[Fic] Crying Man (Or, How Dr. Katsuragi Found God)

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Postby Literary Eagle » Fri May 22, 2015 8:22 pm

Misato as a Sailor Moon fan? Splendid! Heh, I can imagine Misato entertaining her friends by doing a perfect imitation of Sailor Moon's voice.

Hmm, would the "B" composer whose name Misato couldn't remember be Beethoven, by any chance? And was Akira singing... er, trying to sing... "An die Freude" ("Ode to Joy")? If so, then yay, another Kaworu reference! :D

This was an enjoyable chapter to read, fun yet bittersweet. It was cute to see things going so well between Akira and Sayaka (even through Misato's "Eww, yucky!" filter, heh), but there was also that lingering feeling that it won't last. So yes, fun yet bittersweet. Thanks for updating, and please keep up the good work!
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Postby NemZ » Sat May 23, 2015 2:16 am

Well that was just adorable. Well done! :thumbsup:
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Postby Reichu » Thu May 28, 2015 12:41 pm

Literary Eagle: SSD suggested the Sailor Moon thing. Upon reflection, it seems a bit obvious, but one must never take the obvious things for granted. -o-; The idea of Misato entertaining friends with her Mitsuishi impersonation is a fun one, and I'll definitely have to use that if any scenes of Misato with her buddies make the cut.

These Kaworu references don't escape you easily, do they? :tongue: Yes, that was indeed an oblique reference to "An die Freude". Between Akira taking choir and knowing German as a second language, I figured "eh, why not?" I think the "tone deaf" thing came from a remark I saw long ago about Kaworu's humming, and it kind of stuck with me. (Incidentally, there was a Kaworu tie-in back in chapter 8 that nobody seemed to pick up on. If anyone can find it, I bet it's you!)

Upon reflection, Misato wouldn't mentally group those composers together under "B", would she? More like ふ... Oh well, I guess it works as Translation Convention.

If you wish to enhance the bittersweet effect, take a look at the chapter's date. What happens in slightly less than a year's time? :devil:

NemZ: Yay! Thank you. :toothy:


This chapter continues to be an incredibly difficult one to write, for any number of reasons that all combine to make my self-appointed job total hell. (Writing misery comes much more naturally, I must admit...) Hopefully things will get much easier after the Chapter 9 slog, but meantime I'll keep posting as I go. This installment includes the previous one, with significant changes marked in blue for your convenience (useful clarification on the family situation added at my beta reader's behest, or just improvements to flow), along with the subsequent totally new scene.

Ch.09 (Pt. A, Take 2)  SPOILER: Show
Chapter 9: High Times / The Strangeness

Saturday, September 18, 1999

Morning light streams through the two windows, undeterred by the translucent white blinds. This corner of the house, one of three rooms partitioned off by shoji, clearly belongs to the youngest member of the household. It's in a fair amount of disarray, with clothes, magazines, empty cans, and the remnants of packaging strewn everywhere — most of it herded into piles and corners to provide at least some clear walking space. On the walls, there's a jumbo-sized calendar of European luxury sports cars, along with posters of idols, Sailor Moon, and a favorite movie or two. The futon occupies the middle of the floor, and not far from it lie a schoolbag and pile of books, plus a combination CD/cassette player with a sturdy-looking set of headphones attached.

And upon the futon, barricaded from the mess by the thick cover drawn up over her head, is Misato. She tosses and turns, turns and tosses. It's Saturday morning, and she wants to sleep in, but it's not quite working. She had a good thing going a couple of hours earlier, but then she was hit by local seismic disturbances. The epicenter was Mom and Dad's bedroom, of course. Again?, she thought. She'd nearly managed to forget her parents did that icky adult stuff, but, naturally, it's when her guard is down that they suddenly start making the house bump and shake with whatever gross, weird things they're doing. Months and months of nothing, and, now, twice in less than twelve hours. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the noises… They sound like they're killing each other, slowly and painfully. Adults are weird. And gross.

Why don't they get a room? Like, a real room? That's not in the same house where their 12-year-old child is trying to do homework and get sleep? Ugh.

Anyway, activities in the adjacent room woke Misato right up, and she managed to drown out the mating calls with some TM Revolution. The tremors subsided over an hour ago, but she hasn't been able to fall back asleep. She turns over in her futon again and lies there for a while. Misato just can't get comfortable. It's hopeless. She'll have to be a zombie all morning. She rolls onto her back, pulls the cover down, and opens her eyes, staring at the light fixture on the ceiling. Eventually, the smells of breakfast rouse her out of bed. Whatever Mom's making, Misato can't lie back and let it go uneaten.

Still wearing her Totoro PJs, Misato navigates the messy floor — she'll clean it today, she promised Mom that much — and slides open the fusuma, wandering into the hallway. The partitions separating the back hallway from the main open area are decorated with old photographs, showing the family as it had once been in the 'good old days'. Misato can't really remember those days — though, from what she's gathered, they ended suddenly when she was three or so. The supply of photographs depicting them as an actually normal and functional family dried up in 1990. Misato's been through the family archives and, starting in '91, it's like Dad disappeared. Of course, he didn't, not really, since he's been here all along, although he's so elusive sometimes it can feel like her chances of spotting a tsuchinoko are higher.

She usually walks by the hanging photos without paying them much mind. Misato has seen them so many times that they just blend into the shoji; and, besides, none of them are recent enough to have any real relevance to her. She's often wondered why her mom leaves them up, as they seem like nothing more than an unpleasant reminder of what's gone forever. Maybe this altar of shattered memories is all she has left anymore. Misato feels so bad for her mom.

Just then, she hears feminine laughter coming from the direction of the kitchen. It's an unfamiliar, uncanny sound, seldom ever heard in this household anymore. Did Mom invite Eri-san from work over? Is Aunt Yura visiting? Misato proceeds round the bend and finds something she didn't expect.

Crowded against the kitchen range with only their backs visible are her parents. Both of them. She'd assumed it was Mom who was making breakfast, but, getting a look at the scene from a better angle — nope, Dad's actually helping.

…helping?! He does that?? Misato rubs her eyes and lightly slaps herself across the cheek, but there's no illusion that shatters. The tall, gangly man is still there, kneeling on a chair in front of the range, confidently wielding a tamagoyaki pan. Mom stands beside him, apparently tending to soup and rice. And the two are constantly looking at each other, talking, smiling, and laughing. The atmosphere feels nauseatingly flirtatious.

It reminds Misato of… well, not how her parents normally act. It's more like… Misato has vague memories of a VHS cassette Haru-san played once, which showed her parents drinking together at some party, long before they were her parents. The feeling they gave off in that tape… Misato is seeing it again, right now. This is so sudden. So weirdly sudden. Misato isn't used to seeing her parents act happy together. She doesn't intend to get used to it, either. Nothing like this ever lasts. She wishes, for Mom's sake, that it did, but it just doesn't. That's not the way Dad works.

Misato's father finally notices her standing there and, looking over his broad, bony shoulders, extends an exuberant greeting. “Good morning, Misato! Did you sleep well?”

Did that just happen? Stunned, all she can manage in response is, “G-good morning.” When her brain catches up a moment later, she decides to be tactfully polite and simply says, “I slept okay, I guess.” A lie, of course, but not saying anything about what she knows they do (without regard for whether their daughter is in the house or not…) is far less gross than the alternative.

Thankfully oblivious, her dad goes on. “Your mother and I are making breakfast. Smells good, doesn't it? It should be ready in a few minutes.” He pours more of the egg mixture onto the pan and promptly starts attacking the air bubbles with his chopsticks. “It's been forever since I've done this, but don't worry, Misato. Your mother approved me for duty.” He winks and deftly rolls the omelet up in its sizzling new layer.

Misato has heard legends of her father having some competencies in the kitchen, but seldom has she had opportunity to confirm it. Domestic involvement in general just never seemed to be his strong suite. If this were any other household, his lack of participation would be perfectly acceptable, but, for better or worse, Misato's family isn't any other household. Her parents are… um… different, and there actually seems to be the expectation — spoken or not — that Dad do more than work, come home late, work, come home late… Even though Misato's never known Dad to consistently be anyone else, Mom clearly requires more from him, and is miserable when he doesn't provide it.

Which is, regrettably, most of the time. In the remarkable instance that Dad is actually around, he's typically too ineffectual to do anything besides wring his hands and stare at his feet; ask too much of him, and he'll disable himself completely with a good cry. Pretty pathetic. And on his good days, he's too full of himself to do anything but take his wife, daughter, and everything else for granted. Make everyone sit there and pretend to be interested while he babbles on for thirty minutes at a stretch, gladly! Actually contribute? …Never!

Apparently, her dad still has the ability to surprise her, which she wouldn't have expected.
He actually seems really into what he's doing, too. There are a full three omelets already rolled and sitting on a dish to the side. Even more bizarrely, they look more adept than Mom's. Will they have taste to match, though?

Mom takes the rice off the heat. “Your father is full of surprises, Misato. When we were living at that apartment together, before you came around, he prepared at least half of our meals. He's better than me at some things.” She looks over at her husband. “I'm a bit jealous, you know!” The two of them laugh in that deadly saccharine kind of way.

Misato wants to ask, 'So, why did Dad ever stop?', but… her mom's in a good mood. No point in souring things.

The soup comes off the range, as well. “Why don't you sit down, Misato?” her mom suggests. “It's been a long time since we've had breakfast together, hasn't it?”

Misato can't refuse a request from her mother. She intones in assent and takes a seat. Through still-bleary eyes, she quietly watches her parents. Her mom sets the table and returns to Dad's side. He's still there, rolling eggs, but he briefly frees a hand and lets the full length of Mom's hair run through his palm. Mom's hair isn't braided, not even crudely; just a ponytail. Weird. They whisper to each other under their breath and Misato can't quite hear what they're saying. Probably for the best, really. They start leaning into each other and Misato quickly averts her eyes. Not what she wants to see. Mom and Dad broadcast their kissing regardless; it's sickeningly audible. Misato quickly looks back, wondering what in the world they could be doing to make so much noise, but as soon as she sees her mom grabbing her dad's scrawny butt, she looks the other way again. Too much. Just… too much.

Fortunately, it's over almost as soon as it began. Mom serves out portions of soup and rice. Dad delicately divides the omelets and brings two serving dishes over. “Sweet or spicy, Misato?” he asks.

Misato considers this briefly. “Can I try both?”

“But of course! Here you go.” With the cooking chopsticks, he places four wedges onto Misato's dish, positioned such that they look like a couple of hearts. It's almost too adorable, and she murmurs out a bashful thank-you. “And what about you, Sayaka? Just the sweet, right?”

Mom takes her seat at the usual place. “Yes. Thank you.” And she gets a couple of hearts, as well.

Dad piles several pieces onto his plate, sets the serving dishes aside, and starts to take his seat, but promptly stops. “Oh! Tea! I forgot the tea!” He puts the water on and returns, immediately taking up his chopsticks and saying, “Itadakimasu”. Misato and her mom echo him in unison, and breakfast begins.

The food is good. Really good. And Misato says as much. Her dad definitely knows how to make an omelet, and even Mom's cooking tastes better than usual. Being in a good mood makes a difference, it would seem. Why is Mom is such a good mood, though? Misato's afraid the answer will be something like, “Because Dad is”. No, not just afraid… She knows that's the reason. Thinking about her mom's emotional dependency on that man makes her feel so bitter even her taste buds are affected. Misato frowns, suspends a piece of egg in her chopsticks, and glances around the table, looking for something to get her mind off it.

Mom is eating in her refined, dainty way — slowly savoring every bite and every sip, her handling of the chopsticks immaculate. She briefly looks up from her meal and across the table at her husband, dark eyes glimmering, and extends a hand to him. He reciprocates, laying his hand upon hers for a moment, and they both smile deeply at one another. Mom looks so pretty when she smiles, and it's difficult not to feel heart-warmed by the sight. Even if Dad is responsible.

Dad… Misato has always wondered what Mom sees in him — and whether or not her guesses are remotely accurate. Is it his pretty face? His height? His intellect? His… “sensitivity”? All of the above? Taking a small bite of omelet, Misato silently scrutinizes him.

Dad's attentions are back to his breakfast now, though he keeps looking back at Mom and smiling a broad, goofy smile here and there. The way he's eating is far from his usual habit of poking and prodding but not actually consuming much at all; the food is actually disappearing, and fast. Each piece of egg vanishes in one or two bites. He scrapes his rice bowl clean into his gullet and immediately fills it up again. As he proceeds to drain the soup bowl, the kettle goes off.

“I'll do it,” Misato's mom says, rising up. “You keep eating, Akira.”

Dad puts the bowl down. “Are you sure, Sayaka? Making my tea is so much trouble… You really don't have to.”

“Green, right?” Mom asks. “I know the way you do it. It's no problem. Don't worry.”

“Th-Thank you, Sayaka,” he says, and reluctantly returns to his meal. He seems to zone out for a moment, and one of his bony hands clutches the white cross that hangs beneath the junction of his collar bones. None of the buttons on Dad's polo are done up, providing an unwelcome window to his borderline emaciated body. Even with the limited view, he looks worse than Misato remembers. Odd that he'd leave his collar open like that at all, too. Dad's usually too modest, even for that.

Well, probably not “modest” per se — more like ashamed. Not like hiding his body ever fooled anyone, either, considering how gaunt his face and hands are. And Mom, well, there's obviously no fooling her. She used to actually get on Dad's case about it, hard core, though not so much since that blow up a few years back. If Misato remembers rightly, Dad flunked a physical exam and his doctor prescribed appetite stimulants. But, go figure, Dad threw them out after taking just a couple of doses. Something about them 'clouding the mind'. Mom got mad. Like, really mad. She actually yelled at him, that's how much she cared. It was kind of impressive, in a freaky sort of way.

Too bad it didn't achieve anything aside from making him bawl like a kid with a skinned knee. Oh, and naturally Dad added his doctor to his long list of “people to habitually avoid”. Mom seemed to just give up about the weight thing after that. For the best, really. Dad's gonna do what Dad's gonna do, and this particular quirk seems to always self-correct, given enough time.

Right now would seem to mark one of those turnarounds.
Dad finishes his soup and, of course, helps himself to seconds there, as well. Making up for so many skipped meals. He manages to finally notice Misato's persistent gaze, and she quickly pretends to be more interested in her rice. Please don't talk to me. Please don't talk to me...

“So, which one did you like better?” Dad asks. “Sweet, or spicy?”

Misato hopes she can get this over with quickly. “Uh… They're both pretty good. I think… spicy, maybe?”

