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

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Postby Literary Eagle » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:58 pm

Reichu wrote:So did the attempt to incorporate Misato's flashback from 25 with new material work out, you think?

Well, I immediately made the connection when I read that part of the chapter, so it worked for me. :D

As for the newest installment, it may not have earned the "High Times" title yet, but it sure as heck lived up to the "Crying Man" title. I feel so bad for this whole family!

On a lighter note, I enjoyed the New Theatrical Edition (AKA "Rebuild") references with the list of musicians mentioned at the beginning, heh.

Looking forward to the next part!
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Postby Reichu » Fri Jul 03, 2015 3:15 am

felineki: Nice to see you in here! :D

Literary Eagle: Oh boy... If you're feeling sorry for everyone during the calm before the storm, what's going to happen when things start to really go downhill? I'm worried I might short-circuit you or something!

Well, while I struggle to figure out how to best make the rest of this chapter happen, have an update! It takes a welcome breather from SaAki's claustrophobic emotional hell.

Ch.10 (Pt.B)  SPOILER: Show
Misato ends the call on her cell phone, then flips the lid and pockets it. Releasing a short sigh of relief, she turns to her companion, a girl her age with a childishly round face and short-cropped black hair. “It's like I told you, Kei.” Adjusting the makeshift ponytail going out the back of her baseball cap, she adds, “He totally bought it.”

The two lean together against a brick wall separating the sidewalk from a school's property. Both have a skateboard in tow and are dressed in tomboyish casuals: apparently taking full advantage of this time unconstrained by school-mandated sailor fuku uniforms. Misato sports washed-out jeans with heavily frayed ankles, a dark red jacket with a black shirt underneath, and American brand name sneakers. Kei is outfitted similarly, though her clothing choices show a modicum more concern for feminine stylishness.

“I don't understand you at all, Misa-chan,” Kei says, her eyes glued to her own phone's tiny screen and thumbs motioning away at the key pad. “Any other girl would die for a chance to have dinner with that man.”

Misato scrunches her face up. “Ugh. Don't be gross. My dad is the worst.”

“Your dad is hot,” Kei says. She closes up her own phone and gives Misato a decisive look. “That's a fact.”

Misato just sticks her tongue out.

“You can't even admit that he's a little good-looking?” Kei winks. “Come on, no shame in admitting to good genes.”

“Even on his better days, he's way too skinny. And… good genes?” Misato lifts an eyebrow for emphasis. “The guy is a head case!”

Kei laughs. “So that's where you get it from.”

“Hah, hah,” Misato drones. “If I ever become like my dad, I swear I'll slice my own guts out.” She wraps an arm around her friend and gives her an impish look. “Kei, you can be the one to decapitate me afterward.”

Another laugh. “That's pretty grisly, Misa-chan.”

Misato shoots a finger up. “Hold me to it, okay?”

Suuuure thing,” Kei emotes. “...Wait. How are we defining 'like your father'? Irresistibly good-looking? Pretty sure you're going to be sizzling hot in a couple of years, maybe less.”

Misato sputters in exasperation. “Yeah, as if. And obviously, I meant crazy. Nuts. Loony. Mental.”

“Oh, come on. He's not that bad,” Kei says.

A roll of the eyes. “My dad just hides it whenever I bring friends home.” Then Misato sighs. “You've never seen the real him.” As soon as she's done saying it, the thought occurs to her that she's not actually sure who her father 'really' is, either. …Not that she cares.

Kei shrugs. “Maybe.” She shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “Your dad never seemed all that crazy to me. Just kind of… sad, I guess.”

Misato can't help but scoff. “Well, that's the thing, Kei. Because he's nuts, he flip-flops between being an unmitigated cry-baby and a raving lunatic.”

“Maybe he's just sick.”

“I'm sure he'd enjoy that excuse,” Misato spits. “Anyway, can we stop talking about my dad, Kei?” When her friend's mouth opens, as if in protest, she appends, “…Please?”

Kei sighs. “Sure, okay.” Silence doesn't seem to agree with her, though, and her foot starts fidgeting with her skateboard. “Just… one thing, Misa-chan.”

Misato crosses her arms and glances over sharply. “What, Kei?”

“I was serious.” Kei brushes a few stray hairs out of her eyes. “There really are diseases that mess with your head. You don't hear about them much, but…” She looks away. “Remember Uncle Katsuo?”

“The one who recently got out of the hospital?” Misato asks. “What about him?”

Kei eases herself down onto her skateboard, ushering Misato to follow suit, and brings her voice to the verge of a whisper. “Don't tell anyone else about this, okay? My mom would die.” Misato just shrugs and nods, and Kei goes on. “I found out from my cousin recently, it wasn't just any hospital his dad got sent to. It was one of those places in the mountains.”

Misato furnishes an expression that just seems to say “ouch”. “So you've got one in your family, too?”

“Well, here's the thing,” Kei says. “According to the doctors, Uncle has this thing called depression. When it hits, it drains all your energy and makes you really sad and stuff. It's why he was so sullen for years and missing so much time at work.”

That only seems to describe Dad by half, but, still, interesting. “And it's a sickness? Really?”

Kei offers a shallow shrug. “Well, it's right there in the name¹, isn't it? And my cousin said that Uncle is on special pills now, which have made him a lot better.”

“Oh, come on,” Misato says. “Haven't you ever heard of the placebo effect?”

Kei snickers. “Nerd.” Then, another shrug. “I'm just sayin', Misa-chan… It might be worth looking into. Your mom's kind of a doctor, right? Maybe she'd know more about this.”

“Maybe, but…” Misato stands up and stretches out with a big yawn. “She's not really a doctor. She just works at a clinic sometimes, is all.”

“Oh?” Kei seems confused. “Aren't all of those fat medical texts in the study your mom's?”

“Yeah, they are,” Misato says. “There is a story behind those… My parents don't really talk about it, but I've heard things. Like supposedly Mom was going to go back for her degree once I was in school, and Dad would've cut down on his hours and picked up some of the slack for her.” She grimaces. “Somehow, I don't think Dad lived up to his end of the bargain.”

“It's cool that they were thinking about it, though.” Kei carefully returns to her feet, as well. “My mom hates being a housewife, but she'd never let my dad know. At least your parents actually talk to each other sometimes.”

“'Sometimes' being the key word there.”

Suddenly, a tone plays, and both pairs of eyes shoot toward Kei's jeans pocket.

“Hmm,” Misato says, starting to roll the skateboard back and forth under her foot. “That must be them.”

Kei opens her phone back up and quickly peruses the message. “A-yup. Kiyoko says that she and the boys are grabbing some nosh and that we should too.” She glances over at Misato with a peeved look on her face. “Meet-up delayed until 5:30.”

Misato kicks down on her board and swipes it from the air. “Figures. What the hell have they been doing? We've been waiting here for like a half hour, only a block or two from the arcade, and we've already eaten.”

“Snogging, probably.”

“All three of them?”

“I totally wouldn't put it past Takashi and Masaru. You know they've always dug each other as much as they dig girls.” Kei snickers, digging into one of her non-phone pockets.

Misato leans into Kei, brows furrowed and voice low. “I'm going to make you pay for putting that mental image in my head.”

Kei braces a cigarette between her lips. “Oh yeah?” She starts flicking her Sanrio lighter.

“Yeah,” Misato affirms. “Three rounds of DDR, on you.” She doesn't even blink at Kei's fledgling habit; the girl's been bumming cigarettes off older kids just long enough that it's become the new normal.

Kei shrugs. “Fine by me.” She takes a long initial drag, then glances at Misato and offers up the pack. “You sure you don't want to give them a try, Misa-chan? Might take the edge off.”

Misato declines with a shake of her hand. “You know I can't, Kei. It would break my mom's heart. Like… more than it already is.”

Kei sighs. “Fine, fine.” She taps the ash off the end. “So, you want to just hang here and trade Pokemon or something? You said you have your Gameboy in there, right?” She indicates Misato's backpack.

“I guess we could, but…” The purple-haired girl turns and looks over the brick wall at the middle school parking lot. Mostly empty of cars, with a few slightly younger kids taking advantage of the space and milling around on skateboards. From the looks of things, a couple are trying to show off to the others, but their ineptitude is so appalling that Misato can't help but cringe. “…I sense a distraction coming on.” She looks back at Kei, a twinkle in her eye. “How about it? Want to show the twerps how it's really done?”

“Good plan,” Kei agrees.

Wheels blazing, both girls take off down the sidewalk.

[1] 鬱病 (utsubyou) = melancholy/depression + sickness/disease


I borrowed a bit from Nemz, et al.'s, suggestions regarding Misato over here. One of my beta readers independently suggested making Misato a bit rebellious and delinquent, so I contemplated a way to maybe work that in without negating Misato's ideological commitment to "being a good girl for Mom". The best compromise I see is to have Misato hang out with the kinds of kids she wants to be, and live vicariously though their exploits, while being as edgy and rebellious as her conscience permits her to be. Here's hoping I can fit in another scene that showcases this dynamic a bit more.

My other beta reader wondered how Misato wasn't familiar with the concept of depression, so perhaps a quick cultural note is warranted. First off, we are in late 90s Japan, which is only just starting to get its shit together with regard to mental health issues (not that it isn't still struggling to this day). Second, the word for depression is utsubyou -- unlike its English equivalent, it refers only to the mental health condition, so it's a bit clinical and not the sort of thing you'd hear people talking about casually. The obstacles to mainstream acceptance of the term actually led to pharmaceutical companies marketing anti-depressants to not utsubyou, but kokoro no kaze, literally "a cold of the heart/mind/soul". "My kokoro has a cold" sounds kind of childish, but the phrasing did seem to help overcome some of the stigma associated with the more clinical term. This is a pretty interesting article, if you want to know more.

"Places in the mountains" refers to Japan's notorious mental institutions. Here's a 2001 article about those. Remember, kids, this might show up on the quiz later!

For those discouraged by how slow things are right now: please hang in if you can. Once chapter 10 is finished, things will escalate REAL fast. I'm literally drooling in anticipation right now. (Or maybe I just need to eat something. Could be that.)

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Postby NemZ » Fri Jul 03, 2015 4:48 am

This gives me an American Beauty vibe. Feels legit.

Happy I could help! :D
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Postby pwhodges » Fri Jul 03, 2015 6:33 am

View Original PostReichu wrote:For those discouraged by how slow things are right now: please hang in if you can.

OK. I will confess that I have been labouring under what I call "prequelitis" - which is a condition I get when a prequel to a story I know well becomes its own story and shows little inclination to connect up with the subsequent tale. This is largely my own impatience, I will admit, rather than a fault of prequels in themselves.

In this case, my initial enthusiasm, what with the flash-forward to the South Pole, has become dampened by the increasingly slow story-telling - each chapter has seemed to get longer while remaining somewhat samey, and although that has allowed for more detailed examination of the characters, I'm not sure that the benefits have been in proportion; but we will see in good time, I guess, how much of the detail has relevance to the later parts of the story. I would like to be wrong about that.

Meanwhile, I felt that this latest segment gingered things up nicely, providing a period of contrast which has been missing for me.

The writing in general I am happy with; quite simply, I am comfortable reading it. I am no editor, so any things I might suggest changing are probably more a matter of my personal style vs yours, rather than things you should take note of - so I won't bother you with them.
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Postby IfallOnTragedy » Mon Jul 06, 2015 7:33 am

A young teen saying the word unmitigated in casual conversation?

I'm just joking. Good works so far, I'm interested to see this side of Misato. Anticipating when the pace will pick up as well

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Postby Reichu » Mon Jul 06, 2015 3:53 pm

My "from the eyes of Sayaka/Misato" mini-arc was originally planned to cover both the Saturday and Sunday following Akira's dinner with Tatsuta, and serve to set up a lot of things going forward. However, this hasn't worked out quite as I've wanted, being obviously far too slow-paced and seemingly distanced from the overall narrative. Probably the best thing I can do right now is wrap the chapter up with two more scenes (one for SaAki, one for Misato) and remove coverage of Sunday altogether.

However, this omission could potentially create problems down the line, so, for the time being, I'll leave Chapter 11 an empty slot, to fill it in later on if need dictates. Pacing problems created by the 9~11 tumor can be more properly addressed in hard-core rewrites, which I intend to undertake when I have significantly more of the story in front of me.

With the reasons for the "High Times" title stranded in the Sunday events, Chapter 10 will thus be rebranded "The Wall".

So here's the current plan...

Chapter 10: Will be completed next update. There will be much rejoicing, especially by me.
Chapter 11: Intended to cover Sunday 9/19. Left blank for now, to be perhaps revisited later.
Chapter 12: Mini-chapter that will introduce a new player and launch the next arc.
Chapter 13: :evillaugh:

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Postby Reichu » Mon Jul 06, 2015 9:48 pm

Woo! Was able to tighten up the rest of chapter 10 tonight, so let's get this sucker out of the way!

Ch.10 (Pt. C)  SPOILER: Show
Akira on the left, Sayaka to the right, they kneel together on the mat, the first course of dinner assembled before them. As Sayaka had hoped, the early evening air is cool but pleasant, allowing them to indulge themselves with an outdoor meal in the well-kept little yard.

Her husband opens the new bottle of sake, a ginjo brew with the rather flamboyant name of Shashi na Shippō, “The Seven Extravagant Treasures”, and pours a little out into the two ceramic cups. They lift their cups, smiling, and Akira begins the toast. “To today, this most special of days… a gleaming white crossroads to lead us out of the swirling, dark abyss.” He laughs, apparently quite aware of how flowery he sounds, then directs his gaze intently upon Sayaka. “And to you, Sayaka… the one most precious to me, without whom I am nothing.”

It's at once both sweet and off-putting, but she supposes she'll have to take the morose with the uplifting for now. Raising her cup a nonce higher, she tips her head to him and says, “Kampai.” He echoes her, and they both take a sip. She's immediately struck by the rich and subtle flavor, very pleasantly layered. Sayaka sips again, savoring every moment of it. Afterward, she comments, “This was an excellent choice, Akira.”

“I'm glad you approve,” he says. “I've never had this particular variety before, but my last experience with the brewery's ginjo was a good one, so it seemed like a worthy gamble.”

They then set into their dishes, starting with the stew and rice. Akira digs into his deluxe-sized portions with the same famished bearing as before. If he keeps this up, his body's contours ought to soften for the better in no time at all. While she's always appreciated his tall, slender physique, she's never been quite comfortable with his bones showing.

They eat together in quiet for a time. A warmth of serenity gradually spreads from her bosom on outward, swallowing up all Sayaka's little worries. The ambiance is lovely. With the array of fall blooms spread out before them on either side of the main pathway, and the off-white of the cement wall closing everything in, it feels like they're in their own little nest of color where no one can disturb them. Not the intermittently passing car, not the calls of birds, not the distant sound of children playing. The pleasant calm here and now couldn't be more different from the uncomfortable deadlock of silence besetting them only an hour or so ago.

After her verbal faux pas, she couldn't bring herself to say anything to him, and a dour silence fell over the meal preparations that felt like they would destroy everything. But Sayaka's worries had been for nothing. Akira held nothing against her, and soon he set about lifting the mood back up. He flipped the record, turned the player back on — and started to sing along. It wasn't a repeat of his buffoonery from the morning, either: he was really flexing his diaphragm and putting all Sayaka's past tutoring into effect.

