|Summary: Leo Stenbuck insists that everything's alright.|
As per usual, Leo Stenbuck is moping in his room. Although simple economics of leave have forced him not to technically take the day off, he has half-assedly sulked his way through most of his actual important duties today, and has taken the opportunity this presents to go and have a lie-down.
And so he's sprawled out on his bed, face-down, having stripped away his uniform's greatcoat and tossed it to the floor along with the other dirty laundry that is, slowly, accumulating, indicating a gradual slide back towards 'Leo's room is filthy.'
Also as per usual, his door is unlocked, and his Haro is sitting on the small of his back, occasionally flapping its ears and squawking, "AMURO!"
Latooni Subota almost never takes days off without a reason, which is why she is much later than she wanted to be. If she hadn't, say, been shot down yesterday after spending rather a lot of time going over notes and figures related to some things she is not supposed to talk about -
Well, she probably would have been here several times this week instead of once.
Latooni knocks on the door, as always, and as she is slowly getting the courage to do (after listening at the door to make sure nobody but Leo is inside) just lets it open without being called. "Leo?" she says, from the doorway. She hasn't stepped inside.
Only when his name is called does Leo groan and roll onto his side so he can look at the door; he knows who it is immediately from the voice, of course, but... well, it's just one of those things you do.
The shift in position happens to spill Haro off of his back; it bounces once on the bed and uses the momentum to spring itself onto the floor, so it can roll over and greet Latooni by bumping into her legs and declaring, "HAYATO, HAYATO!"
"Hey," Leo greets glumly, unable to muster up even a weak smile. He sounds as depressed as he looks. "Come in," he allows, with a feeble gesture.
Then he rolls back onto his stomach and folds his arms under his pillow.
Latooni Subota is not Hayato any more than she is any of the other people Leo's Haro keeps misidentifying her as. One day she'll figure out how to fix it so that it knows who she is.
That day is not today.
She accepts getting her legs getting rammed with moderately good grace, though she pushes it away before it messes up her skirt or something. Latooni picks her way carefully into the room, avoiding stepping on anything unidentifiable. Or identifiable. She just doesn't want to put her foot in it. "You don't look well," she says, quietly. This time, Lat doesn't bother asking if he's all right. She can tell.
"Go figure," Leo says sharply, his voice muffled by his refusal to take his face out of his pillow.
After a beat, however, The Guilt sets in, and he sighs expansively, rolls over onto his side again, and then keeps going, sitting up. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't..." he begins, but he cuts himself off there with another sigh, reaching up to rub at his eyes with his left hand.
"I'm sorry," he repeats wretchedly, lowering his hand and holding his arms out towards Latooni. "Did you make it out of the Angel alright? I was sort of... ... yeah," he mutters, averting his eyes even as he keeps his arms held out.
Latooni Subota does not put her arms in Leo's - because she offers him a hand up instead. "You need to get out of your room," she says, having recognized some of the signs. Even when she didn't like talking to people, she still left, if only to go to a different room and sit there for a while.
She leaves it there, in fact, until he takes it. "I was all right," she says. "The Monster - it is not exactly fragile. I was better protected in it than you were." She does not bring up the irregularities of that fight, not yet - where Leo appeared, to her eyes, to go insane. Mostly she just tries to look concerned, but she ends up looking a little confused, if only because she's not actually very good at picking an expression to use.
For a moment, Leo, too, looks confused when Latooni offers him her hand... but when she explains herself, his expression shifts into a wounded one, and he drops his arms and flops onto his side again. "Why?" he asks curtly, after a few moments. "No one else wants me to. Except to do their work for them."
He pauses for a moment, squinting up at Latooni from where his head rests on his mattress, and then states matter-of-factly, "You're mad at me again."
The disadvantage of talking to someone who did not engage in social interaction for all but two years of her life is that it can be slow. Latooni pauses, not to make Leo feel bad about himself but simply to decide what to say. It's habitual. He's seen ti before. That doesn't make it look less bad, though.