He smiles, idly playing with his necklace. “I remember when you didn't like spicy things. I love hot stuff, but I can't indulge too much. Hopefully you didn't inherit my metabolic sensitivities.”

Mom brings the teapot over and starts pouring for each of them. “Your body is such a finicky thing, Akira!” she exclaims. “It can survive the most inhumane feeding and sleeping schedules imaginable, but even green tea at full strength is too much for it. You really are sensitive.” She's talking to him like a lovingly chiding mother. Mom does that a lot with him, come to think of it. Treats him as much as her offspring as she does her husband. While Misato can certainly understand why — her father is nothing if not a man-child — it's not something she wants to put too much thought into. The implications are kind of gross. She wishes Mom would realize just how gross it is and stop talking to Dad like that, at least while Misato is around.

“Of course,” he replies, “and I know you love me for it.” Another flirtatious smile.

Misato blows on her tea. The sooner she can drink it, the sooner she can escape this unmitigated awfulness.

Her mother returns to her seat and, looking at her husband's plate, a realization seems to comes to her. “How much have you eaten so far, Akira?”

“Well, I took second helpings of rice and soup.” He absentmindedly ruffles his bangs. They're noticeably less scraggly than usual; he must have gotten a trim this week. “Is that okay?”

“Of course it's okay. And you finished all of your omelet already?” Mom takes a tiny little bite out of hers.

Dad nods, and lifts the soup bowl to his lips again.

Mom finishes the morsel. “That's wonderful. It's great to see you with your appetite back.” Her eyes crinkle at the edges with joy. “Just don't push yourself too much, okay? Give your body a chance to get back in the swing of things.”

“That's a very good point you make, Sayaka,” he says, setting the bowl down. “I'm sure that is more than enough, for now.” Dad goes for the tea instead and carefully tests the temperature. Still too hot.

Misato could've told him that. She continues to bide the time by picking individual rice kernels off the bottom of her bowl.

Dad takes note. “Are you done, Misato? You can leave if you are.” His tone dipping up, “No need to humor us old folks, you know.”

The question vaguely irritates her. Of course she's not done. She'd formally announce it if she were. Maybe his manners are haphazard — she swears the man avoids using polite forms unless his life depends on it; no wonder his boss hates him — but Mom definitely taught Misato the right way to act. And it's for that very reason that she won't let herself get snippy with him, as much as she would love to… and as much as he deserves it. “Not yet. I'm waiting for the tea to cool.”

“Oh, right.” Dad settles onto his elbows, pendant breaking free of his chest and hanging in midair. “I'm sorry about that, by the way. I got so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot to put the kettle on at the right time. I should've set a timer or something to help me remember...”

Gods, he's getting chatty. She can see it in his eyes, just in his overall bearing, that something is bubbling up and out. Misato really hopes he doesn't start blathering on about his boring, inscrutable projects. Solenoids this, vacuums that, negative energy oceans the other thing. After all these years, Misato's no closer to understanding what any of it means, aside from the very basics. Whatever it is he's thinking about, please let it not be that.

Dad looks back over at Mom. “You know, Sayaka? I think I'm feeling ambitious.”

“Hmm?” she intones while chewing.

“I really want to get back to a good weight.”

Wow… It's not physics, and it's something Mom's been waiting to hear. Dad's going for some kind of record in “surprising moments” today.

“I mean it,” Dad says. “Eat three big meals a day. Maybe do some training while I'm at it. I can definitely look better for you than this.” He raps against a protruding clavicle with his knuckles.

“Looking good isn't a problem for you, Akira,” Mom teases. “Just eat what your body needs and you'll be fine. Don't have to go crazy about it.”

“I wonder if it's inevitable for me to be scrawny, though?” Dad muses. “I'm kind of curious how much muscle I could build if I tried…”

She lets out a tiny sigh. “First things first, okay? Don't worry about anything else until you're back at the baseline. Trying too much right now would do more harm than good.”

You're the doctor,” he says with a wink.

Mom blushes slightly. “Oh, Akira, you flatter me. But you know I'm no doctor. I'm not even close.”

“You could be, though.”

He's actually mentioning the doctor thing, and so casually, at that? Misato's not sure if he's being gutsy or just plain crazy. Most likely, the latter. This is one of those weirdly sensitive topics that nobody is ever supposed to talk about, as Misato's learned the hard way. About the most she does know is that Mom started to study medicine in college, apparently with great ambition… but, well, the fact that she's now a part-time assistant at a clinic, and a housewife the rest of the time, speaks volumes for what happened there. The particulars, however, are kept securely locked up in the great vault of Katsuragi family drama.

Misato's accepted that it's none of her business, though it's hard not to be curious what everyone is so sore about. She starts sipping her tea. Never know, this could get ugly.

Mom clutches one of Dad's hands. “Please, Akira. Not here.” Her voice can't sound much more earnest than that. Dad opens his mouth, as though to protest, but Mom maneuvers quickly. “So, Misato! What are your plans for the day?”

“Hmmm…” Misato considers. “Well, I'll be cleaning my room like you asked, then doing some math and reading.” Dad's eyes light up at the mention of 'math', but Misato doesn't give him an opportunity to offer his services. “At 1 or so, I'm meeting up with Kei and everyone. Lunch, arcade, maybe some shopping.”

“You're watching your allowance, right?” Mom asks. So like her. Well, she does manage the household's finances entirely by herself, so it's to be expected.

Misato nods. “Yep, I'm still doing good. Don't worry, Mom.”

“Shopping, eh?” Dad says. “What are you planning to get?”

The question takes Misato off guard. “Oh… Er, I dunno. The latest Kotora-san single, I guess.”

“You enjoy her work?” he asks.

“Um… She's okay. I like most of her songs.” The heck? Why is Dad suddenly asking her about this stuff? Misato feels weirdly defensive and she's not sure why. Hesitantly, she adds, “Though, you probably wouldn't enjoy them much, Dad.”

“Heh.” Her father smiles, somewhat mischievously. “'Probably', you say? You know the kinds of music I like?”

Of course I don't. You're barely around, and when you ARE, you don't listen to anything. She knows her mom sometimes puts on an assortment of tunes from the 70s and 80s — everything she grew up listening to — but her dad's always seemed kind of indifferent. “You got me there, Dad.”

Dad's smile broadens. “The answer is: anything your mother sings,” he says, sending a blatantly amorous look across the table.

Mom's face skips over the “slightly flushed” stage and goes straight to deep red. “Akira!” she squeaks in embarrassment.

Misato feels a story lingering in the air. Even her now-empty tea cup won't be enough to save her. Should she brace herself for an impending sugar rush? Well, maybe it won't be that bad…

Still maintaining his fawning, bedroom-eyed gaze, her father proceeds, as anticipated. “You may not know it, Misato, but your mother has the voice of a goddess. Did you know that's how we met?”

This is starting to ring some bells. “I think…?” Misato twists up her face and digs deep into her memory for the select other instances that her parents have both been in high enough spirits to subject her to old family stories. “Something about a choir?”

“Yes,” Mom affirms with a tiny nod. “It was a choir elective back in our second year of college. Your father was the poor tone deaf tenor towering over everyone else.” She laughs.

“Hey, now,” Dad says. “I did get better!”

“Only because I tutored you!” she playfully snaps back. “And by the end of the semester you still couldn't consistently hit notes if your life depended on it.” She releases an exaggerated sigh. “Honestly, Akira, what were you doing in choir to begin with?”

Even though it was a rhetorical question, Dad responds to it. “Well, people told me, 'hey, you're great at math, so you ought to try music'.” With a theatrical gesture, he voices, “Little did they know of the horror they were unleashing upon this Earth!”

Misato raises an eyebrow. “Is your singing really THAT bad, Dad?”

He scratches the back of his head. “I'm not sure. It's been a while since I tried.”

Sayaka looks mildly apprehensive.

“Let's find out.” Dad takes a deep breath… and starts belting out something rather operatic. Definitely not in Japanese. Considering this is Dad and all, German is a safe bet.

He has impressive volume, which most wouldn't expect given his reedy build and the understated way he normally talks. But Misato immediately hears what her mom was talking about, and it's cringe-worthy. The tune is so distorted it takes several seconds for her to identify it at all. Misato can't remember the name, but it's by one of those long-dead European “B” composers. Brahms? Bach? No, that's not it… “Um, okay, Dad. Thanks. I get the idea.”

But, no, he keeps on going! And he's smiling about it, too. Misato looks over at her mom, her eyes beseeching, Please, make this man stop! Mom mouths something and starts counting down from five on her fingers. Her intent registers just in the nick of time. At the count of zero, both of them spring from their chairs and tackle Dad, struggling to silence him however they can. And he fights back, nibbling at them, sputtering on them, and tonguing them until finally Misato frees up a sleeve and gags him.

By the time it's over, all three of them are in giggling fits. Misato got absorbed into the morning's playfulness after all. It doesn't feel bad, but it also feels silly. Too silly. She's going to be thirteen in a couple of months. She's too old for this nonsense. Plus, now she has Dad drool all over her. Talk about gross.

And that voice in the back of her head keeps telling her that this is all fake, besides. This isn't the way her family is. This isn't a house where people laugh and have fun. The false reality will soon be peeled back and exposed for what it really is. Even if it takes weeks, maybe even months… everything will return to the status quo.

They all say Gochisousama together, and Misato excuses herself, taking an empty trash bag with her. Even more so than usual, she can't wait to get out of the house.


Sayaka finishes stowing the leftovers into the refrigerator and goes to help Akira finish the dishes. Once again, he's kneeling on a chair to bring the all too low countertop a bit closer. She wishes there were a better way, short of the expensive kitchen renovations that never quite happened. The chair solution looks dreadfully uncomfortable. She's always felt bad for him. Although he rarely ever complains of pain, she's never been sure if that's because of self-imposed stoicism or not. “Are you okay doing that, Akira?”

He gives her a slightly baffled look. “Of course. Why do you ask?”

“I just… don't want you to hurt yourself.”

“Pruned fingers won't kill me,” he says with a smirk.

For apparently needed emphasis, Sayaka pats Akira's lumbar area. “Your back, dear. I'm talking about your back.” Calling him something he hates is usually a good way to make him pay attention, she's found.

“Oh, you,” Akira sputters. “Again with the 'dear'…” He thinks for a moment. “My back, eh? You're never going to stop fretting over that, are you?”

Sayaka starts drying and stacking dishes. “Well, if being tall in this country isn't killing your back, it must be getting to your knees, at least.”

Akira shrugs. “Being tall is inconvenient, sure. I get backaches once in a while, sure. It's really nothing to fret over, though.” He glances down at the chair. “Though, if I plan on significantly upping my kitchen time, I probably should find something a bit more ergonomic to use.”

“That's a wonderful idea,” Sayaka says, working on the bowls. “There's enough left in this month's budget that I'm sure we could find something. Shop around tomorrow, maybe?”

“Hmm,” Akira muses, delicately cleaning the reusable chopsticks one by one. There's something alarmingly sensual about it, and Sayaka can't help but stare. “Online, probably. I don't trust the stores around here to have taken my dimensions into consideration. Overseas shipping, but… necessary evil. I'll consult with you before I make any purchases, of course.” He gives her a peripheral glance, then pivots his head. “That's okay, right?”

Sayaka jolts out of her daze. “Oh, yes, of course.”

Akira, finished, lets the dirty dish water drain and helps towel off the remaining damp dishes. “Was I doing something wrong?” he asks. “You seemed… fixated.”

Sayaka feels a slight flush come on. She tries to distract herself by putting the dishes back in their designated places. “No, it's…” The tactic isn't working very well, and she can feel the lewdness creep over her, bit by bit. “You just have a way with your hands, is all…” As soon as she closes the cabinet, her task completed, Akira's arms wrap around her from behind and she faintly feels his breath on her nape.

“So do you,” Akira whispers in his most sultry voice, planting a tender kiss onto her neck.

They made love just this morning after waking up, and it was wonderful: a beautiful affirmation of what began last night. And all through the cooking and eating, her appetite for him quickly returned, if it ever diminished at all. These are the times that she lives for, when the man she fell in love with — or the next best thing — returns to her out of the blue, and fills her with all the affection and affirmation that had gone missing for months, or maybe even longer. Part of her feels a fool for always being so taken with him, every single time this happens, because in the end she's always left hurting and wanting more. But it would also be foolish to resist. Something so ephemeral must be enjoyed while it is present, for as long as it lasts.

Just a couple of words, a kiss, an embrace — so fiercely intoxicating. She lays her hands over his, finger upon corresponding finger, and soon they adjust to comfortably interlock digits. Akira plants another slow, luscious kiss behind her ear, which causes a little sigh of delight to escape Sayaka's lips. As his hands slip into her blouse, she feels the seeds of resistance sprout. “Akira…” Her voice is small and light. “Not here. Misato--”

His great height draped over her like a cloak, and slender, dextrous fingers slithering up her torso, he whispers back. “Don't worry. She's in the shower. We have time.”

Sayaka attempts to suppress her quickening respiration for just long enough to hear it. The characteristic sound of running water. The tub is already full, so Misato must be showering off prior to taking a soak herself. So, while Akira isn't wrong, “We don't need to take the risk.”

“Who cares if she catches us?” Akira says, disarmingly nonchalant. He kisses her again, this time on the cheekbone, giving her the slightest poke with his tongue. His hands find their targets, as well, and with a few gentle, rhythmic motions, he has Sayaka melting in his arms. Her neck jerks backwards and she gasps, and Akira leans down further, covering her mouth with his.

Sayaka reaches up to grasp his face tenderly, and their eyes meet. His long, thick lashes sweep her right into the glimmering, deep brown pools beyond, where she has lost herself so many times before. The pupils are gaping open, vulnerable, inviting her within to glimpse his beautiful yet fragile soul. Even as she becomes overcome with pleasure and lets her lids fall, he becomes no less visible to her. People have a radiance, and, when she is this close to someone, she can sense it. The light from them both is beginning to mix and meld once more.

They kiss deep and long, and when they break apart they're gasping for air, chests heaving and pulses quickened. Sayaka immediately feels a void. She needs to connect again. But she needs more than a kiss, much more. Pushing herself back against him, she feels something thick and solid poke back — he's as excited as she is. Anticipation overflowing, she sends a yearning smile up at him, and he returns the look. It's a wholly reflexive, genuine smile, one that exposes his endearingly crooked teeth and makes his eyes nearly vanish in a jovial squint. She wishes he would furnish them more often; he never looks as handsome.

