Much happiness. Brace yourselves, folks! Ryuko's gonna take you on a ride . . .
August 12, 2046
The girl awoke when she heard a shout from the room next door. Ryuko Ikari Soryu sighed, then dragged her pillow over her head. "Jeez, mom," she said. "Give it a rest." She looked at the clock sitting beside her futon: 6:18 a.m. She blew out a breath, then dragged herself out of bed and started getting dressed. When she finished she grabbed her drumsticks and headed out the door.
As she passed her parents' room, she spied her mother and father through the open door. He held her close, and she looked very small, clutching at him in the wake of her nightmare. Ryuko sighed again. She caught her father's eye, then pointed toward the front door. He nodded, and she made her way there. She grabbed her skateboard and left the building.
Once she hit the sidewalk she hopped on her skateboard, picking up speed as she headed for school. She thought about the drum solo she planned to practice today, hoping the other band members wouldn't be too boring to let her cut loose. But at least with a drum kit she could cut loose. With a violin or a cello it was out of the question. "Fucking heathens," she said. "My dad's the only one who gets it. I'm probably the only kid in Japan who can say that."
She crested a hill and really began to pour on the speed, passing pedestrians left and right as she did so. They cursed at her, but she paid them no mind -- she wanted to fly, and to hell with anyone who didn't get that! The hill bottomed out and she started to slow down, coming into a more populated area, but she was too late -- a man came out of a store right as she passed in front of it. Her eyes widened as she realized avoiding him was impossible, and she spread herself wide to limit the damage. But even so she plowed into him at full speed, sending both of them flying.
She landed hard. "Ow!" she said. "Owowowow!" She picked herself up from the ground, taking stock of the damage. Her head was alright, as were her elbows and knees -- she'd have to thank Misato once again for the protective gear -- but she had a nasty scrape along her forearm. Ah well; she'd had worse. But the other guy . . .
"Hey," she said. "Are you alright?" She took off her helmet, then scooted over to get a closer look at him. Her breath caught: Shoulder length frosted hair, light brown skin, strong cheekbones, soft brown eyes. She blinked, then shook herself. "Shit," she muttered. "Shitshitshit. Mom is gonna kill me . . . "
He groaned as he sat up. "Fuckin' A," he said. "What the hell is wrong with you, you lunatic? I feel like I just got hit by a truck."
She cringed. "Sorry!" she said. "I'm really sorry! I caught some speed and I got carried away and I didn't see you . . . " She broke off. "Should I call an ambulance?" she asked.
"I don't need a fuckin' ambulance," he said. He stood up, wobbling a bit as he did so. "You're lucky I can take a hit, man. What if I was an old lady or a kid or something? You could have killed me!"
She squeezed her eyes shut, nodding emphatically as he lectured her. "You're right," she said. "I'm really sorry, you're right, you're right."
Her ready acceptance of blame cooled his anger a bit. "Fuck, that hurt," he said.
"Are you sure you're alright?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said. "Just be more careful next time. I mean, damn . . . "
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Good," she said. "Then, um . . . I'll get going, I guess." She retrieved her skateboard, then checked her pockets. Her eyes went wide. "Oh, shit," she said. "Where are my sticks?"
"Huh?" he asked. "Sticks?"
"Yeah, my drumsticks. They were in my back pocket . . . " She looked around, spotting them halfway down the block. "There they are!" She hurried to retrieve them. She looked back one last time and then started walking in the direction of her school, opting to carry the board for the time being.
He looked after her, watching her for a moment. Then, with a muttered curse, he hurried to catch up to her. "Hey," he said.
She shot him a nervous look.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to be so harsh. It just took me by surprise, that's all. But I'm not hurt, so I don't need to be a jerk about it."
"Okay," she said. "Thanks."
"You really should be more careful, though."
She flushed. "Right," she said.
They walked in silence for a few moments. "So, you play the drums?" he asked
"Yeah," she said. "I'm on my way to school to practice with my band."
"Eh?" he asked. "But we're on summer break. Why are you going to school?"
"We have a key to the music room," she explained. "So we meet up there to practice. It's easier than trying to arrange locations every time, you know?"
He nodded. "I guess that makes sense," he said. He thought for a moment, then grinned. "Are you any good?"