It was… nice. Of course, there is only so much one can compensate for a fundamental lack of ability, but Sayaka doesn't expect professional-grade singing from him. Something warm and heartfelt, that's more than enough — and he provided. She quickly felt herself loosen up, her own singing voice creep out line by line, a feeling of liberation taking her over. They entered an impromptu duet, and, there, she experienced an uncanny affirmation of their bond, what she can only describe as a resonance.

She wants to keep that feeling close and never forget it.

“What kinds of flowers are those?” Akira asks, gazing out over the yard with its patches of orange, white, pink, and yellow. His dishes are on the mat, already scraped clean.

Sayaka takes a moment to finish chewing, then replies, “Chrysanthemums. Lovely, aren't they?”

“Very,” he says. “I love the way you've distributed the colors. It's like you've painted a picture with petals.” Scratching the back of his head, he adds, “That probably sounds corny, but I'm not sure how else to describe it.”

Sayaka's face flushes slightly. “Much obliged. Though, I'm afraid I can't take all the credit.”

“Oh?” Akira utters. “Well, I guess it would be quite a feat if you did all this on your own. Who's your helper? Misato?”

“Here and there,” she says. “Mostly it's Eri, though. She's a much better gardener than me, so she at least helps me with the big things. Why… are you interested?” Sayaka winks.

Akira smiles awkwardly. “I can't guarantee I won't kill everything I touch, but… that could be nice. Working with the earth, making something grow…” He looks thoughtfully at his hands — so pale, soft, clean, and skinny. They're not like Sayaka's own tanned, well-worked mitts at all. “I've always wanted to try. Always wanted to help you. But I've been afraid, I guess.”

She sets her hand upon his. “Well, thankfully, the worst that can happen is that the plants die on you. And if you're just a hobbyist, it's hardly the end of the world. You just learn from it and move on.” She rests her head against his shoulder. “Believe me, when I was little and just starting out, a lot of green things turned brown on account of my ineptitude.”

They share a little chuckle over that, but Akira's face settles into a mild frown afterward. “I guess it doesn't really seem fair. For a life to be needlessly extinguished because I messed up.”

Sayaka releases an exasperated sigh. “Oh, Akira! You get so morbid sometimes.” She pats his arm reassuringly. Knowing her husband, he's thinking about more than just plants. In fact, she's almost certain that he's stuck on Kimiko again and blaming himself for what happened, as he tends to do. “I know death doesn't sit well with you, but… it's just part of life. An individual life might end, but, because of that, life as a whole goes on.”

His frown deepens — and, to little surprise, he reaches for Igara-san's cross, his greatest source of comfort. Akira begins to stroke the object in his extremely methodical, even ritualistic, way. Watching him, Sayaka wonders if Akira feels, on some level, that the spirit of his great-aunt inhabits the pendant and is capable of providing her reassurances when the object is invoked. “I know,” he says quietly. “I know it. But it's hard to really feel it.”

“Hmm?” Sayaka inquires.

Akira provides no acknowledgment that he heard. Releasing the pendant and staggering to his feet, he says, “I'm still really hungry. Is it okay if I bring out the next course?”

“Sure, go ahead,” she says.

Taking the used dishes with him, he vanishes into the house, returning a couple minutes later with soup and salad. After he takes a seat, he pours out a little more sake into his cup. “Would you like more, Sayaka?”

“No, thank you,” she declines. It kind of bothers her that he's going back to the sake bottle, though, and she can't stay quiet about it. “Remember to watch your intake, Akira. You get sick so easily…”

“Don't worry,” he says, knocking the sake back. “I know my limits. That's all I'm having tonight.”

Another interim of silence passes as they eat together. Sayaka glances over at him from time to time, monitoring his expression and bearing. At a point, she notices that Akira seems to be fixated on the cement wall that encloses most of their property. He looks oddly intense about it, too. Very curious. “What's wrong?” she asks.

“Hmm?” he says, jolting out of his daze. “Nothing, really.”

“You were staring at the wall.” She points. “Very intently, I might add.”

“Oh, that.” He grabs a wad of salad with his chopsticks and shoves it down his craw. Once he can speak again, he says, “I was just thinking. Most of the time, I don't see it. It's just been there so long, you know? But it suddenly occurred to me, why is it still there?”

She's sure it's just a rhetorical question, but she goes along with it. “We thought we had the money to get it knocked down and replaced, but we ended up needing the funds for something else. So, only part of the wall got done.”

“Indeed,” Akira says. “But why wasn't the project ever revisited? Why have we just left that symbol of past failure standing?” His voice is weirdly passionate and he's starting to gesticulate.

Sayaka shrugs. “Money is tight. You know that.”

“Even so,” he counters, “there's no reason why we couldn't have rented some equipment and done it ourselves, is there?” Sayaka keeps her mouth shut, anticipating he's going somewhere with this. “No, there isn't. We could have even called up some friends and family to help. That sort of thing would be right up Tatsuya's alley, wouldn't it?”

“It would,” she agrees.

“We know a lot of other handy people, too,” Akira continues. “So, there's no real excuse for the fact that the wall's still standing.”

Sayaka just hums in acknowledgment and tries to enjoy her bowl of miso.

Akira straightens his back out and gives Sayaka a determined look. “And please, Sayaka… Don't think I'm blaming you or anything. Far from it. You do so much, and I have no idea how. I've taken it for granted, but, when I think about it, it really boggles my mind.” Quite the compliment, coming from someone whose livelihood would boggle all but a small handful of the Earth's current population. “You're amazing, Sayaka. Really amazing.”

She sends him a fond smile. “Thank you, Akira.” And then, she braces herself for whatever is coming next. He's clearly compensating for his crying fit earlier, with the confident chatterbox taking the reigns from his baseline state. From experience, she knows that there's not much she can do once he's become fixated on some odd little thing, other than to let him talk it out to the end. If it starts going to unhealthy places, naturally she tries to redirect it. But ultimately it's like a high pressure system: the energy must be released, one way or another.

“But me? I've been useless. That wall is still there because of me, and only me. I want to crush it, Sayaka. Knock it down, and replace it with something new. Just like I want to demolish the useless, miserable person I've been and replace him with someone better.”

It's always been hard to know how to respond to these 'tracts', since they quickly escalate into the realm of the bizarre and it becomes increasingly difficult to follow Akira's thought patterns. Saying something neutral is probably best, though. “You can't rebuild yourself overnight, Akira. Helping me with meals is a great place to start. Even if it's just on the weekends. If you can keep doing that…”

He doesn't seem convinced, though. “That's not enough, Sayaka. I need to help you more than that. Much more.”

What angle to take now? “Would you have the time for that, Akira?”

“Well…” He gets an obstinate look in his eyes. “Really, what have I been doing that's so important?”

Not much to do but give him the benefit of the doubt. He's more than capable of tearing himself down without her help. Sayaka tries a more playful tone to see where that takes them. “Trying to save the world… no?”

Akira apparently doesn't want to talk about that, responding with nothing but a dismissive sputter. He comes off as so insolently childish that Sayaka can't help but find it oddly cute. Maybe because it highlights how, in spite of everything, Misato really is her father's daughter.

Even as she laughs under her breath, she attempts to draw emphasis back to the side of prudence. “Well, that aside… Just in general, but especially until we know what's going to happen with that job offer, I don't think you should try to extend yourself too much. You'll just overwhelm yourself that way.” He looks about ready to protest, but she ignores it and goes on. “If you're going to aim for anything, Akira, try for another weekend like this one first… where you spend time with us, and we do housework together and go on little trips.” With a faint blush, she adds, “Or just you and I spend time being close…”

Akira's eyes twinkle upon hearing the last part.

Sayaka doesn't let it distract her, though, and she finishes the thought. “If you're comfortable with all that, and eventually feel like you can take on more, you can start to look at your work schedule for openings.” She tilts her head. “Right?”

He turns his head away slightly and releases a long sigh. “Yeah, I suppose…” He runs his fingers through his hair. “Monday can't come fast enough, Sayaka. Why did Haru have to pick this weekend of all weekends to make that trip?”

“Now, now,” Sayaka gently admonishes. “Haru deserves some time to himself, doesn't he? I'm frankly astounded by how much he's done for you all these years, even with everything else on his plate.”

“I don't understand it, either,” Akira admits. “It would've been so easy for him to just walk away and never have to deal with me again.”

“Is it so hard to accept, Akira, that people care about you?”

He frowns and looks away. “Sometimes.”

Sayaka wraps her arms around him. “I know.” And she pulls herself closer to him, and lets her head rest against his gently heaving chest. The reassuring sound of his heartbeat pulses into her ear. She can feel it quicken, little by little.

It's not long before the warmth of her embrace truly reaches him and, with imposing abruptness, he starts to return her affections. Right there in the yard, on that mat, both of them exposed to anyone who might peer through the gate. The impassioned kisses are one thing, but the wandering hands are quite another… When he attempts to slide his fingers under her skirt on into her panties, she seizes his wrist firmly and gives him a stern look in the eyes.

“I'm gratified that you're feeling so frisky, Akira,” she says, “but you know we can't do this here.”

A weirdly determined look appears on his face, and, before Sayaka knows what's happening, he's broken from her grasp and… is lifting her into the air? It's so unexpected that she whoops with surprise. But, no, there she is, hoisted between his arms in a bridal carry! Akira isn't what she would consider a strong man, and, despite the confidence evident in his spontaneity and his ravishing, amorous expression, she can feel a slight unsteadiness in his scrawny arms.

Somehow, though, she knows he won't drop her. He would never drop her.

Sayaka wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses him, signifying her trust. He seems to relax, the shakiness smoothing out into a more assured hold, and he kisses her tenderly back. And with that, the two of them disappear into the house to finish what they've been putting off for hours — leaving all the food and dishes outside on the mat, to be cleaned up whenever they happen to be done.


“Gods, there's so much drifting on this course!” Kei complains from the other side of the twin cabinet, her Chum's grinding into the outside of a curve, as usual. “Why'd you have to pick this one, Misa-chan?”

Her eyes glued to the screen, Misato casually drifts out of a curve, ramming one of the CPU-controlled vehicles along the way. “Hah! Eat dirt, sucker!” With a decisive hand, she shifts gears and the speed on her red Scorpio climbs rapidly during the next straightaway. Before long, the track throws another sharp curve at her, but she goes through it effortlessly, barely slowly down. “There's drifting on all the courses, Kei. Thought you told me you were okay at this game?”

“Yeah, 'okay', meaning not 'expert'!” Kei crashes into another car and releases an exasperated groan, knocking her forehead against the steering wheel multiple times for dramatic effect. She glances over at Misato's monitor just in time to see the Scorpio claim 1st place and trigger the credit roll.

“Wooooo!” Misato cries, raising both fists over her head in a celebratory “V”. She turns to her friend, smirking broadly. “In your face, Kei!”

Kei spins the wheel ineffectually and sputters. “Yeah, sure. Daytona USA 2 sucks anyway.”

“Spoken like a true sore loser!” Misato gloats.

“Keep that attitude up and I'll have to get Ryusaku over here to put you in your place.”

Misato snorts. “Just because your cousin insists on using the Phantom, it doesn't actually make him better than me. But you're right about this game sucking. Who cares about the US? I want my European cars! F355 Challenge can't come out soon enough.”

“Meh. All cars are the same to me.” Kei hops out of her driver's seat and starts rubbing her rump. “I think my butt is numb.”

Misato follows, practically vaulting off the machine. Beating the hardest course like it's nothing always feels good. “Well, why don't you go ask your boyfriend to massage it for you?”

Kei turns red. “Shotaro is not my boyfriend!!”

“That's not what Kiyoko said!” Misato provokes, her face twisting into an almost feline grin.

Kei crosses her arms and lightly stomps a foot. “Kiyo's just a skank. What the hell does she know?” After a moment's pause, she adds, “Aside from skanky things, of course.”

Misato's grin broadens. “Does your momma know you talk like that?”

“Of course,” Kei says. “But what's she gonna do about it? Spank me?”

“Bet you'd like that,” Misato retorts, playfully smacking one of her friend's butt cheeks. Kei squeals and retaliates by pulling on Misato's ponytail. No sweat, though; Misato quickly puts the other girl into a head lock, stopping the potential cat fight dead in its tracks. “Hah hah!” Misato cackles, giving Kei a noogie. “Can't get out, can you?”

Kei squirms against her friend. “Seriously, Misa-chan? Not fair!”

“If you were still going to practice,” Misato chides, “you'd know how to get oWWWWWWW!” A flash of pain registers on her face and she lets go of Kei, grabbing the afflicted part of her arm. There's a nice, soggy wet spot on her sleeve. “Oh, gross, Kei. You bit me?!”

She shrugs. “It was through your shirt. You won't get any diseases. …Probably.”

“That's not the point!” Misato glowers. But it doesn't really seem worth a fight. “Whatever. I guess I deserved it.”

Kei nods smugly. “You totally did. Anyway, want to grab a drink from the machine? I'll pay.”

“I can live with that.”

Kei, as usual, gets a canned coffee. Never mind that it's around 8 at night — the girl needs her buzz. Misato gets a green tea, but the can's so hot that she needs to pull her sleeve up over her hand just to handle it. The temperature of the beverage itself is fine, though, so she just tries to drink it very quickly. As she's doing that, Kiyoko — who's really stood out ever since she bleached her hair white, the weirdo — shows up to excitedly announce the makeshift tournament they're starting on the SNK machines.

“S-weet!” Kei intones. “I might actually win this one!”

“Don't tell me you're going to play as Terry again?” Kiyoko sighs.

“Oh course! Terry's the man.” Kei chucks her empty can into a wastebin and turns to Misato. “You coming?”

Misato shrugs. “I'll watch, I guess.”

“No way!” Kiyoko says. “You're better than the boys. Letting you sit this out would be such a waste!”

“But… I don't really like SNK,” she quips.

Kiyoko laughs. “Yeah, well, Capcom vs. SNK doesn't come out until next year, so deal with it.”

Misato crosses her arms. “How would that help? All fighting games are stupid!” Whatever — she's clearly not going to win this one.

Takashi and Masaru are busy beating each other up on the King of Fighters cabinet. “Alright, Misato,” Kiyoko says, “you take on whichever one of them wins, and make sure you hit him so hard he's crying for mommy, okay?” Misato just grunts in assent. Kei and Kiyo get started on the adjacent Fatal Fury machine — as always, pitting the Bogard brothers against each other. Misato settles against a nearby wall to wait her turn.

She sticks her hand into the pocket of her jacket and plays around with the few remaining tokens. Feeling the bulk of her cell phone, she pulls it out and pops it open to get a refresher on the current time. Almost 8:30 now, even later than she thought. She should probably head back home soon; definitely no later than quarter of. Checking in on the boys' progress, she clearly sees Takashi win, but Masaru just goes, “Best three out of five?”, and they keep on playing. So much for the 'tournament'…

Suddenly, she becomes aware of someone in her peripheral vision, silently joining her at the wall. Her head quickly pivots, and there's an older boy there who seems vaguely familiar. He's a high schooler, but really short for his age, not much taller than her. His jet black hair is slicked up into spikes with an overabundance of gel — kind of gross-looking, really. And that forehead, so huge it looks like he could break rocks with it… she's definitely seen that before. He nonchalantly chews on a cigarette as he absently gazes over at her.