Suddenly, Sayaka is overtaken by the queasy feeling that they're being watched, and her head reflexively spins toward the back of the house. The instant she visually registers that her daughter is standing on the verge between the family room and the back corridor, she practically rips herself from Akira's embrace. Staring down in shame, Sayaka wraps herself tightly in her arms, as if it will conceal her own indecent behavior. Akira has turned away from her, as well, and taken a couple of steps away. The moment has been utterly shattered.

She knew this was a bad idea… But it's her fault as much as his. If she'd laid down the law, he would have backed off, but she didn't want him to stop. Not really. His sense of spontaneity, sexual or otherwise, has been sorely missed, and it's hard to stop drinking once she's had a taste. Even if it might lead to compromising situations.

Perhaps in an attempt to break the deadlock of awkwardness, Akira starts acting as if nothing is amiss. He simply wanders into the family room, takes a seat on the couch, and picks up a bookmarked journal to peruse. Misato — hair clearly wet, already dressed for the day in jeans and a hoodie, and holding a tied-off bag of garbage — sends a glare in her father's direction, but it seems to be deflected by his turned shoulder.

Sayaka tries to pull herself together as Misato approaches the kitchen, looking for something, anything, to look busy with. Since they already cleaned up from the morning meal, there's not much, and she finally settles for picking obsolete notes off the front of the refrigerator. It's a pitiful attempt at saving face and Sayaka knows she's fooling no one, Misato least of all, but at least it takes her mind off her own unscrupulous behavior, even if it's only by the slightest amount.

Misato drops her trash bag — surprisingly full and hefty — next to the main bin. “Clean-up's done, Mom. I'll take the garbage out when I leave.”

Sayaka finally brings herself to make eye contact with her daughter. While Misato spares her the ugly, knowing glare — those are almost exclusively reserved for Akira — she cannot keep all traces of disapproval from her face. Nothing more need be said on the matter than the quiet fury hidden in Misato's eyes, which unflinchingly speaks, “You're the adults here, so act like it.”

Discomfort squirms in the pit of Sayaka's stomach. She wants to apologize, but that won't really help. All there is to do is keep moving until the tension dissipates, and make sure this never happens again. “That's wonderful. So you have about…” She glances at the wall clock with the birds and flowers frame Takkun had carved her, so long ago. “…an hour before you need to leave to do the schoolwork you mentioned.”

“Yep,” Misato affirms. “You and Dad will be gone by then, right?” It's hard not to interpret the question as a hope rather than something more innocuous.

“Most likely. By the way,” — Sayaka takes a moment to smooth out her skirt — “do you have any idea when you'll be home? We'll be making dinner and it would be nice to have you there.”

Misato's eyes roll around a bit as she contemplates this. “Hmmm… I'll try to be home by 6, I guess. I'll call you if that doesn't seem to work out.”

“Alright,” Sayaka says. “I'll hope it doesn't come to that.” Her eyes grow slightly somber and she lowers her voice. “I know you don't like being around him, Misato. I really do.”

Her daughter purses her lips and looks away, giving off a bit of impetuousness. Ever as stubborn as her father…

Sayaka gently turns Misato's face back and attempts to dissolve the girl's surly expression with a smile. “But it would mean the world to me for you to keep joining us. However long this lasts.”

Misato paws Sayaka's hand away. “Okay, Mom, okay. Don't worry.” She forces herself to smile back. “I'll be there.”

Sayaka doesn't force her to promise; that might be asking too much. For now, this is enough. She hugs Misato and pats her on the back. “You go hit the books. We'll let you know when we leave.”

“I can't guarantee I'll hear you,” Misato says, smirking.

She gives her daughter a playful shove. “Well, then, don't put the volume on so high until we're gone. You should be taking better care of your ears anyway.”

“…Seriously, Mom?” It's that borderline condescending tone of voice that people Misato's age can't seem to help but lapse into now and then. She means no harm by it, of course, and it's actually kind of cute, in its way. Sayaka knows that Misato is comfortable enough with her to drop the veneer of absolute politeness now and then. With Akira, it's very different: strained deference all the way. Though if it's a choice between that and how Misato wants to talk to him, forced manners are probably the better option…

“Think about it, anyway,” Sayaka says, waving Misato off.

Misato gives a little wave in return and drifts back in the direction of her room, making sure to quietly glare at her father again as she passes him by. If he notices, he gives no indication of it whatsoever.

Sayaka wanders over to him and lets herself hang over the back of the love seat. “You did good back there, Akira. A much more elegant recovery than mine.”

He replaces the bookmark and closes up the journal, replacing it onto the table. Then he simply sits there for a moment. Leaving his back turned to her, he finally says, “I'm really sorry, Sayaka. I… I don't know what I was thinking.”

She tenderly strokes his hair, prompting him to hesitantly look her way. “It's not your fault, Akira,” she says, keeping her tone as bright as possible. “I was quite into it, myself.” As scraggly as Akira's hair looks, it's actually quite soft, almost feathery. Sayaka misses the days when he kept it long and unruly — a visual and tactile delight — but those ended of necessity due to his rising position within the YTD faculty. The university placed increasing pressure on him to pursue more traditional grooming options, and, while Akira obviously didn't agree with it, he had more important battles to fight at the time. Maybe she'll ask him about it later, if the moment seems opportune.

“I suppose it's too late to try resuming things behind closed doors.” He sighs. “Perhaps it's for the best. I don't want to wear you out.”

“What a thing to say!” Sayaka scolds playfully, ruffling his hair up. “You know I'm perfectly capable of letting you know if I need a break, no guesswork required.” She switches tones from “vaguely maternal” to “amorous wife”. “But, yes, it's not a wholly bad thing. The sooner we get out, the sooner we can return to a potentially empty house.” She leans in and kisses him on the temple.

“I like the sound of that.” Akira rises to his feet, towering over Sayaka once more. “So, what's first? Shrine visit, right?”

“Yes,” Sayaka says with a slight nod of her head. “And you're absolutely sure you want to go, Akira? The last thing I want to do is bore you…”

“Silly question.” He grins. “Of course I'm sure.”

To be continued with more WAFF, until we have enough WAFF for an entire chapter of WAFFy goodness! (I'm attempting to cover this first weekend following Akira's little, er... mood swing.)

It also occurs to me that we're in desperate need of a Sayaka concept sketch. If you've been imagining a swarthier, significantly less curvy Misato with black hair & eyes and an Indian-style braid that goes down to her bum, that should be pretty close to the mark, but, still, a drawing would be nice.

On a random aside, the process of tuning up the latest A+S encounter prompted my beta reader to ask about Akira's... measurements. Oh dear. :shinji_blush:

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Postby IfallOnTragedy » Thu May 28, 2015 2:24 pm

I've been lurking up with this nice little ficlet for quite some time now. I do enjoy presetting stories that cover things that are often ignored. While I'm liking the setting and most of the characterization, I do have some well meaning critiques.

I'm well aware of your KKK theory and how that plays into this story but I feel as though that is somewhat of an issue to readers who are unaware. More than any other character (Kaworu included) readers should be trying to read Kaji into Dr. Katsuragi's mannerisms... but let's be honest, you seem to be fixated on making links between Kaworu and Dr. Katsuragi first and foremost, and risk alienating viewers who either, aren't familiar with your theory or (most importantly) don't ascribe to it, or simply take it as an attempt at fanwank... which is all it is.

As I'm reading your prechapter comments, I'm disheartened further. For example, I took Akira's tendency to pocket his hands as a Kaji-quirk, but when I read your comments I realized that you were trying to give him a Kaworu-vibe (I realize both Kaworu and Kaji pocket their hands, of course)... again, when you mentioned Akira singing, I once again thought "Kaji"... Koiuchi Yamadera, as many Japanese people know, is a renowned singer in Japan and has done a number of songs for different movies, gameshows and animated works (I heard he even did a number for Anima(tor) Expo) ... but, again, I learn that you once again were trying for another Kaworu comparison.

These Kaworu - Dr Katsuragi comparisons are necessarily not wrong, but I think you miss the point, if the aims of this work is to really explore Dr Katsuragi, not your self indulgent theory of Dr Katsuragi. The number one comparison should be Kaji Ryohji, but I'm failing to see explicit parallels, except for a few instances. It's also a little disheartening that you don't mention how Kaji works into here, but mention Kaworu more times in your comments and discussions than his name actually warrants.

Just my two cents. Anyways, keep up the otherwise good work.

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Postby Reichu » Thu May 28, 2015 3:15 pm

IFallOnTragedy: Thanks for the comments, and welcome to the world on non-lurker-dom! I'll try to address your main concerns, and apologies if I ever come across as over-defensive or whatever. -o-; Also apologies if this turns out a bit long... (Hmm, yeah, I end up rambling on a bit. Spoiler tags sound good.)

I provide a basic idea of my intentions regarding CM's relationship with canon back in the OP. (If you were following the thread from its inception: the disclaimers were added a bit later on, but I did indicate in-thread times when the OP was significantly overhauled.) This story will indeed be "self-indulgent", in so far as I'm going to pursue the ideas and angles that I find interesting, even IF they might conflict with the source material. Also, keep in mind, this isn't an exploration of "Dr. Katsuragi", the near-faceless cipher from the show. This is Dr. Akira Katsuragi -- he's been given a name & a face and represents my own vision of the man, nothing more and nothing less.

I've made no secret of the eventual plot point that Akira will, uh, "father" Kaworu -- not getting any more specific than that -- so that's the principal reason for the Kaworu emphasis right there.* Akira:Kaworu::Yui:Rei. Their connection is simply a part of the story. If people find that "alienating"... ¯\(°_o)/¯

Keep in mind that, while CM might have begun life as little more than a bunch of pet theories loosely strung together into a narrative, it's evolved significantly since then. One won't get a very accurate indication of the fic's overall direction from stuff I posted to the forum several years ago. My old posts might help forecast some of the plot points, sure, as many of my preoccupations remain constant... But "stuff that happens" (plot) isn't exactly the same as "stuff that matters" (characterization, theme, etc.). If CM winds up being nothing more than a glorified delivery system for "all the weird stuff that NGE made Reichu think about NGE", then I'll have failed, completely.

As far as Kaji goes, he is an important reference point for Akira's character, and I've given (and continue to give) significant amounts of thought to the matter. You may not agree with my interpretation, which is fine, but perhaps give the story a bit more time to show off the characters in a variety of situations before assuming the worst. There are some sides to Akira that we won't get a really good look at for a while.

The pockets thing is something that both Kaworu and Kaji do, and, since I've used traits of them both to construct Akira, it's frankly immaterial which one of them is specifically being referenced. Saying it's Kaworu isn't wrong; neither is saying it's Kaji. As for the singing angle: the back story for A+S reached its more or less current form years ago, so Akira and Sayaka were going to meet in a choir elective regardless. Though, that was probably prompted in the first place by Kaworu's whole "I heart music!" thing... So, okay, I wasn't specifically thinking about Yamadera being a singer, but, hey if it works? Embrace it! A lot of writing involves felicitous accidents, after all.

* (Also keep in mind that L.E. is a Kaworu fan and has been calling these details out, whereas there hasn't been anyone calling out every -- any? -- implied similarity to Kaji.)

Anyway, thanks again for being forthright with your opinion. I should mention, to you and whomever else, that I'm especially looking for comment and criticism on the more technical aspects, like writing, flow, internal consistency, and the like, if you notice anything along those lines that seems significant. And do I hope you stick with CM. You might be presently surprised, WRT some of the things you have inhibitions about. I can only hope... :sweatdrop:
Last edited by Reichu on Thu May 28, 2015 5:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby IfallOnTragedy » Thu May 28, 2015 4:41 pm

Fair enough. Rest assured I'll continue keeping up with CM. I feel urged to point this out only because there is a tendency to give Kaworu undue relevance in Fanfiction where other characters would be better suited if they weren't so ignored. With regards to Dr Katsuragi the primary relationship even with your KKK theory should be Akira:Kaji:Misato (Kaworu) not Akira:Kaworu:Misato (Kaji). Dr Katsuragi is only relevant because of Misato's legacy after all. Just a reason for my speaking up, but I will hold off any further reservations for later.

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Postby Reichu » Thu May 28, 2015 7:34 pm

IfallOnTragedy: For better or worse, I'm not too familiar with the fanfic scene on the whole. My feelings on Kaworu's actual role in the show and films are far from charitable, though I do find the character interesting "in theory", and I'll be exploring that, mostly through the abstracts and hypothetical... It'll probably be some time before any of it is especially relevant, however.

Just for old times' sake, my old pet theory was actually KKKK (K4), with Kaworu being one of the four. The whole point of that insanity, after all, was to (try, and fail, to) establish Misato's familial connection with Kaworu, mostly by way of (A) Kaji being a proxy for Dr. Katsuragi, and (B) the various links between Kaji and Kaworu. This might not have been entirely obvious on account of me abandoning the thread, or maybe just because I was being hopelessly incoherent from the start. :hahaha:

As I'm not entirely sure what you're expecting of the "Kaji" connection, here are some things worth keeping in mind, going forward:

1) Aside from a not-all-that-helpful comment in episode 20, Misato doesn't provide anything especially specific about which qualities her father and Kaji actually share. All we know is that they apparently do have some physical and/or personality characteristics in common -- at least, as far as Misato is concerned.

2) Misato's own image of her father will be necessarily distorted. She's been emotionally betrayed by him from an early age and deprived of opportunities to get to know him, so there's no avoiding strong bias. (Remember how she mentions "his friends always said he was sensitive", then promptly dismisses it?) A look at the man through eyes other than hers would certainly furnish a rather different, or perhaps simply more complete, picture.

3) Thus, whatever Misato sees of her father in Kaji is based on an incomplete/distorted conceptualization, making Kaji a very muddled version of the "original" at best.

4) Furthermore, Kaji has a habit of putting on airs, and many of his superficial behaviorisms deviate wildly from his underlying persona. I'm assuming it's the man behind the false swagger that Misato fell in love with, so I feel that many aspects of her father that Misato sees in Kaji could be traits that "Ryo-chan" typically subdues, if not conceals outright.

With all these monkey wrenches presenting themselves during the delightful process of attempting to reverse-engineer Dr. Katsuragi, suffice it to say that results will invariably vary quite a bit!

I know what you mean about Dr. Katsuragi's "relevance", but, out of curiosity, what bearing does this have on a story where the situation has been reversed? (That is, a sub-character has been elevated to protagonist, and a protagonist has been demoted to supporting character.)

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Postby Sailor Star Dust » Thu May 28, 2015 7:57 pm

Apologies for popping in at a random segments, just wanted to say I liked what you're doing with this. Akira (KyokoxAkira at that) existing in Bag's Ghosts fic makes me feel like we're getting some Akira-ception in here! :lol:

Love your prose and characterizations. Keep up the great work!
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Postby IfallOnTragedy » Thu May 28, 2015 8:01 pm

Under the spoiler. I don't want to derail this thread into an exchange that would be better suited in the Discussion Thread, by the way. Tell me when enough is enough ...