She laughed nervously. "Well, I guess that depends on who you ask. When I was at nationals last year the crowd went apeshit over my playing, but one of the judges called my performance an offense to music itself." She scratched her head self-consciously. "That was with the violin, though; I don't compete with the drums."
"Oh wow," he said. "So you play two instruments? That's impressive."
She shrugged. "The drums are just for fun," she explained. "I do bass and keyboards too, but I only compete with violin, cello and piano." She frowned. "I also play the flute, but I have nothing to do with it. We don't use it in the band and I don't feel like competing with it, so it's kind of a useless skill."
He shook his head. "Jeez, man," he said. "You sound like some kind of musical prodigy or something."
She grinned. "Yup! And I skateboard and I kick ass at gaming and I write poetry, too. I'm kinda awesome!"
He laughed. "And so humble!" he said.
She crossed her arms, sticking out her chin. "False modesty is condescending to others," she said. "It's better to recognize others' virtues than to downplay your own. That way you can help them out and still get the credit you deserve!"
He glanced at her sidelong. "You must be a foreigner," he said, a touch of disdain in his voice. "No Japanese would ever think like that."
She laughed. "What can I say?" she said. "I'm not a conventional girl."
He looked her up and down. It was a fair assessment: half her head was shaved to stubble, while the other half had shoulder length dark hair dyed a deep lavender at the ends. She had a barbell in her upper ear, a stud in her nostril, and another barbell in her tongue. She wore a tight t-shirt full of holes, raggedy jeans, and a pair of Vans on her feet, all stretched over a wiry athletic frame. She was striking, to be sure, but by no means conventional. He sighed. "Yeah, I can see your point," he said. "But even so, you don't look Japanese."
"Ha!" she said. "Yeah, that's true. My mom is American, actually, so that's why." She frowned. "Though it's weird; she was born here, but then grew up in Germany, and her mother was German/Japanese, and I'm pretty sure she's never even been to America. But her dad was American, so . . . " She shrugged. "Eh, whatever. Anyway, she's crazy smart and went through some heavy shit as a kid, so she kind of has a 'fuck you!' attitude to most anything that gets in her way. I guess she passed that on to me, but I don't have her baggage so I'm a little more constructive about it."
"Heh." He nodded. "That does explain a few things."
"Yeah," she said. Her eyes widened. "Oh!" she said, fishing out her phone. "I almost forgot. Can I get your contact info?"
He blinked. "Huh?" he asked. "Why would you need that?"
"Duh," she said, grinning. "You're kinda hot. I might wanna ask you out or something."
He laughed at her. "Are you for real?" he asked. "You just ran into me."
She frowned. "Well, yes . . . "
"With a skateboard. You ran into me with a skateboard!"
"I said I was sorry . . . " she mumbled.
"And now you're asking me out?" he continued, incredulous.
"Is that a 'no', then?" she asked.
"Well . . . " he paused. He looked her up and down again, then shook his head and laughed. "You're something else," he said. He looked her in the eye. "What if I have a girlfriend or something?" he asked, a mischievous smile playing about his lips.
Her eyes widened, and she looked stricken. "Then I'd be sad," she said. She looked away, then met his gaze again. "Um, do you?"
He looked at her, then laughed. "Not at the moment," he admitted.
She grinned. "Great!" she said. She held her phone before her, looking at him expectantly.
He stared at her for a moment, then laughed despite himself. "Fine," he said. "Why not?"
They exchanged data. When they finished, Ryuko smiled happily. "Thanks!" she said.
"Sure." He looked at his phone's screen, then frowned. "Wait," he said.
"Soryu? As in Asuka Langley Soryu?"
She nodded proudly. "Yup! She's my mom."
"Ah," he said. He coughed nervously.
She cocked her head. "Problem?" she asked.
"Not exactly," he said. "It's just that . . . well, my grandfather was Katsuhiro Nakamura. He was the commander of the JSSDF's 4th Division."
She frowned. "Oh." She sighed. "Well, I can see how that might make you a bit nervous, but most of the people my mom has met from the 4th have been pretty chill. She let all that shit go a long time ago, so unless you have a grudge or something it shouldn't be a problem."
He shook his head. "No grudge here," he said. He grinned. "That's a relief," he said. "I was nervous for a minute there."
She quirked an eyebrow. "Oh?" she asked.
He laughed. "Well, you're also kinda hot," he said.