Misato squints, trying to get her memory to cooperate. He's one of Kei's acquaintances; she remembers that much. Eventually, a name finds it way out. “…Shima-kun?” Yeah, pretty sure that's right.

“The one and only,” he replies, sliding the cigarette behind his ear. “Long time no see, Katsura.”

“Katsuragi,” Misato corrects. Trying to make conversation, she asks, “So… where've you been? I haven't seen you since…” Huh. Shima-kun's been enough of a satellite to the main group, she honestly can't remember.

He folds his arms behind his head. “Since before you entered puberty, I'd guess. Kei didn't tell you? I was sent to live with my grandma until my parents worked their issues out. And, well, they finally did. Separated a couple of months ago.”

“'Separated'?” Misato repeats.

“You know… divorced?”

“Oh,” she says, feeling kind of stupid. “Sorry to hear that, I guess.”

Shima-kun shrugs. “No big deal. My folks have hated each other since before I was born, so it's about time they split, really. Getting displaced from Sakyo-ku for all those months was the worst part. And I guess my mom getting custody by default sucks, too. But whatever. I can deal with her and her shitty boyfriend for a couple more years.”

Misato stares at her feet for a moment. She hasn't met many kids whose parents have separated. Her mind is swarming with questions, but she decides to keep them to herself. Instead, she just comments, “I wish my parents would get divorced.”

Without moving his head, Shima-kun's eyes roll back toward her, a skeptical look on his face. “Do they actually hate each other's guts?”

Misato twiddles her thumbs. “Well, no, not really…”

“If that's that case,” Shima-kun says, “then no, you don't.”

“What do you know?” Misato growls.

“Nothing, I guess,” he admits. “Just a feeling.”

Hoping to keep him from prying any further, Misato looks desperately for an out — and she finds it, tucked behind the older boy's ear. “Don't tell me you're one of the people giving cigarettes to Kei?”

Shima-kun chortles. “Giving? She basically steals them. Kind of a klepto, that friend of yours.”

“Yeah, I know,” Misato admits. “Nothing I can do about it, though. If she gets caught, it's not my problem.” As an afterthought, she adds, “At least she doesn't steal my stuff. Not that I've noticed, anyway...”

Another short laugh, this one a bit more derisive. “From the way Kei talks about you, I'd have thought you were more loyal than that.”

“I'm plenty loyal,” Misato insists. “I just won't let her drag me into the gutter with her, is all.”

Shima-kun's eyes narrow. “If you're afraid of getting in trouble, I think you've picked the wrong group of friends.”

Misato sticks her nose up into the air. “My friends are perfectly fine. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

“Just some punk,” Shima-kun says, “no different from the rest of those losers.” He gestures to the SNK cabinets.

Misato doesn't like this guy's attitude, and she gets all up in his face. “Where do you get off, dissing my friends? I don't care how much older you are. I could still beat the piss out of you.”

He smirks. “Somehow, I doubt you will. You're a goody-two-shoes to the bone.”

Misato feels her teeth grit and her hands curls into fists. “Say that again!”

Shima-kun casually puts a hand on her forehead and pushes her away, but she escapes his grasp easily. He just smirks again in that really sleazy way of his. “You've got good moves, I'll give you that. But you're a daddy's girl, Katsuragi. I can see it in your eyes. You belong with the A students, not out with the trash.” He squints at her, his expression almost becoming… perverted? “Though, if you were a bit older, I'll admit… there's no way I wouldn't try to ask you out.”

With that, Misato's temper goes into the red zone. She can practically feel the smoke blow out of her ears, and she's just about to throw an open palm at the side of Shima-kun's jaw when Kei's voice brings her back to her senses.

“Oh, Misato!” Kei calls. “You found Shima-kun, huh?”

“More like he found me,” Misato says glumly, letting her arms dangle harmlessly at her sides. “He's a lot less cool than I remember. Where did you find this scumbag, Kei?”

Whaaaat?” exclaims Kei. “Shima-kun is the best!”

He takes a bow. “Why, thank you, Kei-chan. It's a pity your friend doesn't feel the same way.”

“The hell?” Misato spits at him. “Only a second ago, you were saying that you and everyone else were nothing but lowlife punks!”

Kei smirks enigmatically. “Yeah, he does that. So, Shima-kun, why so late? We could've used you here hours ago!”

“I told you my job only ends at eight. Not a whole lot I can do, Kei-chan.”

“Oh, right,” Kei says. “Forgot about that. Anyway, want to compete in our SNK tournament? Masaru and Kiyoko are out, so we could use you.” She glares at Misato. “And you too, Misa-chan!”

Misato purses her lips. “The boys took their sweet time, so it's too late now. I really need to head back, Kei.”

Kei blows a puff of air up at her bangs. “Right, right. Because otherwise your mom will cry all night,” she mutters. “Pffft, fine.” With a swish of her hand, she theatrically emotes, “Go! Get out of here! Who needs you anyway?”

Misato just grins, pats her friend on the head, and slaps her leftover tokens into Kei's hand. “Later, Kei.” She looks warily at Shima-kun. “I guess… I'll see you around?”

He's chewing on the cigarette again and giving Misato a pretty creepy look. “Better believe it.” If Kei weren't there, Misato would, absolutely, break his nose or make him lose some teeth. And she could totally get away with it, too — after all, who'd believe that a 12-year-old girl beat up a boy in his late teens? She glares at Shima-kun and gladly gives him her back.

After saying her farewells to the other three, she claims her skateboard and bag at the front. Exiting into the dark, cool night, she confidently hits the pavement and makes her way home.


Misato makes good time, turning into the front gate only a couple of minutes before the hour turns. She takes her skateboard under an arm and approaches the door. Something's covering the central walkway, looks like. When she gets close enough, there's enough illumination coming from the nearest street light to make out that it's the old picnic mat, covered in their good dishes. There's a bottle of sake and some uneaten food there, too. Very curious, and she feels a pinch of anxiety in her chest.

She walks around the mess and goes inside, setting her skateboard against its designated spot on the wall and taking her shoes off. It's hard not to notice that Dad's giant clown shoes aren't there, but Mom's are. Not an unusual sight, by any means, but she thought Dad was staying in tonight? That's why she made a point of staying out, after all. Huh.

The whole house is dark and quiet. Misato already feels like she knows what happened. Naturally, Dad ended up leaving, for whatever his latest stupid Dad reason was, and left Mom all alone, to do what Mom almost always does when she's left alone. Misato suddenly feels really bad about her decision to bullshit an alibi and not join her parents for dinner. She was only thinking about herself, not about Mom, not about the very real possibility that Dad would up and abandon her again like the yellow pansy he is. The shame is so overwhelming that Misato feels like she could cry, but she doesn't let a single tear fall. She can't be weak like her parents. And she especially can't be like Dad. Abandoning Mom is something Dad does, not her! Never her!

I messed up, Misato thinks, but I can be there for her now. I can make it alright.

She dissipates the darkness with a flick of the kitchen light switch and quietly makes her way to Mom's room. Once there, she puts an ear to the fusuma, but she hears nothing. “...Mom?” Misato whispers. Still nothing. She knocks a couple of times on the adjacent wall, but, again, nothing. Mom can be a pretty sound sleeper, so the lack of response isn't reason in and of itself to be alarmed. Still, just to be sure, Misato does want to get visual confirmation that Mom's in there and okay. “Mom, I'm coming in, okay?” As she anticipated, there's no response, but saying the words makes her feel better about breaching her mother's privacy.

Misato slides the door open, letting in just enough light to see by. And, as soon as she does, she slams the fusuma shut and quickly spins on her heel, hugging the wall in shock. Nauseous, violated shock.

Her mom is in there, all right. But so is Dad. And they looked like a singular pile of naked flesh, curled up in a tangle of sheets on the futon, with no clear indication of where one ends and the other begins. Thank gods they just seem to be sleeping, but, even though they weren't actually doing it, they obviously had been. Misato feels sick to her stomach. And so angry — just like earlier today, when she walked in on her parents' inability to keep that crap behind a door. Why do grown-ups do such gross stuff?? And if Mom has to do it at all, why… just, why, with HIM?! That batty bag of bones that's made her cry more times than Misato can count?

All her loathing and frustration pools into her fist, which launches right into the wall. Misato's at once relieved and disappointed that it doesn't break through. But if she lingers here much longer, there's no way she'd trust herself to not keep trying until that happens.

Misato attempts to take her mind off things by cleaning up the mess outside and helping herself to some dinner. It almost works, but then she gets the bright idea of watching a little TV… only to discover her parent's shirts in a pile next to the couch, with Dad's shoes hiding underneath. Ugh, seriously? They were doing the nasty out here, too? So much for using that piece of furniture ever again. And, for that matter, so much for chilling out in front of the tube before bed. There's no way she'd be able to stay out here without her mind's eye being haunted by the image of both her folks topless and snogging.

Hoping to keep herself from dwelling upon what other parts of the house have inevitably been contaminated by Mom and Dad's mating rituals, Misato retreats into the sanctity of her room. (There's no way they'd screw in there… right? Right??) She collapses onto her futon and, the reassuring squeeze of headphones round her skull, she blasts L'Arc-en-Ciel down her ear canals. All the meanwhile, she stares at the crack in the ceiling, doing everything in her power to not think about anything gross or upsetting. But it's no use. Getting her mind off the one thing only lets that slimeball friend of Kei's take its place and taunt her with his creepy pedo stares and wild accusations. “Goody-two-shoes.” “Daddy's girl.” Maybe she can live with the first one, but the second…?

There isn't a gram of truth to it. She hates her dad. Full stop. She doesn't want him; she doesn't need him. If she could switch him out for a different one, she totally would. The gangly bastard could get hit by a train for all she cares. Sure, that would make Mom sad, probably make her cry for days on end. But Misato and Aunt Yura would help her get over it. And, without that trash around to drag her down, Mom might actually start to care about herself again. Heck, maybe she'd even start looking for a guy who's actually worthy of her. Wouldn't that be something?

Too bad it'll probably never happen. Misato just isn't that lucky. And her mom… especially isn't.


Until a couple of days ago, the character of Shima-kun did not exist. He came to me in a borderline sleep state and I figured, "Why the hell not?" I'm not 100% sure what I'll be doing with him going forward, but I'm fairly certain I will have a use for him. I have so much of the story planned out, a little improvisation is kind of refreshing and fun. Like, "Wow, finally something for which I don't know the outcome yet!"

It occurs to me that I forgot to have Misato do an Usagi impersonation for her friends, as per Literary Eagle's lovely earlier suggestion. Dammit. Well, if it doesn't make it into a later chapter, I'll just have to edit it into this one!

Same as before, I took cues from NemZ's suggestions in the "Misato at 12-13" thread. Seele00TextOnly also provided a lot of encouragement and advisory for the Misato sections. Might not have happened without you two!

An Internet for whoever can figure out -- without using Google or any of that jazz -- the naming scheme for Misato's acquaintances.

BTW, in case the thing with the canned green tea confused ya, Japan does, indeed, have vending machines that provide warmed beverages.


Akira lets the clock tick down on the job offer, repeatedly refusing to give Tatsuta a straight answer. While Sayaka is probably okay with this, the mysterious individual behind ISTAA has absolutely no intention of taking anything but "yes!" as an answer.

EDIT: Chapter and character lists in OP updated.
Last edited by Reichu on Tue Jul 07, 2015 2:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby NemZ » Tue Jul 07, 2015 1:29 am

Hmm... I do believe all those names are from Akira.
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Postby Reichu » Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:57 pm

NemZ: You got it!

And... here we go! Reminder that the omission of chapter 11 is intentional. Also, taking stock of the chapter's in-story date before proceeding may minimize later confusion.

Ch.12  SPOILER: Show
Chapter 12: The Dragon & the Fox

Around Mid-October, 1999

UN Commission for the Sciences
Human Resources Office

Chiyoe Tatsuta's office is spacious and extravagant, as much a personal space as it is a professional one. Large windows both illuminate the space and provide an excellent view of a green terrace rimmed by forest. The décor is comprised mainly of classically-styled artwork of dragons and other such creatures that she's accumulated over the years: ukiyo-e woodblock prints, a gold leaf folding screen, bronze statues, and so forth. It's become a bit of a running gag in Tatsuta's social circles to gift her with dragon art. She doesn't mind, exactly, but between here and her apartment, she's running out of storage space. Besides, there's only one piece of artwork she really needs: the one she carries with her everywhere.

Within this environment of sunlight, ancient beasts, and office fixtures, Tatsuta appears very much at home: reclining in her desk chair, exposed feet on an afghan. As she eats from her boxed lunch, she works on a page in a book of number puzzles, enjoying the temporary reprieve from the unrepentant grind.

Suddenly, a light tapping starts up at her door.

“I'm not taking walk-ins right now, Anna-san,” she says, an edge of impatience to her voice. “Tell them to schedule a time and come back later.”

The rapping continues. Clearly, the one responsible is not the receptionist; Anna would have just buzzed Tatsuta on her phone. Or, at the very least, she would have said something, not just continue to make noise. Issuing a dull mutter under her breath, Tatsuta hides the puzzle book in a drawer, slips on her heels, and rises to get the door. As she opens it, she lets loose, “Didn't you hear me say, no visito--”

Standing there is a tall, silver-haired male westerner — perhaps in his early 60s, but well-preserved. He is dressed in business casuals, with one hand consigned to a pocket and the other stroking his well-groomed mustache.

Tatsuta's eyes immediately narrow in begrudging recognition.

“For all you've ascended through the ranks, Tatsuta-san,” the man cordially greets, his voice impressively sonorous, “I will always be above you. There's no telling me to get lost.” His Japanese is quite fluent, but there's enough of an accent for it to sound exotic.

She simply rolls her eyes and sighs. “I didn't realize you'd be in Tokyo quite so soon, Frisch-san. I apologize for my unbecoming behavior. Please, come in.” And she bows deeply.

Frisch steps into her office and closes the door behind him. Laughing lightly, he remarks, “Talk about forced! I much prefer it when you're coarse.”

Tatsuta obliges him. “In fact, I actually was warned that you'd be dropping by sometime before the year ended. And I'm glad you've chosen to get it out of the way.” With dull sarcasm, she adds, “The anticipation was killing me.”

Frisch chuckles, clearly enjoying the rude rhetoric. “As always, your blatant disregard for the hierarchy is a breath of fresh air. It was always one of the things I liked about you.” He winks.

“Oh, spare me, Lukas,” Tatsuta snarls. “What do you want?”

“I'm not intruding, am I?” He starts fishing in a pocket.

Tatsuta indicates her desk, where her bento and chopsticks still lay. “Of course you are. I was in the middle of lunch, hence the closed door. But I understand you're a very busy man, so what does my convenience matter?”

“That's my girl,” Frisch chirps. “Let it all out. By the way, do you mind if I smoke?”

Tatsuta, sensing that this will be a tedious visit, collapses back into her desk chair. “You know I don't care.”

“Just a courtesy I insist on extending.” Frisch lights up. “Well, Chiyo-chan — it is okay for me to still call you that, right? — you seem to be doing quite well for yourself since the last time I saw you. Did I make the right call in giving this department to you?”

“No one else is here, Lukas,” she replies dryly, joining her hands behind her head. “Call me whatever the hell you want.” Tatsuta expressionlessly regards him for a moment, then addresses the second question. “Well, as I'm sure you anticipated, there was plenty of unflattering gossip that went around when I first took over from… whoever it was.”

