The radio channel to Soma's Astray has been open for the entire return trip to the Shirogane. For the first few minutes, the occasional pained sound could be heard, but nothing else.
After that, only silence. Leo would soon find that the 1 Gundam was going to have to assist the Astray in even docking on the Shirogane. Once the Mobile Suit lands and the hangar technicians get the cockpit open, the reason becomes apparent.
Soma Peries is unconscious. She's wearing a MITHRIL jumpsuit, her hair splayed everywhere from the low gravity on the trip up, and her head is hanging at an uncomfortable-looking angle. She's still breathing, at least.
Louise is, of course, the first person not on the operation itself to head down to where the Astray and the 1 Gundam are docking. After what has felt like an eternity without Soma so soon after practically moving into her room, she's been recovered -- albeit in a terrible, harrowing operation.
Needless to say, she looks like a wreck when she finally comes down -- from the instant she told Healing off until about three minutes ago, she's been panicking and quite possibly crying.
Leo was more than happy to help the Astray into the hangar, even if it was a bit clumsy thanks to the machine's missing arm. Dick move, Harold 'Evil Coop' Cooplowski.
Since then, he's refused to leave the MS's side. Although he immediately sent someone to fetch Louise - not that it was necessary - he's spent the time while the technicians got the door open waiting just behind them, fidgeting nervously with one arm around Louise's waist, anxiety radiating off of him like heat.
When the cockpit hatch finally opens to reveal the Cyber-Newtype inside, Leo pushes past the technicians without hesitation, clambering carefully into the cockpit. "Soma," he says gently, reaching out to touch her shoulder with one hand while he gestures Louise into the cockpit after him with the other. "Soma, it's us. Are you awake?"
She isn't, of course, but Leo is not exactly in the soundest of minds right now, what with... well, you know.
"Nnnnn..." Soma's head turns slightly at the touch, but she doesn't wake up. A careful look at her closed eyes betray some movement underneath... REM sleep. She's having some sort of dream. Not a pleasant one either, by the pained expression on her face and the occasional groan that sneaks out from her throat.
This in itself is strange, since Soma has never had a nightmare before in her life, something that Louise can attest to.. at least in regards to the past month or so.
As Leo climbs into the cockpit, Louise joins him, making the conditions all too tight. "Soma," Louise says, feeling a hint of discomfort as she gets into such close quarters with that nightmare. "Soma, you can hear me, right? It's -- it's me, Louise. I'm here. Can you hear me?"
Please let her be all right, Louise thinks -- no, prays, as she feels that anxiety radiating off her, off Leo, off /everyone/. "I missed you," she says, after a few moments.
Leo grimaces when Soma reveals herself to not, in fact, be awake, and turns to look back at Louise as she gets settled in the cockpit beside him. It's an awfully tight fit, but... he wants to get her awake, and talking, rather than risk moving her out of the cockpit right away. She was fighting - and well - but she still might be hurt somehow, so...
As Louise talks to the unconscious Soma, Leo takes his hand off her shoulder, leans back, and has a muttered converstaion with a lingering technician, who promptly turns around and begins relaying it to the waiting medic. Leo, meanwhile, turns his attention back to Soma, and wraps his arm around Louise's waist again in an attempt to comfort her.
After Louise declares that she missed everyone's favorite panda, Leo reaches out to touch Soma's shoulder again and give her a gentle shake. "Soma," he urges softly, "You need to wake up and tell us you're okay..."
Voices. A name being called. A -presence-... no, two of them.
I missed you. Tell us you're okay.
"Nnn..." The Super Soldier shifts a bit when she's shaken again. Slowly, very slowly, her eyes open. "Nnn?" Amber eyes blink several times, looking blearily at the pair in front of her. "...Louise? Leo?" That may sound strange, as it's the first time she's ever addressed either of them by only their first names. "Where... am I?"
Louise has very occasionally gotten a 'Ms. Louise' from Soma, but never just Louise. She's certainly never heard Leo referred to as anything other than his last name. Shrinking a little under Leo's grasp, Louise murmurs, "S-Soma," uner her breath, breathing a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad you're back... you're in the cockpit of some Katharon machine."
One hand floating to meet Leo's hand, Louise's eyes meet Soma's, and she adds, "You sound awful... they did horrible things to you, didn't they...?" Squeezing Leo's hand tightly, she says, "I'll make them pay for what they've done --!!"
At almost no time, it seems, does Louise's mind drift from the thought of revenge.
Okay. Okay. She's disoriented, but that's to be expected. She used their first names, which is... also weird, but, well, she's obviously scared and confused and upset. But she's awake, and she's not screaming in pain or sobbing. That's got to be a good thing.
Leo ruminates on Soma's condition while Louise vents her anxiety and revenge lust until he finds a spot to fit a word in edgewise. "You're on the Shirogane," Leo explains more succinctly to Soma, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Soma, I need you to tell me if you hurt anywhere, okay? If you're hurt, you need to see a doctor before anything else."
One hand reaches up, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. "The Shirogane..." She slowly lowers her hand and blinks again, giving the pair a weak smile. "I'm fine. My heav feels like it's being squeezed in a vice and my hands feel a bit bruised, but I'm fine." She did punch out a good dozen MITHRIL soldiers during her escape, after all.
"They didn't..." She shakes her head slowly. "They didn't do anything." Alone. Soma was alone. There was nobody else like her. She was not a person. She was a person. She was alone. "Don't be angry." Shifting slightly in the pilot's chair, she leans forward and tries to stand. She winces, though, and drops back into the seat. "Still a little dizzy. Don't be angry." Repeating that again.