1) I don't think Misato needs to come out and say what qualities her father and Kaji actually share. (But there are no indications about qualities Kaworu and Dr Katsuragi share, if at all. Yui and Rei are very different people with very different mannerisms.) The show makes it clear that Kaji and Dr Katsuragi are both hard workaholics who have a very sensitive side to them. They both abandoned her. But you are right, Misato is not very forthright about any more similarities, mostly because ...

2) Yes, Misato's own image of her father is very distorted. She does a big amount of projecting really; she projects the traits she didn't like about Dr Katsuragi on Kaji when in truth it is Misato who turns out to be most like her father. Misato in 3.0 is her father's age after all.

3) For these reasons, it would be nice for a story about Dr Katsuragi to really dig into what similarities Kaji and Dr Katsuragi shared in truth, or maybe what Misato shares with her father that she would rather ignore.

4) I will give you that.

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Postby Reichu » Fri May 29, 2015 1:20 am

Announcement: I'm editing the OP with this and that, and it occurred to me, why not add a Japanese version of the title just for funzies? So here we go:

Crying Man

The bit in parentheses is supposed to be furigana. (You can pretend, right?) Hopefully I've used the correct conjugation of 泣く.

SSD: Lovely to see you in here! Have you read everything so far? I'm glad you're enjoying it. It's definitely gratifying to be getting this off my chest after so many years, and as one of my "confidants" there must be a certain amount of satisfaction for you, as well. :tongue:

"Akira-ception"... That took me a few seconds! I'm not sure whether to laugh, cry, or both. :lol: As it happens, learning about Bagheera's use of KyoAki is what spurred me into getting my act together. Whatever it takes, right?

IFoT: I think we're more or less on the same page, with regard to Kaji, so you'll get no argument from me. The "projection" angle is quite interesting, and I'm not sure I ever considered Misato's man issues from precisely that perspective. It makes sense, though, and fits very nicely into Eva's recurrent themes of children attempting to escape the sins of the parents.

Welp, back to my horrible sleep schedule and most likely doomed attempt to finish this chapter before the month ends.

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Postby Literary Eagle » Sat May 30, 2015 9:00 pm

Reichu wrote:Incidentally, there was a Kaworu tie-in back in chapter 8 that nobody seemed to pick up on. If anyone can find it, I bet it's you!

The name of Akira's drink? :D

As for the revised version of Chapter 9 Part A... Mmm, Akira with long hair? That sounds like a visual delight indeed! (And perhaps also a Kaji reference?)
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Postby Seele00TextOnly » Sun May 31, 2015 7:10 pm

Wow this has been quite a read! Very enjoyable and intriguing. I have basically nothing to offer in terms of critique and just wanted to make a public note of how I'm digging this. Ganbatte!
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Postby Reichu » Tue Jun 02, 2015 5:42 pm

Okay! After much self-administrated torture, I now present 9-B. I'll note in advance that there are a fair amount of Japanese terms present. The meaning of most should be evident from context, but to help mitigate confusion I'll provide a crude glossary.

Ch. 9 (Pt. B)  SPOILER: Show
It's a queer feeling, walking in public alongside her lanky, towering husband. So much time has passed since the last time they did this, they've once again become an unusual sight, one that elicits curious looks from people. Sayaka and Akira's muscle memories have faded, as well, and they have to remember the hard way how to keep step with each other. But the shrine isn't far, so there's no rush. It's a simple thing to take it nice, slow, and casual.

The walk is mostly quiet. It's nice, just being there with him, and he's been so emotionally present today that the current silence isn't remotely uncomfortable. She feels no anxiety over whatever he might be withholding, no pressure to fill the void with empty words. This is how it should always be.

Here and there, he shows her that she is on his mind, as well, by brushing his hand against hers or stroking one of her fingers. Each time, Sayaka acknowledges him, covertly poking or squeezing back. But as a simple matter of public decorum, she can't bring herself to take his hand outright. Not when they're so exposed; it would be unbecoming. And she's felt quite inappropriately exposed enough for one day. She'll make it up to him, later.

Their destination, Yoshida Jinja, is very close to the Kyoto University campus — rather conveniently placed for the students and faculty. Akira clearly wouldn't be among those taking advantage of its proximity, however. The sight of a torii means little to him, even less than to the average person for whom Shinto practices are typically seen as quaint and not taken particularly seriously. As Sayaka first discovered not long after she started dating “Katsuragi-kun”, Akira's early childhood years were either incredibly sheltered or spent overseas, with the result that he has little to no intuitive grasp of Japan's native spirituality. To this day, spiritual custom — of this kind, or of any other for that matter — remains “a thing that other people do”.

It was quite the unique situation for Sayaka. She grew up in Tamba — a quick jaunt west of Kyoto within Hyogo Prefecture —, with its veritable cornucopia of shrines, and raised by very traditional parents who impressed upon her the importance of custom and ritual. Even despite the best efforts of Sayaka's older sister Yura, a socially progressive rebel, to trump Mom and Dad's influence, Sayaka matured into a deeply spiritual person. For her, life is simply incomplete without a little extra something to tie the daily grind together into a more meaningful tapestry. It is only through existential awe and submission that she can ever find her peace of mind.

Because shrine ritual was so integral to the identity of Sayaka Katori — she wouldn't become Katsuragi for a few years yet! —, Akira naturally took an interest and made it a point to tag along with her and learn. His curiosity was largely detached and scholarly… or, at least, that was the impression he was trying to give off. Sayaka wasn't fully convinced. There was a nuance in his manner that implied there was more going on than some cold, empirical drive for knowledge.

They continue walking, and the red-orange gate of the shrine soon comes into view. In the corner of her left eye, Sayaka sees Akira button up his polo, concealing his Greek cross. She expected as much, as he showed the same impulsive urge to conceal it every other time she took him to a shrine, all those years ago. Truth to tell, the iconography of the cross has no spiritual clout in Japan; the scant minority of the population who do take it seriously are no match for, say, trends in fashion that popularize the “exotic”. No one thinks twice about someone walking through a torii wearing a cross or a crucifix. Sayaka had thus initially assumed that Akira wore one simply for aesthetic purposes, but, the first time she saw him hesitate and hide it, she knew he had inadvertently revealed a sensitive personal truth. The necklace actually meant something to him.

When the moment had seemed opportune, Sayaka gently prodded him about it. His immediate response, blurted out in a somewhat self-defensive tone of voice, was to insist, “No, I'm not Christian; it's just a family heirloom”. Very curious. With gradual probing and encouragement that took place over the next week or so, Sayaka finally discovered the interesting truth: Akira was born in Sapporo to an Orthodox Christian family. Both paternal and maternal sides belonged to the community of practitioners clustered up in Hokkaido, and he was raised with the intent of continuing this tradition of belief. However, for reasons he's never fully divulged, his parents' efforts utterly failed, leaving with a deep-seated contempt for Christianity that he made little attempt to disguise. Naturally, this provoked Sayaka to ask him, “If that's so, why do you choose to wear a cross?”

In response, Akira told her, “It's a fair question. I see nothing of myself anywhere in my family. I don't relate to them; I don't understand them; I don't even look all that much like them. That is, with the exception of a single person, who, in a cruel irony, died long before I could ever meet her.”

“Is this the one who originally owned that cross?” Sayaka asked.

Akira started absentmindedly fiddling with the pendant, a habit he's of course maintained to this day. “Yes. Her name was Kaworu Igara. My mother's aunt. She died of an unknown illness when she was only nineteen.”

“Oh… That's terrible.” Sayaka hadn't known how else to respond.

“Everyone loved her, so I heard a lot of stories, growing up. My grandparents told me that she was a prodigy, a genius, maybe even a polymath. Anything she attempted, she excelled at. I thought that perhaps they were embellishing a bit — you know, some misguided attempt to respect the memory of the deceased. But when I got old enough, they let me look at the huge collection of illustrated journals she'd left behind, and…” He started tearing up a little at that point. “I'm not sure their stories even did Aunt Kaworu justice. There was nothing there but brilliance. I couldn't stop crying, knowing that such a gentle and inquisitive mind had been taken from the world before she'd had a chance to truly make a mark.” Akira seemed as though he wanted to weep for her once more, but he restrained himself. Back in those days, he didn't lose himself to tears so easily.

Akira went on to explain that Igara-san was, like him, a person whose temple was the natural world; she worshiped the universe and all its mysteries. “When I read her prose and poetry, and saw her sketches and paintings,” he told Sayaka, “I knew that I wasn't so alone after all. Perhaps she didn't have any formal training, but the skills and the aptitudes were all there. There was scientist's blood in the family. I might not be her direct descendent, but I feel like I'm her… spiritual legacy. That's the only way I can describe it.”

Sayaka eventually saw those journals for herself, and the ample self-portraits Igara-san produced made her honestly wonder how Akira could be anything but the woman's grandson. The resemblance is so uncanny that they'd probably be facially indistinguishable if they were both aged down to 10 or younger. Small wonder he felt such a strong affinity to her.

Even so, “spiritual legacy” seemed to Sayaka like a somewhat confused description of Akira's perceived relationship with his great-aunt, being as Igara-san had been a Christian, at least nominally. For her, that cross had most certainly been a display of faith. Considering Akira's attitude toward his family and their monotheism, why would he give Igara-san a pardon? Sayaka was left to puzzle this apparent conflict out herself, with only the old journals as her guide. And it quickly became apparent that the way the woman wrote about her belief was so beautiful and profound that it transcended boundaries. Her spirituality was unbound by dogma and bereft of alienating, judgmental doctrine. Sayaka found it incredibly moving, and perhaps something in Akira had been stirred, as well.

Sayaka has tried many times to ask Akira about his relationship with the spiritual — if, despite his antipathy toward certain ideologies, he actually does feel something, anything, within his heart. To the last, he's played himself up as a straight-laced man of science, avoiding the actual content of her inquiries in lieu of digressions on meme theory, advancements within metaphysical biology, or whatever else. “The gods are within ourselves,” he once told her. “That's all there is.” Superficially, this comment came across as demeaning and insensitive — Akira has full knowledge of Sayaka's own proclivities, after all — but, as far as she was concerned, he sounded as though he was trying to convince himself with those words more than anyone else.

What if the simple fact is that Akira doesn't know? He doesn't know what he feels, but he wishes he did? In lieu of a solid, unambiguous answer, it might be easier for him to pretend that he's empty inside — as unlike his family as unlike can be. Perhaps, in truth, Igara-san's cross hangs there as more than a mere emblem of kinship: rather, it's a reminder of where Akira came from, and where he would, in his heart of hearts, like to eventually find himself.

…All mere whimsy on Sayaka's part, as she doubts she'll ever know for certain. Some things about Akira are doomed to remain mysteries.

“You don't need to hide it, you know,” Sayaka reminds him. “The gods won't judge you for keeping her memory close.”

He grimaces ever so slightly. “I know, but… it just makes me feel better.”

“Some things never change,” she titters. “It's kind of reassuring, in a way.”

“I suppose so.” His neck tilts back as he regards the gateway that towers over even him. “I'm just trying to remember what I do now… This shouldn't be so hard, I know.”

Sayaka laughs again. “Okay, first you bow. Come on, you forgot that?”

Akira scratches the back of his head. “Well, there are many ways to bow, you know...”

“Don't worry so much, Akira. Come on, bow with me.” And they do. “You remember where on the sando we can't walk, right?”

“It's… the very middle, I think?”

“See, it's coming back to you.” She smiles. “We'll take the left side of the path, which means left foot first, okay?”

He nods, and, together, they proceed to a place that still belongs to the gods.


The brilliant reds and oranges of the jinja grounds' trees are a perfect complement to the orange-red paint coating the scattered torii along with many of the shrines' structures. Autumn truly is a wonderful time to visit sacred places. Sayaka intends on making many other such trips before the leaves have all fallen, and it would be lovely if she doesn't have to make them alone.

“It's beautiful here, isn't it?” she remarks.

Akira hums in agreement. “Definitely has a calming effect. I wish I realized this was here all this time. Especially during the summer months.”

Sayaka leads the way to their first destination, the purification pavilion. “Why summer specifically?”

“The cooling effect of foliage.” He indicates the semi-canopy formed by the branches aloft. Rather blunt and… scientific of him, but of course he's not wrong. Sayaka's noticed that even the garden she maintains in their tiny yard makes a difference during the grueling hot months. Maybe that's part of the reason she's never given up on it. She never thought about it that way, to be honest.

“Yes, of course,” Sayaka agrees. “Well, you know you're welcome here, whenever you wish to come.”

“I'll certainly keep it in mind.”

They approach the chozuya, and Akira once again gets that tentative and nervous look to him. Sayaka ushers him toward the basin beneath the pavilion, where dozens of ladles await.

“Remember,” Sayaka instructs, “before we can proceed, we must purify ourselves. I know you won't like this, but” — she extends her right hand to grasp the wooden handle of the hishaku, and turns the end into the basin to fill it with water retrieve — “you have to start with your right, and use that to wash your left.”

Akira motions to begin, but he's clearly preoccupied: looking all around, probably checking for the presence of other, better-versed visitors who might give him a scrutinizing glare or two. Fortunately the shrine isn't incredibly busy right now, but it isn't empty, either. Oh, her husband can be all too self-conscious at times… and all that worrying makes him absentminded and inattentive. Despite Sayaka's instruction, he follows his instinct and goes for the hishaku with his dominant hand.

“Right hand, Akira,” Sayaka gently reminds him.

“Sorry, sorry.” And he corrects this.

Sayaka guides him the rest of the way through the purification process. His memory is indeed quite dusty, but she supposes it can't be helped. As she anticipated, Akira shows hesitation when it comes to cleansing his mouth.

“You want me to—?” he blurts. “Is this really the only way?”

“You're worried the chozubachi isn't sanitary?” Sayaka asks. “I've never had any problems. You're not expected to swallow, you know. Just do it like so.” She transfers water from the ladle into a cupped palm, drinks, gargles, and finally spits it out over the side of the basin. Judging from Akira's reaction, he doesn't like this idea one bit. …How did they resolve this last time? It really has been too long. She makes an assumption for the sake of expedience. “You've done this before, haven't you?”

His face twists in apprehension, like a sullen child who doesn't want to do something. Sayaka can't help but laugh at how silly he looks. “What? What's so funny?” he protests.

