Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:24 pm

2.3.4 - Auditory assisted mass harmonization
SPOILER: Show
(2.3.4: AUDITORY-ASSISTED MASS HARMONIZATION)

December 2nd 2014

T minus 406 days

(Day 5)

I could tell you now that the next morning, we got right up and kicked the computer’s ass straight away, but I’m sure the more discerning of you would immediately raise your skeptical eyebrows at that.
After all, we’d been making precious little progress these past four days, mostly because, for that time, Asuka wasn’t even trying to match my measly excuse for movements -
We might as well be starting from scratch – more so than Mari and Rei, who could at least look back at the experience of at least one previous successful harmonization.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but you can’t will yourself all the way to the other side of it: You still have to walk down the actual path.
The truth is that we ended up staying up so late that Misato came to physically drag us out of bed the next morning – honestly, we’re lucky that she realized we’d been getting in some extra training and that she and Mr. Kaji both ended up thinking that the whole thing was straight up adorable, as much as Asuka might have resented that characterization – at least it meant we weren’t yelled at - if it were father or Miss Ritsuko, they would never have gone so easy on us.
I dare say that Mr. Kaji even ended up remarking on a decided improvement, even though the error-noise of the motion gaming setup still kept beeping at us more often than not.

Meanwhile, Mari and Rei weren’t having as easy a time as they’d each had with Kaworu – both might be described as ‘brave’ and ‘unconventional’, but there was an obvious clash in their attitudes in that Rei was more by-the-book and diligent, which Mari was… really not.
“Pilot Makinami. You are not following the instructions.”
“Ah, come on, don’t be a square~ You gotta be able to have a little bit of fun with your work~ The point isn’t that we follow this dance, but that we sync up or movements, right?”
“That is what I am attempting, however, it is difficult to follow your movements if I cannot predict them.”
“Well, if you try to follow after me it’s obvious that you’re gonna lag behind. You have to feel the rhythm.”
“...that is a rather vague instruction. Can you explain what you mean?”
“Explain? You might as well ask me to explain the color pink to a blind dude. There’s no explaining here, either you feel it, or you don’t.”
Poor Rei. By her standards, she was looking very, very confused.
I guess neither of them really had much of a social instinct – they both tended to stand apart from large groups, start with a bit of delay when the entire class started packing up their things for the break and so on… they didn’t have much of a feel for groups or the perceptions of others, unlike me, who probably worried about this more than usual. Asuka only acted like she didn’t care, but she was actually pretty concerned with looking good; Kaworu didn’t have to worry, since he was very good at reading others.
Mari and Rei each sort of marched to the beats of their own drums, which might have been a commonality in other circumstances, but rather impractical when they were supposed to synchronize the clocks. At one point Mari left her post and grabbed onto Rei to show her how this supposed ‘rhythm’ was to be felt, to which Rei didn’t complain, but didn’t seem all too comfortable with…
I guess they should be grateful that they made us look less bad by comparison. After being at this for four days, we really weren’t in any position to be throwing stones.
Knowing what I did now, I surely would have been stressed about Asuka feeling all pressured if they’d been showing us up without much effort…
“Oi, Mister Highscore! Stop spacing out and concentrate!”
I guess I should be grateful that Asuka was paying attention to what I was doing, at least…

So yeah. It continued to be hard, unforgiving work, and despite their initial delight at our sudden progress, the grownups weren’t looking altogether convinced yet.
Misato was still looking somewhat concerned, regarding us seriously over her tented fingers when our performance disintegrated into a cacophony of beeps for the umpteenth time.
We were so close this time, too!
It was all go remarkably perfect until we were done with the second chorus, then I slipped up and that must have ruined both our concentration.
“Kids. Stop for a moment, I want to try something.” she began, some calculation running behind her eyes – We were definitely talking to our superior right now, not the fun Misato.
I couldn’t fathom what she might be thinking of, and Asuka looked as surprised as me.
Our surprise only deepened when the next person she addressed wasn’t either of us:
“Nagisa-kun?”
“Yes?”
Since Kaworu was not currently part of the exercise, he had been sitting on the table across from the grownups.
“Can you give it a try for a bit? I want you to trade places with Asuka, just for a moment.”

I understand now that this was probably a strategic consideration:
As our supervisor, she needed to know if I was gonna be able to do this at all, particularly since she hadn’t got the chance to test either of us with different partners – that she made Kaworu try it with me should have been the best proof that she didn’t doubt too much that Asuka could have pulled this off with, say, Mari as her partner.
That wasn’t where my thoughts went back then though: Just a day before, my main worry might have been that Asuka would be mad and take it out on me – a self-centered, childish concern, perhaps… right now, after the truth was made clear to me with the subtlety of a falling cartoon anvil, I was finally asking the right question just cause I had no other choice – I feared that she might be upset, that this would feed right into her worries, and behold: As if on cue, there was, in fact, something of a lost, child-like expression spreading on her face, much like, I’d imagine, someone who was seeing the floor being pulled out right under them. Isn’t it fun that the world makes so much more sense when you stop being so completely clueless about it?
Of course, every bit of hard-won insight just makes you aware of how unforgivably clueless you used to be, and how much more still lies beyond your understanding.
I hated the thought that Asuka would get all mad at Misato for this and everything would be loud & tense and filled with fights again, but I couldn’t blame her.
Asuka was hardly inexpressive, she was, generally speaking, a pretty loud person who openly spoke her mind – or that’s how I’d always thought of her up until that point.
I must admit now that there were always some types of feelings that she tended to keep hidden, the sort that she would deem to be weak. Misato was her boss – but I was supposed to have been her friend, and I didn’t find out about this either until I witnessed her in a moment where she simply couldn’t hold it in.
Even now, I can’t claim that I had suddenly made a turn for the noble. I just didn’t want to hear any more fighting and yelling: “Wait, no, Misato-san, don’t change it up yet!” I scrambled to say something useful. “Just- just let us do try one more time, okay? Just a little longer. I promise, we’re trying our hardest! Just give us one more chance! We almost had it! We’re sorry we gave you so much trouble, but, I think we’re getting the hang of it now, so please, let us try again- I don’t mind doing it with Asuka, just- give me a little bit more time...”
I think Misato was, above all things, surprised – no wonder, really, considering that we’d just been complaining about being paired with each other for four days straight.
The most damning thing would have been that Asuka seemed surprised as well, like this was the last thing she would have expected me to do – when she noticed me looking, she reflexively tried to say something tough-sounding: “Don’t you speak for me, Mister Highscore!”
Her feigned displeasure wasn’t all that convincing, though.
Misato blinked at us confoundedly. “What’s with this sudden change of attitude?”
Beside her, Kaji grinned: “I told you we should just give them a little bit of space. Sometimes another night is all it takes.”
...is he referring to Asuka breaking the cameras?
Captain Katsuragi considered this carefully. “Look, I just want to have some rough idea of how you’d do with another partner. Once you’re done, you can go back to practicing with Asuka straight away.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want either of them to be mad at me…
In the meantime, Kaworu had taken his position at my side.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. This is just like playing our Duet together.”
...is it…?
It kind of was. When you think about it, Kaworu and I had already had loads and loads of training at adjusting our movements to each other. Playing music together was like that, that day we danced in circles during the ice skating sessions was like that… and we both knew the choreography itself already, so, we weren’t actually starting from scratch.
Even so, I didn’t think that we’d clear the entire routine in one go, even while I was actually doing it – there were a couple of split second near misses when I thought I was about to lose my balance.
When I had finished, I expected to be critiqued, not to find everyone staring in awe when I finally opened by eyes. Mari outright applauded, stopping right in the middle of her own dance routine to do so – Rei continued for a few more steps before she noticed that her partner wasn’t following.
I did not feel the slightest bit flattered though, nor accomplished. What joy could I have at the cost of another person’s terror?
I could see that Asuka’s face had just gone several shades paler; I noted the twitching of her upper lip that she was trying so hard to suppress.
I saw it because I knew to be paying attention – Kaworu, too, must have noted it, or he would have been saying something reassuring to me instead of looking concerned.
Misato did not. Of course not – Just yesterday, I don’t think that I would have picked up on this either. I’d have been way too concerned with my own fear of her wrath. Like everyone else, I would have bought the illusion of her tough veneer without question, just like I had so many times before, just like Misato had, as she seemed to be under the impression that Asuka could use some more proper motivation, or perhaps even to be taken down a peg – that was basically how almost everyone thought about Asuka.
My friends, most people at school, even me, if I’m honest. I thought I understood a little more than most, but that was probably just presumption. Maybe Hikari and Mari were the ones who understood, but clearly not enough to lighten her burden.
I’m not sure Ms. Soryu really did… Misato certainly didn’t:
“Well would you look at this!” she commented with a grin, “Seems to me like ‘adjusting down’ to Shinji-kun’s level is not so impossible after all~”
To Asuka, that must have been like having salt rubbed into her wounds – and even knowing how this bothered her didn’t endow me with the wisdom or ability to know what to do or say to her.
“Look, Asuka, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“Oh shut it, we don’t have time for those phony reflexive apologies of yours. Get back in position! We have training to do! Oi, Nagisa, out of my way!”
Kaworu politely excused himself, and we went back to training. As far as her instructions went, you might think that Asuka was pushing me harder than ever, but, I noticed also that she had decidedly increased her efforts to match my clumsy flailing.
It was hard to consider it a victory when I knew that she saw it as a humiliation she had no choice to endure, driven as if the very whips of Satan were behind her…
Of course. What was I thinking? Did I think signing up to be a soldier would be easy?
And the actual war had not even begun…

When we were let go for the lunch break, Misato took me aside.
“I know Asuka can get pretty harsh sometimes, but don’t let her get you down, okay?”
But that’s not it. That’s not it, Misato-san. I’m not the one you should be worried about.
I’m the one who’s had it easy. I got to have a normal life. I guess I only look like I’m taking this the hardest cause I’m a weak, embarrassing wimp. I can’t even take a fraction of what Rei stoically suffers without flinching. Or what Asuka toughs out through sheer force of will. Or what Kaworu keeps smiling through. Or what Mari brushes off nonchalantly.
“No, it’s fine – it’s my own fault for being so thin-skinned I guess. I just keep making her mad, no wonder what I’d do…”
Misato’s response was not exactly what I expected. Rather than saying anything reassuring, she looked me in the eye with a certain degree of severity: “So what? Are you going to stop doing things then, on the off chance that she might have something against it?”
That was the sort of statement that might count as ‘complicated’ for a child, since she wasn’t taking either of our sides. I was sort of being scolded, but not like I would have expected.
“I- I just don’t want to hurt her, or make things more difficult for her than they already are…”
“Listen, Shinji-kun, at some point you’re gonna realize that no matter what you say or do, there is always gonna be someone who is gonna take offense at it. It’s good that you’re trying to be considerate of others, but as with all things, this should be taken in moderation – you can’t always please everyone. At some point, you’ve gotta stop stressing about what everybody else thinks or says about you, and learn to be okay with pissing others off sometimes. You can’t always avoid it, because sometimes, people being mad at you has a whole lot more to do with them than it really does with you. – I mean, are you living your life for you, or are you living it for your buddies?”
I wouldn’t go that far, no. I don’t think I’d even be capable of dedicating myself to anyone or anything else.
“...for myself, I think…”
“Then act like it, cause nobody else is gonna do it for you.”
Then she considered her work done, and sent me on my merry way.
Or not so merry, really. I really couldn’t figure out what people wanted from me. If I don’t pick up on what they’re thinking it’s bad, but if I do, it’s also bad?
Being a person is hard.
I kind of didn’t want to try and find Asuka, all this negativity and just… everything… was kinda getting overwhelming. I wanted to see if I could hang out with Rei or Kaworu instead – but I felt like I ought to go after her, and not just because it was all part of this exercise.
I wondered what I’d have to do so that people wouldn’t be mad at me – yeah, Misato just told me that that’s impossible, but, obviously it’s possible to at least not go around making people mad for the heck of it.
More than anything I was just exhausted of being stuck in this bubble all the time, doing nothing but training with little space to decompress. There was little else to really do but get into fights.
Kaworu helpfully informed me that Asuka had gone to the cafeteria rather than our lodgings (not very surprising) so that’s where I went, mostly cause I didn’t have the energy to make my own decision…
I didn’t have to go far, though. She was leaning on a wall, not too far from our lodgings or the makeshift training room, though she hadn’t gone into our quarters where the other pilots must be about to have lunch… I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that she didn’t want to see our faces.

I found her easily enough, but once I did, I quickly found myself wondering if I shouldn’t have turned back and had lunch with the others, which was ultimately what I’d really wanted.
Asuka was in the cafeteria, just as I’d expected, and what’s more, it would appear that she had ran into her mother there, and now they were sharing a table, at which Asuka was angrily biting big chunks out of her sandwich. For the sake of her stomach, I hope she was at least chewing properly.

I considered if I should maybe back out and leave, but before I got to the point of making up my mind, I was spotted by Ms. Soryu: “Hey, Shinji-kun, is that you? We’re over here!”
...how could she be so chipper?