"I am not," she eventually says. "I am concerned. You aren't doing well. So I'm worried, that's all. I want you to be all right." Latooni looks earnest. It looks less awkward.
Having decided Leo is not going to take her hand, she sits instead, perching on the very edge of the bed and looking at him. "Please, Leo. What can I do to help?"
It is about now, as she sits on the edge of the bed, that Latooni may notice the purple bruises on Leo's neck; they're not the right size to be from a fist, or the right shape to be from being choked by... pretty much anything.
That leaves a very short list of possibilites, on which 'they are hickies' occupies at least three places.
"I don't know," Leo murmurs wretchedly, scooting up the bed to put his head on his pillow again and rolling onto his back to look 'down' at Latooni. After a moment, he shifts his leg so it's resting against her side; even the small little point of contact makes him feel at least a little better.
Then, as casually as can be - taking into account the obvious depression, at least - he says, "I think I'm insane."
Latooni Subota does not immediately recognize them as anything other than 'injury', and her brain attempts to sort through and figure out what kind of injury they might be. This sometimes takes a while. Actual medicine is not something she was trained in.
"..." Latooni /wants/ to take that in stride, but really, how do you? She is taken aback and startled, although perhaps not as much as she might be if she hadn't noticed some irregularities with Leo's behaviour in the first place.
She lowers her head slightly, and asks one question only: "Why?"
Leo opens his mouth to reply, but the words catch in his throat. Should he really tell her...? The whole... Yazan thing, at least he's /justified/ there, he tells himself, but... the hallucinations... will she really understand? What if she tells someone? They'd throw him out of the military, and probably put him in a padded cell somewhere.
Maybe that'd be for the best, but...
"I don't know," Leo says again, after a long pause. He lifts his hands to cover his face, and takes a shaky breath, his chest and shoulders suddenly spasming sharply like he was trying not to cry. "I'm sorry," he chokes into his hands, "I'm s-so sorry, I-"
Latooni Subota already knows something is not right. Leo confirming it - and then denying it - only makes it more likely that it is true. She opens her mouth to speak -
And never gets a chance to, before Leo starts choking up. "Leo, I... I don't want to upset you! I just - I want to help, you don't need to apologize for that. We've all needed it before, I think..."
She is very sure she has no idea what to do with a crying Leo, and is privately hoping he never gets any closer to it than he is. That part stays off her face. She doesn't want to hurt him, even if she isn't entirely sure what's going on with him anymore.
It's a little frightening, how much he's changed.
The good news is, Leo does not, in fact, get any closer to crying.
The bad news is he doesn't get any farther away from it, either; he stays hovering right at the point where he seems like he's about to break down crying, his shoulders and chest spasming, his breath coming in short, jerky gasps. It's kind of like watching someone being tortured.
In a lot of ways, it is even worse to watch than if he actually started crying.
"No," Leo insists, through his labored breathing, "No, I d-do, I'm not- it's not your fault, I just- I don't- I can't-"
Rather than continue, Leo lurches into a sitting position and crawls across the bed in an attempt to give Latooni a hug. He tries to keep speaking, but only manages, "P-please, don't leave, I, I-"
Latooni Subota sits. Awkwardly. She has no idea what to do; her experiences have not taught her how to help other people cope with this. She settles for reaching out to Leo; this time she does not ignore the attempt for a hug. It isn't even sexual. It's just comfort, and she knows it.
"I'm not going anywhere," she says, trying to be soothing. "I want to help. I think I know - some of it. But not all. You need to tell me. I can't help you otherwise..." Her arms hold him close, surprisingly tight given this is weak-armed Latooni and not someone who actually engages in regular exercise.
Latooni's claim that she's not going anywhere does a startling amount to relieve Leo. While he doesn't calm down instantly, he does sort of sag against her, burying his face in her hair and clutching her just as tightly as she does him, like he's afraid she'll somehow slip away if he does anything but hold on as tight as he can.