“Tanaka,” Frisch says.

“Sure, Tanaka.” The guy had been promoted to another department in the UN before she even arrived at the office, so she never met him; his existence is all but inconsequential to her. “But as I'm also sure you anticipated, I quickly put all the underlings in their places through sheer force of competency. They don't dare speak ill of me now.”

“I would expect no less of a she-dragon like yourself,” Frisch says. “Speaking of, that high collar is unbecoming.” He approaches her and, with his free hand, pulls the nape of her shirt back, revealing the top of a tattoo.

Tatsuta quickly swipes at him. “Hands off,” she snaps. “You know better.”

Frisch throws a playful grin at her, clearly admiring her spunk. “You shouldn't have to hide that fine piece of artwork, you know.”

“I don't hide anything,” she insists. “I merely respect proper professional decorum.”

“Oh?” Frisch takes a long drag, then releases a fine gray funnel toward the ceiling. “So there is someone who gets to see it?”

Tatsuta brings her arms forward and steeples her fingers on her lap. “I'm fairly certain that's none of your business, Lukas,” she fires back sternly.

Frisch is undeterred. “I hope there is. A woman like you would be wasted single.”

“Like you know anything about women,” she sputters.

“Oh? You didn't seem to feel that way all those years ago.” He takes another long, satisfying drag, after which he eyes Tatsuta somewhat uncomfortably. “We're not having regrets now, are we?”

Tatsuta glares right back at him. “Never.” She leaves a pause for effect, then continues, acid as can be. “So, Lukas, are you stopping by for some reason other than casual sexual harassment?”

Frisch's eyebrows shoot up. “Sexual harassment? If I wanted to do that, I would just tell you to show up at my condo later today.” His expression relaxes and his voice turns sultry, to an almost exaggerated extent. “By the way, are you doing anything tonight? It's been a long time since I got a battle scar from you…” A lustful smirk. “And you know me. I don't mind if you bring the boyfriend along. The more, the merrier.”

Tatsuta sighs in exasperation. “You never change, you filthy old fox. I don't suppose you're actually interested in knowing how ISTAA is coming along?”

He immediately, effortlessly shifts gears. “That is, in fact, the actual reason I'm here. But you're so much fun to play with, my little flamelet, there was no way I could resist. Yes, how is the recruitment coming along?”

Tatsuta returns to her feet and goes to a group of filing cabinets against the window-side wall, where she pulls out a series of drawers. “Here are all of the files for successful recruits,” she tells him. “Take a look.” She moves aside and leans against a nearby section of wall.

Frisch snuffs his cigarette in Tatsuta's little-used ashtray, puts on a pair of reading glasses, then begins perusal. He starts at A-I-U-E-O and casually flips through the names, murmuring to himself here and there. “Hmm, Akagi, sehr gut… Ichijo, vorzüglich…” He soon reaches the next section, KA, where he seems to forgo his previous method of browsing, instead searching for someone specific.

“Who are you looking for?” Tatsuta asks.

Frisch turns to her, his expression unusually earnest. “Katsuragi. He doesn't seem to be here.”

She raises an eyebrow in disbelief. “The perpetual motion guy over at Kyoto?”

“He's not technically advocating perpetual motion,” Frisch corrects. “That's a common misunderstanding. But, yes, that's the one. Whose charge is he?”

“Mine,” Tatsuta says without hesitation. She moves to a nearby column of filing drawers and slides one out. As she deftly flips through the folders within, she idly comments, “The evaluation guidelines really need to be tidied up, Lukas. If it were up to me, Katsuragi would never have qualified for ISTAA.” She pulls out a file, much bulkier than most, labeled “A. KATSURAGI” and hands it to Frisch.

He adjusts his glasses and accepts. As he shuffles through the contents, he says, “If you don't mind my asking, Chiyo-chan, what about Katsuragi did you find lacking?”

Tatsuta crosses her arms over her chest and turns her head away. “I knew going in that he had a well-established reputation as something of a deranged pariah.”

“And did you see any evidence of that…?”

Her foot starts tapping restlessly. “The man wasn't quite what I expected. Very timid temperament, and extremely humble about his work. But there was an unnerving instability underlying it all. It seemed like he might burst into tears at any moment.” Or, for that matter, pull a complete 180° and start ranting madly instead. She frowns.

Frisch seems to find her account amusing, and he merely smirks. “Katsuragi was probably just intimidated by you. One could hardly blame him. I've heard some very plausible tales about the fear you strike into the hearts of your kouhai…”

Tatsuta grunts unappreciatively. “Whatever the case, psychiatric evaluations should be mandatory for all ISTAA recruits.”

“At most branches, they actually are,” Frisch notes. “Japan is a glaring exception, probably because it's mostly Japanese people in charge of it, and, much as I hate to say it, your country is dragging its feet on certain issues.”

She scoffs. “What a bullshit excuse. I know you. You could have it fixed with a snap of your fingers.”

Frisch continues to browse, paying no heed to Tatsuta's derision. “'Could' is not the same as 'should'.” His index finger moves across the current page, helping to direct his eyes. “Truth to tell, Chiyo-chan, the evaluations rule is fairly loose even where it is in effect. Many of these individuals are one-of-a-kind human resources. Any quirks they might have are thus worth the trouble of dealing with.” As soon as the last word leaves his mouth, his finger freezes in place, his brows promptly furrowing.

“What now?” Tatsuta grumbles.

The foreign man looks up from the document, his expression severe. “You've let a month pass without reeling him in?” Frisch's voice is almost frighteningly intense. “Chiyoe, you know he's of the highest priority, correct?” For emphasis, he indicates the place on the file where it says as much in bold red print.

Tatsuta stands her ground, unintimidated. “Lukas, you're overworking us to the bone. You and your people want too much done in too little time. So, even with a 'high priority' recruit, about all I can do is nag him at his office once a week.”

“Not 'high priority',” Frisch states firmly. “'HIGHEST priority'. There is a substantial difference.” His tone easing slightly, he says, “Anyway, explain the difficulty to me.”

Tatsuta shifts her weight and sighs. “Katsuragi is clearly dodging my calls. On the rare occasion I do get him, he refuses to provide a definitive answer. Always 'I'm still thinking about it', or some such. The rate things are going, I fully expect him to remain noncommittal to the very end and just let the offer expire.”

Frisch closes the file up. “If he's going to be stubborn and evasive, then we have to be more stubborn, more persistent. Do whatever you have to do, Tatsuta. I'm not letting him get away from us.”

“Seriously? What the hell is so important about him?”

“That, my dear,” Frisch says, “is classified.”

“Figures,” Tatsuta snorts.

Frisch slides his glasses back into his shirt's front pocket. “But, yes. Give Dr. Katsuragi precedence over all other cases. I need him in our ranks within the next thirty days.”

Full-on aggravation sets in, causing Tatsuta to start kneading above the bridge of her nose. “I told you, Lukas. I don't have the manpower to devote to Katsuragi. There are far too many targets we need to hit and acquire before the end of the year.” She lowers her hand, revealing cold, aquiline eyes. “Remember: you're not the only person breathing demands down my neck. Mandates from the guys higher on the chain take priority over yours. I'm sorry.” No — she really isn't.

The silver-haired man cups his chin in his palm for a moment, gaze distant with contemplation. Finally, he says, “Well, no matter. I'll simply take him on myself.”

Tatsuta laughs scornfully. “I have a hard time believing you'd have the time for that…”

He provides his own icy, piercing look. “Chiyo-chan… You should know by now that if I want to do something, I don't find the time. I make the time. By sheer force of will.”

“Oh, brother…” She rolls her eyes.

Frisch's face reverts once more. “But in all seriousness, my schedule is comparatively light during the upcoming month or so. Even people like me need pseudo-vacations so they don't burn out. Honestly wasn't my idea, but the old codger insisted.” He idly flips through the file again. “Katsuragi will be leisure activity compared to what I've been up to lately. Pity his photo's not in here...”

“That's because those are taken as part of the employment process,” Tatsuta says. “But you know that, so…” She thinks for a moment, then wearily clasps her face in her palm. “Oh no… I should've figured as much.”

Frisch smirks, clearly up to no good. “Figured as much, what?”

“Nothing,” she pipes. “Nothing at all.”

“Oh, no. Go on, Chiyo-chan.” He lights up another cigarette. “Tell me what you're thinking.”

Tatsuta returns to her chair once more, kicking off her heels, deciding precisely how to go about trash-talking the dirty old fox to his face. “I'm surprised I didn't realize it earlier. Katsuragi is just your type. A bit older than you tend to go, but it's not like you'd notice with him.” After a moment's thought, she adds, “The odds might even be in your favor, Lukas. Katsuragi does kind of strike me as someone who's gnawed on his fair share of pillows.”

“My oh my,” Frisch tuts. “I have no idea what you might be implying.” He places the file snugly beneath his free arm.

“Sure you don't,” Tatsuta snorts.

The next time Frisch touches the cigarette to his lips, there is the quality of a kiss about it. “A jealous she-dragon is a beautiful thing.” He blows a delicate puff of smoke her way.

Tatsuta waves it off, unperturbed. “Are you quite finished, Lukas?”

“Just one more thing,” he says, rummaging around in a pocket. “I brought you a present.” He circles around to the front of her desk and deposits a tiny metal statuette between a puzzle box and a small bronze dragon. “A little something to remember me by.”

Squinting, Tatsuta leans forward and picks it up. “What's this? An Inari kitsune?” She spins it around in her hand and, in spite of herself, a smile takes her lips. “I hate to say it, but it does suit you.” Gift accepted, she places the little fox back where Frisch had set it.

As she mentally prepares a crass thank-you that her superior would surely appreciate, Tatsuta spins in her chair back in Frisch's direction. But he's gone, the door ajar, nothing but a rapidly dissipating cloud of smoke where he was standing mere moments ago.

Busy man, indeed. Good riddance.


One of my beta readers needed a break from me tonight, which was also the same night I decided ahead of time I wanted to post this, so there will probably be some revisions later. Hopefully not of anything too major, though.

Frisch's full name is Lukas von Frisch. I wasn't able to work it into this chapter, but it will naturally appear later. I'll probably explain the origins of his name after he's done a bit more.

Kitsune is Japanese for “fox”, while also encompassing the concept of fox youkai — those multi-tailed shapeshifting things you might be familiar with. Inari is a kami (sometimes multiple kami) whose shrines typically have two kitsune statues, one of each sex. Frisch's gift is styled after these statues and was possibly purchased at an Inari Shrine, assuming little youkai statuettes are something you can buy at those places; I honestly don't know.

The animal imagery was not initially intended, but struck me quite abruptly upon realizing that the phrase “silver fox” suits Frisch on more than a superficial level. But you've only just met him, so I'll shut up about that.


For Akira Katsuragi, life seems to have taken an unexpectedly sunny turn. Exchanging single-minded dedication to the Super Solenoid Theory for concerted devotion to family, friends, and personal well-being is working so well for him, it's almost enough to make him forget about the potential path that ISTAA has provided. But anything Akira ignores has a way of eventually catching up to him. Will it be the UN's renewed efforts that get to him first, or something much closer to home?

Next time: “Old Pain”.

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Postby xanderkh » Fri Jul 24, 2015 9:48 am

Well, I apologize for taking THIS long to finish this fic, but I can finally say that I've read it all the way through, and I've THOROUGHLY enjoyed what I've read so far. :) I can say without a doubt that you've put a lot of detail into multiple facets of this fic, from the minute (such as the rules of Shinto prayer in regards to Sayaka), to the very foundations of Akira's character and problems.

And while I've discussed with you personally about the air of the fic that it exudes an element of tragedy, especially from readers who know what is to come. And, I got to say, that with the recent chapters of Akira attempting to reconcile with his family, especially with his stated attempt towards Misato, amps up the tragedy of what's to come, ten-fold.

And yes, like everyone else, I suspected that Akira had suffered from a form of Bipolar disorder. He no doubt has a brilliant and detailed mind, but what he chooses to focus on (and avoid at the same time) left me wondering what could have happened to this man to make him so avoidant, despite having a loving and caring wife as well as a daughter who used to look up to him. It still begs the question: what happened to him to make him like this? Was he born with it? Does this run in his family? Was it caused by a traumatic event? Considering what little details we've heard about his family AND his stance on religion, I can definitely assume that it's the latter.

As for the POV of the other characters, you've really warmed me up with Sayaka's personality. Not only is she very caring and loving, but her mind is just as detailed as Akira's, as she carefully assesses everything she says to him in order to avoid putting back in a depressive slump. That takes a lot of skill and practice, and no doubt that she's had a lot of time to understand Akira and his faults. :)

Now, for Misato, I'll admit I was a bit irked by her behavior and lack of empathy towards her father. But, by no means to I regard this as bad writing, but that I got that emotional response from her, while still understanding her position and Akira's just highlights the hopelessness of their familial situation. In fact, I could be grasping at straws here Reichu, but is Misato's lack of emotional empathy (which is partially kind of justified) a jab at the state of psychiatry in Japan where they still view depression as a sign of weakness? I know it was prominent in the 90s, but I'm not sure of the state of it now. If so, she's conveyed that generational problem well, refusing to see from his point of view, and just labeling him off as a bad human being. Then again, she's a teenager, and what the hell did we know as teens? XD

Now, as for the recent chapter (still kind of in the dark on why 11 was still omitted, but I bet you have a surprise up your sleeve), this Frisch guy just screams at me: "SEELE!!! SEELE!!!!!", so I wonder what insidious role he has in plan to lead to the Antarctic expedition.

Overall, this fic is extraordinarily detailed and very character driven, so I look forward to seeing more chapters up to the end. It's not often we get to read a story about the background of Second Impact or the people that led up to it, and I think this fic does Evangelion justice with it's inclusion in the ranks. I look forward to seeing more Reichu. :)
"You're na�ve, Cecil. Even knowing betrayal and despair, you would depend on the whims of others?" - Golbez
Sephiroth: "Do you miss the Light?"
Golbez: "Hmph...I merely have duties to fulfill."
Sephiroth: "Too close to the brightness, and you may get scorched."
Golbez: Your loss can strengthen you.

"NGE Shinji is broken, Manga Shinji is an asshole, Rebuild Shinji is an idiot. Which is best? Uh, can I get some other options? All of these really suck." -Bagheera

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Postby Reichu » Wed Jul 29, 2015 3:48 pm

I got mentally overloaded by IRL and needed to take a little break from working on CM, but I'm going to force myself back on the rails now. Need to finish typing up my written notes for the upcoming chapters, then I'll hopefully be able to pump the next installments right out.


xanderkh: Thank you for the detailed commentary and analysis! Glad you've enjoyed things so far. Since I don't want to give too much away, I'll only respond to certain things. :wink:

View Original Postxanderkh wrote:It still begs the question: what happened to him to make him like this? Was he born with it? Does this run in his family? Was it caused by a traumatic event? Considering what little details we've heard about his family AND his stance on religion, I can definitely assume that it's the latter.

Well, he wouldn't be much of an Eva protagonist without significant parental issues. :smirk: But, far as Akira's personal problems go, it would be a bit too prim and pat if "childhood trauma" were the whole story...