She laughed in delight, blushing at the jab. They reached the street corner, and he turned right. "I'm going this way," he said.
She nodded. "Okay," she said. "See ya, Kenji! I'll call you Friday!"
"Sure," he said.
She took off, letting out a whoop of joy as she did so. He could only shake his head and laugh as he continued on his way.
Ryuko crossed the threshold to her apartment. "I'm home!" she said.
"Welcome home," Asuka said. She caught sight of her daughter's forearm, and her eyes snapped to hers. "And what the hell happened to you?" she asked.
Ryuko laughed self-consciously. "Um, I ran into someone on the way to school." She fidgeted. "Like, literally."
Asuka closed her eyes. "Christ, Ryuko." She sighed, then asked, "Are you alright?"
Ryuko nodded. "Yes," she said. "And before you ask, so is he."
"Are you sure?" Asuka asked.
Ryuko nodded emphatically. "Yes!" she said. "You can ask him yourself come Friday."
"Do I even want to know?" Asuka asked.
Ryuko laughed. "I kinda asked him out."
"Of course you did," Asuka said, sighing.
"Wait," Shinji asked. "You hit him with a skateboard, and then . . . asked him out?"
" . . . Yes?" Ryuko said. She laughed self-consciously. "I think he was so surprised by my audacity that it didn't occur to him to say no."
"Well, you have no shortage of that," Asuka muttered. "Unbelievable." She glared at Shinji in accusation.
"What?" he said. "I think that's cool."
She made grasping motions with her hands. "You're Japanese," she said. "How can you possibly think that's cool? It doesn't make sense!"
"I live with you," he said. "How could I not think it's cool?"
She flushed, then sighed. "Even so," she said, "she has enough of an attitude problem as it is. You shouldn't encourage her."
Ryuko grinned. "My attitude is awesome," she said. She turned toward Shinji. "Thanks, Dad. High five!" Shinji chuckled and indulged her. "I'm gonna go play some vidya," she said. "Don't lose your shit while I'm gone." She wandered off to her room, leaving her parents irritated and bemused in her stead.
"I'm going to go do . . . something," Asuka said. "Something to make me less irritated." She glared at Shinji. "It's your turn to make dinner."
Shinji frowned. "But the schedule says--" he began.
"You don't understand," she said, interrupting. "It's. Your. Turn."
Shinji sighed. "Of course it is," he said. "Fine, fine. But you better make it up to me!"
"Hmph." Asuka tossed her head and stalked off toward their room.
After dinner, Ryuko found Asuka in her room. She was hunched in front of her laptop, typing away. "Um . . . " Ryuko began.
Asuka spared her daughter a glance, then returned to the screen in front of her. "What do you want?" she asked.
Ryuko bit her lip nervously. "Well," she began, "um . . . "
Asuka's brows knit in irritation.
Ryuko squeezed her eyes shut. "You were pretty fucked up this morning!" she blurted out.
"Yeah, so?" Asuka said.
"I'm the reason for that, aren't I?" Ryuko asked.
Asuka stared at her, perplexed. "Why would you think that?" she asked. "It's about piloting, it's nothing to do with you. Don't be so egotistical."
Ryuko's fists shot to her sides. "I'm not being egotistical!" she said. "I'm part of it, I know it!"
"Eh?" Asuka asked, taken aback.
"I talked to Misato about it," Ryuko said. "Heishiro, too. They both told me you were fine before I was born. That you went months without a nightmare or whatever. Now you have them all the time! And it's not just you!" she went on. "They said dad was doing okay before I was born, that he was almost normal, but once I came along it was like ten years of progress went out the window."
Asuka narrowed her eyes. "Is that what they said?" she asked.
Ryuko nodded. "And don't you dare get mad at them!" she said. "They just told me the truth."
"So what if they did?" Asuka asked. "What of it?"
"I want to know why," Ryuko said. "I want to know why I hurt you so much." She frowned. "You and dad."
Asuka sighed. "Look," she said, "it has nothing to do with you personally. That's the truth. It's just . . . " She frowned, then shook her head. "It's complicated, okay? And besides, it doesn't really matter now--"
"It matters to me!" Ryuko exclaimed. "I saw you this morning, mom. You were in so much pain . . . " She swallowed thickly, then continued. "I just want to understand why," she said. "That's all. I just want to understand."