I ended up accepting the invitation mostly out of politeness, dutifully answered Ms. Soryu’s various small talk questions, quietly sat down and ordered one of the cheaper things they had, though I kept quiet insomuch as I could get away with. I felt like I was intruding on their conversation, and I wasn’t sure if Asuka really wanted me there…
Ms. Soryu, however, babbled on like a waterfall, either oblivious or defiant of any figurative dark clouds that might have been hovering above our heads.
“So as I was saying – I can’t believe Katsuragi still insists of making you do that silly dance routine. I didn’t take her for the ‘my way or the highway’ sort of person…”
Maybe she was trying to infect us with her good mood, but I don’t think it was working much, especially not with Asuka. “It’s okay Mama, you can say ‘tyrant’.”
Ms. Soryu chuckled, but I don’t think it was supposed to be a joke.
“She just bosses us around as she pleases! Honestly, sometimes I think she goes out of her way to humiliate me…”
...did they expect me to join them in badmouthing Misato? I don’t really feel comfortable doing that, sure, she’d been a little tactless there, but I didn't think she had any bad intentions… though I suppose that would be precisely what a child would think.
I could argue that Asuka’s accusations didn’t sound all that mature either, but Ms. Soryu saw nothing wrong with that – if anything, she agreed:
“Should I talk to the higher ups about her?”
At least, you could say that the two of them were a team.
“There’s no point. That’ll just paint a target on both of our back, and they’d never take me seriously again. I don’t want to look like some whiny complainer, or a little girl that comes running to her mother!” it was upsetting to see Asuka sounding so deflated and pessimistic. “I hate being led on some merry dance by some frivolous tyrannical woman, but we have no choice. If I don’t do it, they’ll swap me out for that Nagisa boy, and then what could I say to that?”
She listlessly picked at her generous desert with a tiny fork. “I keep thinking, ‘There’s no way that they can treat their best pilot like this!’, but, I’m not the best, aren’t I? Nagisa is. I bet they wouldn’t dare to threaten him with swapping him out. They couldn’t afford to, cause he’s the best! This would all be so much easier if I could just crack his darn record already!”
“You can’t. I keep telling you, a sync rate of 500 percent is impossible. You couldn’t ever reach 400 any more than you can reach the speed of light. 399 maybe, 399,9, perhaps even 399,99, but no 400. It’s a singularity, a point where the math just spits out bogus - it’s like the pole of a hyperbola, do you understand?”
“I know how math works, Mama.”
Imagine being so smart that having something compared to math makes it more understandable.
“See? And even if it were theoretically possible, which it isn’t, according to our calculations, that would kill you instantly. Which it can’t, cause it’s not possible, and makes no sense.
If you could go past 400, what’s to stop you from going all the way to infinity, and gaining the power of a god? That sort of nonsense is maybe fun for the philosophers to speculate about, or for intrepid authors to write science fiction novels, but in real engineering, there has never been such a thing as a free lunch.”
This might be down to my status as a total layman, but to me this sounds a bit odd coming from a woman whose life’s work involves fighting against aliens with perpetuum mobiles.
I ended up learning later that this was an actual term or inside joke among physicists, the ‘no free lunch theorem’. But wasn’t I eating free lunch right now?
Though I suppose you could argue that it wasn’t free for Ms. Soryu when she bought it. And I was only sitting here eating it because I’d literally sold my soul to a dubious organization, of all things, for the use as a remote control for a giant robot… cyborg..-homunculus thing.
But she was speaking with such confidence that I was inclined to believe her, seeing as I had no other means by which to judge the veracity of her claims.
Asuka’s concerns, however, were not quite so academic in nature:
“...then how is he better than me at fighting? Is that a computer error, too? He’s finished with this stupid dance exercise already, ad I couldn’t even win once…”
“Really? Then what about yesterday?”
“That didn’t count.”
“Says who? Little miss operations director? Since when do you care what she thinks?”
I’m surprised that Asuka was letting me witness this. You’d think she’d flat out forgotten that I was here.
“This isn’t about what she thinks,” she grumbled, “You don’t have to tell me that this dance exercise is stupid, believe me, I know that! I’m the one who’s been stuck doing it for a week. But Misato’s the one who decides who gets sent on missions, so, it does matter, if only for that reason. Besides, I can’t let them show me up like that! If I’m really the best, then shouldn’t I be able to do a silly task like that, even with a rookie slowing me down? Nagisa could, so why can’t I?”
Ms. Soryu took a long pointed sip of her iced coffee.
“I know that feeling. In the end, I guess most of us are going to encounter it at some point in our lives.”
I didn’t know what I meant, but in Asuka’s situation, this would be not just confusing but also exasperating. “What are you talking about?!”
Ms. Soryu began her tirade of sage wisdom in a long-suffering tone: “No matter how great you are, eventually, there is always someone better. There is always a bigger fish.”
She evidently found this very regrettable – like she admitted it only because she’d lived long enough to realize that the opposite would make her look foolish.
“Once you consider it, it’s actually quite logical: Of any given skill, only a single one of the seven billion people in the planet can be the best – the world record holder, maybe. But nobody else.
Of course, our brains weren’t made for considering all seven billion – it’s only in the recent few centuries that such numbers of people have even existed. Originally, we used to live in small tribal bands of just one hundred and fifty – and in such manageable little groups, it’s quite possible to be the best at something. If you work hard, it’s even possible for you to trump them all. Some might find themselves standing out by mere coincidence – I was born in the 70s, which doesn’t seem that far away when you consider that a lot of people’s music tastes are still stuck there, and yet it was a different world – a world that was constantly on the brink of nuclear war. It was in that same decade that women were allowed to hold jobs without written permissions from their husbands. The precursors of the EU was only just getting started, and there were people still alive who had been born during the monarchy. Plenty of stodgy old farts got their knickers in a twist when my father showed up with a ‘strange little oriental lady’ for his bride, and when it all fell apart, they all saw their prejudices confirmed, like it wasn’t their constant needling that ruined everything. - By the time Asuka went to grade school, she had many classmates from immigrant backgrounds from all over the world, but in my school, it was only me, two Russians, and the one polish kid. My mother and I were asked weird questions all the time. I look mostly like my father, but I got my mom’s eye shape so, one time I got some backwards old lady asking if I had a chromosome disorder. I stuck out like a multicolored dog.”
“...what?”
“Figure of speech. It doesn’t translate well – But the thing is, I decided that, if I was gonna stand out, it should be for something that I actually have control over. I would show all those crusty twats who’s boss. That my mom and I aren’t anything like their 19th-century stereotypes.
I was gonna make sure that the don’t say, “there goes Kyoko, the Japanese girl”, but, “there goes Kyoko, the captain of our soccer team.”, or “There goes Kyoko, the best student at our school”. If I was gonna be noticed, it would be on my terms.
So that’s what I did: I worked hard at everything I got involved in. I was the best in my family. The best in my grade school. The best in my secondary school, and the valedictorian in my year… In the end, I was offered research positions at prestigious institutes all over the world.”
Those are some big shoes to fill… no wonder that Asuka is so particular about her grades.
“I could’ve gone to Oxford, to Harvard, Moscow, you name it. But I chose a post-grad position in the research group around professor Fuyutsuki. That’s when I hat the pleasure of meeting the one and only Ikari Yui.”
“My mom?”
After all this time, I still couldn’t get used to hearing how much of a big deal she was. I should have been but – I guess I was used to thinking of her as just a normal mom. And by that I don’t mean that moms can’t be geniuses or anything like that, it’s just… nobody is a hero to his valet. Not cause the hero isn’t a hero, but because the valet is a valet.
My parents, to me, are people who used to sleepily trudge to the breakfast table with their hair still all fuzzy. My mom used to talk to be in a sing-song voice to get me to put on my clothes in the right order.
“She’s basically the Crag Venter of Metaphysical Biology.”
I didn’t even know about the regular Craig Venter. Sensing this, Ms. Soryu looked for a salient way to underline her point: “You know Kaga Hitomi? The one who works with me in the engineering department?”
I nodded – she was the expressive, short-haired researcher who did our meditation sessions.
“Her own father was a big shot who used to be a contemporary of professor Fuyutsuki back in the olden days, but still she says that she got her inspiration to go into our field from hearing of Yui-san’s brilliant works.”
I had no idea, even though I’d been seeing Ms. Kaga every week for a while now.
“Basically, if you’ve ever so much as heard the word ‘metaphysical biology’, you’ve heard of Yui Ikari. And I met her when she was in her prime, a precocious little upstart, ready to shake the foundations of our understanding – In hindsight, this just seems destined, but, back then, she wasn’t really the legendary Ikari Yui yet – she was just my coworker, and I couldn’t beat her. It made me so mad. I’d gotten so being the star in every group I was a part of that I’d come to see it as my good right. I was supposed to be the star, and the star was me. It was how I dealt with the world, how I coped with my setback, so without being able to play that role, I was adrift, and I didn’t like that – I had always been the driven one, I didn’t know how to be adrift. I was supposed to be the smart one… but in a group of top tier, front-line researchers, it was a given that we would all be smart. That was the whole point. I’d worked all my life to be part of such an exclusive group, but when I got there, it wasn’t what I expected… I think I really started to hate Yui-san for a bit there...”
It’s not hard to see why she feels this story is relevant… this is a whole lot like Asuka’s own story, except described with an understanding that I couldn’t have since I’d never actually lived it.
“But then I saw that I wasn’t the only one. At first I kind of looked down on the others – Makinami senior was a prodigy who joined our group as a first year student, fresh out of high school, where she’d graduated at 16, and she had a whole moment about not measuring up to Yui – and I thought, of course, you’re a little kid playing at being a researcher. But Akagi had twice my experience, and she was broken up about this-”
“...what, Ritsuko-san?”
Wasn’t she, like, Misato’s age? I was confused…
“No, no, no, the other Dr. Akagi. Our Dr. Akagi is actually her daughter. And I thought, of course she can’t do it – she’s a washed up old has-been, and besides, I don’t even think her envy of Yui-san was purely professional. She had taken quite a shine to Shinji-kun’s father back in the day, really, she was pretty blatant about throwing herself on him. In a different universe, it might have worked, but as it stands, he only ever had eyes for one single lady. - No offense, Shinji-kun, but I never really got what she saw in him...”
...is that what Miss ritsuko meant when she said her mother was ‘impulsive’...? I’m sure that Ms. Soryu considers this interesting office gossip, but I’d rather not have this knowledge in the back of my head while talking to Miss Ritsuko…
“But the point is, I used to look down at them so much. I was so frustrated. Until one day, I noticed that Makinami and Yui-san were suddenly getting along, and when I asked to know what that was all about, she said to me – Makinami did – ‘aren’t you glad, that you’ve finally found others who can relate to you, work with you and compete with you on the same level’?
I realized then that she was right, and that all the time I’d been looking down on her and the others, I was really just the same. Neither of us could ever be what Yui-san was, but, do you think then, that our work group would have worked better if they’d just gone and fired everyone but Yui-san?”
“Well of course not!” blurted Asuka, “That would be nonsense. No one could be that great.”
And that’s when Ms. Soryu clapped her hands in great satisfaction: “There you have it! No matter how great someone is, some tasks are just so grand, so immense, so momentous, that even the greatest person on earth couldn’t do it by themselves. Even the greatest people have their strengths and weaknesses. Goethe thought he would be remembered not for his writings but his bullshit works on color theory. Einstein rejected quantum theory cause he didn’t like it’s implications. Arthur Conan Doyle was a big sucker for occultist crap – that doesn’t mean that they weren’t the best at their strengths, it’s just that the grand sum of human knowledge is not so small that one single person could contain it. This is why we work together. This is why we specialize.
So maybe you’re not good at this silly teamwork exercise. So what? This is, maybe, like, the first of all those silly exercises that you’ve remotely struggled with? As far as I know, you’re acing most of the others. Maybe you don’t have all strengths, and maybe you’re not uniquely the best at everything, but you’re still the only one in the world who has your combination of strengths. So, Nagisa has a better sync rate – so what? Is that all you got? You’re the only one of the main pilots who’s been through proper military training, unless you wanna count Aida-kun’s military games. You actually know what you’re doing with those weapons. You’re a fighter. You’re a go-getter. You have the will to succeed! Are you gonna give up on all your dreams just because of one setback?!”
“Of course not!”
“Exactly! So what if you have weaknesses? Everyone has weaknesses! Stop obsessing about them, and try to think about your strengths. Because the greatest people around? They have weaknesses, too. And that’s where you come in. You’re not the only one who’s good, but you’re the only one who’s you, with your particular strengths. You have to find your own niche, your own specialty. If you’re not the one with the top score anymore, you’ve got to find something else.
You know, I’ll never know where that Yui-san gets all her ideas from. It’s beyond me; She’s a visionary of the sort that you see only once in a generation. When it comes to theory, no one can beat her. But you know who did all the actual precision calculations and predictions? Dr. Akagi! That’s how such a young lady got to be vice director of research. And you know who made all the actual blueprints? Who worked out the kinks in the technology? No one other than yours truly! If it weren’t for us, and our whole work group, and everybody else at the technical division, all of Yui’s great visions would just be pie-in-the-sky speculations – it might go on to inspire some fun science fiction books, but that’s all!”

I could see Asuka’s eyes sparkling – clearly, her mother’s speech had filled her with all-new inspiration.
I was kinda jealous. Despite all the difficulties they each had to face, they at least had the advantage of each other – They were very similar in their natures, values, temperaments and interests, they had much in common, in a way that my parents and I simply didn’t.
If I’d been interested in being a man of science, or even if I’d chosen to devote myself to any other great ambition, they could have mentored me, and I am sure that there is much they could have taught me.
When Asuka pictures herself as an adult, I’m sure that she must be imagining herself a whole lot like Ms. Soryu – but I’m not sure what sort of adult I would end up like – my uncle, maybe, or my old music teacher? I really just can’t imagine it. I know I’m not gonna be anything like my parents. I wonder what it would be like to get to know an adult that I could actually see myself in. I wonder if Rei thinks about being like my parents someday…

Today’s ‘special activity’ was a surprise. I assume that Misato and Mr. Kaji were meaning for it to be a happy surprise, like a surprise party, or a surprise gift, but under the circumstances, I kind of wished that they had warned us…

We were back to doing the same old dance routine, but I think by now, the mood that had been tethering on the edge of shifting since yesterday had finally tipped all-together.
I have often thought that there’s a special amazing quality about a person in the act of following their greatest passion, a special sparkle in their eyes when they gush about what they love the most.
I had many conversations about it with Kaworu. I have often seen the glitter in the eyes of Touji when he’s playing basketball or spending time with his sister, or the impassioned energy in Kensuke’s gestures when he’s talking about military boats or his latest survival trip. Once Kaworu told me that there was a researcher trying to understand human personalities with EEGs, and that he found that there’s a special activity pattern that activates when people to their favorite activities that bring them the greatest fulfillment – a state in which all the many disparate regions of the brain work together in concord. I think if you had attached some electrodes onto Asuka’s head that day, that’s what you would have seen.
It was still as much of an uphill battle as it had been this morning, but I think she carried herself with a kind of faith that she didn’t have before. It was kind of infectious.
You know what? I don’t think we were actually doing that much worse than Mari and Rei anymore…

Misato and Kaji were pleased. Maybe that’s why they thought that we could use a break. I saw them discuss something, and later Kaji left the room to make a phone call, but I didn’t think anything of it. He probably had work to do – he’d offered to help out this once since he was the one who’d had this ‘triumphant’ idea, but he wasn’t actually part of the operations division and would still have other duties.
I think now that he was probably on the phone with my parents. You see, what happened next was not officially a break. It was technically part of the program, something that was supposed to help with our performance.
Of course, breaks do demonstrably help productivity.

They didn’t tell us a thing, though. There was just suddenly a ring on the door, like there might be if the training room were still the normal crew quarters that it had once been.
That alone was odd, for wouldn’t everyone involved with the exercise have access through their keycard?

Asuka was the first to react, so, I follower her because… because the bell-rang in mid-dance, I was still copying her, I guess. Though I might’ve gone to get the door anyways.
I wonder who it could be, I mean, we’re in the geofront here, it’s not like just anyone could pass by…
My question was soon answered.
Well, that’s a rare sight – Touji was actually wearing his uniform for once! And to see him, Kensuke and Hikari actually not arguing for once, but standing side by side so they could press the doorbell together was a welcome change. I could even spy Marie and Kotone behind them! ...but what’s with all their expressions?
...oh crap.
I appear to have forgotten one single, crucial detail. After five days of this nonsense, I was so used to this that I didn’t even think of it.
Our outfits. Those darn, ridiculous, color-coded leotards.
“P-Pair look!” stammered Touji, looking amazingly shaken.
Not that Kensuke had any more faith in me: “You traitor! Eugh!”
“You know, they always did kinda act a bit like an old married couple. We never should’ve bought the childhood friend excuse.”
Only Marie still maintained her good cheer, mostly cause she was pointing at us and laughing. “Wahaha, you guys look so uncool right now!”
Sweet, innocent Kotone blinked in mild confusion, like she did not quite get what had the others so scandalized.
Hikari, meanwhile, seemed afflicted by sudden bout of moral panic. “Ahh This is totally inappropriate!”

“No, no, no don’t, don’t get it wrong! This was all Misato’s idea!”
But the training seemed to have worked a little too well.
You know why? Because Asuka ended up saying the exact same thing, at the exact same moment. Sure, she looked much more annoyed compared to panicky old me, but that didn’t help our case.
“Like that isn’t much worse!”
“Wait, no, you misunderstand!”
Darn it. We spent so long trying to get synchronized, and now it’s hard to stop!
“What’s there to misunderstand?!”
Poor, poor Hikari. At this point she had just given up and buried her head in her hands.
Of course, the resulting commotion had quickly summoned everyone else to the door, including our fellow pilots and priority candidates, who were, of course, also wearing matching outfits…
including a very exuberant Mari who loudly inquired as to what might we taking us so long, as it was “time to get back down on the floor!”
This is funny when you have the context to deduce that she means a dancefloor and not, like, some weird sort of orgy. You have got to appreciate the comedic value of hearing Rei saying the exact same thing at the same time, tonelessly reciting what Mari was was blurting out with great exuberance.
Somewhere behind us, Kaworu was smiling apologetically – it was the perfect image of chaos.