As for the POV of the other characters, you've really warmed me up with Sayaka's personality. Not only is she very caring and loving, but her mind is just as detailed as Akira's

Incidentally, writing the POV chapters for her warmed me up to the character as well! I came out feeling like I understood her a lot better. Maybe I'd been guilty of only viewing her as an accessory to Akira's character before that, not as her own person.

is Misato's lack of emotional empathy (which is partially kind of justified) a jab at the state of psychiatry in Japan where they still view depression as a sign of weakness?

Not intentionally, anyway. I was mostly following the precedent established in the show:

He never took care of me, my mother or the family.
His friends always said he was very sensitive and delicate.
But the truth was that he was just a weak person
running away from reality, the reality called his family.
He was like a kid.

In reality, being sensitive and weak aren't mutually exclusive in the slightest. (Difficulty handling heavy emotional loads and interpersonal confrontation result in avoiding and escapist behavior, simple as that.) However, even as an adult, Misato is too angry about the effects of her dad's weakness to have any emotional empathy for him. He failed her and her mother, and that's all that matters; why it happened is immaterial.

So, it seemed natural to go backwards from this to Misato being a surly teenager who's mentally positioned her dad as ENEMY, ENEMY, MY ENEMY!.

still kind of in the dark on why 11 was still omitted

Sort of explained here. Still not sure what's going to happen there. Hoping it will resolve itself as I continue to work on the fic.

this Frisch guy just screams at me: "SEELE!!! SEELE!!!!!"

Hahaha, good. :devil:

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Postby Reichu » Sun Aug 30, 2015 1:52 am

He's ba~ack! DO YOU RIKE IT?

Ch. 13  SPOILER: Show
Chapter 13: Old Pain

Approx. mid-October 1999 [exact date to be determined]

Yukawa Institute of Technology, Late Morning

The staff meeting seems to drag on forever. Haru attempts to pay attention but feels himself in a haze, fading in and out. Life's been crazy. Accommodating Risa's dream job hasn't been easy. He's cut out as many hours of work as possible, but reached the limit for right now. Between his obligations at work and those at home, he's spent. He hasn't been this sleep-deprived since the kids were still in diapers.

If he were another man, he might grumble about the work load and get mad at his wife. But, in fact, seeing Risa this happy and satisfied makes everything worth it. Haru knew from the first date he had with her that she was intrinsically more intelligent and competent than he — and that didn't intimidate him. Quite the opposite, really. Akira's then-frequent dissertations on gender politics must have affected him when he wasn't paying attention. Not that Haru necessarily considered this a bad thing. He ended up internalizing Akira's distaste toward the fate of most women in the country, which was either to become housewives or be restricted to dead-end jobs like “office lady”. Risa should be able to do whatever she wanted; anything else would be needless settling.

They ended up developing a long-term arrangement that would enable both of them to enjoy careers while also being able to have a family. Balancing the two has been very difficult, but Haru thinks they've pulled it off pretty well. With both kids reaching an age where they can be relatively independent and contribute their fair share to the household, Haru began to make temporary personal sacrifices that would allow Risa to start pursuing a position in her preferred field of pharmacology.

Fortunately, their eldest, Masahiro, has been entirely cool about the changes and more than willing to pitch in. Little Jun has been a bit more difficult — somewhat begrudging of the fact that Mom isn't around much anymore… and taking the resultant frustration out on her father instead. Haru has to repeatedly force himself to remember that it's not actually personal, that she's just a kid struggling with all these changes and feeling powerless against them. But his inability to help her is frustrating. She's the one who needs extra attention, too: despite being very bright, Jun struggles with reading and writing. No professionals have been able to satisfactorily diagnose her, although recently one of Risa's oversea pen pals suggested “dyslexia”. It sounds promising, although they still haven't found the time to look further into it.

Risa's parents are thinking of retiring to Kyoto and living nearby so they can help. Haru must say, he's fully on-board with that idea. He needs a vacation badly. From everything. Akira's latest relapse isn't enough.

Speaking of.

Haru feels a firm pat on his shoulder and he jerks to alertness. “Huh,” he mumbles, stretching his arms, then pulling off his glasses to give his eyes a good rub. Fuzzy blocks of color gradually rise and shuffle out of the room, and his own body automatically begins to follow suit. Once out, he pulls aside to hug the wall and polish the lenses of his specs before replacing them on his face. As he looks to his right, he finds his best friend waiting for him, eyes taken in by the tiny screen of a cell phone, thumbs keying away at the number pad.

“Hmm, let me take one guess as to whom you're texting,” Haru teases. “You've been addicted to that thing ever since you got it.”

A coy smile forms on Akira's face and he simply shrugs. “Yeah, well. Still swept up in the novelty of it all.”

Haru crosses his arms. “Ironic, considering you've resisted the technology with all your might until now. Whatever happened to that guy?”

“Oh, he hasn't gone anywhere. He's just made one exception.” The tall man pockets the phone and smiles. “Sayaka is worth making exceptions for, no?”

The past month has been full of bizarre exceptions. It all started with Akira pouring his heart out over drinks about the dinner meeting with Tatsuta, divulging the simultaneously depressing and exhilarating terms of the UN's job offer. From there, he seemed to turn into a new person practically overnight — not too unlike the Akira whom Haru had befriended some fifteen years ago, only a tad older-looking, maybe even a little wiser. Akira has gone through periods of relative stability before, but never anything like this: week after week of cleaning up his act with dedication, consistency, and no sign of faltering.

There have been so many changes in short order, Haru's barely been able to keep up. Akira is decidedly putting a lot of time and effort into his relationship with Sayaka, and, just from monitoring his moods, it's obvious that they're being regularly intimate. Akira's been using the phone to text her throughout the day, to maintain a sense of connection — the complete opposite of old habits, where she'd be lucky to get warning if he decided to stay at the office to all hours. He's heard the occasional word about Akira's ongoing campaign to win back Misato's trust and affection, but, obviously, it will take a lot more time to make appreciable changes there.

Akira looks a lot different, too. He's quickly returned to a healthy baseline weight, even started exercising in hopes of gaining some tone for a change. His complexion actually has some color to it now — no longer the usual sickly pale. The man has taken things so far that he's actually wearing his hair differently, with his bangs swept to the sides and out of his eyes, and regularly dressing in a more professional manner. Today he has the full office regalia going: blazer, tie, shoes, and all. It doesn't really suit him, somehow.

“Of course,” Haru replies. “A man must be willing to do anything for those he loves. Even if it means getting a cell phone.”

Akira chortles under his breath. Then, something gets his attention, and he stiffens up and impulsively starts adjusting his garments. It takes but a quick glance into the corridor to figure out what's happening. Okadome is breaking away from his chat with Ando, and, from the way he's bearing his weight, Haru or Akira could very well be next. Haru's heart quickly takes to pounding — the boss could easily want to have a word with him about dozing during the meeting. And having Okadome talk down to him like he's still a barely pubescent nebbish would really put a damper on the rest of the day. It's inevitable; the man is that unpleasant.

But, no, no… Okadome walks right to Akira, and Haru might as well not even be there. From the look on their supervisor's face, he actually doesn't have something negative to say for once.

“Katsuragi-kun,” Okadome begins, his tone uncharacteristically cordial, “I wanted to let you know that your recent efforts in being a more involved member of this department have not gone unnoticed. Your participation today was most impressive. Please, keep it up.”

Akira bows deeply. “Thank you, sir.”

Okadome dips his head in turn, and goes on his merry way.

It's over as soon as it began. Haru can't quite seem to believe it. He adjusts his glasses, then whispers, “Did that actually just happen?”

Akira, his expression similarly dumbstruck, scratches the back of his head. “I'm wondering the same thing. For all intents and purposes, I'll assume it did.” And with that, he fishes out a beat-up pocket notebook and starts flipping through. There's not much in that particular memo aside from Akira's extremely long personal list of to-dos. He's been halfheartedly tending to it for years, the thing always getting more use during his intermittent periods of being either “up” or neutral. Naturally, the past month has seen Akira maintaining his checklist with almost religious fervor. Akira finishes scanning and takes a pencil to the page.

Haru cranes his neck, trying to get a look at what his friend is doing. Akira's private handwriting is notoriously difficult for anyone else to read, given his habit of writing characters horizontally left to right and employing idiosyncratic shorthands for frequently-used kanji. Haru's worked with Akira long enough to know a lot of the latter, but Akira always seems to be inventing new ones. He makes out barely more than the kanji for “Okadome” before Akira finishes striking through the item, closing the book.

“So… what is it you just managed to accomplish?” Haru asks.

Akira stows the memo back into a pocket and smiles wryly. “'Get complimented by Okadome'.”

“Whoa. That's awfully specific,” he chides. “Not to mention…” Haru was going to say something like 'so improbable as to not be worth the pursuit', but, well…

“Well, what?” Akira says. “I did it, didn't I?”

Impossible as the whole thing seems, Haru must concede, “Yes. Yes, you did.” Adjusting his tone to a warmer, more genuine one, he adds, “That's really something, Akira-kun. Congratulations. Sayaka-san will be ecstatic to hear it, I'm sure.”

“Ah, that's a good point,” Akira notes, fishing his phone out again, no doubt to tell his wife the news.

They pick up their mail and make their way back to their offices. Akira enters his while, in accordance with age-old tradition, Haru loiters around the doorway. As they simultaneously flip through the day's offerings, a thought comes to Haru. He feels a little mental resistance to saying the words, but they force their way out regardless.

“By the way, Akira-kun, regular reminder: I still have that intel on the UN sitting around, whenever… if ever… you want to hear it.”

“Huh,” Akira murmurs, clearly more interested in deciding what should go into the waste basket.

No surprise there. Already, Haru regrets bringing it up. He looked into Tatsuta and the organization she represents, just as he said he would. Since then, most of his contacts have gotten back in touch with him, and he considered waiting for the right time to tell Akira about what they'd found… but, as far as he can tell, the only “right time” for Akira is never.

“So,” Haru prods, “is that reaction because you're no longer interested in the job, or…?”

The other man jerks as if he's just come to his senses. “I'm sorry, Haru. I didn't catch that last part.”

Haru knows this side of Akira all too well — the master of evasion. There's always something he doesn't want to talk about. Always. “How long are you going to drag that Tatsuta lady along?” he asks. “If you know you don't want the job, might as well just tell her now. And if that's not the case, then—”

“What's the harm in keeping my options open?” Akira interrupts.

Haru starts kneading his brow. “I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. Either you want the job or you don't. If you're truly dedicated to your new outlook on life, then there's no reason to dally, right? I'm sure both Sayaka-san and Tatsuta would appreciate some decisiveness from you on the matter.” He gives Akira a pointed look in the eyes. “Are you afraid that what's happening now won't last?”

“Why would I be afraid?” Akira asks, utterly nonchalant. “Sayaka and I are doing great. It's like you always said. Just put my attentions on the important things and everything will work out.”

Haru's not sure that's exactly how he phrased it, but no matter. “All right. If that's true, then you should be able to call Tatsuta today.”

Akira throws the remaining mail on the top of his IN tray, tosses the blazer over his chair, and starts removing his tie. “No time right now. Meeting up with Hiroshi and Seito around quarter of. Weight training today.”

“Ah,” Haru intones, “and then your midday date, if I remember rightly?”

Akira nods. “Take the train to the museum district, grab lunch, meet up with Sayaka at the place…” He frees up his neck and slings the tie onto the blazer. “I'm doing a split shift today, so I'll be back later. I can't remember Tatsuta's hours, though. Might be too late by then.” He shrugs. “Oh well. I can always leave a message and try again tomorrow.”

“Well, rest assured I'll be around tomorrow morning to make sure it gets done,” Haru quips. “Wait… You're not having lunch with Sayaka-san?”

Akira shakes his head. “Yura is in Higashiyama today, and they need some sister-exclusive time to catch up.”

“Ah. Makes sense, I guess.” Haru sticks his mail under an arm. “Speaking of Yura, she's going to be there this weekend, isn't she? It's been forever since Risa and I have seen her.”

Akira thinks for a moment. “You know, you're right. It actually has been a pretty long time. Unfortunately, I'm not sure about Yura's schedule. Tatsuya will be, definitely. What about you?”

“Of course. Masahiro, too. He's really interested in seeing something get demolished first-hand.” He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “It might be too much for Jun, though. She's kind of sensitive about things like that. And she'd probably enjoy the time alone with Risa, anyway.” Upon seeing Akira grab his gym bag, he tries to wrap it up. “Well, you kids enjoy yourselves. Risa's been after me for the longest time to have a special meet-up of our own, but it's so hard to make the time…”

Akira slings the bag over his shoulder and gives Haru a mischievous look. “'Special meet-up'? Haru, I assure you, this outing is perfectly wholesome and family-friendly.”

“Damn,” Haru says, unable to contain a chuckle. “Every day, you're getting a little closer to making your first lewd joke.”

“Oh, ease off,” Akira grumbles, ushering Haru out of the office and pulling out his key. “I made plenty of those in college.”

“That was so long ago it doesn't count anymore,” Haru teases, opening up his own door. “Anyway, like I said, have a good time. Give my regards to Sayaka-san. And I'm sure I won't be here by the time you return, so I'll see you bright and early tomorrow.”

“Sure thing. See you, Haru.”

They wave each other off and Haru slinks into his office. He takes one look at his own “IN” tray and groans in dismay, wishing he could just throw the whole lot in the trash and be done with it. More than likely, though, doing so would have consequences even less pleasant than just gritting his teeth and processing the papers properly. The in-box of his e-mail is getting out of hand, too, isn't it? He has no idea when he'll find the time for all this nonsense.

Settling into his chair, Haru glances at the wall clock and starts attacking the tray. It's a constant battle to keep his thoughts from drifting too much. He's not sure he'll win it, so right now he settles for working on the items that require the bare minimum of concentration.

Akira Katsuragi. That stupid bastard takes up far more of Haru's mental energy than could ever be considered healthy. Even now, with Akira doing well in almost every respect, Haru's on edge. It's impossible to shake the looming feeling that it will all come crumbling down at any moment — and, as usual, it will be up to him to clean up the mess. Haru wants to be positive about this; he really does. But as promising as things look on the surface, he knows what's going on beneath.

That Monday evening at Harukiya, about a month ago now, a lightly buzzed Akira told him everything there was to know.

“So much trouble,” Akira said. “It's too much trouble, Haru.”

“Why?” Haru asked. “From what you've told me, this sounds like your dream job. Not like you would really stop teaching, either. You'd be instructing those on your team who have less knowledge and experience.”

Akira cradled his forehead in a palm. “It feels like there was so much left unsaid. In the back of my mind, I know… I know I wouldn't have any real freedom there.”

“You could be right.” Haru reached for his drink. “People with that much money at stake will probably be very stingy about how it's used. It's a gamble.”

“And of course, if I accepted, then I'd be acceding to the world that I'm precisely the kind of person that others suspect I am.” His lip started to quiver slightly. “A typical Japanese male for whom work is everything.”

Haru knocked back some of his junmai. “Implying that you haven't already done that?”

“I've fallen into that role quite inadvertently, Haru.” The purple mop-top shook from side to side in vigorous denial. “That's not… who I really am.”

“I dunno, Akira. If it's what you do, and have been doing for the past decade, wouldn't you say that's who you are?”

“Well… it's not who I want to be.”

