachel... but maybe they're just hitting it off really well, she thinks to herself. It doesn't really make sense for Tessa to get that touchy-feely that fast, but...
... shrugging, she figures it's one of those things that she apparently doesn't get because she's not some kind of super brain creature like Amuro is always on about. "... it was, uh -- I'm glad you're doing well, Rach," Cagalli says, still feeling the awkwardness that's settled over the room after that last question. "Maybe I should get going and let you rest, though? I mean -- you're probably pretty worn out..."
Cagalli makes the suggestion of leaving. Rachel's head shakes slowly, bangs swishing with the gesture. "No, it--" The grip on her shoulder becomes tighter, and the grip on Cagalli's hand becomes somewhat firm. Worried and frantic, worried about letting her mind slip off into other thoughts that haunt and plague her.
Thoughts that someone else may have seen.
Shifting her position on the bed a little bit, there's desperation in her voice, in her eye. "No, I... p-please, don't leave me alone..."
She turns her gaze toward Tessa, then back toward Cagalli-- toward the floor. "My ... my head got a little screwy. I don't know what happened, but I... Tessa was the closest person to me. It wasn't like the kind of thing that happens when I'm in a Mobile Suit, and it wasn't like that ... that sense of 'you know something's going to happen.'"
"Something happened. I-- it just. I'm sorry..."
Tessa feels terrible for the look on Cagalli's face, but tells herself it's necessary. Cagalli can't help - she just...can't. Really, the only salve is probably the two of them talking, but the feelings, the impressions, were so awkward that Tessa hasn't been able to start the conversation, and probably won't be able to until after Rachel leaves for the Argama.
A mentor, she thinks bitterly. How fortunate.
"...it wasn't proximity," Tessa finally says, with the exhaustion finally hitting her voice - her shoulders slump, helplessly, her eyes disengaging from everyone...but her hand remains where it is. "A resonance occurred. That would not have happened with anyone else on the entire island...and very few others even off it. I'm not sure how it happened. I'm sorry; normally I'm better at defending against it, but it was like the connection went from closed to wide open in a heartbeat."
Her fingers are twitching, uneasy, recalling, unsure what to say or how to say it. "It's not your fault," she says, quietly, because she doesn't need to resonate to know that that is in her head.
Afraid to merge, afraid to live alone... what an awful creation the human being is -- so completely unable to understand what it wants. When Rachel tries to hold Cagalli back, the Princess decides she's more than happy to stay. Part of forgiving her -- part of letting her in -- is going through these moments with her, where she's scared.
Barely even hearing Tessa, the Princess decides to scoot in closer to her sister, and, after a few seconds, holds her close. "... all right," she says, quietly. "I'll stay with you -- as long you need me." Glancing toward Tessa without breaking the embrace, she says, "... you're both going to be okay, right? I mean -- I don't get a lot of this stuff, so I don't really... know..."
Almost without thinking, she affirms, "It's not your fault. It's all right." What's not clear, though, from the line of sight and the precise tone of her voice -- is if she's talking to Tessa or Rachel. ... both, perhaps?
Yes... better to have Tessa explain it, to her thought processes, it gives her time to think about her own mind, the pressure she's been suffering from, and the way things have been going for her. Provided, that is 'good' considering her situation-- but it isn't a full 100% "good."
As she's held, and held coloser to Cagalli's body, the young pilot seems to lean into the affectionate gesture, closing her good and unbandaged eye as a few tears roll down her cheek, as she looks toward the floor. "I see," she says, mostly in relation to her explanation to Cagalli. Still, her voice is small... quiet. She's trying her best not to be the little girl balled up in the corner, much like what the Mithril Colonel seemed like within the depths of her own mind.
Careful, she might just fall asleep like that-- leaned against Cagalli.
Tessa can't move her hand - she's not sure whether she needs the strength or she's trying to give it. She just...can't tell. But Cagalli to embrace Rachel, and Tessa knows that that means it's time to remove herself from the equation - with difficulty, she pulls herself away, stepping back into that corner. She murmurs, eyes still locked on some distant point in the far reaches of the universe, while the sisters embrace: "Resonance isn't like the empathy of a newtype or Akira's telepathy. It's...a sharing of thoughts, not a conversation or communication. Even if only briefly, it is the true blending of minds." Her eyes hood over, brooding. "One wrong step and you can forget who you were." She pauses, for a moment, struggling to explain: "We both came much too close to that point. I think we both came away with...more than a little bit of the other."