Thankfully, Misato intervened before poor Hikari could work herself into a full-blown panic, and the whole misadventure dissolved into pleasant laughter:
“Ah, so that’s what going on! Why didn’t you say so right away?”
“We were trying!”
...I could tell by the looks on their faces that they still weren’t used to the extremely weird, highly unlikely occurrence of myself and Asuka saying the same thing, especially when the neirby sight of a synchronized Rei and Mari was only slightly less weird.
Still, one has got to laud Hikari for trying to see the positive: “Well, at least the unison seems to be going well~”

It turned out that the others had just come from the physical enhancement training, and that the people of GEHIRN thought that a visit from our friends would provide us with some much-needed relaxation – and since they were also pilots, this was, strictly speaking, ‘team building’ as well… though it didn’t much look like it. I think in this case, the ‘training value’ was truly an excuse for Misato and the others to be nice to us. Sublieutenant Kaga showed up with ice tea and some of Ensign Agano’s homemade cookies, and even us pilots and priority candidates were allowed to take a break from all the dancing to just sit around the table and chill while our friends caught us up on the latest gossip from our classroom.
Even Misato chimed in once our twice, asking for the latest juiciest news about some of the teachers that she’d come to know while posing as their co-worker.
We had a nice afternoon, and just for a moment, we could almost have forgot that we were training for war.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:25 pm

Part 2:

SPOILER: Show
(2.3.4: But hell is others)

“I’m so glad that no one told the others that we’ve been at this for five days,” I stated, letting myself sink down onto my bed after returning from the shower. My hair was still damp, but I couldn’t be arsed to wait for it to dry. For the first time in ages, I actually felt myself beckowed down by a good, warm sort of tiredness.
“I hope we finally get it right tomorrow...”
“Miss me with that ‘hope’ nonsense.” retorted Asuka as she carried her towels and clothes into the newly vacant bathroom. “We will win.”
“Right.”
Now, that sounded a whole lot more like the Asuka I knew.
It was almost like we were finally friends again.
Or so I thought.

I thought that so much that I must have worn a little, peaceful smile as a dozed off to deep sleep…
Except I never got there.
Shortly before the light of my consciousness would have wholly flickered out for the day, I registered some diffuse ‘thump!’ somewhere close enough that some turnstile in my brain steered my vanishing train of thought back towards the gears of activity.
I tentatively opened my eyes, only to see…
HOLY SHIT.
omgwtfbbq
What…? How..? Why..?
What on God’s green earth?!

Stashed away under his bed, Touji had a heap of magazines that he counted among his most valued possessions, not as much as his favorite basketball, but you know, almost. Even so, he’d been willing to lend them to myself and Kensuke, though I’d never taken one home – I’d think I’d die of mortification if my parents had found me with one.
There was nothing outright, uh, you know, about them, mostly just boobies, but we were probably still not old enough to actually have them.
Even so, I had seen its contents, and it was filled with sights just like the one that currently filled my entire field of vision.
For some reason that was entirely beyond my comprehension, there was a girl in my bed.
I know this sounds like the start of a bad movie that would involve the protagonists all getting blackout drunk – but in the dim light left from the stereo’s LEDs, I could make out her slightly parted mouth, the rosy face resting on her slender fingers, and some very distinctive copper hair.

I was painfully aware of the annoying training music that was still faintly playing in the background.

Asuka hadn’t been kidding about her recent chest growth. The white flesh of her breasts was basically spilling out of her shirt, and somehow, she had chosen to drape them – I kid you not – right in front of my face!

Now in this moment I must tell you that one my my favorite pictures out of Touji’s magazine collection was one where a the model was lying in a beach chair, appearing to be sleeping.
Not soon after, I’d asked Kensuke how to hide a folder on my PC. I didn’t say why, but I think he kinda knew.
There is now a hidden folder on my PC, labeled to look like a system file as by the instructions of my faithful bespectacled friend.
It is filled with many megabytes of pictures of numerous sleeping anime girls in various states of undress. Stock photos of actual models, too. I explicitly had to google “hot sleeping girl” so it wouldn’t give me pics of people’s adorable little nieces or whatever.
Most of those do not have their, uh, chest nubbins fully visible, for I was not yet so bold as to turn SafeSearch off.
Back then already, I had this recurring fantasy, though not yet as often as once I got my next growth spurt the next spring, and came to know what it actually hold someone you like and feel their hot skin.
I imagined often, what it might be like, if I had ever asked of Rei if I could perhaps, uh, wake her up, by… touching, you know?
To run my fingers along the plump flesh of her lips while her eyelids fluttered ever so slightly-

I never brought this up to her, of course. That would just be weird, we never even uh, did that the, well, the usual way – what if she thinks it’s weird? I mean, she’s not just someone who has a pretty body, or who I think was suitable to play some ‘girlfriend’ role as defined through our cultural nonsense. First of all she was my friend, who trusted me, and before the end, she became something to me like a long-lost part of myself that had been torn away at birth, the one glimmer of light I couldn’t doubt as all else sank into darkness. I couldn’t just risk all that for some stupid fantasy that she might hate. I didn’t know if she’d want it, too.

I thought we would get to do this later, because I thought that that would be a later where we get to be grownups and whatnot.
If I had known how it would end, if it had occured to me to just tell her beforehand that if she said no I would never speak of it again then, if she said no, everything would be the same, and if she said yes, I would at least have had one more pleasant memory that could have flashed before my eyes as I choked on my own blood.

But all this was an unreachable fantasy, little more than a wisp of air, and what I saw before me was real, dense, fragrant flesh, vacated of its owner’s tempestous soul who was floating far away in dream land.
I could smell the subtle perfume of Asuka’s body – and to think that before this day, I didn’t believe that people really had distinctive smells other than what would come from their shampoo, soap or cologne – I thought it the flourish of overzealous writers.
It was an overwhelming stimulus poking at the auto-correct functions of my brains – if this was a movie, if this were a fairy tale, I would know exactly what I must do now.
Why else would she be here?
I inched ever closer, touching her warm forehead to mine.
Why would she do this, if this wasn’t what she had in mind?
...what the hell am I doing. I I’m wrong, and she wakes up not expecting this, she would flip out. Freak out. Spit and curse. Possibly be traumatized and never ever trust me again, and rightly so.
I couldn’t be sure -
Honestly, it was probably our old friendship that staid my hand.
I was a dumb little boy who didn’t understand the implication or consequence of anything.
If all I had known of her were these past weeks of hostility, I’m not sure if I would have listened to my better angels.
What the hell was she thinking? What the heck is this?

Since she had taken my bed, I retreated to hers, pulling the blanket far over my head.

December 3rd 2014

T minus 405 days

(Day 6)

I trust you’ll understand why I chose to pretend like that entire thing never happened.

It was our turn to make breakfast, which actually means that it was mostly my turn, but, for once, I wouldn’t think of complaining about that. It meant 20 minutes more where I had a solid excuse not to look anywhere else but the stove top and my fingers.

I still had to sit next to her at the breakfast table.
I had to answer her string of complaints about the project, listen to her prickly responses to Mari’s attempts to cheer her up, her slender elbows not too far from mine, her rosy knees bare beyond the seams of her leotard, her pink little lips – and try very hard not to think of what happened yesterday.
She was of course acting like nothing happened. Like it was no big deal at all, nothing worth mentioning – of course not.
After all, she was only messing with me.
Some might say I had been lucky – I couldn’t fully articulate why exactly I felt so resentful.
I tried to put it it out of my mind, to wash off the bitter taste of it with my morning green tea.
I was almost looking forward to finding out what today’s silly teamwork activity was going to be, as I trudged across the corridor into the training room.

As usual, there were two figures silhouettes awaiting us in the garish artificial neon gleam that had become our poor substitute for the light of morn, but as soon as I saw them I realized that something was different today: In place of Misato and Kaji, we were met with mother and Ms. Soryu – Both were in their white coats, though I had the suspicion that the latter had just flung that old thing over a lavish red nightgown, in place of the elegant frilly blouses she usually teded to wear. Her hair was a bit out of order as well – I guess EVA 02’s core unit had continued to keep her busy, or maybe they had come here on short notice… though if that was the case, it sure didn’t stop my mother from looking as put-together as ever.

My first reaction to seeing her was, as it had been for my entire life thus war, one of delight: “Mom! ...but where’s Misato-san?” I still couldn’t help but wonder.
“We gave her the morning off, and I hope she’s making good use of her well-deserved extra break, because her report from yesterday has given me the most magnificent idea!”
...an idea?
Should I be afraid?
Will there be silly costumes again?
“You know, originally, I had a different plan for today’s special activity.” Ms. Soryu commented, sounding just a little peeved. I wonder if she’d shown up like she did because of some sudden schedule change… but I believe the slight displeasure was lost on my mother, whose thoughts were consumed with her latest brilliant idea: “...but then I noticed something astounding in yesterday’s record! Shin-chan, you and Nagisa-kun got your dance routine right the first time yesterday, isn’t that right?”
“Uh…”
I was expecting to hang back and slisten as she explained the plan. I did not expect to find myself as the center of attention. “That’s just – That was-“
“That was because Shinji-kun and I had prior experience, both through practicing the moves themselves for many days, and because of our experience in playing instruments together.”
Thanks for the save, Kaworu-kun.

But alas, rather than to divert the attention from us, this just caused mom to smile knowingly, almost as if she’d planned this all along:
“Precisely! Honestly, I’m almost a little mad that I didn’t think of this myself, but then again, the state of the project hasn’t really left me much time to dwell on the finer pleasures of life as of late… Or maybe, it didn’t occur to me because it’s simply far too obvious.”
“Excuse me, mom, but what do you mean?”
“...seems it is too obvious for you, too. Music, Shinji! You’re all going to play music! Together.
Whether you’re harmonizing with each other, or just each of you with your own EVA, there’s actual a substantial similarity to trying to copy or follow a particular music!”
There was some real amazement shining through her usually calm demeanor – I wouldn’t grasp the implications from not getting the science side of it, but I suppose it must be an amazing discovery.
“Ah, I see.” remarked Rei, “So playing the Viola really does make me a better pilot.”
...I had been hoping that she would be enjoying it for its own sake by now. That is, I wouldn’t say

Ms. Soryu had clearly noticed this, too, and thus addressed her with a huge grin:
“At least, this might remind you that not all things can be predicted by pure theory.”
“But I could have predicted this with theory! In hindsight, it’s absolutely obvious. That’s why I feel like kicking myself!”
...so there is actually some serious scientific calculations going into all this?
“So even you feel like that sometimes, huh?” remarked Ms. Soryu. She wasn’t mean about it, just, kinda wistful. I don’t think Mom noticed much, except perhaps as an odd moment she couldn’t quite classify. Weird enough as it sounds, with that mildly confused look on her face, she almost looked a little bit like… nah, I’m probably just imagining it.
Is what I thought back then.
My attention was swiftly swept elsewhere when Ms. Soryu resumed speaking. “-There’s just one problem, though: I don’t think Asuka-chan is very musical…”
“Uhm? Excuse me?! Mama? I can play the violin!”
...you can?
This is the first time I’d heard of this, Asuka.
It seems her mom was not expecting this, either.
We soon found out why, though Asuka seemed uncharacteristically reticent to admit it:
“Heike made me take lessons. Something about how classical music is good for your brain development or something-”
“That’s been debunked many times over. With dubious studies like this, you’ve always got to ask what the control condition was. If you’re comparing classical music to no music, all you’ve proved is that rich parents who can afford expensive lessons can usually also buy the best tutors. Kind of a colonialist mindset, really, to think that the one kind of music that grows bigger brains just happened to be invented in your neighborhood. But of course, I wouldn’t expect anything better from that stuck-up snobbish twat.”
I don’t think she meant or realized the quandary that she was imposing on her daughter through this. Maybe she was still better over some time when she had found herself unfavorably compared to Ms. Langley, or perhaps she had done that herself, looking to find a meaning in her misfortune.
But even if there was nothing special about classical music in particular, one could not argue that teaching your stepdaughter useful skills and worrying about her brain development was in any way a bad thing.
So I would wonder, in later days, if Ms. Soryu’s dismissive response here had not sprung up in defiance to a pang of guilt, seeing as she had not known or thought about her daughter’s lessons.
To be fair though, I doubt that Asuka greatly loved playing the violin, seeing as she had never much mentioned it before – Her father’s household became a place where it’s commonly accepted that smart people play the violin, so she had to prove that she was smart.
Image and praise were by their very nature dependent on your surroundings, so when in Rome, you show off as the Romans do.
In the end, Ms. Soryu must have thought so too: “Well. When it comes down to it, that’s just goes to show how amazing my daughter is, for her to put up with all of that woman’s frivolous demands. And now, thanks to our project, her hard work has not been entirely in vain.”
In other words:
‘Don’t worry, you’re not in the dog-house for mentioning the violin thing’.
I was beginning to grasp what it meant to be let in on this hidden messages – as far as the others were concerned, there has been nothing more to that sentence but just simple bragging.
“Another violin, hm?” mused mother, not at all concerned. “Then whe’ve got all the ingredients for a proper string quartet, don’t we? What do you think? Nagisa-kun on second and Asuka on Second?”
“I’m not going to play the literal second violin.”
...literal?
As Kaworu would explain to me later, to ‘play second violin’ is a common figure of speech in Germany, with a significance about equivalent to the English ‘playing second fiddle’ or ‘to be second banana’ – apparently, the spot of the first violin used to be quite coveted in the orchestras of the olden days, much like being the first Ballerina.
Mom shrugged.
“I just thought it would be funny, since you are the ‘Second Children’.”
Thankfully, Kaworu quickly grasped the situations, throwing up his hands in a concillatory gesture: “It’s alright, I could also play the piano.”
“That might be better anyways, we can’t really be a ‘quartet’ with five people…”
“We could just give Mari a contrabass, though.”
Now this told me right away that Ms. Soryu wasn’t very musical either, perhaps explaining why she was so irked, or why she’d expected her daughter to be the same.
There were a lot of awkward smiles in the room.
Finally, mother was the first to find the courage to speak: “Ah, you know, those things are loud enough to overpower half an orchestra… Maybe we ought to ask Mari what she can even play.”
“I play the transverse flute and the tambourine!” she retorted cheerily, pretty much at once – but I had looked towards her just as her name came to be mentioned, so, I had picked up on the moments just before when she had observed the interaction with an analytic look behind her glasses…

Of course, this meant that we would once again meet our old friend, the costume boxes.
Most of us, anyways – In my case, Mom had already make sure to bring my nice suit, which I’d last worn at the amateur concert. I suppose I should be glad that I got to wear it more than once before outgrowing it; Makes me feel less bad about all the money that it cost.
Once he saw it, Kaworu proposed to go get his own suit from his quarters (which were, after all, in this very section of the complex), but as for the girls, whose fancy clothes would all be up on the surface (if not back in England), Mom instructed them to pick out something they’d wear to a concert or the theater.

Rei plucked out the most acceptable thing she could see and left to get changed, leaving Asuka and Mari to pour over the contents of the box.
Before long, we were all suited up, including us boys, for once, not in plugsuits, but just plain regular suits. Asuka had of course gone for a glamorous layered dress, bright crimson red and full of sparkles. Rei was yellow on the bottom with a sheer layer on top of it, and dark green above the waist, with some floral decorations. She looked kind of like an upside-down flower, you might even consider her hair to be the water from which the plant had sprung.
Mari had gone for an outfit that might have looked androgynous on someone with a different figure: A very frilly, long-sleeved shirt and high-waisted shorts. It was definitely A Look.
Of course, all of these came with matching shoes and, in Mari’s case, stockings.

We were all just about ready to start making music.

There was no time to haul any of our own instruments down here – we got some government issue ones with big fat GEHIRN logos on top, and we had to tune them before they could be of any use… Well, most of them. I don’t think that you have to tune a flute.

We played and played, first, a few normal pieces, and then, following a few particular exercises or directions from mom – To this day I’m not sure if she prepared those, if she came up with them on the spot after watching us play.
One thing she did was to let each of us join in one after the other, like we were doing a musical version of painting-by-numbers where one color is only added after the next.
At first, it was just me doing the cello parts, then she had Asuka joining in, and then Rei next, then Kaworu, and then Mari, until we were finally playing the piece as intended.

I’m not sure what criteria she was basing this off, but the more we played, the more that Mom seemed all but delighted; During one of the sporadic five-minute breaks we were given, I overheard her telling Ms. Soryu about how they absolutely must integrate this into our regular training routine – there would be a free time slot soon, since they were just about finished with teaching us all about the city fortifications and instrument arrays – from now on, our knowledge on this was more or less kept fresh by incorporating it into the simulations.
I guess there could be worse extra work than something that involved my preexisting hobbies, but as the weeks would progress, the fact that it was a job thing rather than an intrinsic choice of entertainment did somewhat take the fun out of it. We don’t really have to be good if we’re just doing it for ourselves.