Akira has long been terrified of his transformation into one of the things he hates most, but, for various reasons, he's also lacked the power to escape it. This thing with the UN, though, gives him an opportunity to take a stand against that fate. He could say “yes”, and unambiguously prove where his priorities lie. Or Akira could refuse, a choice that would validate the feelings that are surely in his heart, that his wife and daughter are more important than anything else.

Haru would like to think that Akira has really changed and that his attempt to reform will continue for the foreseeable future. But the UN's offer still hovers in the background and, ever since that night at the bar, Akira has stalwartly refused to acknowledge it as a matter of any importance. He's just been letting the timer run down, apparently hoping that the whole thing will go away if only he ignores it long enough. That he doesn't simply turn Tatsuta down and get it over with is troubling, since it means a part of him wants to keep that possibility open. Deep down, he's not fully committed to putting family first.

In the final hour, right before the offer expires, will Akira's willpower fail? Will he be frightened back into the shelter of his research, where matters of the heart can't hurt him?

Haru swivels over to his desktop PC and goes into the e-mail server. Now, where did he put it…? He dives into the folder marked “Personal” and soon locates the e-mail. The sender, kakiwotaku59, is Haru's old high school friend Jumpei, whose life has taken him to some very interesting places. Jun-kun immediately came to Haru's mind as someone who'd have an insider scoop on the UN's search for scientific talent. And, while Jun-kun didn't let Haru down, none of his information is reassuring.

He reads through the message for what might be the fifteenth time. Bits and pieces jump out at him. Corruption. ISTAA. Code name “Gehirn”. Construction in Hakone. The most troubling part regards the secret formulation of a new UN military force — one with real clout — and the weapons being developed for its use. “Something to put the atomic bomb to shame,” Jumpei writes ominously.

While the e-mail makes it sound like this was something already well in the works, Haru can't help but think of the UN's interest in Akira. As absolutely terrifying as nuclear weapons are, the kind of power that Akira dreams about would be, in the wrong hands, infinitely more devastating.


North Campus Gymnasium

After an intense lifting session, few things feel better than the sensual satisfaction of being scoured beneath a shower head. Akira's two kouhai really know how to push him to his limits. Maybe right before a romantic liaison wasn't the best time to do this, but he really doesn't want to miss a day, and he won't have Hiroshi and Seito modify their long-standing routine on his account. Hopefully it will take a few hours for the worst of the aching to set in.

As he washes off, he can't help but take stock of the muscles they've been targeting. Akira's ashamed to admit that he's still learning the names — or re-learning, as the case may be. Feeling the slight bulges that form in his upper arms and chest when he flexes, he can't detect any visible improvement. But, then, he hasn't been doing this very long. His doctor told him to take it easy and follow a special weight gain diet until he was out of the danger zone — bare minimum of 68 kg, was it? It's been hard to contain his zeal, though. The weight is returning without a hitch. What harm is there in starting his training a little early? It's only been a week and a half so far, alternating between weights and swimming, and already he can't remember the last time he felt this good.

He finishes up, wrapping the towel round his midriff. It's still unreal to him how much difference those extra kilos make. He'd gotten used to seeing the outlines of his bones sticking out here and there, and he has no idea how he let himself become so indifferent to it. Dr. Komori was so alarmed that he recommended Akira to import a special kind of canned nutritive drink from overseas. Far from inexpensive, but, seeing how much this product has simplified the normally long and grueling process of weight gain, Sayaka agrees that it's been worth every yen.

Akira knows he still has some way to go, but it's wonderful to not feel so self-conscious about his body. Sayaka can say he's attractive, and he can believe her without being mired in self-doubt. His co-workers can compliment him and he can accept it without reservations. Even the usual googly eyes from the opposite sex — mostly his students — feel less weird, though, obviously, he's no closer to accepting any solicitations.

He sets about suiting himself back up. Today's outfit is one he purchased back in the summer, but never got much use of until now. Dressing better for work was Sayaka's idea. Of course, she has a weakness for seeing him like this, but she's also well aware of the long-standing conflict between Akira and his boss. When Amagiri-sensei was in charge of the department, Akira could get away with much more. Many claimed this was due to nepotism, but Akira could never see it. Amagiri-sensei was fairly easy-going in general, but he expected nothing but the best from his proteges. To Akira and Haru, he was practically a slave-driver, albeit the best possible kind.

Dr. Amagiri's retirement was forewarned years in advance, but no less of a disaster for Akira. When the baton passed to Okadome, it was as if the department's polarity changed in a nanosecond. His expectations were very different, and Akira could never bring himself to satisfy them. Fortunately, tenure has protected the impetuous Dr. Katsuragi all these years. (Being a student favorite has probably helped, too.) And so for all these years Akira and Okadome have been at a standstill, the atmosphere unpleasantly tense, Okadome seemingly doing everything in his power to make Akira feel uneasy and unwelcome.

Even so, Okadome lacks the power to turn Akira's love for academia in on itself, and that's important. Akira has been talking to Sayaka about the future. Despite his inhibitions about giving Tatsuta a definitive answer, it's all but decided that he won't take the job. It requires too much of a sacrifice; it will just tear the family apart and make him more miserable than ever. He can be happy without it. That's the only way to be happy, even!

“In which case,” Sayaka posed to him, “is it possible for you to be happy at your current job? Or should you be looking for a third option?”

He has been wasting years and years of his life seeking a patron for his quirkiest and most controversial ideas. If he put those interests aside and simply became a brain for hire, that might open up some interesting new possibilities. But Akira has been at Yukawa for so long that it's difficult to imagine himself anywhere else. He's not sure he wants to. He doesn't have to give up the ship, not yet.

“Why treat your antagonism with Dr. Okadome as a necessary and unchangeable condition?” Sayaka asked. It was a very edifying conversation they had, and she was full of pointed questions. “Think,” she said. “Assume he doesn't have it out for you as a person. Are there aspects of your behavior that he might find disagreeable? Are there things you can change, without compromising who you are inside?”

Akira had to admit that, yes, he probably could name a few things. He dresses too casually; his hair looks too unkempt; his polite speech forms are unrefined; he's too focused on personal projects and doesn't take enough interest in collaborative ones; he interacts too little with any senior staff besides Haru; he doesn't participate enough in staff meetings; etc. Could any of these things be changed? If he really wanted to, sure. Would it make his life easier? Probably.

So that's what he's been doing, and today yielded the first concrete sign that his efforts have been paying off. Sayaka naturally shared his enthusiasm for this development, texting him back, “Congrats, Aki-chan! ヽ(;^o^ヽ)” Akira was really resistant to taking these measures at first, but he can't deny that the praise from Okadome felt good. And being less on edge all day at work is more than reward for altering his habits a little.

Akira figures he might as well put the tie back on while he has mirrors readily available. He finds one on the wall that's at least as tall as he is — not having to stoop or bend is always nice — and gets to it. As his hands work, he notices that his bangs have reverted to their feral condition, parting slightly off-center and forming uneven purple drapes over his brow. The crazy things really do resist any attempt at taming. He's considered cutting them off, but then he remembers old photos where his hair is cut short short, and does he ever look terrible. Never again. He'd just as soon grow his bangs out and let his hair reach a length where he can simply pull it back, but that plan probably doesn't mesh well with trying to get on Okadome's good side. Maybe later, if he really proves himself and gets the boss to loosen up a little.

He gets caught up in the way the light plays off his hair. The purple color comes from his father's side, and from Akira's observations the trait is fairly rare despite having apparently dominant behavior. Why this is, who knows; it's not his field. Akira does know, however, that this feature is one of the few things connecting him to his daughter. For Misato, it's an unambiguous reminder of where she comes from, one she has to see in the mirror every day. Akira honestly wonders why Misato hasn't started dyeing it black. Then again, he can just as well imagine her reasoning, “Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.”

Even after four weeks of relentless effort, Akira feels no closer to Misato. He has been tirelessly friendly and outgoing toward her, undeterred by the girl's aloof attitude. He's been very careful not to go on about himself, but to keep focus on her: ask about her interests, her friends, her academics, her inner world, her everything. It's been nerve-wracking. A single mistake, and Misato could just dismiss the entire endeavor with a simple, “I knew all along that Dad hadn't changed!” As of yet, he hasn't obviously messed up, but Misato also hasn't let him any closer than arm's length.

“Don't let it deter you,” Sayaka said. “Just give her a little space, then try again later. Remember, from Misato's point of view, you're the one who betrayed her. She's not going to make it easy to get back into her heart. But if you refuse to give up, eventually she will recognize your effort and start to give back.” If not for Sayaka's encouragement, Akira would have given up before he even started. The only way he can get through this at all is by not thinking about his desired end goal. He has to actively forget about how much he wants Misato's love and forgiveness. All he can do is show her kindness, warmth, and reliability — no strings attached.

This weekend might be promising. Somehow, Sayaka convinced Misato to involve Akira in her science project. It's simple enough — mostly just interview a professional in a hard sciences field. Misato could just have easily gone to Haru or Risa, and she probably wanted to. This is a big chance, obviously. It's a chance to show Misato that his work does have value. A chance to show her the importance it has to him. Well, most importantly of all, it's a chance for them to do something together. Just father and daughter, no one else. It could go terribly wrong, but hopefully they'll both survive the endeavor with a better understanding of each other.

Today is a big day in its own way. He and Sayaka have had intimate meet-ups outside the house before, but none held this much significance to Akira. For the first time in perhaps ever, he feels very confident about his marriage. And this feeling doesn't have any sense of being illusory or fleeting. No, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. The way things are now is the way they should always have been. Sayaka is the best partner anyone could ask for — infinitely affectionate, forgiving, accommodating. During his many dark moments, he's wondered if they were really meant to be, but now he knows the answer to be “yes”.

Tonight, he hopes to expose himself to her completely. Be wholly, utterly vulnerable. Sayaka has told him many times to leave nothing hidden. And so, it is time to let a ghost from his past rise to the surface, and be vanquished with love and trust. He knows he's ready.

Akira checks his tote once more, to be absolutely certain that the parcel is with him. Good, good, there it is at the bottom, beneath his gym clothes and whatever else. An amorphous, medium-sized package, awkwardly wrapped in last Sunday's newspaper. Tacky, perhaps, but fancy gift-wrapping is so extravagantly wasteful he can't be bothered with it. He knows Sayaka doesn't care anyway. What's important is what the present is, not how it's wrapped.

Clutching his pendant to his chest, he prays that Sayaka accepts the gift... and, in so doing, accepts his very heart.

Trying to post the whole thing in one post is resulting in some weirdness, so I'll split it in two and see if that helps.

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Postby Reichu » Sun Aug 30, 2015 1:56 am

Ch. 13 (ctd.)  SPOILER: Show
Sayaka approaches the sushi bar, feet sore from hours of walking and shoulder aching from her over-packed canvas bag. After a satisfying morning to herself wandering the Okazaki Museum District, nothing sounds better than sitting down to lunch with kin. This is a beautiful place for it, too: a small traditional shop near the base of Daimonjiyama, embraced on all sides by ancient greenery.

Just as promised in her text, Yura is waiting outside the establishment, smoking away as she talks into her headset. Sayaka can't help but feel a warm, soothing calm take her. Yura's been working herself to the bone since earlier this year, and it's been easy to worry. They've talked on the phone here and there, but this is their first physical get-together in months. Even if it's just for lunch, Sayaka's really glad to see her big sister again.

“Oneechan!” Sayaka calls, waving.

As she probably should've expected, there's no response. Yura can't hear her. Instead, she shifts her weight, crossing one leg over the other, and tosses her chin-length angled bob. Her overall sense of style — exhibited today via crimson red leather jacket, snug stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots, and mirrored sunglasses — conveys a sense of wanton indifference, that's she above caring what anyone thinks. That's true, to an extent, but there's much more to her than that. In action, Yura effortlessly combines confidence, competence, and charisma with a fierce sense of loyalty and compassion. She's the “cool big sis” that so many want, but Sayaka actually has.

Sayaka has always looked up to Yura. In times long past, she's even wanted to be her. But they're simply too different. Despite being clearly related, the Katori sisters contrast like night and day. However, much like night and day, there's nothing that can separate them.

Nothing except for that blasted headset, anyway.

Sayaka gets much closer and passes her hand in front of Yura's face. At last, that gets her attention. Yura smiles and silently mouths, “Wait a sec”, then turns away to finish her call. “Hey, Satoshi-kun, my sister's here. Can I call you back later? … 3 work for you? Okay, talk to you then!” She pushes something on her belt-mounted phone, deftly folds up her headset and stows it into a pocket, then redirects all her attention. “Sorry about that. What's up, baby sister?” She tips her head lightly. “Long time no see.”

Sayaka bows more deeply — her braid, as always, falling forward as well. “Definitely too long,” she affirms, straightening and throwing her hair back over her shoulder. “It's really good to see you, Yura.”

“I've missed you, too, Saya-chan,” Yura says, a warm grin breaking out on her slightly boyish face. “I'm also very hungry. Would you believe that I've eaten nothing today? True story.”

“Oh dear,” Sayaka says. “You need to take better care of yourself, Yura.”

“I knew it! I knew you'd worry. You always worry!” Yura teases. “It's been a hectic morning, that's all. Anyway, come on in. I know the chef pretty well, and I guarantee he won't feed you anything rancid.”

Off-kilter as always. Sayaka would have her sister no other way. “That's reassuring,” she replies drolly.

There are two empty stools front and center that may as well have been waiting for them. “Hey, Tama-kun,” Yura greets the chef on duty, so casually that it nearly makes Sayaka wince. She holds her hand up. “A platter for two. As usual, I'm trusting you with the selection.”

“You got it, Katori-san. Platter for two, coming right up.” Chef Tama glances over the counter. “No Chikuma-san today, eh?”

“Well, someone has to hold the fort,” Yura says. “But you remember Sayaka, don't you?”

Sayaka isn't sure if she even remembers ever being here. The past several years have been so stressful, though, it wouldn't surprise her if she simply forgot.

Chef Tama squints. “Ah, yes, Katsuragi-san. It's been a long time, but I never forget a face. Give me just a moment and I'll put together something worthy of such beautiful sisters.”

“Tama-kun,” Yura groans, “you really are an old rascal.”

The chef laughs. “That, I can't deny.” His eyes turn to the countertop and the sounds of food preparation become audible.

Yura flags down a serving girl for some cold beverages, then gets down to business. Resting her cheek on a palm, she gives Sayaka an adoring, overly intimate look and smiles. “You look really good, Saya-chan. Younger, in a strange way.”

“I swear I'm still forty, Yura,” Sayaka says, feeling a little embarrassed.

“I dunno. There's this kind of understated vibrancy to you. Almost like life's taken a break from punching you in the gut repeatedly.”

Sayaka releases a tiny sigh. Yura certainly has a way with words…

Yura thinks deeply, pursing her lips. “Actually, I've got it. This is the same aura you were giving off when you and Akkun started to get serious.”

Sayaka feels a moderate flush come on. “Are you saying that I'm in love?”

A flash of the teeth — unnervingly white and straight. “Well? Are you?”

She grips the hem of her skirt. “I can't help it, Yura. It's so easy, the way he is now…”

Yura cracks open a beer. “Hmm, yeah. A while ago you told me that Akkun was feeling a bit more like his old self. So I guess that hasn't changed?”