"I can't," he protests weakly to her request. "It doesn't- it doesn't mean anything, it's all just- I just, just made it up, to make myself feel better, or, or something, I don't know- it's not my fault- I wasn't trying to-" His speech, rapidly approaching babbling, eventually fails entirely, and he just makes a pained noise and tightens the hug.
The words don't make sense. Latooni tries to put them together into some sort of functional order but does not manage to get anything new out of them. She knows he is not making everything up, and if that is wrong, what else is?
Latooni does not let go until Leo does. If that means they have to do an entire conversation with him talking into her hair, she is okay with that. "Some of it does. I know - I can tell. Something's changed. Is it..."
It happened when Rei died, at least a lot of it did. Or 'died'. Latooni does not want to ask, for fear that it will make things worse, but: "It's Rei. It has to do with Rei. Doesn't it? I know..." Very little, actually.
It probably does, in fact, mean they have to have an entire conversation with Leo talking into Latooni's hair.
"She really did die," Leo blurts, suddenly extremely vehement. "I didn't- I didn't make that up, it was real, I saw it, I /saw/ it!" His grip slackens slightly, and he slumps even more, like he'd just been struck with a wave of exhaustion. "But..."
"But she came back, and that's when- and now all the other, other /shit/, and- but- it's not really- her, and I can't- she doesn't- it-" Leo's upper body spasms again, and he rekindles the force of his grip on Latooni. "I didn't mean to- it just, just happened-"
"I'm so sorry," he chokes, shoulders shaking. "I'm such an asshole- and you're s- so beautiful- and sweet- and- and- please, please- I'm so s-sorry-"
Nobody who saw Latooni on duty would probably think of Latooni as being the comforting type. She does her best to not let her emotions interfere with her job. But here, she can do it - and she remembers how people treated her, how she needed to be held by Garnet when she had the nightmares about being back at the School, or over what they were doing to Arado and Seolla.
She just holds Leo for quite some time. "It's all right, Leo, I know things... aren't right. Not with you, but with NERV." More now than before. But she believes it, even without the solid evidence. "You don't need to apologize."
It takes Leo several minutes to calm down enough to resume speaking, minutes that he spends clinging desperately to Latooni, trembling uncontrollably. Eventually, he stops shaking, and his breathing normalizes... or at least comes as close to normal as it's likely to get, in the short term.
Once he's as calm as he thinks he's likely to get, he admits, without preamble, "I... I don't. I don't know that- if- if things aren't right. I thought I... I did, but now..."
Leo swallows roughly, and turns his head to rest his cheek on top of Latooni's head. This has the added side effect of making it not quite so hard to understand what he's saying!
"I'm scared," he says quietly. "I don't know what's real and not, anymore. I can't- I don't- I don't want to be crazy, I-" As panic surges over him again, he forces himself to take a deep breath, and returns to burying his face in Latooni's hair.
"You're not crazy," Latooni says, as firmly as she can manage. She never quite lets go, but she doesn't hold quite so hard when Leo starts to move around. "You're not. You're just... things are confusing. I want to help you."
She pauses, then more quietly: "Or if you are crazy, I am too. Rei spoke to me, too." Came and visited her in Riksent, in fact; left a gift, which Latooni does not add. "That's why I know things are happening, even if I don't know what they are. So..."
"S... she did?" Leo asks, his tone a mixture of uncertainty and hopefulness. He lifts his head off of Latooni's and looks down at the girl, frowning. If Rei did go and talk to her, then... depending on what she told her... that might mean the visits were really happening, after all. Which, of course, would also mean that...
Leo unwraps one of his arms from around Latooni and reaches up to brush his fingers over the bruises on his neck. Fuck. /Fuck./
But... on the other hand, Rei theoretically visiting Latooni doesn't make any of the other things, the things that made him come to the conclusion that he was hallucinating, any less real.
Leo's expression morphs into one of despair, and he shifts his hand to brush some of Latooni's hair behind her ear and cup her cheek. "Lat," he says, voice pleading. "Please tell me you're really here."