There’s a moment I recall, I think, from after we were done – it must have been. We were sitting on the bench near the walls of the room, listening as Ms. Soryu was explaining something that, I think, was kind of related to the next simulator round – I think she was somehow convinced that what we really needed to perform better...or perhaps to prove that this whole training program was bogus? - was another team simulation involving all five of us. If we could beat it this time, then clearly, this whole endeavor had been entirely pointless… or would that not prove the opposite?
I don’t recall enough about the actual rationale to decide if it made sense or not.
I was rather distracted when I noticed my father quietly stepping into the room to discuss something with mother. I tried to pay attention to the explanation either way, but in the end, what stuck in my memory was not Ms. Soryu’s words, but the instant I noticed that my parents had gone from speaking in hushed tones to exchanging playful chuckles.
At this point I was so used to seeing my father being all business at GEHIRN that I was surprised to see him join in – his responses were of course more subdued than mothers’, but, by the time we were leaving the room, I think I heard father jangling away at the piano while mom had sat down at the Cello I had previously been manning.
It was not at all common, but, I guess my parents were still ar least capable of having fun in these days.
I remember also that right beside me, Asuka was observing their blissful interplay with a very ugly expression on her face, a well-stirred mix of jealousy of loathing.
I guess it was just as she said – I’d never considered how lucky I was to have parents who still love each other.
If I was her, I think I might hate me, too. If I went out and claimed that I would have the strength to be the bigger person about it, I doubt that anyone would believe me.
Now that I think of it, many of our classmates had lost a parent, including Touji and Kensuke. Kotone and Nene were outright orphans.
But did I ever spend that much time thinking about how it must be for them to hear about my lovey-dovey parents?
I guess I really am a clueless, lucky little boy...

I know that we did not beat the simulator that day.
I remember hearing Mari’s vaguely dissapointed-sounding “Aww, shucks!” as the light went out around us, but not much else.
The reason I don’t remember much, I presume, is that even back then, my thoughts were on what Asuka and I encountered on our way down to the simulation room.
She didn’t want to share an elevator with Rei (and to be fair, the cabin was full enough between her, Kaworu and Mari) so she insisted that we wait for the other elevator right next to it – I have this picture in my head of how she impatiently pressed on the button over and over again.
She looked hopeful for a moment when the elevator finally went ‘ding’ and the light inside it became visible in the crack between its doors, but what we saw beyond it was…
Uh…
I had never seen that sort of thing before, at least not outside of the movies.
Asuka’s face fell immediately.
As for mine… I guess I must have been blushing? Or possibly gaping.
I’m… I’m just gonna try to come out and say it:
It was Misato and Mr. Kaji, and they were full on making out.
For some reason.
Of all sudden.
Like, he had her pressed against the wall and everything, and their legs were showed against each other’s private places, and there was paperwork scattered on the ground that must have become very unimportant in the heat of the moment.
For the longest time, even just thinking about it would make me feel all hot and bothered.
But it also feels weird like – I guess I’d never really thought of Misato as a person who would do this kind of thing, like, she was our teacher, an authority figure, I didn’t think of her as-
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or any reason why she wouldn’t, I mean, after all, she’s was still a healthy young woman and stuff, and very good looking, so of course she would, uh…
Damn.
It was like something out of a movie scene, truly – until they noticed us.
Well – Mr. Kaji just kept grinning. But Misato looked absolutely mortified.
Figures that this was not really something she wanted her subordinates to see, let alone a bunch of teenagers.
She hastily gathered her papers, and straight up bolted.
Kaji casually waved for us to come inside the elevator, but after what just happened, neither of us dared to move a muscle.
The doors had long since cloned back up by the time that the power of speech had returned to me.
“What the heck?! I thought they were supposed to hate each other or something-!”
“Just… shut up, highscore!”
Crap.
There I go being inconsiderate again – of course she would be upset, since-
I- I guess I didn’t think she was all that serious, but who am I kidding? Asuka’s always serious, she has absolutely no settings between zero and eleven.
I guess it’s no wonder that we didn’t beat the simulator that day.
Turns out even Asuka can’t concentrate very well with a broken heart.
‘Why didn’t you say something?’ you ask. ‘Didn’t you think to consider her feelings?’
Well, let me ask you this in return: What about anything I have told you so far makes you think that she would wish to hear my voice?

But you wanna know something? That wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened that day.
The weirdest thing was while we were back at our quarters that evening, both already in our pajamas.
Asuka was sitting by herself at the dining table, looking rather sour, incessantly drumming on the table board with her fingers… and as it just so happened, we were the only ones present: Mari and Rei were out to restock our fridge, and Kaworu had tagged along with them, perhaps out of some misguided intention that leaving the problem team some extra team time might possible help us.
It was only the two of us, just Asuka and me – though at first, I was not explicitly conscious of this fact.
I was lounging on the couch with my headphones plugged in, hoping to kill some time until the other girls would be back with our lunch, until I got the impression that Asuka was trying to get my attention.
I didn’t hear much of the first thing she said, but once I had removed my earphones, she said this:
“Hey, Shinji, just out of curiosity – how far have you and the first gone already? Have you kissed yet?”
As if I needed any more blood shooting in my face on that particular day.
The cells in my face must be really glad that they were getting all that extra oxygen from all the blood that was constantly rushing to them.
“-I told you, it’s not like that!” I feebly insisted, though I was realizing with every passing day how much I wished that it were, in fact, like that.
“I see,” she said, her face unreadable but for the deep sense of ennui that permeated her every gesture. “Makes sense. There’s no way that a little boy like you would’ve gotten to second base, when even I haven’t…”
That much was expected, but never in a thousand years would I have predicted what came next: “...so, wanna give it a try?”
...and I still remember thinking, ‘does she realize that this sounds kinda wrong in this context?’ - but for the most part, I was simply confused:
“Uh, what?”
“You know, kissing.”
...what?
WHAT?!
She couldn’t possibly-
What the heck?!
What on all six continents and seven seas?
“Wha- why?!”
This is weird.
This really, really weird.
I was by no means unaware that Asuka is a very pretty girl, but you must understand, I’d known her since the nursery, so I’d never ever thought about her that way-
“’cause I’m bored, duh. Don’t you wanna know what it feels like?”
Of course I do, but…
...for such a reason...
...is that what they call ‘no strings attached’?
Like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but, I’m not sure if I’m personally comfortable with this...
“-you mean… just to kill time?”
“Why not? Or are you scared?”
“I’m not scared!” I retorted, carried to my feet by a sudden surge of emotion, and I remember my thoughts going in circles like, who does she think she is, and what does she think I am, and how I’m totally gonna show her-
And then I thought for a second, and asked myself what the heck I am doing.
What the hell is this?
They told us puberty was gonna be weird and bring some new, strange feelings, but this is just too much.
She was still standing there smirking, beckoning me with a wink of her fingers.
“Go on then, prove it! I trust you’ve brushed your teeth?”
What. The. Hell?
“What the hell?! No I’m not? I’m not going to use up my one first kiss on some screwed-up test of courage! What is this? No, seriously, what’s the point of this? Like, am I just a convenient rebound guy because you didn’t get to kiss Kaji-san, or is this all so you can go behind my back and tell all your friends at school that you’ve done it? Is this about me at all? Then why me? Why not any of the other guys from school who are lining up to do this?”
Clearly, she wasn’t expecting me to stand up to her.
Probably because I didn’t have the best track record of that – but for once, she had thoroughly pushed me to the ends of my patience. I was just tired of taking and taking it all week long, and I would take no more.
To her, that must have been as if the trashcan into which she threw all her frustrations had suddenly spoke up and told her ‘hey, wait, that’s recyclable actually’.
By now, she felt entitled to using me as her obedient little stress ball, and now, I had denied her her right.
“How dare you!” she shrieked, “Are you calling me easy? Do you know how many little boys like you would die for a chance like this?! And you’re acting like this special one-time chance to kiss me is a hot potato – This is just too arrogant, even for the great Mister Highscore!”
Not that again.
“I see! So this what this is all about. Highscore this, Highscore that. You don’t know how sick I am of hearing that! We’ve been friends since we were kids, and now, because of one random number that I didn’t even have control over, you’re treating me like a completely different person, like all our friendship meant nothing! And now you’re coming on to me?! As long as I’ve known you, you’ve never showed the slightest interest in me as a boy. You said I was a boring guy and not your type – then you hear ‘thirty percent’, and suddenly it’s such a big difference? That doesn’t sound sincere to me at all!”
The only reason that ever came out of my mouth was that I was very, very angry, and not in control of myself at all. Otherwise, I would never have had the courage.
“And you’re doing this after acting like you hate me for weeks on end! Like, what did you think I would think of it if you treat me like this? Did you think at all?
Or do you think you can just do with me whatever you want, because I’m just a pathetic guy who doesn’t count!?
You always expect me to take your provocations & let you walk all over me, and then, when I do, you make fi? ”
Despite her shock, she was quick at the repartee, maybe all the more for it, like a lion challenged for dominance over the pride: “Who the heck do you think you are?!”
“I think that maybe you should leave me in peace!”

This is where we should talk about one of three lies that all adults tell their children:
Lie Number #1: Santa Clause is real (I presume that they have their different, local variants in countries with no western TV - I've read the Inuit tell their children that there are monsters in the water, so they don't go near the shore until they know not to drown)
I knew this.
Lie Number #2: To become a respectable grownup, you must not lie. That is false. Grownups lie all the time.
I knew that already, but I doubt that I really, actually gronked it.
On that day, I was just about to find out lie number three:
Lie Number #3: Bullies leave you alone if you stand up to them.
They never do. They also don’t go away if you ignore them, for that matter.
They’re picking you on in the first place because they want a cheap feeling of dominance, whether that is cause they feel downtrodden themselves, cause they feel threatened by you, or just cause they feel like it.
You can’t appease them, you can’t shame them, you can’t befriend them, and you certainly can’t make them understand that their actions are hurting you – they already know, and they very much want to.
They have already made up their mind about you, and anything you say or do will be twisted to fit that idea – there are very, very rare cases where you might break through that and do something that surprises you, but even if you do, that won’t bear fruit before your words have a chance to percolate in their mind, when they’re thinking late at night in bed, or in the shower.
In one out of hundred cases, they will apologize to you later, in another ten, they’ll be ashamed of it in ten years, at least if they’re not the ringleader but first, they will be very angry.
That is because to them, you’re little more than an object that provides amusement, and if you don’t give it to them, if you deny them the dominance they seek, they will keep provoking you until you do, like you would fiddle with the buttons of a fizzling radio until it gives you music.
Every time you open your mouth to them, you just give them more material to work with – and if they decide that the radio does not work, that the amusement machine has become useless, they will chuck you in the trash, that is: They will seek to destroy you outright.

“You- you idiot! You think you can just say things to me?! You think you can order me around?!”
I suddenly found myself sorely regretting the loss of the security cameras.
“How dare you!”
She kicked me in the shins without a moment’s hesitation – but it was only a prelude to when she showed me, really really hard, right against the table.
My survival instincts must’ve kicked in – the ones I never knew I had – or maybe it was the training.
It ended in a brawl.
I had no been in any sort of physical fight since the nursery, and even then, I was usually the one who was getting beaten up. As an only child, I was far less experienced in physical fights than the other kids, which must have made me easy pickings. The last time it happened was soon after I made friends with Touji. He went & roughed the guy up, and that was the end of it.
That works – no laugh is worth a bloody nose, when there are others you can torment without such a risk.
Except by the time someone gets hurt, the teachers will not care who started it and why, and you will both get punished. I you don’t whack them hard enough, they’ll make a strategy out of starting something to get you punished, so if you do whack them hard enough, you’re definitely in trouble – they’ll only stop if they come out looking worse than you, and if you're smaller and slighter than them, or if there's just plain too many, that might just be beyond your capability, especially if you can't find any other people to help you. But back then, I did:

Punishment or no, Touji had just grinned and said that every man worth his salt should be able to take some detention for the sake of his friends.
I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to do the same for them. When I decked Asuka, it was very far removed from such noble reasons – I was simply pissed, and craving sweet, sweet vengeance for all that humiliation.

Now it is often said that ‘boys are stronger than girls’, but that is crude oversimplification born in a time when girls were not allowed to do sports or even go outside.
It may be true that boys, on average, have an advantage in a few specific areas like upper body strength, but girls have higher pain tolerance and a higher chance to survive malformations.
In a 100 meter sprint, boys may have a bit of an advantage, but in long-distance runs or team sports, which require quick thinking and coordination more than strength, there is actually no difference. There are disciplines where woman hold absolute records.
And of course, in the end, those averages are just that: Averages.
Just like (and not unrelated to) how boys are usually taller and woman usually live longer, but not every woman is taller than every man, and some men outlive their spouses.
If you make some boys and girls fight a brawl, the boys will win more often, but not every boy will win against every girl – in particular, an office worker who never exercises isn’t gonna beat up Serena Williams.
Which is to say that Asuka should have kicked my ass – after all I’ve told you about her crazy feats of athleticism and military training, I think most of us would expect her to beat me, except for the sexists… and maybe some psychologists.
Did you know that there was a case of a karate black belt being mugged and raped? She could have killed the man with her bare hands, but she didn’t, because of the shock.
That’s why the element of surprise is so important in real fights – the one who engages will always have more control over how they react.

I recall being on top of Asuka, pinning her to the ground, my legs weighing down on her, my only thought was on neutralizing those dangerous arms that had so torn and scratched at my face – I was pressing down hard, bringing my full weight to bear on the hand that was gripped her little wrists, and using the other to keep slapping at her face, intent on returning with full force all that she had previously inflicted upon me, bit by bit by bit.
This is the first moment that is distinct, cause it’s the instant I came back to senses, filled with the chilling realization that she wasn’t fighting back.
She was just staring at me, ice-blue eyes widened to the brim.
She could have broken me like a twig if she wanted, but she didn’t.
Her voice was a whimper.
“Please… Shin-chan… please…”
I had missed one of her hands, or, couldn’t keep both held in my grip and lost it but, in any case, it was lifting up now, now to yank or scratch, but in a trembling, pathetic gesture, to over her face perhaps, or to brush against mine.
My grip relented. My weigh lifted somewhat off her body.
She grasped that chance, mastering herself, and kicked me off herself with every ounce of strength in her tiny body.
There was no precision wasted in that strike –
Honestly, I’m lucky she didn’t rupture any organs. I was in such pain that I couldn’t have fought back even if I wanted. Doubled over and whimpering, I could not lift a finger to do the slightest thing to keep her from raising and standing up, though she was not fast in doing it.
She eyed me then like a lifeless fish on a cooking board which she was just about to gut.
I guess my brief time in the heart-shaped box in her chest was very much over.
In the coldest possible voice, she addressed me:
“Idiot. There’s no way I would let you get me, not if you were the single last man left in the world.”
‘Get her’ as in defeat, or ‘get her’ as in marry?

It didn’t matter anymore.
She wiped the blood off her bruised lip, and only then did she leave me alone.
I was left looking at my hands – the little bits of red stuck under my fingernails…
Today was the day on which I found out that I was capable of that.
As a wise man once said: ‘You are capable of great evil, and therefore, I expect great good from you. Many fools have thought themselves good just because they did not have claws.’
Some would argue that power corrupts, but if you ask me, it only reveals.
And without it, you cannot do anything.
Things were looking pretty grim for humanity if the ones who were supposed to save it couldn’t help getting into childish fights like a bunch of children… which we basically were.
We definitely weren’t fit to be doing any kissing.

By the time the others showed up with the groceries, they found me curled up in my bed. I told them I was feeling really tired, and that I wasn’t hungry – which wasn’t a lie, but, mostly, I didn’t want for them to see the scratches on my face.
They were such good people, and I was so, so ashamed in the face of them.
But I fear that the absence of Asuka must have been telling in itself.
I felt certain now that things between us would never go back to the way it was before –
I was totally sure that we would never, ever be friends again.

I hadn’t thought yet about what I was going to say or do tomorrow.
I didn’t want to think at all.
I tried to listen to my music, but, even the lowest setting on the player felt too loud, and none of the songs felt comfortable.
I didn’t want to be in this room. I didn’t want to be in this body. I didn’t want to be the person who had done those things and would soon have to face it.
I wasn’t fully asleep, really – just very, very zoned out.