Sayaka catches Yura up on all the relevant details. In just a month, Akira has made significant improvements to his health, become an active and helpful presence around the house, made some headway with his hyper-critical boss, and started the long and arduous process of mending his relationship with Misato. “And he's been so open and affectionate,” she adds, blushing again. “Not excessively, either. I was really worried that he'd get a little too… you know…”

“Amorous?” Yura suggests.

“Yes. To put it mildly.” Sayaka sighs. “It's really been a pleasant surprise. He's been amazingly stable. Not like what usually happens. No — he's almost always grounded and in control.”

Yura offers a warm smile. “I'm glad it's been going well. Though… hearing all this, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Akkun's not taking the big job.”

Sayaka feels her enthusiasm for the conversation shrink a little. “No… No, I don't think he is.”

“You don't even know?” Yura's eyebrows couldn't go up much higher.

Sayaka averts her eyes. “He really hasn't talked about it much.”

Yura slaps her palms together. “Okay! Serious question: has he actually declined it? If I remember correctly, it's still up for grabs until sometime next month.”

She starts playing with her braid. “No… not as such. He just hasn't accepted.”

Yura seizes her brow in frustration. “Oh, Saya-chan. That's a thread that shouldn't be left to dangle loose. You really don't need me to tell you this.”

Sayaka feels a bit foolish — but, at the same time, she feels that she did right by not haranguing Akira about the job offer. It led to this result, after all. If she'd nagged him to call the UN recruiter back, it might have had the exact opposite effect. It's not something she wants to argue with Yura about right now, though. “You're right, of course. I'll bring it up with him tonight.”

“You better,” Yura chides.

The sushi platter arrives and the sisters immediately set into it, distributing pieces to their individual plates. Yura starts with a sabazushi but stops it right in front of her mouth, as though whatever she has to say can't wait. “So, enough of the husband talk. I know you could talk about him all day, but I want to hear about you. What's happening in the non-Akira parts of your life?”

Sayaka neatly dips her temarizushi into the sweet sauce. “There's not a whole lot to say. You keep overestimating me, Yura. I'm really not that interesting.” After she finishes the pieces, she says, “I was looking forward to hearing about you and the business, to be honest...”

“Yeah, we'll get to that,” Yura says quickly. Then, with a heavy sigh, she lays on the exasperation. “Really, Saya-chan? You really expect me to believe that? 'I'm not interesting.'” Her imitation of Sayaka is spot-on, but utterly unflattering. “Grade A bullshit. You become boring by telling yourself that.”

Sayaka flinches at Yura's unforgiving language. “Please mind the other patrons, Yura. I don't like when you get like this.”

“You're not supposed to, baby sister,” Yura replies all too easily. “So, seriously. Nothing? What about work? Hobbies? Friends? Future plans? I keep telling you to cultivate an identity outside of the house. You can't be defined by this 'dutiful wife and mother' crap. There's so much more to you.”

She thought she could hear this tract coming. Sayaka slides another piece of sushi into her mouth and tries not to let it get to her. It's not that she fundamentally disagrees with Yura's position. It's just that, with everything else that's at stake, it's been so difficult to think about herself. Her parents also deeply instilled in her — less so Yura — the values of humility and self-sacrifice. Exposing too many personal details feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

But Yura is just trying to be supportive. Sayaka's sure there's something she can tell her to put her at ease. “Work has been fairly peaceful…” In the corner of her eye, she spots her shoulder tote on the floor. Come to think of it, she spent the whole morning wandering north Higashiyama-ku completely on her own terms: visiting some shrines for a hefty dose of spiritual relief, then picking up assorted items at the local shops until her bag couldn't hold any more. “And actually… The fact that Akira is helping around the house is making a difference. I've been able to spend the occasional non-work day doing my own things.”

Yura grins, cracking open a second beer. “I knew it.”

“But there's more, Yura,” Sayaka says. “We've been talking about the future here and there, too. Akira's shown a lot of interest in doing whatever he needs to do so that I…” She downs some tea to soothe her nerves. “…So that I can actually go back to school.”

Yura's obsidian eyes sparkle with joy. “And get your M.D.? For real? That would be incredible, Saya-chan!”

Sayaka fidgets with the stirrer, swirling the remaining tea over and over. “It's just a thought… I won't be able to act on it until the next term regardless. If Akira can keep this going, not fall back into the usual patterns, then maybe I'll be able to finally do it.”

The other woman clasps her chin and muses quietly, “You don't have to leave it to chance, you know.”

Is Yura really going to go there? Bring up Akira's… condition, in an exposed public place like this? Sayaka tries to dispel it with a joke. “Are you and Risa in this together?”

“Are you implying that I'm not sophisticated enough to have learned about this stuff on my own?” Yura fires back playfully. “I haven't even talked to the Yakumos in years. Anyway, you'd know where I'm coming from if you actually checked your e-mail. Not making any headway there, I take it?”

Sayaka simply shakes her head. “Not yet, I'm afraid. In any case, Yura, I won't talk about this here. You'll respect that, won't you?”

“You're so old-fashioned, Saya-chan,” Yura grumbles, helping herself to more sushi and washing it down with beer. “But Akkun isn't, so it's never made complete sense why he hasn't—”

“Yura… oneesama,” Sayaka says firmly. “Enough, please. Lecture me on the phone later if you must, but please don't do this to me now.”

“Who said anything about lecturing?” Yura complains. But she takes the hint, finally, and drops it. They harbor an awkward silence for what could be two minutes or several — either way, it drags — and continue to work on the platter. Yura eventually breaks the silence. “So, you want to know about the current status of Katori-Chikuma LLC, do ya?”

Sayaka transfers a couple more pieces of sushi to her plate. “That would be wonderful. Please tell.”

Yura lays down her chopsticks and bridges her fingers. “Well, we have the new office mostly set up at this point. It's still small, but obviously way more space than Takkun and I have at the apartment. You should check it out sometime; I'm sure you'd be able to make some nice aesthetic adjustments. Some of the stuff you have stacked in your loft might do the trick.”

My old paintings and prints? “Oh, Yura, you know that's all just college experimentation. None of it's actually good.”

“Sure, whatever,” Yura blithely dismisses, quickly moving on. “We have a couple of people on-board already. Women, even! Takkun's been a darling, as always. I promised him that I'd hire men, as well, but he said it really didn't matter to him. 'Do what you want, Yu-chan.'”

Sayaka chuckles at Yura's impersonation. “It's eerie how you do that.”

Yura smiles appreciatively. “How is he always so laid-back? It must be genetic or something. Anyway, Saya-chan, expanding a business is hell. I don't recommend it. How did I get it in my head that this would be a good idea? It would be awfully nice if, once you get a reliable body of clients, they treat you like a well-guarded secret. Positive word of mouth can be a killer, I tell ya.”

“Well,” Sayaka says, “I guess you can think of it like your baby growing up. Right?”

“That's pretty much what's happening, yeah,” Yura agrees. “The kid's gotten too big, too unruly. She wants to be independent and have an apartment to herself. With any luck, she'll take care of Takkun and I when we get old.”

Sayaka can't help but laugh at the analogy. “I don't believe you've ever told me her name.”

“Hmm, that's a good question,” Yura says. “I kind of fancy that name Akkun had picked out for your second kid—”

Sayaka suddenly feels her heart skip a beat. “Wait. What are you talking about, Yura?”

“Weren't you two planning on a second one before everything went belly-up?” Yura asks, not a little confused.

“I wanted another child, yes,” Sayaka says, “but Akira never… He never told me that he did.” She feels her innards twist up into a sick mess. “Are you telling me that he told you?”

Yura compulsively starts a cigarette, after going the whole meal without one. “Maybe it's just a trick of the memory. Don't read so much into it, Saya-chan.”

Sayaka clasps her skirt anxiously. “What was the name?”


“That he'd picked out. What was it?”

“Oh.” Yura releases a big gray cloud toward the ceiling. “'Kaworu'. Like his great-aunt. But, you know, I knew about his admiration for her anyway. It really is possible that my mind made up the whole exchange.”

No, it's not. Sayaka remembers. When they were deciding what to name their first, Akira offered “Kaworu”, then dismissed it out of hand and told Sayaka that it should be her choice. …… He actually wanted another, and he never said anything to her, his own wife, about it? Sayaka feels like she could cry.

“If you want to know the truth, Saya-chan, just ask him. But, y'know, later, at home. Don't ruin your date over this. Please don't.” There's a faint buzz, and Yura checks her phone. “We have to wrap things up. You know I don't like leaving things like this. I don't want all the progress you two are making to get messed up because my tongue slipped.”

Sayaka drinks some more tea. “You didn't mean to, Yura. Don't worry.” She takes a long, deep breath. “And, besides, that was so long ago… I can't let it bother me so much.”

“Well, you can't unhear what I said,” Yura observes. “So the best you can do is try to approach these old scars with calm and dignity. You can work through this; I know you can.” She calls over for the server. “I'll take the tab, please.”

Sayaka tries to think about something else. Anything else. Something more immediate and pressing… “Oh! Will you be there this weekend, Yura? Takkun didn't want to answer on your behalf.”

Yura receives the bill and starts robotically pulling yen notes from her wallet. “I'll try to be there, yeah. I want to see my niece again, anyway. Been meaning to show her my new car.” She turns to Sayaka and flashes a grin. “I have a feeling she'll really dig it.”

“Misato got her taste in cars from you, after all…”

After passing payment to the server, Yura adds, “I guess it'd be nice to see Akkun again, too. Though, I'm not sure he really wants to see me.” Before Sayaka can ask after that comment, her sister changes the subject. “Oh, yeah, Saya-chan. Mom and Dad send their love. They really want you and Misato to come visit. And if Akkun is doing as well as you say, maybe you could even bring him along. I don't think the folks have seen him at his best in a very long time. It might do some good, you know?”

“Yura…” Sayaka sighs. “If they didn't like him when we were first going out, what's going to change now?”

“They've mellowed out a lot since then. You haven't noticed?” Yura gets to her feet and retrieves her hand bag. “They've told me that getting old really puts the important things in focus. So, you never know. Now they might be able to appreciate Akkun more for what he is, instead of being disappointed in what he isn't. It's worth a try.”

“Definitely a thought,” Sayaka allows, “but I'd probably want to feel them out before bringing him. When things between them go sour, they go really sour. Next free weekend Misato has, I'll try to take her, at least.”

Yura nods. “Alright. Well… you take care of yourself, Saya-chan. With any luck, I'll see you in a few days.” To the chef, she calls, “Superb as always, Tama-kun.”

Sayaka gets to her feet. “Okay. I'll see you soon, oneechan.”

As Yura leaves the bar, she shouts, “Remember, happy thoughts!” A quick wave and she's gone.

Sayaka sits back down. Idly, she checks her own phone. No messages, and about fifteen minutes to kill. She gazes emptily at the remaining pieces of sushi. The preparation, freshness, and flavor is excellent — possibly the best Kyoto-style sushi she's ever had. But her appetite is shot.

Chef Tama glances down at Sayaka as he cleans his knives. “If you can't finish, Katsuragi-san, I won't be offended,” he says, offering a sympathetic expression. Well, he would have overheard much of the conversation, after all.

Sayaka looks up and smiles weakly. “Thank you, Tama-san. I appreciate it.” But she's not like Akira. She makes herself eat anyway.


The love hotel sits out in broad daylight, all too conspicuous in this part of Okazaki, nestled amidst shrines and Buddhist temples, with a zoo only a couple of blocks away. But with such a convenient location, Akira sure isn't complaining. Sayaka wouldn't say who'd made the recommendation in the first place, but Akira would place his bets on Yura, who's never been bashful about the kind of advice she offers her sister. He and Sayaka have been to this one a couple of times already, and it's surprisingly nice. Never visited in the middle of the day like this, though.

Judging from Sayaka's most recent text, Akira's the one to arrive first. She's always seemed more comfortable entering such establishments separately, so he proceeds directly to check-in, acting as relaxed and natural as possible. Some people do give him weird looks, but that happens whenever he leaves the immediate vicinity of Kyoto University anyway — just an inevitability of his unusual height. When the front desk asks, he declines the chance to pay extra for erotic paraphernalia. I've brought my own, thank you.

Their room is simple and elegant, with tasteful traditional décor and a small fountain in one corner. The wood-paneled walls and lamp-only lighting give the room a warm, intimate feel. Akira kicks his shoes off, sets his bag down, and falls back onto the oversized elevated bed. The mattress is nice and bouncy and the sheets smell freshly laundered. He gazes up at the ceiling, letting his mind wander and the anticipation build in his flesh.

Eventually, his phone buzzes. Sayaka, saying to stand by at the door for her. Heart thumping with excitement, he leans against the door and watches through the peephole. And soon enough, there she is. Akira opens just enough to let her enter, then locks it behind her. “Hi, Sayaka,” he greets. “That's quite a bag you have there. Found some nice stuff, I take it?”

She puts it down with a plop. “A little of this, a little of that. Don't you be looking inside, though.” She starts to remove her shoes, setting them right next to his.

Akira's smile broadens and he winks at her. “Don't worry. I understand completely.” His birthday is coming up, after all, and he wouldn't put it past Sayaka to get him something. As unnecessary as it is, the thought is sweet.

As soon as she finishes hanging her jacket, Akira can't bear to keep his ardors inside any longer. “Sayaka,” he breathes, stepping closer to her, “I'm really glad this was able to work out. I've…” He gently clasps her face and leans in. “I've been thinking about you all day.”

“We haven't been apart that long,” Sayaka teases, a flirtatious smile on her face.

It's very subtle, but he can feel her pulling back. On an impulse, Akira kisses her quickly, before she can slip away. She's definitely a little stiff and not entirely open. “Sayaka?” he asks, releasing her.

“Oh,” she says. “It's nothing. I just need to use a toilet really badly! Can you excuse me for a moment, Aki-chan?”

He straightens up. “Yes, of course.”

Sayaka disappears for a few minutes. Akira prowls in the main room restlessly. He's not sure why. It's like… this overwhelming desire to make love, mixed up with this vague sense of being ill at ease. When Sayaka's upset, often it's the little things that matter. But what could she be upset about? Is he just misreading the whole thing?

When Sayaka comes out, she starts approaching him without any sense of inhibition, as though she fully intends to get down to business. But Akira can't help but ask. “Oh, quick question. Did your lunch with Yura go okay?”

“Yes,” she says, removing the band of her braid. “It was lovely. What an odd thing to ask.” She grabs him by the tie and slowly pulls him down so she can claim a kiss. This time, she doesn't hold back, and Akira feels his whole body light on fire all at once. Sayaka takes to the bed, pulling him down onto her. It feels like they're eating each other up; Sayaka tastes so good there's no way to stop. While Akira is perfectly happy necking and being teased through his clothes for a time, eventually he yearns to feel skin against skin. Total contact. And that, in turn, reminds him…

“Sayaka,” he whispers. “I have something for you… A present.”

She seizes him tightly between her thighs and licks the crook of his neck. “Well, what are you waiting for? I'm ready. Give me everything you've got.”

Akira retaliates with a kiss and laughs. “No, no, no. Just a present. The kind that you open.”

“Oh...” Sayaka says, sounding mildly disappointed. “Is it necessary that I open it now?”

“Well… Not as such…”

“We have plenty of time. Don't worry so much. We'll do it right after this.” She nibbles playfully on his nose, and things only go south from there.