Sayaka tries to keep her bearings, but his tone of voice only adds to the effect. “It's just that face you're making… It's too much!” Despite her best efforts, her laughs only get more uncontrolled.

Akira can't help but crack a grin. “Well, isn't this unseemly?”

Sayaka catches her breath. “A bit, a bit. Okay.” She straightens up, throws her braid over her shoulder, and tries to reclaim her sense of decorum. “Let's see you wash your mouth. Even if you do get sick, how bad could it be? You know I'll take care of you.” That came out a bit more flirtatious than she'd intended…

…and he notices. Clasping a hand to his chin and cocking his head at her, he smoothly replies, “Is that so? Should I feel disappointed if I don't get sick, then?”

If they were anywhere else, she would have dashed him with water right then and there. But she restrains herself, barely. “Oh, you. Just hurry up, will you?”

“Fine, fine.” He finally rinses, gargles, and spits. Sayaka then shows him how to purify the handle of the hishaku, and they restore their ladles to their original places and proceed further in.

They pass beneath another torii and reach a large open area straddled by various structures large and small along with stone stairways leading up the forested slopes to various minor enshrinements. A number of people are clustered around the kiosk, purchasing charms, fortunes, and plaques. Akira looks over at the activity curiously, but Sayaka assures him, “We'll worry about all that on the way out. There's still a way to go yet before we get to the Daigengu.”

“Daigengu?” he repeats.

“It's a bit of a super-shrine, you could say.”

“Is that the proper nomenclature?” he teases.

“I don't think the proper term would mean much to you,” Sayaka rags back. She grabs one of his arms and starts pulling him along, toward a continuation of the main path that goes uphill to places unseen.

“True, that,” Akira concedes, walking in step with her. Once his arm has been freed, he makes a fresh attempt for Sayaka's hand. This time, she lets him have it, for a brief time. There aren't so many prying eyes here right now.

They pass the small shrine to Yamakage on the path's right side. Further up, on the left, is their destination, the Daigengu Saijosho, an octagonal building topped by a thatched roof. Normally, it's closed save for special occasions, but, in these final few months to the turn of the new millennium, worshipers are being afforded many additional opportunities to ask the myriad gods enshrined here for their favor. When they reach the wooden coin box, Sayaka gestures Akira to stop.

He blinks at the box. “Ah, I think I remember this part.” Hands go into pockets and start rummaging. “Not sure I have any change in the appropriate amounts, though.”

Sayaka chortles a little — he's too cute. “Not to worry. I came prepared.” She reaches into one of the side pockets of her small shoulder bag and produces two 50 yen pieces. With a nod, Akira receives them and deposits them into the box. They proceed toward the Daigengu, where there is a small line and they must quietly wait their turn.

Akira as usual can't escape a couple of curious and surprised looks, but he provides no reciprocal eye contact, nor any visible reaction at all; he just stands there, unmoved, his further hand casually pocketed. After the crowd has shrunken down to them and those currently praying, he asks, “So, why are we visiting this one in particular?”

“The Daigengu Saijosho is interesting. It was constructed to enshrine every god mentioned in the Engishiki.” Sayaka notes that he looks confused already. “There's no way you don't know what the Engishiki is!”

Akira shifts his weight a little and cracks a grin. “Okay, I admit it. I did pay attention in class.”

“So why the baffled look?” she asks.

“It's just… from what I recall, that's a lot of kami, isn't it? On the order of thousands, right?”

“3,132, to be precise,” Sayaka says.

Akira scratches his chin. “Isn't having all of them in one place like this sort of like cheating?”

“Well, I suppose that's one way to look at it,” Sayaka says. “It's said that one can be conferred all their blessings simply by praying here, instead of taking a pilgrimage across Japan. But that seems to require so little work on my part, I'm not sure I really accept it. So… I'm only going to pray to a select few.”

He nods. “Makes sense to me.”

Sayaka gives him a gentle smile. “You're prepared to join me, right? Don't be afraid of doing it wrong. Even if you can't think of any particular kami to call to, simply open your pure heart to them and make your wishes known.”

Akira is looking visibly more nervous, but he nods again.

Do you remember how to pray?” Sayaka asks. “I'll be preoccupied, so I won't be able to walk you through it when we get up there...”

He thinks for a moment, then attempts to perform the ritual from memory. Two complete bows of the head — good. He then claps twice — good, but his form is off. Sayaka adjusts his hands so the left is a bit higher. “Left side is kami, right side is you, so keep your left hand higher. Bring your palms further apart when you clap, too.” Akira tentatively widens the gap until Sayaka approves. “There, that does it. You clap twice like that, and then” — she places her palms together the usual way — “you offer your prayer.”

Akira tries again according to her instruction, without issue this time. “And then I let my arms drop and I bow again, correct?”

“Perfect!” Sayaka says. “But as I said, don't worry about getting it 100%. You're out of practice, after all.”

Akira starts straightening out his windbreaker and patting his pants off, as if such minutiae make any difference to the gods. “I'll do my best.”

The couple ahead of them finishes and departs, giving Sayaka and Akira a curious look as they go. Doubtless they're wondering how a man Akira's age can be not only so tall, but so clueless. No matter. Together they approach the Daigengu and stand on the appointed platform. Not remotely in synchronization, they bow and clap, then begin their prayers.

Sayaka briefly lets herself forget that she has company, as all her attention and energy is, for this moment, channeled toward the spirit realm. She calls to the great mother Amaterasu Ōmikami and to the Lucky Gods Hotei, Jurojin, Fukurokuju, and Benten-sama for their blessings. Now, more than ever, she needs good fortune to shine upon her and her family. Whether Akira accepts the UN's offer or not… Depending on the choice Akira makes, possibly even regardless of his choice, Sayaka has little doubt that new hardships will soon be upon them. All of them. His mood, and hers, may be brightened right now, but day always yields to night. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, she needs the power to shelter it and come through intact. She needs Akira to not lose sight of who he is and what's most important. She needs Misato to show as much tolerance and forgiveness as she can, for without her cooperation… Akira can never hope to repent.

Please… Give all of us the strength we need to do what must be done and to survive whatever ordeals await us.


On the way back to the entrance, Sayaka's curiosity overwhelms her. “Did you end up asking the gods for anything, Akira?”

He offers a wry smile. “Perhaps. But that's between me and them.”

She laughs. “I can respect that.” Certainly, she has no intention of making public what she wished for.

Before they leave, she insists on stopping by the kiosk to draw lots. Akira can't help but roll his eyes a bit. “Fortune-telling, Sayaka? It's just a game of numbers, you know…”

“Oh, don't be such a stick in the mud,” Sayaka reproves. “Be a little adventurous. Have a little fun, won't you?”

“Are you implying that I'm not those things?” he asks, nearly pouting. Sayaka, yet again, can't take the expression seriously. Perhaps Misato can still pull off that face, but her father, not so much, and Sayaka succumbs once more to barely constrained guffawing. Fortunately, Akira finds the humor in it and breaks out his adorable toothy grin.

After they've received their omikuji, they step away to a convenient spot to unroll the slips and see what awaits them. Sayaka looks at her overall fortune first, which says, “Uncertain, but a little luck” — one step away from crossing into outright misfortune. A tad discomforting, and she frowns in spite of herself. Glancing over the various subcategories, most don't feel especially relevant to her right now, if at all. For instance, Now is a good time to start renovating your home. It's a nice thought, but with their ever-looming financial issues, wouldn't it be needless, indulgent risk? Then again, all it says is “start”, so…

Current preoccupations cause her eyes to gravitate to “Love”, which tells her, Love will continue to flow your way, as long as you receive it with an open heart. Far more encouraging than she anticipated. However, “The One You Wait For” bothers her far more than something on a silly, randomly drawn roll of paper ought to: Will never come, is all it says.

The ambiguity is irksome, since it could mean almost anything. The first person who comes to mind is Yura, as Sayaka's been waiting a couple of weeks now for her to call. Getting worried over that feels foolhardy, though; Yura's just been overbooked from expanding her company, nothing more. Another possibility is Akira, in a more metaphoric sense, as it's certainly true that her life with him involves a good deal of waiting for things that might never come. But Sayaka struggles to make this interpretation fit their current circumstances. There is a fair chance that the person in question could be neither Yura nor Akira — but, if so, then who could it possibly be?

“Sayaka?” Akira asks. “Are you okay?”

She quickly rolls the slip up. “I'm probably taking it too seriously…”

“Not so good?” he asks.

Sayaka sighs. “Ambiguous. You know how these things are.”

He smiles. “Naturally. Keeping them ambiguous means they're more likely to turn out 'correct'.”

“Of course,” she agrees, just for argument's sake. Sayaka goes to the nearby rack and adds her omikuji to the countless others tied there. Looking at Akira, she clarifies, “Here, the bad luck can slowly be turned to good. Well… I can only hope.”

He simply nods.

Sayaka starts to lead the way out. “So, what did you get? Something better than me, I hope?” She gives him a careful look-over, but the slip is nowhere to be seen.

Akira pats the side of his windbreaker, indicating he already stowed the omikuji away. “Can't complain. To be honest, though, I only looked at the luck rating.”


“Yeah.” He shrugs. “Figure I'll check out the rest in a month or so and see how accurate the thing actually is.”

She chuckles. That's such an Akira kind of thing to do…

He slips his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “So after this it's just some food shopping, right?”

“Just for the couple of things I forgot yesterday,” Sayaka says. “Unless there's something you're interested in making yourself.”

“Hmm,” he considers. “We'll see.”

Glossary & Links  SPOILER: Show
This will be incredibly basic, as I'm only just starting to learn about this stuff myself. If you wish to know more about anything, Google is a glorious thing. Further down, I also provide some of the sources that helped me put this sub-chapter together.

Shinto: Ancient Japanese form of spirituality. Approximately means "the way of the gods/spirits".

Kami: Very, very roughly equivalent to the concept of "spirit", as in a living spiritual force associated with an aspect of nature (forest, mountains) or culture (business, war). Even normal people can be elevated to kami and enshrined. In accordance with typical translation conventions, I typically just go with "gods". Don't conflate kami too heavily with western concepts of deities, especially monotheistic ones, and you should be fine. (We're going to ignore the fact that the Japanese language itself calls the Abrahamic God "kami".)

Jinja: One of the many Shinto words denoting the concept of "shrine". This can refer both to the larger shrine complex (e.g. Yoshida Jinja) and the small constructions within the complex that enshrine one or more kami (e.g. Yamakage Jinja).

Torii: Large gates with characteristic cross-beams at the top, marking the entrance to the shrine and placed at various junctions further within the complex. Ones constructed from wood are painted a striking deep red-orange color with black trim.

Hokkaido: Japan's northernmost island. An attempt to establish Orthodox Christianity was made here, and major historical churches can be found in cities such as Sapporo and Hakodate. Hokkaido is also the last bastion of Japan's indigenous people, the Ainu. (If you've seen Princess Mononoke, the concept should feel familiar. Think "Ashitaka".) And, yes, Sapporo is the home of Sapporo Beer.

Sando: The path approaching either a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. When approaching the former at least (don't know about the latter), you are not to walk the middle of the path, as that section is reserved for the kami.

Chozuya & Chozubachi: Chozuya is a pavilion where purification via water must be undertaken before entering the shrine. The chozubachi is the basin containing the water.

Hishaku: Ladles provided at the chozuya for retrieving and dispensing water. They have wooden handles and the cup portion may be metal. When purifying one's mouth, drinking directly from the hishaku is a big no-no.

Daigengu Saijosho: Described in the story, but the name and title roughly means, "Ceremonial Site and Shrine of the Great Origin".

Engishiki: A 10th century 50-volume book about Japanese law and custom. The first 10 volumes pertain to worship.

Amaterasu Oomikami: Also known as just Amaterasu, or by various extremely long titles of respect. The goddess of the sun (her name means "Heavenly Brilliance") and perhaps the most important Shinto kami, sometimes worshiped to the exclusion of all others.

Lucky Gods: Only Hotei, Jurojin, Fukurokuju, and Ben(zai)ten are mentioned, but there are seven kami of good fortune altogether. (I did see some lists with eight kami instead, so color me confused.) Wikipedia article, if you're curious what their individual attributes are.

Omikuji: A "divine lot". A fortune presented via a small rolled-up slip of paper which may be purchased at a Shinto shrine for a tiny stipend. Traditionally, you draw a number via lottery and receive a specific omikuji that way, but it's also common for the slips to just be laying out, allowing one to be chosen at random. They provide an overall fortune via a luck rating, on a graded scale ranging from excellent luck to curse-tier bad luck. Small written fortunes are also provided in various categories like love, business, home, and travel. A "bad" omikuji can be tied to a rack or trees provided at the shrine in the hopes that the gods will turn the bad luck to good.

Some useful links:

- Perspectives towards understanding the concept of kami (Long and technical, if you're into that)
- Japanagos: Visiting a shinto shrine (how to pray, what to do) (YT video presented by an adorable bilingual lady. Must see!)
- Fuji Travel Guide: How to Pray in a Japanese Shrine or Temple (English is a bit broken, but I found the page useful)
- Yoshida Shrine's home page (in Japanese)
- Green Shinto: Yoshida Shrine & Daigengu Saijosho
- Japan Religions: Yoshida Jinja (background plus lots of photos)
- Next Stop - Japan: Omikuji
- The Kyoto Project: Omikuji (Also describes omamori and ema,
- Inside the Shrine - Shintō Concepts, What’s What (Far more detail than I delve into, but a great source if you wish to explore further.)

Hmm, that's all I bookmarked, looks like. :tongue:

Notes  SPOILER: Show
Glance through the glossary if you haven't, for the bit on Hokkaido if nothing else.

Oh my, quite a backstory dump we got there. Sure felt good to get that out! I rewrote sections of it so many times that I will definitely need to be careful, going forward, about what actually made it in and what's still populating my "chapter 9 discards" document.

Attempting to wrap my head around Shinto and its concepts is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and I'm sure I got a lot wrong with Sayaka's POV. I honestly have NO IDEA how someone like her, who takes Shinto practice seriously, would approach the matter of spirituality with Akira, whose practical experience is with the radically different concepts embodied by Christianity. Doesn't help that I haven't yet dived into the available English language literature on Christianity in Japan to establish whether or not the forms it takes over there are appreciably different from what we're used to... Anyway, I'm trying, and adjustments will almost certainly be made as I learn more.

I've tried to at least stress that Sayaka is interested in SPIRITUALITY, not FAITH. When she does mention faith, it's with regard to "Igara-san", for whom the concept of "faith" might have actually meant something. Hence, when it comes to Akira, Sayaka is curious about how he positions himself with regard to the life energies and their flow, and so forth. Methinks that's going to be a tough nut to crack, Saya-chan...