That is, until I suddenly felt a weight pressing down onto the bed, pressing against my back, filling up the large space I’d left open in trying to make myself as small as I could in my designated corner – and I though: Not again!
Not after what she just did, she can’t be serious-
If things had been different, I think I would have physically thrown her out off the bed –
But then she spoke, and her voice was not mocking, and, what counted for more: Neither was she acting all cheerful as if nothing had happened.
Her words were small and tentative, like I’d hardly ever heard them:
“Please, can you let me stay just a little bit? After all these years, it really shouldn’t bother me anymore, but I’m all alone, in a foreign place, and you’re the only thing I know-”
So she was actually asking this time.
We were back to back, not face to face, yet I felt that I was learning much more now about what she felt. Strange that we could only show that to each other with our faces hidden away.
People are really absurd creatures sometimes.
“Look – I’m sorry, okay? I know I shouldn’t have pushed you, or- anything else, that was all a stupid idea. To make up for it, I promise I won’t ever call you ‘Mister Highscore’ again, if it really bothers you that much. You’ll just have to be content with ‘Baka-Shinji’ then.”
Old habits die hard, it seems, even when the spirit is willing – but I can’t say it was any different for me:
“No, no, I should be the one apologizing. I can’t believe I actually hit you-”
“Nah. I had it coming. I shouldn’t have picked you on like that.”
“I was still wrong, no matter what. I shouldn’t have done it. I should have stopped when you did-”
“It’s fine. I’m tough, I can take it. I’m not like all the little girls in our class.”
And so because you don’t mind, I should whack you? That just seems to make it worse...
“Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t whack me a long, long time ago.”
“But you’d hate me if I did!” I exclaimed, drawing my limbs tighter to my trembling frame as if to hold in my treacherous emotions. “When you started acting all cold towards me after the first test, I- I got so scared that you hated me now. I don’t want you to hate me! This… this isn’t what I became a pilot for!”
“Then what is it? Have you thought about that yet?”
“Uh-huh. You’re right, I mean, maybe I was underestimating this whole thing – maybe you were right to say that I’m sheltered. But, if I’m going to be doing something so tough, I should have a good reason. I’ve been trying to figure it out… can you tell me something more about your reason, maybe?”
“Why don’t you ask your little girlfriend instead? You know, the First?”
“I already did – and I asked Mari, too, before you start it again.”
“You conducting a survey?”
“...maybe. I’m just thinking that it might help me figure it out to see some other examples, like, maybe then I’ll notice how I’m similar or different…”
“You’re overthinking it, as usual. There’s no ‘more’ to it – giant monsters are attacking us, so, we gotta defend ourselves. I don’t plan to roll over and die, and I’m not gonna wait for anyone else to save me, either – and besides, it’s a fine way to exhibit my talents to the world, don’t you think?”
“...to prove you exist?”
“If you wanna put it in big, complicated words, then yeah…. So what about any light bulbs yet?”
“...I don’t know… - maybe it’s a little like that, too.”
“You, really? I don’t get it. How are you like me?”
“Not particularly. I don’t have any talent to speak of, much less to show off… But exactly that’s why I wanted to impress people. I wanted to be good at something, just once. To have everyone think of me as something other than just unremarkable old Shinji. I wanted to be impressive, just like you and the other pilots. I wanted people to see me, to prove to me that I can do it. But I guess most of all…”
And maybe that was risky to say, when the literal wounds were so fresh,
“...most of all, I think I wanted to impress my parents.”
“Your parents?”
I think I heard a marked inhale, like something moving or surprising had been witnessed.
“These days, they’re always working – all they ever have time for are the EVAs. They brought Rei into our house because she could help with the EVAs. They were always together, so I thought- if I helped them with the EVAs, then I could spend time with them, too, and that they would praise me. I didn’t think that I’d be yelled at, or embarrassed, or beat up, or that you would suddenly hate me- I just wanted my parents to be proud.”
But whatever feeling might have escaped her earlier, by the time I was answered, Asuka’s voice sounded cynical and resigned:
“If you think that, then you really are sheltered.”

The scratches, by the way, didn’t turn out to be that much of a big deal.
When Misato asked us what had happened, I spend a few moments stammered about how I didn’t mean to do it, and then Asuka lost her patience and said that we “got into a bit of a scuffle last night.”
“Seriously? How old are you?! We’re not in kindergarten here!”
And then, she moved on to telling us all about her genius plan to finally improve our lackluster performance.



And there goes Shinji’s motive rant!
Still to go: Kaworu, Misato, and Misato’s genius dancing plan.

I took some inspiration from this artwork -> (https://imgur.com/a/b0FvGN0) which I loved a lot until I realized that they drew Mari in her post-timeskip look (glasses, interface clips, longer hair...) while everyone else is pre-timeskip, and now that just irritates me.


BTW have you guys puzzled out the logic behind the titles yet?
I didn’t want to give the answer right away so ppl had a chance to puzzle it out themselves, but I do want to actually give the solution instead of going “figure it out yourself” like a pedantic person.
So the idea of inserting a secondary title in the middle is obviously copied from the OG show/movies.
For the acts/storyarcs, the primary titles are ’sins’/’vices’, and the secondary ones are from the ‘tree of death’, the ‘negative’ or the ‘shells’ of the sephirothic tree of life (I’d guess that many of you would’ve gor this from the persona 5 allusions.) - the idea is that the characters are ‘going down a dark path’ paved with/facilitated by their vices, or, in effect, doing the opposite of ‘ascending to enlightenment’.
Hence ‘path of hollowness’ from the qlippoth/ ‘shell’.
As for the titles of the individual chapters, the secondary titles are spontaneously chosen while the primary ones have a theme. That’s cause I couldn’t decide between randomly picked and themed, so I decided to have it both views.
For act I, the theme was “the Garden of Eden”, whereas for the second one its “training montage”.
I think for act III, imma copy Madoka or devilman crybaby & take the most peppery quote from each chapter as the title.
I have some of the others picked but not all.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sat Jul 24, 2021 6:13 pm

2.3.5 - Messaging Dresscode Program

SPOILER: Show
(2.3.5: MESSAGING DRESSCODE PROGRAM)





Yes, ‘MessaGing Dresscode Program’.

That’s definitely what ‘MGDP’ stands for, not ‘Misato’s Genius Dancing Plan’. And the other thing is certainly not something she made up last minute so that it would look less ridiculous on the reports...

If I had any life left in my body, I would roll my eyes; If I had any tears left, I would be crying.

To think that there was a time when all five of us and Misato were united by a common goal…

I mean, we still ought to be, but everything got so complicated…

I expected the war to be brutal, and my expectations were surpassed a thousand-fold, but never in a million years would I have thought that we would ever end up crossing blades with each other.

December 4th 2014




T minus 404 days




(Day 7)





So, before I digressed, I probably left you wondering: What on Earth (or any other planet) is MGDP?

Well. It was explained to us like this:

“I’ve got it now! I’ve cracked it! The secret between our lackluster performance! I should have realized all along that the problem is the costumes!”

...could it be?

Had Misato-san and the others finally realized that we might all do much better if we weren’t stuck wearing these embarrassing clothes? I mean, if this was a video game, these outfits would probably give us some sort of negative stat-modifier…

“The costumes are clearly not immersive ENOUGH!”

No please – Please, Misato-san. The last thing we need is more ‘immersion’.

Please feel free to think of that famous gif of Darth Vader yelling ‘NOOO!’, if that is still a thing that exists in the godforsaken wasteland that we now live in.

There was no use fighting it, but that memo never got sent to Asuka:

“What is that even supposed to mean?!”

“Isn’t it obvious? The matched leotards might be great at creating ‘team spirit’, but I’ve realized now is that what we really need is that extra push of adrenaline that makes everyone want to do their best… like on a stage!”

A stage?!

What sort of plan was this supposed to be?

“...has mom even okayed this?”

“Oh yes!” confirmed Misato, possessed by the sort of overclocked manic enthusiasm that is only born from a deep well of desperation, plugged by an even thicker lid of denial. “She was actually very pleased with the idea!”

...she was?

Then again, seeing how random these activities had been, it’s wholly possible that Misato was beginning to catch onto their specific brand of anti-logic. Mom did praise our ‘results’ during the part where we played music…

“Are we going to wear suits and dresses again?”




“Precisely! That way you’ll feel like you are dancing at a real, proper ball! And when you feel that in your bones… BAM! It just has to work!”

“This is patently ridiculous!” protested Asuka – but when she looked to us for solidarity, she found that the rest of us had already resigned ourselves to our fate.

To be fair, in hindsight I’m no longer certain how much Misato herself really believed in this idea – after all, it was her job to sell us on this.




So, fancy dress it was. Kaworu picked out another suit, not bothering to get his own this time… I think even he must have been getting tired of this, at least mentally. One wonders why he was even participating anymore after clearing the routine with both Mari and Rei. I didn’t see much hope that either of us was going to need But hey, at least, he really rocked that frilly shirt. What I picked out was maybe less suited to an opera house and more for going to a business meeting, but so long as Misato didn’t object, I wasn’t going to look more attention-grabbing than necessary. Asuka, of course, went for the fanciest, runway-type thing she could find, a strapless dress of heavy salmon-colored fabric with a layer of lace sewn on top of it for decoration and a dark red bow going around the waist. Rei had gone with a simpler, modest design with similar patterns on the black, top part, and a shiny grey skirt.

Mari went straight for the sleek pink evening gloves and a dramatic ballroom dress with many ruffled layers – a decision I can only interpret as a wish to play the ‘next level’ of this challenge in ‘hard mode’.

For silly as the leotards might have looked, they were at lest functional, elastic, made for moving around with. The fancy clothes were not so flexible, and I was worried that I was gonna rip them, even if GEHIRN was sure to pay for everything. Mari’s outfit was an outright tripping hazard.

Why exactly did Misato think that this would help?

On first impression, I would argue that all this did was to amp up the difficulty level…




“Are we really supposed to do the whole dance in these clothes?” I asked doubtfully.

“Well, that’s up to you guys~”

...I was beginning to develop an urge to flinch whenever I saw Misato grinning like that.

Thankfully, Mr. Kaji came to our rescue with an explanation:

“We’ve figured that as long as we keep directing your every move, you’re not really learning to coordinate with each other – it’s too forced. That’s why you’ll be training on your own today. We can count on you acting responsible, right?”

...would he still say that if he had seen just how ugly our ‘little scuffle’ had gotten yesterday?

I bet he’d be disappointing.

Then again, this was the first time we’d be alone in the training room, though, so it’s not like Asuka had any time to seek and destroy the cameras, so if we started fighting again, they’d probably just send in the security goons to break us up…




But we did not end up fighting.

I thought we might when Asuka turned around toward the rest of us no sooner than the grownups had disappeared out of the door, and I feared, for an instant, that she was meaning to take advantage of the slim window of opportunity between their departure and their arrival wherever it is that they might or might not have their screens –

I couldn’t be certain how permanent yesterday’s night-time peace talk would be, especially considering what had taken place right before.




Surely enough, Asuka starting pointing around the place with her fingers, talking in her big, loud voice: “Listen up everyone! I’m just about sick and tired of this entire circus, and I refuse to believe that you aren’t, no matter what you’re trying to tell me.

I intend to get this entire nonsense over with right today! All of it.”

“Whoa, the princess has gotten all ambitious~” quipped Mari.

“Shut up, four-eyes, I’m talking. Anyways, you get yourself into position with the first. Next, Nagisa! Since you’ve got a lot of free time, you’re going to turn on the music when I say so. And once you do, I want you to clap your hands, like a metronome, can you do that?”

“I’m not certain what you mean to do, but I will attempt it…?”

“I don’t wanna hear of any ‘attempts’! Do or do not, there is no ‘try’!”

I’d like to add here that that adage is terrible advice, especially with anything you struggle with. If you expect to be good right away, you’ll just quickly lose your confidence, and in real life outside of manufactured competition, half-ass is a lot better than no-ass.

Asuka might have lived a much happier life if she had known that back then, but, I guess the same could be said about myself, in a different way. She tended to think that total victory was the only acceptable result. I, meanwhile, struggled to feel motivated when I knew there wasn’t much of a chance to succeed.

Today was no different, but, I ended up taking the path of least resistance. Following what Asuka said was simply easier than trying to protest against it.

“Ok then – Four Eyes and Honor Student? You get on your positions. Baka Shinji? With me.

And when I say go, all of you go – including Nagisa with the clapping.”

“Whoa, someone seems to have put themselves in charge~” joked Mari – but she was not really protesting so that Asuka felt free to ignore her. Mari might not have been very much of a follower, but neither did she have any interest in being a leader or challenging Asuka for dominance.

“I’m gonna tell you what we’re going to do: We’re going to do it just like Mama said yesterday. We’re gonna do the group simulation all at once, and we’re going to beat it this time.”

“We were instructed to train in pairs, though,” remarked Rei.

I thought Asuka might get mad, but this time, she very much had an answer prepared, and her confident smirk only grew when she finally got to say it: “Precisely! That’s why we all have to do the dance flawlessly, so they can’t complain once we win. Not just me and Shinji or you and Four-Eyes, but every possible pair.”

Lofty ambitions, considering that she and I had not managed to crack the routine even once so far – though it was of course perfectly likely that we were uniquely mismatched, and judging by the others, it did seem to get easier after the first time, since the dance itself remains the same…

“I’ve got a plan – so all you guys have to do is listen to me. You owe me, since it’s my birthday, and I don’t even get to celebrate because of this stupid, moronic exercise. If we can be done with this stupid dancing today, it will be the best gift of all time!

So do your best, and don’t you dare slack off!”

Smiling mildly, Kaworu chose to punctuate this with slight applause. “Thanks for your hard work.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere! Now man your post!”




Perhaps because she was frustrated with the endless frustrating repetitions, the illustrious Captain Soryu decreed that we should switch groups after every round of music, just to ‘keep things fresh’ and ‘get us unstuck’. Not that she was a Captain yet. Or anymore. Actually, I have absolutely no idea what her current rank is, but I’d be surprised if she wasn’t promoted in all those years.

At least, we finally got to the part where she isn’t twelve anymore.




It was just as I thought: Asuka and I were exceptionally incompatible. Kaworu and I had essentially cleared the routine once already, so that was over quick. We did another two tries, but only to refine our technique.

“See? Good things come to be when we work together.”

Thanks, Kaworu.




Synchronizing with Mari was not quite so easy – possibly the hardest, out of anyone who wasn’t Asuka. She tends to be very much a ‘go with the flow’ type of person, which I’m… really not.

Half of her feedback was asking me to do vague, instinctual-related things that I didn’t know how to do. For a bit, I found myself getting quite a bit frustrated, as I had been hoping to finally have an easier time with the other team members… but oddly enough, getting more frustrated – which is, perhaps, to get more emotional and act more on sudden instincts – actually helped my performance quite a bit. “Yes, yes puppy boy, just like that! Don’t lose the scent!”

Our final performance was, according to Kaworu, actually quite impressive.

“I knew you had it in you! There’s a good puppy!”

Asuka seemed to be getting quite annoyed with this and ordered us to proceed with our next partners.




Which meant that I had to dance with Rei.

Not that this was a bad thing… not at all! But I couldn’t help feeling a bit awkward.

I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

I couldn’t really tell what she was thinking as she silently took her place and readied her stance.

I needn’t have worried – we succeeded at once. It was not that she followed my movements with the faithfulness of a shadow or a mirror image, no, that would have been an understatement.

Rather, it was as if we were two halves of a symmetrical whole, like the two wings of a single bird – except that would have been too presumptuous, as I could not lay any claim to the sort of angelic grace that Rei would possess… though I admit that I might be a biased source here.

I do think there was a bit of a… moment, but, there wasn’t really any time to dwell on it.




I was swiftly shooed off the motion gaming rig by an oddly peeved Asuka so that I might make room for Mari.




That said, I do not wish to create the impression that the problem was all on Asuka’s side – not in the least. She, too, immediately did leagues better as soon as she was no longer paired with me. While I had struggled a little with Mari, Asuka did particularly well with her, even if there was still quite a bit of shouting going on: “Darn-it four-eyes, take this seriously! Don’t just charge ahead without thinking! Don’t be sloppy, we are doing serious work here! Ugh, you’re so annoying to deal with, do you know that?”