"But... you need to know that I'm not Soma Peries."
She says she's fine. That's good. She answers Leo, tracks fine, everything is fine. Everything's good -- and as if to affirm this for herself, she squeezes Leo's hand again. Everything is good. Soma's back.
They didn't do anything. That doesn't make any sense, and Louise completely ditches the notion. They did something. That's just how it works.
She's not Soma Peries. That part doesn't make any sense, and is /not/ good. "Wh -- what do you mean, you're not Soma Peries?!" Louise half-shouts, unable to even process any of it. "You're -- if you're not Soma, then, who, what --"
As is quickly becoming Standard Operating Procedure, Leo takes the opportunity provided by Louise's explosive reaction to force himself to examine what the girl is saying, in an attempt to stay calm. It's just... harder, all of a sudden, when Louise starts raising her voice.
Leo grits his teeth for a moment before tightening his grip on Louise's waist and gently urging, "Louise, calm down. She's just... I'm sure..." ... okay, so he has no idea what the fuck to even say to reassure her.
Grimacing, Leo turns his attentions back to Soma - 'Soma?' - and asks, still speaking gently, "Could you be more... uh, specific?"
When Louise raises her voice, she cringes. "I knew you'd get mad..." She lets out a breath, lifting one hand to brush some hair out of her face. "Soma is still here. She's here, just..." She frowns. There really is no easy way to explain it. "Soma is fine."
Her hand drops down to her lap, golden eyes shifting up to look from Louise to Leo and back again. "You haven't met me before. My name is Marie Parfacy, and I've been asleep inside Soma's head until recently." It was so hard to keep track of the passage of time without access to any senses, but she knows she's been awake since at least a little while before Soma was captured. She just wasn't able to -do- anything.
Soma Peries, Marie Parfacy -- asleep in Soma's head, inside her -- what the /fuck/. So she developed a /second personality/ while under Katharon's care, or... what? Louise can't make heads or tails of it -- not in this state, anyway. "Soma, Marie -- whoever you are -- you're... I... you're OK now, right? And -- Soma's still, you're still... you're both..."
Gesturing helplessly, Louise says, "You're -- but the Soma I knew is still -- you're still her, she's still... you?" At the very least, she seems to be calming down as she speaks, seems to be starting to calm down a tiny bit for Leo, her hand still holding his.
Looking to Leo, she tries to figure out if he's gleaned any sensible answers from what Soma's said.
This time, rather than spending the time during Louise's response musing on Soma's-- Marie's-- statement, Leo spends it staring in a mixture of shock, confusion, and slowly dawning horror. He maintains the expression for a few beats after Louise turns to look at him... and then suddenly leans forwards to give S-- Marie an awkward one-armed hug, leaving the other around Louise's waist.
"It's... you're gonna be okay, So- ... Marie," he assures her, voice oddly choked. He isn't entirely sure what to think, especially with all of the 'neat' little things he's heard about the Cyber-Newtype program. All he knows is that he is suddenly terribly, terribly afraid that Katharon took the opportunity to do something to her he would never have guessed they would:
Confusion is much better than anger. Acceptance, even with confusion, is even better. Leaning back in her seat, Marie gives the two a relieved smile. It's really a strange expression to see on her face, but it's definitely genuine. "Yeah. I'm... we're both okay." Not -entirely- true, but she doesn't want to worry them needlessly right now.
The hug was unexpected. A bit awkward as well... but not unwelcome. "Thanks..." She returns it as best as she can with one arm. "I know you're both worried, but I'm really okay. I just need some rest to get my head straight..." It won't get any easier to explain if she puts it off, but doign so will still put her mind more at ease. "I'll try to explain it better once I've had some rest." And time to think over -how- she's going to explain it.
Seeing Soma smile, to Louise, is worth the uncertainty. She doesn't know what's going on with her... but she can still feel something about her, something genuine and warm, that Leo likely cannot. "I -- I'm so glad you're back," she says, pulling away from Soma, eyes still locked on hers. "Leo, let's... let's give her an opportunity to get her head together, all right?"
This doesn't make sense now, coming from a clearly startled and distressed Marie; maybe it'll make sense coming from a clear-headed... Soma? Marie? Louise isn't even sure anymore. Nevertheless, that instinctive feeling that, on some level, Soma is OK -- that's enough for Louise, after so long.
"... yeah, okay," Leo agrees, after a few moments. He disentangles himself from Marie and Louise, scoots backwards to make some room, and says, "Louise, take So-- take... Marie... to... her room. I'm going to stay here and, and help the techs make sure Kathy isn't gonna be able to track this thing, or, or something."
He helps Soma out of the cockpit, makes sure she's not going to collapse or something, and then returns his attention to the inside of the Astray to do... whatever it is he intends on doing.
SOME TIME AGO
Amuro Ray stands in his darkened room aboard White Base, staring dead-eyed into the middle distance as he shoves sandwich triangles into his mouth.
SOME TIME FROM NOW
Leo Stenbuck sits in the pilot seat of the stolen Astray - which is already in the process of being dismantled by the Shirogane's engineers - with his hands covering his nose and mouth, staring dead-eyed into the middle distance.
Instead of shoving sandwich triangles into his mouth, he eventually simply slides his hands up to cover his entire face, hangs his head, and says, quietly, "Fuck."