The "great mother Amaterasu" thing is admittedly an Okami reference. Possibly not gratuitous, though. Speaking of Okami, I really want to play it again now...

The bit about Daigengu being open more often during the countdown to the new millennium is totally made up and I have no idea if a Shinto shrine would do something like that. In real life, Yoshida Shrine's Daigengu is only open on the first of every month, plus for New Year's and a couple of festival days. This didn't work with the in-story calendar, though, so... meh.

Being out of Akira's head for so long is an odd sensation. I'm still not 100% sure when we'll be returning. Eventually, natch, I just haven't decided the exact moment.

There's probably something important I neglected to mention, but, eh.

Literary Eagle: Yep, his drink it is! As for the hair... Hmm, at this point I feel a weird pressure to just not say anything one way or another. Keep the guesses coming, though! It's fun (and informative) to be privy to the thoughts my writing plants in the minds of others. :sly:

Seele00TextOnly: Thanks for the props! You've been a great help. I suppose I'll need to add you to the acknowledgments next time I update the OP. :D
Last edited by Reichu on Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Literary Eagle » Wed Jun 03, 2015 12:21 am

It was nice to get a little more insight into what makes Sayaka tick. Looks like we got some more insight into Akira as well, with the identity of his "muse" finally revealed. Ooh, and we even got to find out her name. It's... it's... oh. Oh my. Well now. Guess that would explain how the name of that drink caught Akira's eye in Chapter 8, heh. But wait, does this mean that... um, maybe I should put this in a Spoiler box just in case.

Okay, there is no way that Tabris being called Kaworu is a coincidence, is there? His name even has the same uncommon spelling, "Kaworu" instead of "Kaoru"! But what does this mean? Was Akira deliberately trying to create a child in the Contact Experiment, and intended to name it after his muse? For what purpose?

Or is it that Akira had no idea this would happen, and after Akira's death someone else chose that name for the child? If that's the case, it would have to be someone who knew about Akira's muse, though. Hmm, interesting.

Congratulations, Reichu, now you've got me even more hooked on this story than before! Please continue! :D
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Postby jcmoorehead » Sat Jun 06, 2015 6:28 am

Finally managed to catch up with this and really enjoying it. Akira is a very engaging and interesting character and I like the way you've built up the Katsuragi household. I am looking forward to see how it progresses moving forward and I'm really happy I've caught up with it :)

Sorry I can't really offer any sort of critique beyond saying I'm enjoying it, never really been something I've done. I love to read/write the stuff but never been too great at the critique side, just sort of gone along with it :)

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Postby Reichu » Thu Jun 11, 2015 8:59 pm

Literary Eagle: :kaos_oni:

Good on remembering Akira's “muse”! Your speculation brought a smile to my face, as well. As long as I stay on target, all your inquiries should eventually get addressed in some fashion or another. (Some more “eventually” than others.) You're going to have a lot of fun with CM, looks like!

jcmoorehead: Thanks for commenting! Glad you're enjoying things so far. :D


Well, what I had intended to be just one chapter looks like it will spill over into two. Chapter 9 concludes with this installment, and Akira and Sayaka's weird but wonderful weekend will resume in Chapter 10. With the split, I'm renaming 09 "The Crossroads". 10 will pick up "High Times" assuming I don't think think the better of it. I mean, it fits and all, but the association is... unfortunate.

This segment includes a small plot point that I neglected to foreshadow in my typical “gloss over a line and you miss it” way, so let me correct that by making a tiny amendment to chapter 5…

Four [photographs] altogether, each in a miniature standing frame, they occupy the middle of the desk's south-facing edge. They're arranged by date: newest on left, oldest on right. The left three depict Akira and Sayaka at various points in their lives. In the oldest, they seem to be in their early 20s and posed together on a mountain overlook, most of Kyoto visible in the basin below. In the next, they're aged mid-to-late 20s and in the midst of their Shinto wedding ceremony. In the newest, they're both 30 or close to it, at a cherry blossom festival with a very young and joyous Misato, whom Akira carries piggy-back on his shoulders, along with a thin but lively Akita puppy tethered to a leash Sayaka holds.

And now for our update proper:

Ch. 9 (Pt. C)  SPOILER: Show
On the way to the store, they both realize that they're actually a bit hungry. Shopping on an empty stomach is always a mistake, so Akira suggests a burger place. That kind of indulgence is unusual for him, but Sayaka hardly sees it as a bad thing and happily obliges. It's nice to see Akira act as famished as he looks: he orders two deluxe burgers as if it's the most natural thing in the world. Sayaka goes for something small and simple.

While a cool enough day to necessitate wearing jackets, as the shrine visit demonstrated it's lovely outside and they opt to eat on a bench beneath a tree, on the outskirts of a small park. Sayaka wonders if the temperature will hold up long enough to have dinner while admiring the autumn blooms in the yard. She neatly unwraps her own sandwich and takes a first tiny nibble. Meantime, Akira is assaulting his — huge bites, barely chewed before he takes another.

“Remember, Akira,” she says. “Pace yourself.”

There's nothing left of the first burger by the time he acknowledges her. “I just feel so hungry. Like I could eat five of these things!” In haste, he starts unwrapping the next one… then abruptly stops. His gaze is somewhat distant, and not a little fixated.

Sayaka looks out into the crowd and she soon sees what must be the target of Akira's attentions: a young family. The parents have a fresh and energetic look to them and must be early 30s at the latest. There's a young daughter, no more than four, and an Akita puppy as well. They huddle on the edge of the walkway, sharing drinks from a water bottle attached to a lanyard. The little girl tries to grab for the leash, but her father playfully rebukes her. He crouches down and pats her head, then the slightly jealous dog's, while telling her something. A moment later, he rises, and they all proceed into the park and quickly vanish from sight.

Akira, without breaking his now-vacant stare, prompts, “That was us, once.” His eyes narrow slightly. “Kimiko would probably still be alive if it weren't for…” He doesn't finish, instead taking a more reasonable bite of his second burger.

Sayaka wonders if she should dare instigate. Things have been going so well today, the last thing she wants is for Akira to be twisting himself in knots over something from a decade ago. Then again, he might actually want to talk about it, and denying him that opportunity while he's so emotionally open… Providing encouragement right here, in public, is a terrible idea, but she worries that if she doesn't ask him now, she'll never know. In her experience, nothing is certain within the first few days of an Akira mood shift…

She swallows her apprehensions and forces the question out. “…If it weren't for Misato?”

Akira gently shakes his head. “No. The car.” He takes another bite and chews it slowly and thoughtfully. “I can't blame Misato. She didn't know any better.”

Sayaka isn't sure what to say, so all she provides is an understanding nod. Did she actually expect him to blame Misato, or did she only say that for rhetorical purposes? It slightly troubles her that she doesn't actually know.

She's a bit surprised to hear Akira bring up the dog. He hasn't mentioned her in… Sayaka honestly can't remember the last time. There's so much pain associated with that one meek creature. Not just Akira's, either.

When Misato was still very young, only two or so, Akira found a half-starved Akita puppy on his walk home from the campus. After allowing a vet's ministrations, Akira nursed the puppy back to health himself, eventually naming her “Kimiko” after a dear childhood friend. He told Sayaka that he'd actually always wanted a dog, but life had never granted him that luxury. Sayaka was perhaps a little iffy on dogs — more of a bird person herself — but it was hard for her to say no.

As a father, Akira had been a little shy and inhibited before Kimiko entered his life — but, somehow, that dog changed everything. Misato naturally showed an interest in the puppy and what was required to win her trust, maintain her, and so on, providing Akira a perfect way to have meaningful one-on-one interactions with his daughter. Sayaka watched in delight as Akira involved Misato: letting her accompany him on dog walks and help with feeding, training, grooming, and so on. Kimiko came to love Misato nearly as much as she did her master. And Akira came to understand Misato much better, and feel much greater confidence in his abilities as a parent.

One day, Misato — at three-something, still so very young — attempted to emulate Akira and walk Kimiko on her own, only to lose control of the leash. Sayaka, at work when she received word of what had happened, quickly found someone to cover for her and rushed home. As she consoled the distraught Misato, Akira swept the neighborhood as best he could before nightfall. He turned up empty. The next day, they received a call: someone had discovered poor little Kimiko on the side of the road.

Akira was heartbroken. He was already under considerable stress at the time: Dr. Amagiri had recently retired and moved to Australia, leaving the department in a state of flux and Akira without his surrogate father; and Haru was all but unavailable, dealing with the dangerous complications of Risa's second pregnancy. The ability to bond with Misato through Kimiko had been one of the few things keeping Akira tethered. Once that was gone, Sayaka helplessly watched him drift further and further into deepest despair, until the loving, devoted husband and father she'd known was all but gone.

He was too wrapped up in his own dark shroud of pain to be able to feel or care about anyone else's. Akira could no longer love, nor even respond to love. And as he missed day after day of work, Sayaka feared for what might happen if he never shook out of it. At Yura's behest, Sayaka sought out part-time work: “Get your foot in that door now, girl, before it's too late.” When she was home, it was outright painful to watch Misato attempt to reach her father again and again, only to meet an unresponsive wall of sadness. When Akira cried — frequently, and at length — the poor girl assumed it was all because of what happened to Kimiko, and Misato kept trying to make it up to him. She'd been a “bad girl” and “hurt Daddy”, so if only she became good, she could make everything better.

Only… things didn't get better. Not really.

One day, with stunning abruptness, it seemed as though Akira had been completely freed of everything burdening him. In his own words, he felt light as a feather and radiant as a star. The man was talkative and outgoing again, pulsing with so much vital energy it was hard to believe he'd so recently been withdrawn and desolate. Akira returned to work, intent on compensating for his absence with all due diligence and industriousness. His appetite for love-making also returned — with a vengeance, one might say.

While all that was encouraging in its way, quickly it became apparent that Akira had not actually returned to himself. He had once been dedicated to balancing his time between work and family, but such concerns seemed to have evaporated. Akira became guided by whimsy rather than responsibility, staying at work to all hours, apparently doing nothing but documenting the myriad ideas pouring into his head. “I can't stop,” he claimed. “If I do, something incredible might be lost forever.” Keeping that channel between his brain and otherworldly inspiration open was all he could think about. During the rare moments Akira was home, Sayaka would try to interest him in the world outside his head, but he was wholly oblivious to the lives of his wife and daughter. Unless he had an immediate use for them — people to listen, people to feed him, people to love him — it was as if she and Misato didn't exist at all.

Before these events commenced, Sayaka would never have considered herself one predisposed to melancholy. However, being a powerless spectator to not only Akira's perverse transformation, but to the toll taken on young, innocent Misato, so abruptly deprived of the gentle father she'd loved… Sayaka found herself following Akira's stead and surrendering to tears again and again. Misato assumed that this, too, was somehow her fault, and nothing Sayaka said could make her daughter understand. A once joyful and energetic girl, Misato quickly became solemn, aged beyond her years, and completely devoted to being a well-behaved, helpful child.

As time passed, the nature of Akira's affliction revealed itself with greater and greater clarity. His inner harmony had been hopelessly disturbed, cleaving him in two, into his respective yin and yang: the hopelessly crippled melancholic and the charismatic but self-absorbed workaholic. Rather than reconcile, they continued to fight bitterly for control of Akira's body, leaving nothing but ruin in their wake. Of his original self — the level-headed, good-humored, gentle and generous man Sayaka had fallen in love with — there was seemingly nothing left.

Misato was a perceptive girl. As it became evident that her father was completely unreliable and could not provide what she needed, she slowly but surely adjusted her expectations. Her sad, desperate desire for paternal love and recognition eventually faded to resigned hopelessness… and even that, in time, was replaced by aloof rage. Sayaka may not share Misato's sentiments exactly, but she certainly understands them. She's never tried to tell Misato that her feelings are wrong, because they're not. From Misato's perspective, she was cruelly deprived of the father she was promised. Whatever Akira's reasons were, however out of his control the situation may have been... no one can shoulder the burden of that failure but him.

Akira crumbles up the wrapping of his second burger and deposits it into the paper take-out bag. “I wonder… Does Misato still feel guilty about that?”

Sayaka considers. “I'm not sure she remembers it at all, to be honest.”

His head hangs for a moment. “I see,” he says. From the look on his face, there is a tumult of troubling thoughts bubbling beneath the surface, but he seems to be suppressing them for now. Sayaka longs to know what they are, but she already feels as though she's tempted fate enough on this bench. As much as she likes to worry, it actually is quite unlikely that Akira will regress to a withdrawn state in a matter of mere hours. Once they do their shopping and get home, they can discuss everything that's on their minds without issue. If he doesn't bring it up himself, Sayaka will be sure to ask, though she doubts she'll need to.

Akira collects their garbage and disposes it into the nearest trash receptacle, and they try to leave the gloom of that moment behind.


At the grocery, Sayaka quickly finds what she needs: tamari, a cucumber, and a kilogram of beef. Aside from a bottle of ginjo sake, Akira contributes nothing to the basket. “You already planned tonight's meal out,” he says. “No need for me to mess things up. I'm fine just helping.”

Sayaka feels slightly disappointed. When she made the suggestion to him earlier, about him contributing his own ideas to dinner, she'd actually hoped for him to show some more of his old gung-ho kitchen spirit and mix things up. Perhaps she just needs to ease him back into it, though. “I haven't made any plans for tomorrow. That's something we could do together, later on today.”

Sending a gentle smile her way, he replies, “I like that idea. Count me in.”

Akira carries the groceries of his own volition and without complaint. Conversation during the remaining walk home is light and casual, nothing terribly deep. The atmosphere seems to have lifted for the time being. Sayaka feels the energy they had this morning return, and it fills her with a reassuring warmth. It's surreal to think about it, but this very day she woke up to a man who, somehow, felt like her — the singular and true — Akira. She has hazy memories of what might have been Akira's previous flirtations with mental unification, but none were so overt nor saw him so keenly interested in sharing himself. This morning, she was truly taken back to their twenties. Making love, standing by his side and cooking, holding his hand at breakfast, and all the flirting! It was enough to make her very nearly believe that everything had gone back to the way it ought to be.

Is she being rewarded in some way, for all her suffering and fortitude? Even after everything that's happened in their lives, all the terrible forces that have attempted to tear their love to shreds and keep them at odds, she and Akira are still together. There are still wounds, some of them formidably deep, and there are current complications like Misato's antipathy toward her father and that job offer that could potentially lead to even greater ruin… But, for now, they are still together. If, somehow, Akira were to remain like this, perhaps she'd never have to cry again. Perhaps they could even remain husband and wife until the end of their days.