“I try my best~”

Though Mari may tease Asuka, she had no desire to call the shots herself, therefore playing right along without stressing too much about the orders of our makeshift drill sergeant.




When it was time for Asuka to be paired with Rei, I felt a certain sense of anxiety welling up within… right now, Asuka seemed first and foremost focused on getting this exercise over with once and for all, but I couldn’t forget their earlier confrontations, some of which had come near to blows…

I don’t think Rei had realized that it was supposed to be her turn yet.

She was sitting there patiently along with everyone else on the bench, remaining unmoved as Mari had casually set herself down.

Like in many of their previous confrontation, Asuka sought first to claim her attention, placing herself so as to tower over her, but Rei just remained looking forward, a wall of mist to all of her provocations.

“Hey! Hey you! Do you ever pay attention when people talk to you?!”

This did not look particularly encouraging…

“Let’s get this straight right away: I don’t like or trust you.”

“Neither of these things is required. All we need to do is complete our task.”

“ARGH! I can’t stand how you keep yourself apart from us, do you know that? You won’t even sit next to us, no, you’re always just a bit off to the side, like you’re afraid you’ll catch the plague from us! How am I expected to work with somebody like that?!”

This was beginning to look more like a smackdown than a ‘teamwork discussion’ – Kaworu must have thought so too, for he raised up his hands in a placating gesture, “Now come on, Ayanami can sit wherever she wants, she’s not hurting anyone.”

For this, I was immensely grateful, since all that was now left for me to say was: “Yeah, exactly!”

I felt a little bad when Mari also agreed, I didn’t want it to feel like we were dogpiling on Asuka – though Mari kept it to a lighthearted quip: “Yeah princess, I doubt she’s thinking specifically about annoying you when she picks where to sit.”

Yet it would be Rei herself who interjected:

“It’s fine, I wish to hear what she has to say. If there is anything I can do to improve my performance, I wish to know it.”

I think that may have annoyed Asuka even more than our jumping to Rei’s defense – I think she would have rather preferred a fight.

But one she had said her piece, the other girl just quietly followed after her, carrying out her instructions without protest, and in time, they did complete their routine.




At the time, it was hard for me to understand why Asuka had seemed so reluctant to pair up with Kaworu, more so than even with Rei, whom she fiercely disliked – after all he was, by all accounts, just about the easiest of us to work with, the heart of our group, as it were. But of course, I would have been looking at this through my perspective, fearing rejection, not competition.

With myself, Mari and Rei, there was always something or another she could point to as evidence of our apparent inferiority, but Kaworu… well, for one thing, there was nothing about “poor teamwork skills” marked down in his file. She couldn’t go and claim that it was silly to expect her to “adjust down” in this particular case.




At last, though, he got to be the only person left, so she pushed herself past that defensive reluctance to bite the bullet at last.

The results were… well. You would see neither Kaworu nor Asuka moving like that then they had to keep pace with the likes of us.

I think in the end, Asuka didn’t find it as bitter as she had feared.

“You know what, Nagisa? This wasn’t so bad. It was really nice to go all out for once. I’ve been wanting to do this all along!”

“Then I’m glad I could be of help.”

Fortunately, Kaworu is a really patient, humble sort of guy who didn’t think twice of subordinating himself, if that’s what it took to keep the peace. He didn’t have a shred of ego for provocations to pull on and responded calmly and reasonably to any request while still gracefully declining anything too unreasonable. I guess even Asuka couldn’t find too much reason to dislike him.




Then it was our turn. You know at first, when I first pulled it off with Kaworu, I was dreading the moment when I’d have to pair up with her again, fearful of dispelling this illusion of progress when we inevitably failed once again. But over the course of this exercise, I think we’d both gotten into a sort of rhythm, and seen an interruption to the constant string of failures.

Different as our surface demeanor might have been, I think we were both feeling much more reassured when we got back to it – the routine still required my utmost concentration, but somehow, we managed to get to the end of it without any beeps from our equipment.

Across the room, Rei and Mari had managed the same, facing us like mirror images

I was kind of reluctant to believe it, lest I feel the cold hard slap of reality push me off the podium of premature celebration, but we repeated it a few times, and it wasn’t a fluke.




Asuka’s relief was little less palpable than mine… more, actually, since she was more energetic in her expressiveness. I think all of us were just about sick ad tired of it, with the possible exception of Mari – but she later professed that she’d been getting bored of this and couldn’t wait to do something else.




Now I don’t know what Misato thought when we all came marching into the simulation control room, led by Asuka, whose demeanor was greatly changed compared to this morning – she was now brimming with confidence, smirking wide in anticipation, like a girl whose time was come.

She walked up straight to Misato in a series of long, certain strides, knowing exactly what she was going to say: “I want to try the joint simulation again, just like Mama said yesterday.”

If the grownups were astounded at this sudden confidence, then at least some of them – especially Misato and Kaji – must have been intrigued to find out what’s behind it.

I don’t think this was their plan, but they shared this one look and then nodded to us, letting us proceed as we wished – Dr. Akagi was regarding us with a raise of her skeptical eyebrow, but she didn’t say anything either. The junior technicians seemed to find this change encouraging.

With the GEHIRN staff wrangled, Asuka turned to us.

“Okay everyone – Do it just like we talked about.”

Most of us nodded resolutely. Mari, who was always a little bit more extra, resorted to a full-on salute: “As you wish, Your Highness!”- make sure to imagine a British-style salute here, not the American kind. Her palm would have been pointing forward, and she was most certainly grinning in a way not exactly befitting the soldier she was attempting to mime…




Then we each went to our plugs.

I followed Asuka’s instructions without thinking much – she was yelling, firstly, and the unthinking action kept my mind of the stressing.

My attention was chiefly on my own part of the task, which was strange, really, cause it actually felt easier than doing this on my own. At first, what I thought I’d have to do, was to worry about the whole battlefield, and then on top of that, also worry about the others.

Instead, now, I found my worries lessened, trusting that Asuka more or less knew what she was doing.

If I missed a shot, Rei would jump right in the way with a shield to keep the return fire off my back; If I found myself surrounded, Mari didn’t fail to extract me from the pickle. If I doubted my next step, Kaworu was right there to encourage me.

At one point, Asuka and I drop-kicked two of our simulated foes in perfect unison.

It was not like we finally, barely, took down the enemy just nick of time, moments before collapsing into an inelegant heap.

No – the task that overwhelmed us when we were each trying to master it on our own had now become downright easy. I suppose this is what actual teamwork is supposed to be like.




Soon we were back in the control room, all looking varying degrees of relieved. Asuka was grinning like she’d won an Olympic medal. Even Rei was smiling a little. Kaworu seemed mostly relieved. Mari was, obviously, pumped: “About time!”

Nor had the grownups failed to notice just who had cooked up the plan.

“Nice, Asuka!” cheered Misato.

But she would have been positive about this one way or another. What counted more was Dr. Akagi scratching her chin ponderously, wondering aloud if Ms. Soryu had not spoken from pure overconfidence in suggesting that her daughter might make a good field commander.

That’s when Misato turned serious, her whole demeanor changing back into command more with jarring suddenness so that even Asuka was a little stumped by it.

“Asuka.”

“...yes?”

“Out of everyone here, you’re the boldest and the most decisive. That’s always been one of your greatest strengths. But there’s one thing that you’ll need to understand: The power of a leader is not to act, but to get others to act on their behalf. That means that you need to be able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone around you, and know when to delegate tasks to them. The leader is important, yes, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else isn’t. In my job, I need to know what I can do, and what everyone else can do. I know military stuff. Ritsuko knows tech stuff. I need to be able to tell which task calls for what. If I insisted on solving all the tech problems myself because I wanted to hog the spotlight, we would not get very far here, do you understand?

If you can keep that in mind, I think you could go on to be one of the greatest assets to our war effort.”

“We’re proud of you, Asuka.” added Kaji, who perhaps had the freedom to be a little softer here as we weren’t his direct subordinates. “You’ve done something really extraordinary today.”

That left even her at a loss for words.

Before this week, I would have thought her physically incapable of acting this bashful, her face nearly as red as her plugsuit: “-But it took me a week! And I looked really uncool at first…”

“...and still, you’ve worked hard to improve upon a skill that you struggled with, even if it doesn’t come to you naturally. Everyone loves to work at things that they’re actually good at, but overcoming your greatest challenges is something that requires real determination. You’ve been acting very mature today.”

She got so flustered that she abruptly turned away, hiding her face in her hands.

Never would I have thought that I would see such an expression on the Asuka I had known so far… but perhaps this meant that we had all become better friends.

Maybe she had thought that we were going to laugh if we had seen her thus, but Kaworu, Mari and I just regarded her with relieved fondness, and Misato, snapping back to fun mode without delay, promptly made a great announcement: “Now, let’s get you all to the cafeteria! I’m sure that Soryu-san must have finished decorating the cake by now.”

“...Cake?”

“Oh, right? Did we forget something? SURPRIIIIIISE~”

On command, most of the technicians burst into song.

“Happy birthday, dear Asuka! Happy birthday to you!”




“but- But I thought you said-”

“That your duties must take precedence, yes,” recalled Misato, “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t squeeze in a wee bit of celebration nonetheless. It goes without saying that we would’ve let you have your cake whether you cleared the simulation or not. But now that you’ve done it, we can take our sweet time with the celebration, since there’s no need to rush you kids to your next activity.”




...in the end, Ms. Soryu was not actually able to obtain a whole cake from the cafeteria, so she’d bought a hodgepodge collection of different slices which she decked out with decorative candles.

It probably wasn’t the kind of celebration that Asuka would have planned for, especially since our friends were not here, but Misato and Kaji promised to make up for that with those joint parties and shopping trips they’ve been mentioning earlier.

By this point, Asuka had gathered herself sufficiently to insist that she would definitely hold them to it – her haughty grin had returned, but just for today, there was less of an edge to it, and a backdrop of genuine, childlike joy.

It helps that Ms. Soryu was proud beyond all bounds, especially once she heard that our eventual victory was largely thanks to Asuka’s leadership.

Asuka made some token efforts towards insisting that she was way too old for head pats, but I doubt she really meant it.

Despite all, this was a happy day for Asuka.

When we’d gone to get changed, she’d been gushing to myself and Mari about how “Kaji-san finally noticed me!” I think his intentions with his praise were a little bit different than what she might have been imagining, but I do think she deserved the praise.

Before this, I guess I hadn’t really thought of her as someone who even needs such a thing, or faces struggles at all, but I realize now that that is, of course, pretty silly.

Everyone needs at least a little bit of love and appreciation. I’d just been mired in my one-dimensional conception of her as this very strong person – which she is, but, not everyone is strong all the time.




I was about to understand this even better when I was just about done packing my things. Asuka had brought lots of stuff and Asuka had her big piles of books, so it took us longer to gather our belongings than it did for Kaworu and Rei.

I had bidden them goodbye as they left, and I expected to follow soon after, but just I was pulling up the zipper on the last of my suitcases, there was a knock on the door, and in came Mari.




“Hey Puppy boy! My friend has something important to tell you!”

Now, I could easily see Mari bravely taking the initiative for a friend, but I did not expect that the friend whom she convinced to come through the door with a little more gentle prodding would turn out to be Asuka, who awkwardly stepped forward to face it.

“Now go on! Say it! I’ll promise you’ll feel better.”

Asuka sighed, deliberately gathering her breath.

“As of late, my mom didn’t really have much time for me, so I was lonely. Crashing at your place made that better, and when you made those Bentos for me, it made me feel taken care of, which I’m not supposed to need, or like, except that it was still kinda nice. You’re a boy, and you were paying attention to me, so, for a bit, I thought that I liked you.”

...huh?

“That’s why that whole… kiss thing happened. But now, I just wanna pretend like that whole thing never happened.”

I’m really glad that she’s telling me this now that we all have calmed down, and not just yesterday when we were getting all emotional.

I’m really glad that she said this now, and not sometime later, when we’d both be trapped in maelstroms of wanting, need, and despair.

I’m not sure that I would have been strong enough to be fair to her, otherwise.

“I – I… Uh…”

If I don’t speak now, if I keep quiet to protect myself, she’s gonna make her own assumptions, so…

“First of all, thank you for telling me this. It’s the first time that a girl has said something like that to me – It’s really, really flattering, especially since you’re really pretty and really, really cool...- “

My voice faltered here, a bit.

“I mean, I like you too. But if anything’s become clear to me in these past few days, it’s that we’re really, really different. We’ve got nothing in common – I mean, we don’t even get along with each other’s friends.

I guess you were right: I really was a clueless little boy who doesn’t realize he’s lucky. I truly had no idea! Not about your feelings, or how much this whole pilot thing has been really been weighing on you, and all this even though I’ve spent all this time with you!

I guess we’re very different in the ways that we express ourselves… and we’re both not very good at it. I don’t think that I’m the person that could always make you smile. So this wouldn’t work, and I’m sorry about that.”




Asuka exhaled.

“Ah, I see. At least you were a man about it and told me straight to my face. That’s more than I expected.”

Mari brazenly put an arm around her: “Well done, princess, excellent! And you do, Shinji-kun. You did great. You see? Now, do you feel better, just like I told you? Eh? Eh?”

Lest Asuka keep poking her cheek with her finger, she grudgingly admitted to this.

“Fine! Now get off me.”

Then she turned to me one last time:

“Friends?”

“Friends.”




And that was that.

Mari bestowed Asuka with an approving clap on the back and the two left to get their luggage.




Now please don’t get the wrong impression:

Everything I said on this day was true, but, if I had been even a slightly weaker person, if these words had found me at a slightly weaker moment, the outcome would have been different.

Of course I admire Asuka’s drive and determination, and as her friend and comrade, I really ought to treat her fair and be mindful of her feelings. I know I shouldn’t lead her on or be vague when I couldn’t really commit. You’ve also seen that even though we are friends – family almost, with the way we’ve grown up together – we can be like cats and dogs sometimes.

But it’s still true that she is very, very good-looking, and for a boy like me who is not overly confident nor very high in the schoolyard pecking order, the prospect of having a girlfriend at all is very tempting, much less a very popular, good-looking girlfriend whom half the school is after.

The attention and the status, the sheer ego boost of being able to say that the Asuka Langley is your girlfriend were very, very tempting, as was her fragrant, shapely body.

If I was always able to be strong-willed in such situations, I wouldn’t have been roped into being a pilot in the first place.

Having a hot, brag-worthy girlfriend might have got me the respect I had often found so hard to find, and that sounded rather appealing, and this appeal was paradoxically increased by the knowledge that Asuka had sometimes been one of the very people making fun of me – there was almost an aspect of revenge to it, the temptation of getting the praise from the very mouth that denied it to me, one of the very pretty, out-of-my-league girls who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at me.

If you’ve always been a confident or independent person you might be wondering how anyone could possibly feel attracted to somebody who puts you down, but when you’re already insecure, someone who tells you nice things about yourself feels foreign.

You might think that they are bullshitting you, or grow anxious that their favor might wane at any moment. Someone who puts you down is safe and convenient because they confirm your already existing worldview. You don’t have to be on your toes waiting for the moment that your fear might come true. It can feel right, intimate even – because we all know that sometimes, the truth hurts, so we feel the person who confirms our fears is being true.

But that is of course one of the fallacies that people are so vulnerable to, since our minds and bodies are made of such weak, fragile materials: The truth may hurt, but not everything that hurts is true. If I had been weak in that moment, we might have go on to lead each other on a merry, masochistic dance, driving out all happiness – I’m afraid of rejection, she can be a bit harsh, and that can set me off; She, I think, is probably afraid of being ignored, and I’m well aware that I’m not the world’s boldest, most demonstrative person so that in turn can set her off - and that doesn’t mean that either of us has evil intentions, or that our way of being is wrong… after all, Mari doesn’t mind Asuka being harsh (within reason) since she’s got more a thick skin, and Kaworu doesn’t need me to be confident all of the time, since he’s good at reading people either way. Certainly, it would not be good if Asuka was cursing out Mari all day or if I relied on Kaworu to an unreasonable extent, as I might sometimes have been guilty of, but it’s a much more manageable challenge where we don’t have to step on eggshells.