Akira has no idea what he was even worrying about earlier. Sayaka is playful and full of energy. She wants him. He wants her. Here, in the comfort of a giant, comfy bed, without fear of anyone hearing or seeing, they can satisfy those yearnings to the fullest. Akira heeds Sayaka's summons and wastes little time giving her what she desires.

Approximately fifteen intense, exhausting minutes later, they've both achieved satisfaction. They take turns using the bathroom, get partially dressed, and curl back up on the bed to enjoy the remainder of the glow. Sharing no words, just their pulses, body heat, and respiratory rhythms.

Eventually, Sayaka says, “So… what is it you have for me?”

“Hmm?” Akira jolts out of his peaceful daze. “Oh.” He breaks away from his rear spooning position, stretches, and pulls himself up. “Wait a sec. Let me get it.” He reaches down into his duffel bag and pulls out the uneven, newspaper-covered package. Passing it to Sayaka, now seated on the edge of the bed, he says, “Sorry about the wrapping job. I'm a bit out of practice.”

Sayaka just laughs. “It's so you. I actually find it quite endearing.” She turns the parcel over in her lap, apparently trying to get a sense of what it might be. Akira sits down next to her and intertwines his fingers, trying to stem off his nervousness. Sayaka notices and gives him a reassuring pat on the head, then a gentle caress down his face. “But really, Akira, you shouldn't have. You know you don't need to get me things.”

“Oh, I know,” he says. “This is a special exception. I suppose you could say it's for both of us.”

“Oh?” That seems to pique her curiosity, and her expression turns impish. “Just what are you up to, Akira?”

“Open,” Akira urges, “and see.” He feels like his heart will leap from his chest at any moment.

“Well, then, here I go!” Sayaka tears into the parcel, exposing part of what's inside. But then she stops, her lifted, playful spirit abruptly fading into quiet befuddlement.

“Don't stop there. Keep going!” Akira tries to swallow the lump in his throat. “The contents only make sense when taken together.”

Sayaka glances nervously at him, then forces herself to continue until all three items are freed. She first scrutinizes the oddly-shaped blue marital aid in the clear molded shell, struggling to read the foreign label. Her attentions move on to the two cardboard boxes, which are no easier to read, but at least one of them has a photo clearly illustrating the intended use. This is done in complete and awkward silence.

Akira can't harbor it any longer. The nervous tension boils over, and, perhaps too frenetically, he tries to explain the gift. “The harness and the blue thing are supposed to go together.” Pointing, he adds, “This part here goes in you, so you can feel what you're doing. I didn't scrimp. I want this to be fun for you, too.” Lastly, he indicates the still-boxed lubricant. “I've heard good things about this stuff. And it's water-based, so it won't corrode the silicone.” He backs off a little and catches his breath. “Pretty neat, huh? What do you think?”

With unnervingly slow motions, Sayaka sets the items aside. She doesn't look at him. She hasn't looked at him in minutes. “'What do I think?'” she repeats, voice devoid of emotion.

Something's wrong. Very wrong. “Sayaka?” His voice is soft and barely audible. “Sayaka… are you okay?”

And then, Sayaka drops her face into open palms, her fingers clinging against her skin. “You have the nerve to ask me that? … Why? Why would you do this, Akira?”

His pupils shrink; his throat goes bone dry; his mouth opens and closes like a suffocating fish. Words refuse to come forth. He tries to put a hand on her quivering shoulder, but she shrugs him off. It's such a sting that his whole being stiffens with paralysis, and he can only wait, and listen.

“What were you thinking?” Sayaka's voice feel so tiny and distant. “Why couldn't you just leave well enough alone?…”

Akira bites his lip and clasps his pendant, and at last his speech returns. “I don't understand, Sayaka.” He tries to sound gentle, keep his tone neutral. “I asked you about this. Whether you were up for trying new things. You said—”

Sayaka finally frees her face, revealing her tear-streaked cheeks and hot charcoal eyes. “Couldn't you have passed it by me first, instead of dropping…” She points fiercely at the gift. “…THIS… right in my lap?”

Akira looks away in guilt. “I— I wanted to surprise you…”

“Well, you certainly accomplished that much,” Sayaka replies with uncharacteristic bile.

He can feel the tears welling up behind his eyes. But he doesn't want to break. Things have been going so well. He can't give in to the darkness, not yet. “Can't you tell me what's bothering you?” Akira pleads. “All the present is… It's just a different way for you to be in control. You enjoy taking the lead. You do it plenty of times.”

Sayaka turns away and her hands slowly clench. In a voice so cold it's almost unrecognizable, she says, “I can't… I won't… be a man for you.”

Akira feels a fierce, constricting pain in the pit of his stomach. She might as well have stabbed him. After nearly a minute of struggling for the right words, he hoarsely whispers, “Is that what this is all about? …… The one I was with before you?”

Sayaka is silent.

“This isn't like that at all,” Akira insists. “It's just a toy, Sayaka. Just playing. I don't want you to be a m—”

“But you don't actually care that I'm a woman.” She's getting sullen. “It's all the same to you.”

Akira should've expected this. How could he be so foolish? How could he let optimism blind him like this? “So you still don't understand. After all this time… nothing's changed.”

“How am I supposed to understand that, Akira?” Sayaka fires back. “Do you even understand me and my feelings? Or are yours the only ones that matter?”

There's no helping it. He can't hold them in any longer. The first tear floods over and careens down his cheek. “I care, Sayaka. You know I care. That's why I told you in the first place. And you decided that it didn't matter to you. You swore that my past didn't matter! So, why…?”

Sayaka pulls out a tissue and blows her nose. “It wasn't a lie, Akira. It didn't matter… because I love you. I couldn't stop loving you because of something you did before you even knew I existed. I can never stop loving you because of that.” She wrings her hands. “But… but… things you did, and enjoyed… I can't accommodate them. They're not things I do…” A deep sigh. “I can't be a part of it. It's… it's… not right…”

Akira is silent for a time, his face devoid of expression save for the intermittent tears. “…You know how much it would mean to me.”

“I do. And I'm sorry. I really am.” She massages her temples. What comes next sounds moderately forced. “Akira… it's possible that, maybe, eventually, I'd warm up to the idea… But I would need a lot of time to think about it. I know I can't just step into that role for you here and now.”

He feels so numb inside that those words are little solace.

“Akira...” Sayaka says. “I'm glad you were so honest with me, all the way back then. It may not seem like it, but I really am. It's just… I've been wondering… Have there been other important things, that you haven't told me about?”

That jerks him out of his stupor. “……What?”

Sayaka shrinks back a little. “I was just thinking today, reflecting… You know how much I want us to be perfectly open with each other. Nothing hidden. So, I suppose, despite my bad reaction, the present was good in its way… You being more honest with me about what you want.” She fidgets. “But there have been many times when you just won't talk to me. And I wonder, always wonder, what it is that you're suffering all alone.”

Akira feels a bit perturbed by this sudden shift in the conversation. He's still stuck on earlier events. “Sayaka… what is there to say? When I'm not talking, it's because I don't have anything good to say. Is that stuff you really want to hear? How much I hate myself? How I feel so hopeless I wouldn't care if I were dead? How I could be a hair's breadth away from destroying years upon years of my work, because it's worthless just like me?”

“Akira...” she says. “That's not—”

“Then what? What is it?” He can't get the things Sayaka said out of his mind. None of her backpedaling can erase her hurtfully ignorant comments. Even after all these years, she's so naive that she can say 'I won't be a man for you' with a straight face? What other kinds of rotten assumptions are she carrying around? He gets to his feet and starts pacing. “What do you want me to tell you, Sayaka? That's I'm a closet gay? That all those late nights I was supposedly at the lab were really—”

He turns to look at her, and she's visibly upset once more. For whatever reason, he can't bring himself to care. Not right now.

“Akira… Why are you even saying such things? Are you implying that you actually—”

That's not quite what he was going for, but he rolls with it. He doesn't really care anymore. “You've suspected it, haven't you? From the moment I told you about him, you've suspected. Your parents seem convinced. A lot of people do.”

“My parents, Akira?” Sayaka says, flustered. “I'm not a slave to their opinion. I married you! Shouldn't that say everything you need to know?”

She's more of a slave than she'd ever be willing to admit. But does he really want to go there? No… no… Stay focused. “I doubt it's what you're looking for, Sayaka, but… there is something I want to tell you.” He turns to face her and pats his torso emphatically. “This is the person you married. He's not going to hide who he is anymore.”

“Good,” she says. “I don't want you to!”

“Is that really true?” Akira asks. “Doesn't the real me disgust you? I'm a freak and a pervert. You're married to a vile deviant, Sayaka.”

Sayaka stands up in a bluster. “Akira, stop this right now. Can't you see what you're doing?”

There's so much pain flowing outward that no, he can't. He feels his mind dredging up four decades of hurt, of cruel people calling his most fundamental nature into question. Much as he wants to, he can't look away. He can't silence the terrible voices.

That Katsuragi's so confused he doesn't even know which bathroom to go to. Haven't you seen him? He sits down like a girl to pee. Maybe he is a girl. He's pretty enough.

Crying again? You're so pitiful it feels generous to call you 'son'. And to think that you're the heir to the family name… I feel sick.

Why do all the girls want him? Don't they know he's the biggest faggot in the school? Just our luck, I tell ya…

Absolutely not! No daughter of mine is going to marry that pathetic excuse for a man! Just look at him! He obviously just wants to use you as a smokescreen for his real interests!

Akira finds himself slumped against the wall, cradling his head protectively in his arms, sleeves soaked wet with tears.

“You're right, Father. I'm no man at all. And if you're the sort who qualifies, then, frankly, I'm glad.”

At length, he realizes that the loud, ungainly sobbing sound is coming from him, and that only causes him to curl up more tightly. He is pitiful. And worse than that…

“You want to know what you are, Akira? Nothing. All the way 'til the day you die, you're nothing.

“Never forget it.”


I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about how this would get received. I made multiple attempts to foreshadow Chapter 13's big revelation much earlier in the story, but they usually seemed out of place and didn't make the cut as a result. The only obvious survivor is from as late as Chapter 12 (Tatsuta's crass comment, “Katsuragi does kind of strike me as someone who's gnawed on his fair share of pillows”). One of my beta readers agreed that earlier foreshadowing might not be a bad idea, “but sometimes surprises are good (just not for Sayaka)”.

Odds and ends:

  • The dates for the October chapters will probably solidify later on. It'll be easier to commit once I have a more solid idea of how the upcoming events end up playing out.
  • The names of Haru's kids (Masahiro and Jun) are, fittingly, a reference to two of the original peeps at Hal Labs, Masahiro Sakurai and Jun Ishikawa.
  • There has been a bit of talk about dyslexia not being something that affects users of symbol-based languages, but there are actual Japanese dyslexics who beg to differ. Back in 1999, I'm assuming that this movement for recognition hadn't gotten very far, hence why the Yakumos needed to hear about the condition from a foreigner.
  • It has become my observation that the decision to maintain personal suffices can be quite a lot of trouble. There's little point in using them if you can't be consistent, but being consistent requires a lot of extra effort and attention to detail. Sigh.
  • Regarding “kakiwotaku”: kaki 火器 is “firearms” and wotaku ヲタク is another way to write “otaku”.
  • Hiroshi Tanikoshi and Seito Yamagiri are two junior staff members who've been mentioned in previous chapters. The former has had a couple of speaking parts, but the latter is still waiting for his turn. This is the first time his actual given has been mentioned, as opposed to a nickname.
  • “Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.” — Yes, that's an Office Space reference. Completely unplanned, but once it popped into my head I couldn't NOT do it.
  • Higashiyama-ku is the district south of Sakyo-ku, where we've been spending most of our time. The Okazaki Museum District is in the north part of Higashiyama-ku. You know, it's probably easier just to Google maps until it makes sense.
  • “Marital aid” is an actual euphemism for “sex toy”.


Betrayed by his own elation, Akira's heart begins to retreat once more. Desperate for anything to nurse his bleeding wounds, he turns first to the distant past. When that fails, he dives precariously toward the future — one quite different from what he'd imagined not a day before.


Misato: …….Why does Dad have to be such an idiot?
Last edited by Reichu on Sun Aug 30, 2015 6:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby pwhodges » Sun Aug 30, 2015 3:23 am

More! I look forward to finding the time to read on (but not for a couple of days, as this is a holiday weekend here, and I have visitors to boot).
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Postby UrsusArctos » Sun Aug 30, 2015 8:40 am

Well, his "marital aid" worked about as well as could be expected :lol: Poor Sayaka!

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Postby NemZ » Sun Aug 30, 2015 10:53 am

Yeah, Sayaka's personality doesn't seem a good fit for that, no. Also lol at that being a present for her.

Side note, have you ever really considered how screwed up what you're suggesting would make the series? If Akira is the donor then Kaworu is Misato's half-brother and all the angels are her nieces/nephews. Shinji is legally her ward, so technically he's murdering cousins-in-law. Meanwhile unit 1 is Lilith's daughter/clone, so Rei is a clone of her own daughter/sister/grand(x###)daughter, and that means Shinji is her brother/nephew/grand(x###)son. And Asuka is... uninvolved in any of this, as usual. ^_^
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Postby UrsusArctos » Sun Aug 30, 2015 1:02 pm

NemZ - the K4 connection - (Misato) Katsuragi-Kaji-Kaworu-(Akira) Katsuragi is one of Reichu's old theories and it's one I happen to be fond of myself. What better than have the two vessels of the SoLs be "siblings that never were" for the two protagonists of NGE? It fits perfectly!
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Postby Reichu » Sun Aug 30, 2015 2:18 pm

Ursus: Since "Kaworu" comes from Akira's aunt, I doubt he'd pick it specifically for use on a male child. :tongue:

NemZ: I've definitely thought about it, though I'm not sure I've diagrammed the resulting convolutions to that level of detail! :lol: Just the twistedness of Misato becoming familially tied to Adam & Co. as a result of Akira's endeavor, then proceeding to commandeer the Angels' systematic annihilation, is irresistible to me. The "last Angel" being her own long-lost half-brother and a facsimile of Daddy Dearest is, of course, the delicious icing on that irony cake.

Your duty? Don't make me laugh.
This is for your own sake, isn't it?
Your revenge against the Angels!

The only thing that was clear to me was I wanted to destroy the Angels
who caused the Second Impact.
So in order to do that, I joined Nerv.
In the end, maybe I just want to get revenge on my father,
so that I can free myself of him.


The show does the "Angels are my enemy... no, wait, my father is!" with both Shinji and Misato, but only in Shinji's case does his father end up becoming explicitly fused with the Angels (Gendo grafting Adam onto himself). It's always felt really conspicuous that they never followed through with Misato's dad, considering at least 90% of the work was already done... GYAH!

Anyway... Hmm, I wonder if the overt foolishness of Akira's latest bad decision has managed to totally overshadow everything else I was trying to convey in that scene. :chinscratch: Well, we'll see what we can do about that next time.

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Postby NemZ » Sun Aug 30, 2015 2:56 pm

You just couldn't resist the passage about purple hair, could you? :devil:
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Postby felineki » Sun Aug 30, 2015 4:50 pm

The pillow-biting line just came across as judgmental stereotyping on the part of Tatsuta, so I wasn't expecting this. But maybe that's just me being oblivious.

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