Latooni Subota is not going to talk about what they spoke about, not in detail.
Perhaps Latooni and Leo aren't too different in that.
She sees the bruises again and, this time, manages to place them. Her back stiffens slightly, but she doesn't do anything else; she does not even conciously pull away, though there is a subtle shift to her stance.
"I'm really here," she says, looking Leo right in the eye. "And I really want to know what is going on, so you don't... lose it again."
Leo stares into Latooni's eyes, still and silent, for a good fifteen seconds before he makes up his mind: she really is here.
But just because she's here doesn't mean Rei was. There's tons of reasons she could have gone and spoken to Latooni. Mind you, he can't actually list even one off the top of his head, but... /tons/ of reasons.
A very small, sad smile crosses Leo's face, and he leans in to plant a kiss on Latooni's forehead. "Nothing," he insists quietly. "Nothing's going on. It's all just... just a misunderstanding." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself more than he's trying to convince Latooni.
Totally tons of reasons.
Latooni actually frowns. It's slight. "Leo..." She looks down very slightly, at the middle of his chest rather than his face. "I can tell. I am an analyst. It is my job to be able to tell. And people are worried about you. Not just me. So... what has gone on? What have you seen? You can trust me. If you can't..."
She looks up again. "...well, I can - I can accept that. But I don't want to. I trust you."
At the very least, looking at Leo's chest gets Latooni an eyeful of where a pair of dogtags are resting under his uniform undershirt, with the obvious lump of where the charm she gave him has been lashed to the chain.
When she looks back up again, Leo himself looks hurt. "Of course I trust you," he assures her, dropping his hand from her cheek and wrapping his arm around her again. "I l-"
Whatever he was going to say catches in his throat, and he just makes a strangled noise instead. After a beat, he clears his throat and continues as if nothing had happened, "Nothing's going on. Please, don't worry, or, or anything." He seems much more calm, now; maybe he finally ran out of suffering to vent.
Or maybe he just sort of shut off.
Latooni Subota can't help but be touched when she notices that Leo is still wearing it. Even after all this.
Lat feels awful for pushing Leo this way. She doesn't emote it well - she's really pushed herself to do as much as she has. The only visible response is the slight twitch in her hands, a shift of her eyes behind her glasses. She has a good idea what he was going to say - and that he didn't.
Then: "If you want to talk, later, we can. But I'm going to keep an eye on... things. You. And NERV. And Rei." She never got a straight answer from the other girl as to where she was going... or what she was doing there.
Latooni hesitates, her mouth half-open as if starting to speak. She does not manage to say whatever she was going to, letting her breath out with a slight sigh instead. She tries again a moment later: "But you should still come out more."
Leo swallows roughly, and offers a single nod before saying, simply, "Okay." He pauses for a beat, and then leans in to try to plant a light kiss on Latooni's lips. Whether he succeeds or gets the Cheek Defense, he leaves it at that, and straightens up again immediately afterwards.
"You probably have to go soon, huh," he asks after a short pause. He doesn't sound very enthused about the prospect.
Latooni Subota does not offer the cheek defense. Leo has pierced that. For today.
"I don't," she says. "I have done all the work I need to for today... and technically I get a day's leave, even though I was almost uninjured when I was shot down." She bruised a little. It isn't visible; she felt much better even after just one day's rest. "That's why I came down. It's hard for me to find enough time to, unless I have the time off or it's for work..."
The smile comes back, faint but there. "So I can stay a while."
That's the first piece of good news Leo Stenbuck has heard in days.
Leo returns the smile, and then, without another word, leans in to kiss Latooni again. He takes his time, with this one, and as the kiss goes on he lowers himself onto his back on the bed, which, thanks to the fact that he still has his arms around Latooni, also means he pulls her to lie on top of him.
The camera pans over to the Haro, who, in the wake of being shooed by Latooni, appears to be busying itself turning around and around in a pile of laundry, like a dog preparing to lie down.