As for me and Asuka, over the years we had worked out a balance of closeness and distance that let us keep each other company without driving each other up the walls, and I’d really rather leave it at that. I’d rather have her as my comrade and friend than as a hated ex-girlfriend I can’t bear to look at because there’s just too much bad blood between us.

If I disregarded that better judgment because I’m just too desperate to have a girlfriend (and tell everyone about it, too), I would have been using her for my comfort, as surely as she was using me to get attention when she proposed that ‘no string kiss’ of hers, as was a fancy car that would make me fancier by extension, and whatever friendship or comradery we had built would surely not survive it.

That’s a whole temptation of its own: It is often said that “opposites attract”, and there is a fallacy as old as time which causes men to assume that the grass on the other side of the fence is always greener, the foreign girls on the other side of the sea much more exciting and desirable.

But if you look at some studies about which couples stay together, you find that married couples are, in fact, much more likely to have commonalities than differences and that the relationships that last are not those with the most excitement, but the pairs that feel the calmest and the most relaxed around each other - Those who free to express their thoughts without worrying about judgment, or about impressing the other person.

Sometimes people think that others can “complement” them: That ‘possessing’ a person with the desired traits will fix you or iron out your weaknesses. So people get drawn to people who have the traits that they feel are lacking in themselves, hoping that they could meld into a more complete whole.

But of course, that never happens, since you always remain individuals.

The classic example is that of a husband who is not very organized and a wife who is not very decisive, so they get attracted to this quality in one another, hoping to gain what they lack. But of course, that never happens; if anything, the effect is the opposite: The messy husband relies on his wife to clean all the mess and becomes, if anything, more messy, and the wife makes even less decisions, because she leaves them all to her husband. Instead of actually enjoying each other’s presence, their spouse becomes a means to an end, an object that you use for its function, whose necessity you resent. The wife becomes not a wife but a glorified house-servant. She hates him for sucking her dry and he resents the nagging ball and chain, and yet they never part, cause they both feel that they can’t function on her own.

I’d like to tell you that my respect for her as a friend won out over my desire to have my ego validated, but in truth, I think the main reason that I was able to be straight with her is the example of my parents. They have been called ‘opposites’, but largely by people to hung up on shallow external details to notice all their similarities.

In spite of that, they markedly differ in one thing: My father is not good at people. My mother is. She handles all the talking and smoothing and negotiating, and yet in all those years, not an inkling of her charm ever rubbed off on him. He just came to rely on her presence.

Now I love my parents – that is, back then I could still unambiguously say that I loved them without doubt or reservation – but after a lifetime of being borderline neglected in favor of their work, the last thing I needed in my life is a girlfriend who is obsessed with her ambitions and constipated at showing her affection.




Even the best, happiest version of Asuka I could picture – One who could openly state her needs and keep a healthy work/life balance – would probably still be a somewhat forceful, ambitious person, and even my best, most unrealistic hopes for my future self would probably still be quiet and introverted, even if I were to get Mr. Kaji’s level of confidence. I can’t see myself developing a sudden taste for the spotlight; I’d be glad to run a small family restaurant or work at an ordinary office job while Asuka is out there being a General or an Astronaut or whatever.




And I hope that whenever that happens, we will still be good friends.




(...I hoped, past tense now.

No more hope of that ever happening.)
Last edited by Kendrix on Sat Jul 24, 2021 6:32 pm, edited 3 times in total.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sat Jul 24, 2021 6:14 pm

Part 2: Children with Numbers
SPOILER: Show
(2.3.5:Kinder mit Nummern)




Now that my suitcase was packed and the girls had gone, all that’s left for me to do was to go home – or that’s what it should have been.

But once I actually gained the freedom that I’d been craving for most of this long, long week, I found that I didn’t feel especially motivated to leave.

Stressful as it all might have been, at least it had served as a distraction from that which I had waiting for me at home – if my parents had been meaning to go home with me today, they surely would have let me know, and I don’t doubt that they would be overjoyed to hear that their precious EVA pilot had now gained the precious superpower of ‘not fighting like unruly toddlers’ once they got the next report, but they probably hadn’t read it yet – they hadn’t even sent a text yet, not that this would have done much to remedy this sudden dip in my mood.

All that was waiting for me at home was a roomy, empty place, now perchance subtly stippled with just a smidgen of dust.

I could at least hope for the prospect that Asuka might start visiting again now that we had sort of buried the hatchet, but today she was gone home with her mother since it was her birthday and all.

I didn’t hate the idea of going home, but I was probably avoiding it a bit, like an unpleasant task or a large, bitter pill.

I somehow ended up sitting somewhere by the Terminals, listening to my music in no particular hurry to get to the surface. I was just going to wait for the end of the song, but the one became three, and then I was reminded of how much I liked the third one so that I ended up replaying it multiple times.

In short, I was stalling for time, in that way that you do when you’re only half aware that you’re doing it.

I only noticed that I wasn’t alone here when the gray view before me went dark.

I looked up from the bench on which I had been sitting only to find Kaworu standing over me, bending forward ever so slightly, smiling mildly down upon me.

I was so distracted, I didn’t even hear him come through the gates, though they must have opened and closed to admit him. Now that I had seen him though, I wasted no time in plucking out my headphones. The simple fact that he had chased away the uncertainty of solitude brought a light feeling to my heart.

“Were you waiting for me here?”

“Not in particular…” but I had no doubt that he must have sought me out. “I was just, waiting to go home I guess… except lately, I haven’t really felt much like going home…”

“Is that so? But having a home, a place to which you can always return should make you happy.”

I guess it does, more so than having no home I guess.

That would be the silver lining to it. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful…

“I should probably be going-” I surmised, struck by a sudden bout of responsibility – not that it lasted long. I just wanted to stay in the light rather than go back to being forgotten in the dark of our empty apartment.

“...unless you want to go to the bathhouse first or something?”

“Let’s go then. To the bathhouse. Unless you’d rather I didn’t come?”

I am once again reminded how much I like him. He has no reluctance to speak what I’m already thinking or to make his intentions clear, yet at the same time, he never pushes, he always leaves you an out, always making sure you’re comfortable, always leaving me the room to express my feelings in my own time.




I followed him gladly.




The place where we were going wasn’t really a bathhouse in the sense of a house as a freestanding building, but it was, indeed, a public bath much like the ones you could have found about the city, except that it was down in the geofront and hence, intended only for GEHIRN staff. I suppose now that Kaworu must be doing all his bathing here, or in the showers near our locker rooms, since he actually lives down here.

Now I’d always solidly been in the camp of preferring showers, but Kaworu said something about how the warm water might prevent us from feeling sore after the day’s exertion… or really just me, since, knowing what I know now, I doubt that Kaworu has to bother with sore muscles.

He might still find it relaxing or pleasant, though – I’m certain that he seemed to be enjoying the hot water, relishing every moment of both the sensations of life and even my measly presence, even though… or maybe exactly because he knew that our days would be numbered.

In that way, we were very different. If I’d known everything that was going to happen, I don’t think that I could have faced him – I would probably have avoided him from the start, and our whole friendship would never have happened in the first place.

Maybe it would have hurt less that way.

I don’t know.

I envied him back then, the seeming effortlessness in everything he did, the joy he took in living, even his good looks. He was a little bit older than me, at a stage where one might transform from a child into a man if their parents blink, so he was significantly more mature-looking than me, while I seemed like a little boy beside him.

Somehow, I managed to feel a little timid and embarrassed even in a presence as reassuring as Kaworu’s.

“You always compare yourself to others. Why is that?” he stated, like the narration of a story or the very voice of the Metatron that could not be contradicted.

I felt like he had read my mind – most likely, he’d just taken note of where my eyes were going. He’s attentive like that, unlike me. He looked serious, pensive, purposeful, even naked in a large public bathtub.

There was no use denying it – I might not have been fully conscious of it before he said it out loud, but once he did, it was clear to me also: I did compare myself to others.

So why is it indeed?

“I just… don’t know how else I can tell how I’m doing – like, is this alright? Am I doing something wrong? Is it enough…? That sort of thing. If that makes sense. I’m probably rambling...”

“It’s fine. Your feelings came through.”

It was just always so comforting, like something out of a dream, when he would understand just like that with no great effort. And though it wouldn’t have occurred to me to phrase it as he did, Kaworu’s words made immediate sense to me:

“You can only build your image of yourself by looking at the differences and similarities you notice between yourself and others, but there are also the images of you in the minds of others. They are inaccessible to you, and yet they very much determine the responses that you are going to receive. You don’t know how those images of others might be different from your own image. You don’t know how certain you may be of your own assessment if they might not match up with the perceptions of others. There remains always an insurmountable gap, because people are separate from one another, and because even when they seem to show what they feel, people’s expressions may be colored by, or filtered through their own goals and biases. Does that uncertainty make you anxious?”

Yes. By god yes. Yes very much.

The tension behind many of my recent actions sprang into full consciousness.

I could feel the tightness throughout my body which I’d been writing off as simple exhaustion.

“I just don’t want people to be mad at me. I can’t stand it if they’re mad at me, especially for confusing reasons… if they said that I’m doing good, then I’d at least know that they aren’t mad-”

It that moment it felt right to say that like I was sitting on a stage in some metaphysical place of interrogation. But by the sounds of my unsteady voice and the blood rushing through my body, I was forcibly reminded that this was reality and that others could see and hear this.

“I’m sorry I- I was just getting a bit worked up there-”

But Kaworu ignored my feeble excuses, almost as if my words, no matter hum jumbled or needy, were actually worth hearing.

“You’re uncertain about your role, aren’t you? You’re afraid of being hurt.”

Yes. I presume I am. When you put it like that it sounds rather selfish and cowardly.

Or you’d think it would, but Kaworu didn’t think so.

Before I knew it, he’s taken hold of my hand.

“Your heart is fragile like glass… That’s probably why it has won my sympathy.”




I could feel my cheeks coloring.

He looked at me like I was the most fascinating thing in the universe – like mother and father peering through a microscope at the latest cell sample from EVA 01.

But just as I was thinking that this was getting a bit too intense, he broke that direct look into my eyes, let go of my hand and went back to just his usual, relaxed smile.

Then, he said:

“Do you want to sleep with me?”




I should clarify now that this was all a misunderstanding. A big, huge, giant misunderstanding, enough for me to get all flustered and get us both all wet while I splashed about in the water trying to regain my balance again.

Kaworu looked nonplussed: “...Excuse me, did I say something wrong? Asuka told me that friends often invite each other to stay over at each other’s place and sleep there together. Is that incorrect?”

No, no, Kaworu-kun, don’t you worry.

Sleepovers are definitely a thing that exists.

A boy who doesn’t know that at 14 years of age though?

That’s mystifying.




I didn’t bring it up at once, mostly because I kept thinking of how utterly mortified I would be if I were to find myself at the opposite end of this conversation.

But while we were drying ourselves off, I couldn’t silence the nagging thought that I should probably give him a pointer, lest any of our classmates get the wrong impression – particularly the female students that kept vying for his attention. Kaworu would probably know to diffuse the situation much more skillfully than I could have, but I still didn’t want people to spread rumors about him or anything…

Once we got our clothes back on, the conversations continued all the way until we reached the corner with the vending machines, where our advance was briefly stalled by our efforts to procure ourselves some cans of soda.

Kaworu had already paid for both of us before I could dig up the money from my pockets, and of course, he knew exactly which brand and flavor I would have chosen.

I feel less bad about it now, knowing that it’s Chairman Keel’s money – not that any amount of carbonated sugar water could’ve made enough of a dent in his finances to hinder his nefarious plots.

But as we both sat there on those thin red benches, each sipping once in a while from our respective cans, I decided that I probably wasn’t going to get a better chance to bring it up…

“Uh, Kaworu-kun… You do know people usually mean a little something different when they say ‘sleep together', though?”

“Ah -oh. So that’s what you- My bad, I was careless, I didn’t realize how it might be taken. I didn’t mean to fluster or offend you in any way.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine!” I hurriedly assured him, “I know you’d never do anything to upset me on purpose-”

I did note the somber look that briefly crossed his face, but with the knowledge I had at the time, I must have given it a different meaning while fitting it into the framework of my thinking.

“I’m just… surprised that any kid our age wouldn’t think of that. Except maybe Rei, I guess, but with her personality, it’s less unexpected. Maybe it’s because you both spent at lot of time at GEHIRN, but, it’s like… you know a lot of stuff that most people our age wouldn’t know, but there’s also lots of stuff that almost everyone knows, and you don’t…- Like, it’s nice to have a sleepover with a friend once in a while, but you don’t have to.” I was thinking out loud by this point and caught myself in the act.

“– Ah, I don’t mean to say you’re weird or anything! And I think Asuka should stop saying that-”

“But I am different from the Lillim- I mean, from most other people. It’s simply a fact. I’m not going to be offended just because that’s pointed out. It comes as no surprise to me… Asuka is just stating the obvious truth. She’s very direct and to the point – I appreciate that about her.”

With anyone else you’d expect that they were just being polite, but as for Kaworu, he truly didn’t seem surprised or offended, he didn’t say it with a self-ironic tone, nor a passive-aggressive one… although his eyes did trail off at the end, in a way that might suggest loneliness – or even guilt.

Before I knew what I was doing, my arm had moved on its own.

“Hey, it’s okay – I’m glad to be spending time with you.”

It could not be long, however, before I did notice what I was doing, what with Kaworu’s silky silver hair right under my fingers and my own hand plain in the center of my own field of vision – until I hastily pulled it back.

“Ah- Sorry, I- I wasn’t thinking-”

I can only conclude that it took me an unreasonable amount of time to produce an answer.

“It’s just that my mother used to pat my head like that, whenever I was upset as a kid…”

I trailed off there, half-heartedly concealing the feelings that bubbled up in my chest as I considered it.

But I fear Kaworu read me all too easily: “Do you want to talk about it?”

I caved rather easily.

“So much has happened since I agreed to become a pilot… In a way, it’s kind of like when I started playing the Cello – thought I might be able to change myself, that I’d stop just kind of blending into the background and have something to be proud of for once. I didn’t think I’d have to go through all these embarrassing experiences, or that I’d be yelled at. I thought...-

You know what I said earlier, about my mother? It’s been a pretty long time since she’s done that. It’s like I haven’t seen her outside of work for months on end! And father, too… I thought that would change if I became a pilot, but now it’s like they’re my bosses instead of my parents! I almost wish that things could go back to the way before… At least no one was having crazy expectations of me based on something I can’t even control!”

Kaworu questioned me somberly: “Do you resent them?”

That gave me pause and made me aware of the stream of emotions that I’d let myself get swept away by.

“I- Of course not. I love them. Besides, I know they’re doing important work to save the world from aliens and everything… I know that I’m not more important than the entire world, but still…”

“Sometimes, the ones we love are precisely the ones that we’re the most likely to resent, because we are willing to endure deprivation for their sake and because we forgive them slights that we would never tolerate in others.”

How very wise…

I am such a little boy compared to him…

I must have pouted just like one, too

“Are you lonely?”

Kaworu was very much asking this in an empathetic manner, but the truth that this confronted me with was very much the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Well, of course!” I shouted then. Moments later, my cheeks were coloring fiercely from my embarrassment over this outburst. “...I must be sounding like a spoiled brat…”

This was not what Kaworu had aimed for: “No, not at all- I didn’t wish to make you feel judged or inadequate. I was just… curious, I think. Maybe it was inappropriate of me to keep prodding you.”

“...what do you mean ‘curious’?”

He paused gravely, as if considering his next words, wrestling with some other thought or obligation in his heart until one side of that conflict won, at last, pressing some drawn words past his lips: “...You know. About families, and what they might be like.”

“You’re an orphan?!”

I mean. I should have figured if he was living with the chairman and had no grownup guardian to accompany him to Japan… I’d just assumed that Chairman Keel was a relative of his, perhaps a maternal uncle or grandfather to account for their different surnames…

I thought I’d done a tactless thing, blurting this out as I did, but Kaworu just kept his usual, relaxed smile, acting perfectly casual: “Nah, nothing of the sort. I never had parents to begin with.”