She wants it to be true. Sayaka never again wants to be in a position where she must seriously contemplate leaving him. They've had some very close calls, but the most hellish situations always seemed to subside into more manageable ones before Sayaka's hand could be forced. If Akira's affliction maintained the intensity it possessed during its first five years, surely they would be separated by now. But, relatively speaking, he did mellow out — as though his two halves had exhausted themselves from all the fighting. Although there was still no reconciliation, at least the respective volumes on his gloom and obsession were cranked down enough for him to function. Sayaka doesn't prefer to live like that, but, unlike what had fomented before, she could.

Even if he is to never truly recover, so long as the hardship of those first five years never returns, she can continue to stay with him. And, as far as she's concerned, she will. In Sayaka's heart, there's no question about it: leaving him feels so much more terrible an option than staying. Try as she might, she can't imagine a world without Akira. Yura would gently imply that Sayaka is weak and needs to find herself, and maybe she's right, but… it is what it is.

That job offer… What will Yura think of it? Sayaka longs for the clarity her older sister effortlessly brings — but she also fears it. Unlike their parents, Yura has always liked Akira, but she also puts the well-being of kin first. Surely, Yura will take one look at the UN's proposal and see nothing but the icing on the home-wrecking cake. Sayaka feels tempted to call her sister up as soon as they get home: make sure Yura is okay, maybe even get that gut-wrenching conversation about the job out of the way… But, no, she doesn't want to be a fuss. If Sayaka doesn't hear back by tomorrow night, then maybe she'll succumb to the urge.

Between herself and Akira, almost nothing has been spoken about the job offer since last night. She attempted to broach the subject this morning, but he established that — as always — he needed to discuss the matter with Haru before he could solidify his own thoughts. And with Haru being away for the weekend, Sayaka simply has to let the matter rest at least until Monday evening. There's no use thinking about it until then.

Even admitting that, it haunts her like a looming specter. As she mentally conceded at the shrine earlier, there is no way that this can end without hardship. If Akira accepts it, the uneasy equilibrium that has let their marriage survive this long will be broken. She'll be forced to either let him go to pursue his professional destiny in a far-away land, or uproot both herself and Misato from their home to follow Akira wherever he goes. This corner of Kyoto is the only home Misato has ever known, and even Sayaka has not wandered terribly far from Tamba. Akira, on the other hand, is quite accommodated to a life on the move, as just his first eighteen years took him from Sapporo to Düsseldorf to Nagoya to Kyoto. If there was nothing tying him here, he'd leave Japan in a flash.

The choice that's right for him is obvious, but unfortunately it's the wrong one for Sayaka in every sense. Yes, she could relocate, but she already knows she could never be happy living like that. Sayaka needs her family and her friends and a shrine to pray at. Akira's happiness matters to her, intensely, but it could never be enough, nor should it have to be. Nor does she want Akira's happiness to be contingent on her lack thereof, or vice versa.

The United Nations has forced a deplorable dilemma upon her family, and already she resents them for it. If she knew it wouldn't hurt Akira, she would do everything in her power to deny them what they want, simply in spite. No one should force a man to choose between a job and his loved ones. No one.

As they approach the front door to their home of over ten years, Sayaka seizes his hand and squeezes it tightly. For as long as the gods grant me the power to keep fighting, Akira… I won't let you go.

He turns to look at her — twinned circles of deep ruddy-brown, warm and resplendent — and, with a tender smile, gently squeezes back.


Sayaka's descriptions of Akira's "affliction" are probably blatant enough here that I can probably stop beating around the bush and make it official: yep, Akira suffers from bipolar disorder. Well, he probably enjoys it sometimes, but "suffers" feels like the right verb. Anyway, good on Literary Eagle for picking up the hints in... last chapter, I think it was. (Man, that feels so long ago already. I've been trapped in 09 forever.)


Akira and Sayaka venture into the mountains, retracing many of their steps from the past and attempting to gain a vantage point for their possible future. Are things looking up for them, or is this just the calm before the storm?

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Postby NemZ » Fri Jun 12, 2015 2:21 am

Aww... poor Kimiko. :sniffle:

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Postby Literary Eagle » Fri Jun 12, 2015 2:47 pm

Ah, so that's why Misato tried so hard to be a "good girl" back then. Poor Kimiko... poor Misato... heck, poor all of them. ;_;

Sayaka said that "I'm not sure she remembers it at all, to be honest", but I wouldn't be surprised if guilt over losing Kimiko is at least part of the reason why Misato decided to take care of Pen Pen years later. (Heh, she eventually invited a puppy-boy into her home as well, although sympathizing with Shinji's father situation was probably a bigger factor than any puppy-like qualities he might have!)

Thanks for updating, and please keep up the good work!
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Postby Reichu » Mon Jun 22, 2015 7:38 pm

NemZ: My dad can certainly attest to that. I think he would've lost his marbles years ago if he didn't have a couple of crazy Spitzes to howl with. (Huh... maybe that's why I gave Akira a Spitz, too?)

Literary Eagle: So did the attempt to incorporate Misato's flashback from 25 with new material work out, you think? Interesting that you made a connection between Misato's guilt over Kimiko and her decision to take up Pen-Pen -- I'm not sure I actually had that on my mind when I wrote it, but if it works I won't complain! :devil: Your suggestion did make me think about Sayaka's admission that she was more of a "bird person": from that perspective, Pen-Pen could be considered a sort of "tribute" to both Katsuragi parents. (Though, yes, I know the real answer is that both her father and penguins are associated with Antarctica...)

After more grueling rewrites, my beta readers have given the first section of chapter 10 the okay. So, here we go!

Ch.10 (Pt.A)  SPOILER: Show
Chapter 10: The Wall

Saturday, September 18, 1999
Katsuragi Household, Early Evening

Sayaka flips through her collection of old records, about eighteen albums standing together on a shelf in the common room. All still neatly ordered as she had left them: the Red Birds, Mari Amachi, Ikue Sakakibara, Kiyoko Suizenji, Tulip, Miyuki Nakajima, Keiko Fuji, and many others. So many memories attached to each album — overwhelmingly good ones. Everything is from the 70s and 80s, when her life was still so bright. “Akira?” she calls to the kitchen.

He sits at the table, studiously chopping vegetables, but stops a moment to turn and regard her.

“Are you in the mood for anything specific?” she asks. “I'm having a hard time picking one.”

Akira hums in thought. “Hmmmm. How about something with a bit of pep to it? … That ought to narrow down the choices, right?” He winks.

About half of her collection is enka — there's just something about slow, traditionally orchestrated ballads that pulls on Sayaka's heartstrings — so, indeed, that does narrow things down. She flips back to the front of the stack and pulls out her copy of Yuming Brand. “You always liked Yumi Arai, didn't you?”

“Yumi Matsutoya, you mean?” Akira says with a smirk. “Yes, she's fine. You'll always be my favorite, but Yuming will serve the purpose.”

Sayaka emphatically points to the album's obi. “Arai, see? She wasn't married when she recorded this one.”

“Yes, yes,” he concedes, digging the eyes out of a potato. “Never should have changed her name. It made no professional sense.”

The cover of the record player has acquired a thick layer of dust since the last time it was used. Sayaka knows her housecleaning could stand to be more thorough, but she simply doesn't have the time. She retrieves a clean cotton rag from a drawer in the kitchen and moistens it at the sink. “Well, Akira… You know that's a decision that every woman has to make for herself.”

“I know.” He carves another eye out. “It seems to be pretty common overseas nowadays, for the woman to keep her name. At least in the scientific community.” And another.

As Sayaka wipes the gray film right off the glass, she worries about where Akira intends to take this line of thought. He did bring up “that” earlier today… And now, same as then, she has little interest in discussing the ins and outs of her decision not to pursue that M.D. No good can come of it. She sets up the record player and privately hopes he doesn't go there.

Akira continues his tract. “You know I don't think it's just a choice women should have to make. You remember, don't you? I would've been happy to take up 'Katori'.” The first song begins to play on their stereo speakers — large, sturdy old things set in wooden cases, spaced on opposite sides of the common room. Sayaka adjusts the volume to a suitable ambient level and returns to the kitchen, pausing behind Akira. He turns to look at her again, and there is a nervous-looking smirk on his face. “What was wrong with 'Akira Katori', really?”

Sayaka kneads the curve of his trapezius a little. “Nothing. It's just… this way seemed to make more sense.”

Akira grimaces slightly. “That's not just your parents talking?”

Sayaka tuts. “Oh, don't be a cynic. It doesn't suit you.” She ruffles his hair and seats herself in the chair adjacent to his.

“I suppose so.” His face turns contemplative. “What did your folks consider the less terrible option, though? Their daughter being contaminated with the name of 'that pathetic excuse for a man', or their family name being sullied instead?”

Sayaka lets out a short laugh. “As far as they were concerned, the former was only slightly more to taste. They're quite traditional, you know.”

Akira rolls his eyes for effect. “Tell me about it.”

She takes up a paring knife and starts to help Akira with the potatoes. “Anyway… You know why I made the choice I did.”

“Indeed,” he concedes. “Because I'm an only child. But the assumption that Yura would bring 'Katori' forward a generation doesn't seem to have panned out. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I don't think she's ever going to have kids.”

Sayaka's hands work swiftly and precisely. “I don't imagine she will, no. But fourteen years ago, that was still up in the air.” She takes the potato's skin off with a single unbroken peel.

Akira looks surprised. “Was it really? I can't imagine Yura ever even considering it. She never once seemed like the type.”

Sayaka shrugs, helping herself to another potato. “She kept pretty quiet about it. I think Yura liked the idea in theory, but she realized it would never work. A child would've compromised her business, her activism…”

“I can't see Tatsuya being too interested, either,” Akira says. “Then again, I could never really read him, so I might be completely wrong.” He sips delicately from his mug of tea.

“I'm not sure either, to be honest,” she admits. “Takkun was always really quiet around me, too.”

“They always seemed well suited to each other, though. It's not just me, right?” Another sip.

She nods. “No, I agree. I always thought they were cute together.” Sayaka continues until all the potatoes — except the one Akira's still working on — are peeled and de-eyed. She collects them into a pile near Akira's cutting board. “Okay! Soon as you're done, each of those needs to be divided into a few big chunks. Let me put on water for the rice and snow peas.”

Akira dips his head in assent, issuing a low hum.

They continue to work in perfect harmony against the backdrop of classic J-pop tunes. Sayaka is quite used to the grind entailed in preparing meals, and she's taken it in stride all these years. Misato used to be able to help more often, but the increasing burden of studies and after-school activities — and her heightening preoccupation with friends — has put the kibosh on that. Having Akira helping again so suddenly… It feels so natural that it's easy for Sayaka to go along with it. And, at the same time…

As she eyes the cooking pan for the snow peas, with its thin layer of water starting to bubble and pop, she feels that sense of dread already start to seize her again. Today Akira has been presenting a fairly placid surface, but she knows that he's over a hot coil. He's been trying to conceal the bubbles — let them rise so intermittently that Sayaka won't have cause to worry — but she knows him better than that. What can she do? Is there anything she can do to keep things from boiling over in two months' time, if not less?

“Sayaka?” he says, voice thick with concern.

To her surprise, she's been staring at him without even realizing it. She shakes her head and quickly returns to her work. The pan is boiling now, so Sayaka grabs the cooking chopsticks and dish of snow peas and carefully pushes them into the water. She checks on the rice water, but it's still heating up.

Then comes that voice again. “Sayaka? What was wrong?”

It's sweet of him to ask over something so small. Misato would scoff at the gesture — she's been betrayed so many times that it's impossible for her to take him seriously when he does ask after someone. But Sayaka knows when Akira is taking heartfelt interest in another's inner world and when he's just saying the words because he feels that he should. This is decidedly the former; it's obvious from looking in his eyes. Akira has always been an open book, one wholly unable to conceal his feelings even as he refuses to verbalize them.

“Oh...” Sayaka mumbles, “I'm just… thinking about things.”

Akira raises an eyebrow. “'Things'?”

“Just… everything.” This evasiveness isn't fair to him; he's trying to participate and she's keeping him at arm's length. “I don't know… I shouldn't be thinking about this now. It's not a good time.” She takes the peas off the heat and sets them aside to cool.

Akira — his vegetable-slicing duties apparently completed — rises to his feet and goes to the refrigerator. “Well… You don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to.” He pulls out the beef, removes the plastic wrap, and sets it on the cutting board, then goes to work cutting that into 4cm-thick pieces. “But, as you'd always tell me, ignoring something doesn't make it go away.”

“I was… trying to save it for after dinner,” Sayaka admits as she assembles all the oils and spices she'll need for the nikujaga. She turns to look at him. “I suppose I'm not doing a very good job, though.”

Her husband glances over at the clock. “We still have plenty of time. I don't see why you should have to put it off, if it's bothering you so much.” He offers a warm smile and pats the chair where Sayaka had been sitting mere moments before.

“I--” Sayaka starts, when, out of the blue, the phone begins to ring.

Akira practically jumps to his feet. “I'll get it,” he says, taking a couple of long strides to the receiver and picking it up before it can get a third ring off. “Hello?” Then, in a friendly and familiar tone, “Oh! Hi! How are things?”

Sayaka checks on the rice water and starts to heat up some oil in a saucepan — all the meantime watching Akira in the corner of her eye and trying to figure out who he's talking to.

Akira leans against the wall. “...Oh. That's too bad.” He sounds rather less enthusiastic now. Disappointed, even. “We understand, Misato. Stay safe, okay? … Alright. See you later tonight.” The click of the receiver, put gently back in place. Then, a heavy thud as he returns to his seat.

The oil sizzles and steams as Sayaka scrapes the cuts of beef into the pan. “What was that all about?” She glances back over at Akira.

He's slumped forward with his elbows on the table, cradling his head. “Our daughter won't be joining us.”

“I figured as much but… did she give any indication as to why?”

There's an uneasy waver in Akira's voice. “I guess a bunch of them are studying for an exam together, or something. That's what she said, anyway.” A long pause. “I know the real reason.”

Sayaka feels a frown take her face. “Akira, please come here by me. And bring all the vegetables; I'll need to add them in a moment or so.”

He murmurs in assent. A moment later, he joins her at the range, all of the cut vegetables assembled on the portable cutting board, ready to be deposited into the pan. One glance at his face confirms that he isn't taking the phone call too well. It's not unusual to see him looking hurt over little things, but Misato's rejections — or perceived ones — are so typical it's not like him to get visibly bent out of shape like this.

“You were looking forward to dinner together?” Sayaka guesses, keeping the little chunks of meat in motion with the cooking chopsticks.