She looks haunted. No, more than that, she looks like she's using a lot of effort to not just implode. What an awful willpower she has...but given what's on the forefront of Rachel's mind so often, perhaps it's easy to guess why it seems to have pushed her to her limit. A trauma great enough to rattle a cyber newtype's psychic mooring - just what can it do to a young woman who's taken on a burden like Tessa's...?
"...but we'll be fine," she says, suddenly, roughly. She moves to briskly brush on past. "I'll leave you two be."
The Princess looks to Tessa for a moment... on the one hand, she feels like she can't really understand exactly what's going on here, even with Tessa's explanation. On the other... does she actually need to get it to reach out to her? "I -- Tessa, um... if it's bothering you, you shouldn't just run off," she says, still holding Rachel but shifting her position a little to look a bit more toward the Colonel. "I mean -- if something you two... shared, is eating at you guys, then, uh..."
She gives a vague gesture with the hand that might be better considered her free hand, not really sure what else to say. "Or -- is it, uh, do you want to talk alone, or...?" Words are hard. "I mean -- I may not really get it, but..."
With her arms wrapped around Cagalli, she feels warm. Safe. Comfortable. It's like the time they laid in the same bed together and talked, or like the morning she had woken up wrapped around her sister's waist after the party-- and then the hangover kicked in.
Cagalli pulls away just a little bit, and Rachel doesn't seem to fight it. Her arms remain wrapped around her sister's waist, and the white-haired girl turns her currently single eye toward Tessa. "Colonel..."
Looking up to Cagalli, then Tessa, Rachel does her best to try to smile while slackening up her grip a bit. She still hasn't fully let go, though. Her gaze turns towards the floor, towards that spot not too far from that tile right over yonder. "Tessa..."
"I know what happened was serious... but if there's anything that I've learned from Amuro and Cagalli so far, it's ... that... y-you just can't keep everything in. You should talk about it," she says, nodding as though to affirm her own words. "I know there's some things that you might not be able to explain... but sometimes... it's just better..."
Tessa takes a few steps, walks past, keeping herself together. She doesn't really know what's going on in her head - the exhaustion on top of the Resonance muddling her thoughts has pretty thoroughly blasted her usually iron-solid self control...Cagalli calls out, stops her, and she does stop and turn, looking. She's got that kind of look on her face, of a person whose mind is spinning faster than they can really keep up. She needs sleep and possibly alot of alcohol. But she can't let herself do that, can she? Because she's the strong one. She's the one who has it all figured out, has to have it all figured out, or else /everyone dies/, and the memory of that moment, a trauma that isn't even hers, slams her in the back of the head like a half-brick - she staggers forward, hand finding the rail of the bed and leaning her whole weight on it.
She sucks in a breath, slowly, trying to even out her breathing. Keep it together. Keep it together!
She tries to put something together. How do you say it? How do you talk about this awful thing that they now share? She looks over herself, to the Athha sisters wrapped together, holding each other while looking at her with concern. When did that start to matter? Got to...
"...Rachel..." Tessa says, slowly. "You told me you weren't sure if anyone could understand, that you weren't sure...if it was supposed to be that hard, to get a grip on things." She grips the rail tighter, needing something to anchor herself too. "I think...I can now say that I don't know how you're as strong as you are, with this dreadful thing in your thoughts."
That look is something Cagalli's never seen in Tessa. She's always the strong one, always the one in control, no matter how much she insists Cagalli's grown -- to Cagalli, Tessa might as well /always/ be that sweet-yet-serious voice of reason over the comms. Sometimes it's hard for her to realize how much Tessa's hurting just because she barely believes it's possible for her to hurt at all. "... Tessa..."
She finally feels the need to break from Rachel a little more -- enough to let Rachel keep an arm around her waist, but a little too far to actively return it -- when Tessa actually /keels over/. It's hard to let Rachel go, but... she's never seen Tessa like this. It's hard not to move to her. Reaching one hand out toward Tessa's (the rail of the bed isn't /that/ far, after all), she gently rests it atop the other girl's. She isn't sure what to say, but hopefully the message implicit in placing her hand atop the Colonel's is clear: 'burdens like that don't have to be carried alone.'
It takes a moment for her to pick up on it-- the cues, the way that she walks, the way that she speaks. It's clear that Tessa isn't fully well, and only when the girl seems to stagger to the rail does she fully sit upright. If it weren't for the rails on the bed and the people standing there, there's no doubt that her knees would come over the side for her to face them both fully.
The arm around Cagalli's waist shifts to a hand on her back, her other arm likewise reached out to rest atop Tessa's shoulder. Concern is written all over her good eye, and the younger of the sisters seems to frown just a little bit.