Asuka stared at her daughter for a time, then sighed. "Fine," she said. She opened up her laptop, then navigated to a particular folder. "This has everything you could ever want to know about piloting," she said. "If you want to know what happened to us, look here."
Ryuko moved around the laptop, eager to see what Asuka had in store for her.
Asuka looked at her daughter warily. "But don't forget your place!" she said. "Your father and I have dealt with this for years, so remember that when you watch this."
Ryuko nodded, then started to watch the files.
Asuka frowned, then shook her head. "Obstinate little fool," she muttered. "You're just like your father." She sighed, then left the room.
Ryuko clutched her head with shaking hands, trying to purge her mind of the horrors she'd just witnessed.
"Oh, come on," Asuka said, entering the room. "It's not that bad."
Ryuko just stared at her, slack jawed. "How can you say that?" she asked, on the verge of hysteria. "Dad was boiled alive, they sent you into a goddamn volcano! And the fifteenth . . . oh, my God." She hugged herself, rocking back and forth. "You said it was defiling you, that it was . . . it was . . . " She shook her head. "I can't even imagine it. And they left you there, and they--"
"Hey!" Asuka snapped. Ryuko jerked, then met her gaze. "Get one thing straight, kid -- I hurt myself there. They had no control over the Evas, and I wasn't even supposed to sortie that day. I'm the one who jumped into battle, and I'm the one who refused to retreat. Misato ordered me to pull back, but I wouldn't listen." She shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't like admitting it, but what happened to me that day was my fault."
Ryuko shook her head. "That's insane!" she said. "You were a kid, mom! You shouldn't have even been out there! You should have been studying, and chasing boys, and . . . and . . . " She shuddered. "Aren't there rules against that? Against using kids in battle?"
Asuka sighed. "What do rules matter when the fate of humanity is at stake? Put things in perspective, Ryuko! Do you think Misato wanted to do that? Do you think she liked it?"
"But what?" Asuka asked. "It was a shitty situation, and she handled it as best she could. When she figured out what was really going on she did what she could to stop it, but she didn't have many options at that point."
"How can you be so forgiving?" Ryuko mumbled.
Asuka cocked her head. "It was more than thirty years ago, for one thing," she said sardonically. "And, more importantly, she went to a lot of trouble to make amends."
Ryuko shook her head. "I can't believe she'd let them do that to you," she said. "It's unforgiveable! It's--"
Asuka rolled her eyes. "Quit being so melodramatic," she said. "Your father and I are the ones who were hurt by this, not you. Let us deal with it as we see fit and mind your own business."
Ryuko closed her eyes. "But--" she began.
"'But?'" Asuka asked, crossing her arms. "You're going to cause problems even though you weren't involved?"
"Well--" Ryuko began. She squirmed in her seat, suddenly uncomfortable. "I mean, no, it's not really my place, but even so--"
"Even so?" Asuka asked. Her voice was level, but the hint of menace in it was unmistakable.
Ryuko sucked in a breath, forcing herself to meet her mother's gaze. "You're not the only one who feels protective!" she said. "And I . . . I have to live with it too, you know! I don't suffer like you do, but . . . but . . . "
Asuka smiled at her, then relented. "I know," she said, hugging the girl. "You're just like your father that way. But don't worry; Misato's on our side. She's done everything for us since Third Impact." She grinned at her daughter. "And that includes helping us raise you!"
Ryuko made a face. "I still don't get how I fit into all of this," she said.
Asuka shrugged. "Who knows? Raising a child is stressful, and stress is what triggers it; that's why Misato and Kaji wouldn't let us do it until you were older." She frowned thoughtfully. "Hmmm. That's interesting, now that I think about it. I guess they wanted to make sure we wouldn't strangle you or something."
Ryuko's eyes went wide. "Eh?" she asked.
"Sorry," Asuka said. "Bad joke. Ask your father about it sometime. But anyway, for a while, your dad and I didn't have to worry about anything. But then you were born, and . . . " she shrugged.
Ryuko frowned. "So it is about me," she said.
Asuka shrugged. "Sort of. But don't worry about it. You're a good kid, so you're worth the trouble." She tugged a lock of Ryuko's hair. "Even if you are a delinquent."
Ryuko sighed, and her mother laughed and hugged her again.