Akira takes a deep breath, then releases a long sigh. At length, he says, “I suppose that was foolish of me.”

“No, not at all,” Sayaka responds gently. “It's wonderful, actually. That you'd want to spend time with her.”

He cracks a weak smile. Eyes darting down to the pan, he asks, “Ready for the vegetables?”

Sayaka realizes with a start that the meat has already browned. She never was an accomplished multitasker. “Oh! Thanks for noticing. Yes, please.” They exchange places and Akira takes over, freeing Sayaka to check on the rice water again. Just about boiling. She measures out a couple of cups' worth of brown rice, and gets a cup of water ready for the stew as well. Soon enough, both the stew and rice are covered and cooking, and the timer is set.

Following Akira's suggestion from before the call, they decide to take a break and convene on the love seat. Akira doesn't look especially in the mood for talking, though — everything from his eyes to his body language indicates he'd prefer to brood in silence. Well, perhaps “prefer” isn't the right word, but doubtless he finds it more comfortable to avoid talking about what ails him. At least in that respect, the man is more Japanese than he'd ever be willing to admit. The impulse to quietly weather internal storms is built deeply into Sayaka as well. Fighting it, and confronting emotion head-on, is a choice that must be made regardless.

“I saw you watching that family at the park earlier,” Sayaka says, attempting to get the ball rolling again. “I didn't want to say too much right there. It wasn't a good place. But… it wasn't hard to guess what you were thinking about.”

Akira slouches over his lap, fingers interlaced. “Ah… yeah.” His face twitches. “Is… that what you've been worrying about?”

Sayaka adjusts herself and smooths out her skirt. “In part. It's mostly been the job offer, though…” And, as they established early this morning, there's no use talking about that further — not until Akira has consulted with Haru and Sayaka with Yura.

“I'm sorry, Sayaka,” he says. “My burden… It shouldn't have to be yours. That's not fair to you.”

That's the way it's always been, though. “I worry about you, Akira. I worry about this family. You know that.”

He grimaces. “I know… I need to do more of that. Worry about the family, I mean.”

Sayaka pats him on the knee. “I think you already do plenty of worrying!”

“Well, you know what I mean.” He caresses her hand in turn. “It's not the right kind of worrying.” Akira's torso straightens up and he looks her in the eye. “And I want to change that. I really do.”

She lets herself smile. “What is it that Haru is always telling you? 'Stop thinking and just do something'?”

Akira scratches the back of his head. “Yeah, more or less. He's not wrong, but… a lot of times, I really don't know what to do. Well, I mean…” As he fumbles over his words, he brings his hand down and starts idly tapping his cross. “At least with us… after everything that's happened, we can still talk like this. But with Misato… the most I can consistently get is begrudging acknowledgment that I exist.” His fingers wrap around the cross tightly. “I wonder… is it too late, Sayaka? For me, as a…”

“As a… father?”

Akira nods sharply.

As she considers how she could possibly reply, Sayaka soon finds herself fidgeting. It's promising to hear that Akira wants things with Misato to improve, but the matter is truly daunting, possibly even more than he realizes. Akira wasn't quite “all there” when the bulk of the damage was done, so Sayaka wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't intuitively understand just how deep the disconnect with Misato goes. There's a lack of understanding on both sides, and, so long as that remains, any attempt to bridge the gap is predestined to fail. Misato certainly has no interest in understanding why her father let her down — all that matters is that he did — but Akira, in his current state, just might be open to whatever he needs to do.

However, Sayaka has to be very careful with her words. She doesn't want to discourage him — that would be the entirely wrong thing to do right now. As long as he's feeling like this, she has to urge him onward, no matter how hopeless it seems. “In my honest opinion...” she starts, “…yes, I think it is possible to turn things around.”

The merest hint of a smile appears on Akira's lips.

But,” Sayaka says, “that comes with many caveats.”

“Well, I wouldn't expect any less,” Akira admits. “I'm all ears. Please go on.”

She sighs. “Akira, before anything else, you have to realize that Misato doesn't really trust you. She doesn't respect you. She hasn't for a very long time.”

As she anticipated, he receives the words like a sting of shame and casts his eyes down — escaping any perceived judgment in Sayaka's own gaze. His thumb starts rubbing against the front of the white cross with nervous vigor. “I suppose that much should be obvious, shouldn't it?”

Sayaka holds his unoccupied hand, hoping to give her next words due emphasis. “Please don't take it the wrong way. I just don't want to make any assumptions about what you do and don't know.”

Akira offers a weak nod. “I understand, Sayaka.”

“I'm glad.” She takes another deep breath and goes on. “You may not remember, but when Misato was much younger, she really adored you.”

“No,” he says. “I do remember that. I remember it very well.” He's being calm, but the emotional pain in his voice is quite evident.

Sayaka frowns in sympathy. “Akira… What do you remember about what happened ten years ago, when everything started to change?”

Akira's left hand releases the pendant and cradles the front of his skull. “I… remember what happened to Kimiko, and Misato being very upset about it. Blaming herself, trying to make things better.” Even with most of his face obscured, Sayaka can see his eyes starting to water. The loss of control is obvious in his voice, too. “But I couldn't do anything for her, Sayaka. Not for her, you, or even myself. I wasn't there. I felt like I was dead inside, and I couldn't do anything.”

She squeezes his hand. “Akira…” But she can't think of any words to console him.

He lets his head lean against the back of the couch and stares up at the ceiling. Although he's trying to conceal what's happening on his face, the little crystalline droplets start to roll down his cheeks, voiding his efforts. “Everything after that is just a huge blur, really. You know I don't always feel like myself, Sayaka. Sometimes I'm not sure who I am at all. It's like somebody else lived out all those years while I was sleeping.” A ragged gasp, followed by his face tilting forward again and a fresh outpouring of tears spilling down. “Sleeping, and having a terrible dream that felt all too real.”

Sayaka brings Akira's bony knuckles to her lips. “It must hurt to talk about this,” she says. “But that kind of release is good, too. You've kept these feelings bottled up for so long.”

“I suppose… until last night, I wasn't fully aware of them,” Akira says. He wipes his face dry with the cuff of his sleeve.

“Last night?” Sayaka repeats.

He bites his lip, gathering his strength, and proceeds. “It was when we were… making love. We came together and, in that moment, I suddenly felt as though I could see everything with perfect clarity.”

Sayaka can't help but look confused.

Akira visibly struggles to better articulate. “Well, I mean… It's as though, normally, I'm in a fog. There isn't very much I can see clearly. About myself, about anyone else, about the world in general. But that moment I had with you, it was like looking up at the night sky in a city and suddenly being able to see all the stars.” He glances away. “I guess it doesn't really make much sense, does it?”

Sayaka takes his hand back into her lap and wraps both of hers around it. “I suppose all that really matters is what you do with this feeling. It doesn't mean anything if you don't act upon it, after all.”

He looks back at her again, and offers a meek nod. “I know. Haru's advice… it finally makes sense. I feel like I can actually start to act, finally start to take care of everything I've been neglecting.” His Adam's Apple bobs. “I can't… I won't… take you and Misato for granted anymore. There's just no way.”

She smiles warmly. “I hope you can do it. I really do.” Her fingers trace the delicate veins on the back of his hand.

“Thanks. So do I…” Akira's expression is weary, but there's a vague sense of determination behind his eyes. “So, Sayaka… What would you suggest? For… turning things around with Misato?”

“Hmm...” she considers. “Well, what you were doing this morning seemed fine. You were being friendly and trying to engage her on her own terms. Right now, that's all you can really do.”

One corner of his mouth jerks up. “Huh. It's so easy to feel discouraged, though.”

“Of course, Akira. That's perfectly natural.” Sayaka looks him deeply in the eyes. “But you have to roll with the punches and be resilient. Consider things from Misato's perspective, after all.”

Akira frowns. “It's hard, Sayaka. I… I don't know much about her anymore. Except that she doesn't like me. That's not much to work with.”

“No, it's not,” she allows. “But just think about it a little. Put yourself in her place. What reason could your daughter have to not believe in you?” Sayaka offers an encouraging smile.

He twists his face up as he ponders what she said. Sayaka strongly suspects he has a good feel for the answer — he's just terrified of saying the words aloud. Akira's mouth opens and closes wordlessly for a moment before, finally, something forces its way out. “Because… because…” He grits his teeth, squeezing out more tears. “…I haven't been her father since Kimiko died.”

And just like that, his emotional downpour starts up again with renewed intensity. Akira's pain takes over his entire body, causing him to involuntarily curves inward as he seizes his head between his hands. His breathing grows more and more erratic, and his sobbing louder and louder, the sounds of anguish in all too harsh contrast to the peppy song playing in the background. This outburst came on so fast, Sayaka doesn't know what to do. To make matters worse, one of the alarms starts going off, as well.

“I'll be right back, Akira,” she says, giving him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. He barely seems to notice her, though. She rushes to the range, mixing the seasonings into the stew and setting the timer again. While she's there, she gives the rice a stir as well and sets the heat down even lower. On the way back to the couch, she turns the record player off — it just doesn't feel appropriate anymore.

Her husband hasn't moved at all — he's still locked in the same position, still sobbing quietly. Sayaka stands in front of him momentarily, considering the best way to bring him back. She must keep him in homeostasis, prevent him from dipping too far up or down. Rationally, she knows it's apt to be completely out of her control, but if she can influence his mood toward stability, even a little, she has to try.

She sits down next to him again and, slowly, crawls close to him on her knees. Still, he doesn't move. She scoops his face between her palms from below, and he releases his claw-like grip on his head so he can finally look back at her with wobbly, watery eyes. Sayaka leans in and plants a gentle kiss on his forehead, and Akira gasps with emotional catharsis. He covers her hands with his own, and they interlace fingers. His eyes close, squeezing out more tears, and his face starts nudging toward hers.

Sayaka lets herself listen for a moment, as the quality of his breathing undergoes a subtle shift from despair to longing. Then she meets his warm, soft lips with her own — and, judging from the passion of his kiss, she knows that she did the right thing. Sayaka briefly breaks away to kiss the tears off his cheeks, but Akira soon redirects her efforts: gently seizing her head, engulfing her mouth, and offering his lithe, velvety tongue. She can't help but provide enthusiastic reciprocation.

In the dim lighting of the common room, in the quiet of the house that's all theirs for a few more hours, they continue to enjoy one another. It's a lovely reprise of what was interrupted this morning in the kitchen. Even so, they both seem to know it's an ill-fated one, and neither lets their hands wander too much. There's no point in too much escalation… not just yet.

After a few minutes, Sayaka at last parts from him. Rather than dive into another impassioned kiss, she simply leans her brow against his. They catch their breaths, and eventually their eyes meet again, both twinkling. “Do you feel a little better now?” Sayaka asks.

Akira chuckles a little, flashing those endearingly crooked teeth. “I suppose that's one of the better uses of the distraction tactic.”

“Well,” Sayaka says, fluffing his forelocks with her fingers, “you're not of much use to anyone when you get like that, least of all yourself.”

He plays with her braid. “I know. But it was cathartic, at the very least. And I did mean what I said.”


“You know… Not being Misato's father.” Akira runs his index finger back and forth across the loose hairs at the end of Sayaka's braid. “I haven't seriously or consistently played the part for… a long time.”

Sayaka just strokes his hair and lets him keep talking.

“I'm kind of ashamed to admit it, Sayaka,” he says, “but I'm… I'm afraid of her.”

“Of Misato?” The information isn't surprising, but hearing him actually say it is.

Akira provides a feeble nod. “Misato… She's just a child, who's had no choice but to suffer me as her father. And the way she is now, at least toward me… It's the ultimate reminder of my failure. That coldness in her voice, that silent judgment in her eyes… She's not outwardly disrespectful, but that's only out of reverence for your wishes, Sayaka.”

Sayaka wants to deny it, but she knows that he's saying the truth. She did raise Misato to be traditionally polite, and she's worked very hard to keep those lessons intact, despite their daughter's increasingly loose tongue. Ordinarily, though, she wouldn't have guessed that Akira was aware of these efforts. He speaks so rarely about these kinds of feelings, it's little wonder Sayaka tends to underestimate what he actually knows. When, for all his seeming obliviousness, Akira can be incredibly observant.

“And I'm scared, Sayaka. Even with everything you've told me, that sense of rejection is so terrifying and absolute. Misato isn't like you, or Haru, who've both known me all this time and chosen to put up with me because… because…” He trails off, apparently unable to fill in the rest.

“Because, Akira,” Sayaka blurts out, “we love you. That's why.”

Her husband frowns. “I guess that means… Misato doesn't?”

Sayaka suddenly wishes she had held her tongue — only to again speak without thinking. “She's your daughter. Of course she loves you.”

His voice turns deadly serious. “Sayaka… there's no guarantee in the world that a child will love its parents. None at all.”

She knows exactly what he's referring to, and it makes her heart sink. “I'm sorry, Akira. I wasn't trying to imply--”

The alarm finally goes off. Without a word, Akira excuses himself to tend to it. Sayaka doesn't protest. She feels too terrible to say anything at all.


The chapter obviously hasn't earned its title yet. Either we'll get there eventually, or I'll just change the darned thing. (EDIT: Yup, needed to change it. Just FYI, the original title was another failed attempt at making use of "High Times". It's now "The Wall".)

I'm not sure I'm 100% on the way the section ends. typical. It might get whacked with the rewrites whip later.

What they're making for dinner comes from Japanese Cooking 101. Originally, you got to hear a lot more about the other dishes, but that got written out... along with Akira and Sayaka singing and dancing to "Rouge no dengon" like the couple of dorks they are. Ugh, what was I thinking.


  • You're not supposed to know offhand what Akira is referencing when he says "there's no guarantee that a child will love its parents", though I might have revealed enough by now for one to make an educated guess.
  • One of my beta readers expressed concern about Akira's extended vacation from POV land. Rest assured that this is quite deliberate, and his inevitable return is already written into the scenario. If it turns out to have been a bad decision -- well, we'll cross that bridge if and when we need to.
  • Possibly random: it's definitely occurred to me that I make a LOT of eye-related references in CM's prose. Then I remember that the title itself is an eye reference, and I stop worrying about it.
  • I swear I didn't know about yaeba when I wrote the stuff last chapter about Sayaka finding Akira's crooked teeth cute. (Though, if I had known, the result would have been the same.)
Last edited by Reichu on Tue Jul 07, 2015 12:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby felineki » Wed Jun 24, 2015 5:32 am

Glad to see you're finally writing this, it's been a good read so far. An interesting exploration of someone who played a pivotal role in the events of he show, yet someone we knew so little about. Looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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