"N-No... I'm not that strong... I always have to have someone help me. If it's not Cagalli, it's Amuro... and if it's not Amuro, it's you... I can't do anything on my own. Y-You've done a lot, even for me, and..."
She can't find words. It hurts. If Rachel could see into Tessa's mind and memories, then does it mean Tessa's seen her own memories? Could she have seen that nightmare that lingers over her almost every night-- that scar carved into her heart and soul?
And that's the facade Tessa has fought so hard to produce. It's an image that falters only when she's back in Jindai, where she adopts the stance of a slightly dim high schooler (or did; they graduated.), and takes control via slightly more diabolical means, to whit, being cuter than anyone else in the room. But here, where Cagalli sees her, Tessa has always been the strong one - the pillar of strength when Cagalli is so often in need. Some of it is necessity; to do what she does at all requires an iron-hard strength of will and force of character, let alone for a girl her age. But that's the thing, isn't it? For a girl her age, who should be studying and talking about boys. She's sent men to die. She hates it, but she knows that for a person like her, the alternatives are few.
And she was content with that, until she was shown unequivocally the horror of the consequences of her actions. She's always known intellectually. She's always understood in her heart that being moral and minimizing casualties was important, that by trying to save what lives she /could/, she could still say she was a kind person. But...
Hands on her shoulders, another on her hand, she rasps, "Three hundred," like she's still in shock. Maybe she is.
Cagalli now knows /exactly/ what the two of them shared -- and while she couldn't understand the sharing itself, she can definitely understand /that/. "... I --" she stammers, looking at Tessa, then at Rachel. "I didn't realize that it still... I --"
Words fail Cagalli -- but Cagalli has never really been a person of words. She's tried to be but it's never worked out. She's a person of actions.
Which is why she awkwardly moves her hand from Tessa's hand to her other shoulder, shortly before attempting, with enough firmness to manage it but careful enough not to just pull Tessa right over, to pull /her/ into a hug, too. It might be the most awkward, overwrought group hug ever, if only because someone is in a hospital bed.
Turning her eyes back to Rachel, she says, "... we... -- no one should try to carry any of this stuff alone," her voice barely a whisper as she does her best to hold both of her friends tight.
Her hand on Tessa's shoulder, her hand on Cagalli. As Tessa confesses just what it is that bothered her when looking into the GN-irradiated girl's mind, Rachel's frown becomes a little larger. As Cagalli speaks that first time, the free-of-will young pilot takes a moment to breathe, her voice hoarse and a few more hot tears rolling down the side of her face.
"... a-almost ev-every night..."
Tessa's pulled close to her. Cagalli pulls her closer again. With an arm around either of them, she isn't about to break away from the embrace the three share. The word that she's looking for, the concept that hovers around in the back of her mind that had no clear definition-- it's genuine reassurance.
She says nothing. She doesn't need to.
Two of the only three people in the world she can trust. A shared understanding. Shared emotions, at last.
That's about all she needs.
Tessa's facade of strength is essential. She can laugh and tease her subordinates, but she must, /must/ be a towering pillar for them to rally around. That is her job as commander. Never flinch, never sway. For two years she has fulfilled this duty for Katharon, as well, refusing to show her sorrow or her pain. Even when she was frightened - even when she boldly took Cagalli into Merida Island when she feared she'd been infected by the DG Cells. She has only so rarely shown any kind of weakness.
Cagalli ushers her closer, and Rachel's weight is pressed against her as well.
Her friends. She wonders, some dim and panicked part of her, if this weight, this want in her heart for them to be there was something that snuck in from Rachel, but her ability to be so cynical dissolves into mist as her eyes tear up, and she plants the crown of her forehead against Cagalli's and Rachel's. She sucks air helplessly, and for the first time in so long, she cries.
It is hard to cry. Even Cagalli, who has always been free with her emotions, has only cried in moments of intense personal weakness. The feeling welling up in her now, though -- that's different. Sympathy, perhaps -- it's not that her heart hurts on its own... but that she wants to share in Rachel and Tessa's burdens, help them carry them. Her heart feels heavy...
... and when Tessa cries, a few tears begin to drip from /her/ face, too. It's likely not quite as intense for her as it is for Tessa -- after all, she hasn't shouldered this duty in silence for years... but sure enough, as Rachel admits that nightly terror, as Tessa continues to shed tears, Cagalli joins her.
Her hug tightens a little further, pulling Tessa and Rachel even closer, her once somewhat ginger handling of the recovering girl now almost forgotten. Right now, that closeness is the most important thing in the world.