I’d heard something like this once before – from Rei. But if he was saying that he’s not an orphan, then….

“...what do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said. They didn’t die, they never existed, to begin with.”

...Never existed? But how could that be? I highly doubt the stork brought him, or that he grew in a cabbage patch.

I felt like he was hinting at something that I was very much not getting, obvious as though it might be to him

“I didn’t get the opportunity to ask many others about it either, since I didn’t get very many chances to meet other youths our age until I joined your class this fall.”

“What about your previous school?”

“There’s no such thing. I was given the necessary education for people my age, but this is the first time I’ve ever attended school. And of course, the same goes for Ayanami as well – maybe this is why we both seem ‘inexperienced’ to you.”

...remember when I mentioned that it sometimes feels like Rei just appeared out of nowhere the moment she transferred to our school? It was just a nonsensical thought then, chiefly a description of an emotional reality. It wasn’t literally possible, right?

“Why wouldn’t they make you go to school?” I questioned, “Was it because of health reasons? Or for your protection, since you were the first pilot candidates?”

Kaworu shook his head – I think he was still acting like I was the one who needed to be comforted or reassured here: “Nothing like that, don’t worry. They just didn’t think it was necessary. At first, we were always kept ‘inside’, so that our existence would not be known to many outside the organization.”

“Because you were pilot candidates? Then, Mari and Asuka, too?”

“To an extent, yes, but their cases are a little different – they were selected later, by different processes. Their parents are people from the organization, and they were able to attend school in their home countries. But I’m sure Asuka would already have told you that she spent much time at the GEHIRN base in Germany?”

Indeed she had. That whole thing about spending much of her childhood in gyms and simulators.

“But then what about you and Rei? Why wouldn’t they let you go to school?”

“Again, it wasn’t considered necessary.”

That sounds a lot like what Rei tends to say all the time – about how ‘there is no need’ for this or that as if normal things that kids in this country typically have been obscene luxuries.

But if Rei doesn’t care to have any wallpaper or trusts security to guard her house, that’s one thing – we’re talking about school here.

In my life thus far, just about every adult I had known (with the possible exception of my father) had done their darndest to assure me that there was nothing more ‘necessary’ than school.

Clearly, Rei and Kaworu weren’t falling behind on their academic performance, but what about trying to impress your classmates? Experimenting with your clothes? Making friends? Having crushes? All the fun parts of childhood and youth that our elders wistfully looked back on?

“Isn’t school kind of important?”

I probably could have articulated this better – this was a best just a tentative, thoughtless regurgitation of the cultural messages I’d absorbed over the years.

Yet Kaworu did not begrudge me. His thoughts were elsewhere, calculating, considering.

Finally, he said: “Usually, this would be the case, but with myself and Ayanami, the priorities would have been somewhat different, considering that we were created for the sole purpose of facilitating the project.”

Aaand… penny drops.

I think I almost fell off the bench. I distinctly recall scrambling to support my weight with my arms. “What do you mean created?!”

Kaworu was acting way too casual about this. Like it wasn’t even a big deal. I suppose to him, it wasn’t. He would have known about this his whole life.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Everyone knew about Dolly the Sheep, and as the child of two eminent biologists, I had even heard about that time they’d made a fully viable mouse embryo by squirting stem cells into a scaffold laced with signal molecules, without even the union of egg and sperm. They had even assembled virus DNA from basic chemicals and had that act like a normal virus. Besides the RNA, other parts of cell-like membranes had also been recreated in a lab, from dead matter no less. If my mother could grow a ‘person’ so gigantic that it would have collapsed under its own weight if it weren’t infused with the genes of an alien god, I really shouldn’t be surprised that they were capable of making two regular-sized people.

“Pardon me, I didn’t wish to alarm you – I thought you’d figured it out already. I’m fairly certain that at least Asuka has her suspicions already. No one outside a select few is supposed to know, but I imagine it’s something of an open secret – We have no parents, our personnel files are blank, we don’t act or appear exactly as typical adolescents…”

I mean, I had seen that. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to be judgmental, I mean what did I know? It could have been any number of infinitely more likely, ordinary things.

I certainly didn’t agree with Asuka’s harshness towards them, no matter the reason…

Kaworu, however, didn’t berate me for missing the obvious:

“I suppose this only shows my thinking as an ‘insider’. I should have considered that this conclusion wouldn’t necessarily occur to someone who isn’t as familiar with GEHIRN.”

Well of course not!

This sounds like something a crazy science fiction doctor would do!

“It’s a fairly common procedure that has been refined for many years to the point where it’s relatively safe and reliable.. You take one or more genes from an organism of interest, which confer some useful traits and transfer it into another. This is how you can get a cat that glows like a jellyfish or a goat that produces spider silk in its milk.

In our case, what they wanted was a person who could operate an Evangelion. You know that the EVAs are built to resemble humans in part so that human beings can control them. But they’re not exactly like humans – the whole point in building them is that they have abilities and characteristics which humans don’t have. In the early stages of the project, it was believed that it would be absolutely impossible for a normal person to operate an Evangelion. For most people, it is. But still, they needed pilots – it was a matter of life and death.

So, if they themselves couldn’t control EVA, they set out to create something that could. If they hadn’t, all the world may be destroyed, with all their work and all their offspring – so can you blame them? I do not.

Like the EVAs themselves, Ayanami and I were both artificially created and designed to combine the traits of both angels and Lillim, that is, ordinary people like your parents and your classmates – You might say that we are homunculi or biological androids. The cells that make up our bodies were created in a laboratory – consequently, we are without parents.

That is why I wanted to meet her so badly when I first came to this town – she is the same as me.”

I just sat there, stunned into silence.

I didn’t know what to do with this information – part of me was still expecting to wake up from a dream, pulling together possible reasons why this couldn’t actually be true, while another was afflicted by a horrifying curiosity, longing to have it explained in even more terrible detail…. But I couldn’t ask him that. Would Kaworu even know? It’s not like I know every last technical detail about how my parents made me.

The best I could do was to nod in acknowledgment…

Of course, I was very young. I didn’t necessarily grasp the implications.

If you’d told all this to, say, Misato, the questions pouring through the wrinkles of her brain would have been very different, like – did this mean that GEHIRN owned those two? Did they ever have the chance to refuse, and if they had, what would have happened to them?

And, if they could just make pilots, why bother to recruit a bunch of ordinary middle schoolers?

That, at least, was promptly answered, since Kaworu felt the need to explain how he and Rei had come to be the only ones.

“You see, despite the hopes kindled by those early successes, the project soon stalled out. When a human brain is formed – or something close enough to it – it receives its soul from the primeval chamber of Gaf according to a mechanism set in stone by our creators since time immemorial, and so it is with the angels. But beings between human and angel? What you might consider ‘nephelim’? Such a thing was never part of the divine plan.”

Wait, what? You’ve lost me there with all the mystical talk, Kaworu-kun. Please do remember that I am much, much dumber than you. Or at least I’m not what you would call an ‘insider’.

Actually, I don’t want him to be reminded of my dumbness, so I did not ask follow-up questions.

I was waiting for his explanation to meander back into the realm of the comprehensible.

“After the creation of the Magi, the researchers had been hopeful that they would soon attain the Holy Grain of creating true artificial souls, but that didn’t work out, so they were forced to resort to other means. Ayanami and I were given life by use of a rare and limited resource, which couldn’t be repeated. Thus, we remain the only ones in all the world.

But to rest something of such importance on the backs of only two individuals hardly seemed acceptable – Thus, the researchers concluded that they would need to find a way to make use of ordinary human children, or something much more like it. It was Ms. Soryu who led this effort – resulting in both the original recruitment drive that led to Asuka’s selection – The so-called Shikinami project – and the second program, the Pilot Raising project, which you and your classmates are now part of.”

“...then what about Mari?”

Officially, she had only joined us now, but if everyone else I’d met at my parent’s workplace had been a candidate…

“She’s a bit of an anomaly. The process by which she was originally selected as a candidate probably most resembled Asuka’s, but it was still rather different – The scientists all had their own ideas about how to find viable pilots. Your father was the mastermind behind Ayanami’s creation, I myself was brought into the world by a group working directly under the Chairman’s control – You might already have wondered why Makinami the elder is not working here along with the rest of your parents. That is because she had her eventual differences with Professor Fuyutsuki’s group, and eventually broke away from them. As you remember, Mari showed up on the organization’s doorstep all on her own accord. But despite all, she was still a candidate, and a promising one at that, so they had no choice but to accept her into the project.”

I could hardly forget how she had just brazenly strutted up to Ritsuko-san and demanded to be tested…

In my mind, I went over all the aspects and behaviors that had confounded me about my comrades and found that they all made a whole lot more sense when matched with Kaworu’s story. Just as I’d never understood why Asuka seemed so obsessed with piloting until she told me just how much time she’d spent preparing for this chance, I found now that a lot of Rei’s more puzzling statements were starting to make perfect sense right now.

All that stuff about how she was ‘born to do it’, or how she could ‘only live in here’.

I had no idea, not really… but for all that Rei had stoically carried her burdens without complaints, they had still been many times more apparent than the same weight had been on a joyous person such as Kaworu. In a sense, he kind of has the opposite problem as me: He’s one of those people who, when they feel hopeless, will tend to concentrate all their energy on making others happy before they would ever consider asking for help…

And who would he even ask? Certainly not Chairman Keel. Me? Haha. Hilarious. I can’t even help myself.

Throughout some of the worst of what followed, I at least had Kaworu.

I cannot claim, in good conscience, that Kaworu had me.

Indeed, in the end, I think it might have been better for him if he had never met me.

Of course, he wouldn’t agree to this; That just makes it all worse…

Here I was giving him an earful about whether To Pilot Or Not To Pilot like some washed-up second-rate Hamlet, ignorant of how he had never been given this choice.

Kaworu-kun was an amazingly patient person.

“So, does that mean that you and Rei can’t ever quit?”

“...well, we are beings with free will. There are always other options, so long as you are willing to accept the consequences. But sometimes, any option you have comes with a steep price tag. As it stands, we wouldn’t have much to gain, if we did leave.”

...what was it Rei said? ‘To stop piloting would be the same as dying’?

And here I was, going on about how much I’d love to pack up and leave and dump it all on them, mindless of the consequences that this would have.

You know that thing Nietzsche said, about how he’d laugh about people who think themselves good because they do not have claws? How the lack of the power or opportunity to do evil does not goodness make?

I was rapidly finding that out.

I guess my ‘power to do evil’ skyrocketed the moment I got the highest score ever on the pilot test. I could still choose to leave, dumping it all in the laps of Kaworu and Rei.

That was a responsibility I did not want, so I dumped it fast at the nearest convenient recipient like it was a hot potato. I think for the instant that I realized it, it was too heavy to even contemplate. I was lucky enough, privileged enough, that I could afford to seal my eyes and ears.

I’m sure you could fit this into many popular memes, if you still have those in the future.

“...How can the people at GEHIRN do this? Father, Mother, Chairman Keel and the others…

I can’t believe that they would put all of this on you two. It’s just not fair! What about your lives, or what you want?”

I should have stuck to speaking for myself.

“I just don’t get how you and Rei can be so calm about this! Aren’t you scared?! Aren’t you afraid that you’ll get hurt fighting the monsters?”

I didn’t realize then, how callous of me that was, so say ‘monsters’.

“I never thought of it like that.”

“How not?! How could you not be afraid when you can’t run away?! Don’t try and tell me that it’s not necessary?!”

He couldn’t face me head-on, for some sort of reason, but in profile, he seemed to wear a bittersweet smile.

I doubt that I’d said anything especially moving… I was just… being emotional at him, when he was the one with the problem. “How can you not be afraid?!”

“Maybe that is… because I’ve chosen this myself.”

“But you just said that you had no choice!”

“Yes. My options are few, and few of them are good. All carry a price. But I still have free will. I can still choose which price to pay. I can still choose how to approach this hardship, the meaning that I give it – that is the one freedom that nobody can take from you, not even in the direst of straits.

The people who sent me here have their own reasons, as do the ones at GEHIRN who chose to receive me, but I too have chosen to play along with their games for goals and reasons of their own. Right now, I am staying in this city out of my own free will. I’m exactly where I want to be, and I would be nowhere else instead.

And of course, you have the same freedom, even if it may not feel it right now. What you must be feeling right now is uncertainty. You’re in a new situation that you’ve never known before, so you’re unsure of yourself. But your self isn’t ‘fixed’. It always changes with the floor of time, whether you direct that flow or not, even if you do nothing. In time, you can find yourself doing things that you’d never thought possible before, and it will feel natural. Your idea of what you are, your purpose and your mission, can change at any time. And even if you cannot shape your circumstances, you have at least the power to be one of the many things that shape you. You can become, at least a little bit, that which you will yourself to become. It is in fact the very act of choosing that may define your essence.

So please, don’t get too fixed in your ideas of what you can or what you can’t imagine yourself doing.”

Hearing this from one whose lot was clearly heavier than my own, I felt a surge of validation, and at the same time, great burning shape for how much less I had accomplished with my cushier and easier life.

“I still mean what I told you before you joined us – I’d want this chalice to pass you by if it is at all possible. It’s just that you might find it difficult to escape this fate once you have become tangled up in it. If your free will leads you away from us, if you feel that leaving is what you must do, that’s your prerogative, and I will not prevent you. You must do what you must do, just as I must do what’s in my nature.

That said, I would be very glad if you chose to fight alongside us.”

He delivered his whole speech all put-together and mature, but for that last line? His wine-red eyes glittered with untold sincerity.




He brought me to his room, in the end.

It was an efficient square block of space, with as much room to move beside the bed as the bed itself was wide. The walls were taken up by all the other things one could need, like bookshelves and cupboards and a tiny desk next to the bed with a sleek LCD screen. I presume that keyboard, tower, and mouse must be tucked into the table somehow. On the wall was a calendar for next year, with an internal diagram of a piano up top, and many dates circled up in red in advance.

December Thirtieth must have been among them.

One presumes that he used the facilities throughout headquarters if he ever wished to eat or bathe or use the bathroom. There was quite a bunch of books on a grand variety of topics.

He soon arranged one of his spare sheets on the floor.

His spare pajamas pathetically hung off my stubby little boy limbs. I could have hidden all of my hands within the sleeves.

He didn’t have all that much, but he did have a futon tucked into his cupboards as if he had prepared for this occasion. He seemed surprised when I sat down to arrange myself between the sheets and pillow that he had put down.

“I should sleep on the floor-” but fortunately he didn’t insist.

It was right like this. This is where I should be. I was already far beneath him in every conceivable way.

I lay there, awkwardly existing, while he calmly rested his head on his folded arms, his legs crossed, the very picture of effortlessness.

Not only was he so much better than I at everything, he did it through his life must have been so much harder, making the best of everything, while I could hardly handle my boring ordinary problems.

It almost made me want to hide my face from him, but I didn’t want to leave this place of warmth, a stray dog looking to lap up the table-scraps from the peace and joy of his existence.

How does that famous poem go?

Who, if I screamed, would take pity on me among the orders of the angels?

And even assuming that one of them suddenly had mercy upon me, I would fade away from his stronger existence. For beauty is only the beginning of terror, which we can just barely stand, and so we admire it because it calmly refuses to destroy us. Every single angel is terrible.

Every single angel is terrible.

For though he had opened his heart to me today, as he very much wanted, he omitted some things – things that he could not get away with disclosing. Things that would have changed everything.

He smiled down upon me like the picture of bliss and benevolence.

“Shinji-kun. What is it that you want to ask me?”

Did I want to ask him something?

Oh yes, I did, so very, very much. So much I hadn’t known it.

I was reluctant in my shame, but he encouraged me to go on.

“It’s okay. You can tell me. I’m curious to hear your question.”

“...alright then… Kaworu-kun. Why did you become an EVA pilot? I mean, I know why, you told me that you were born for it and everything, but, why don’t you just run away? You said that you came here for your own reason, so, I was wondering why that is… Why do you put up with all these embarrassing, difficult things? Why do you stay even though you put yourself in danger?”

He could not answer this.

But I think he wished to tell me as much as he could, in such ways as were available to him.

Choosing which of the heavy prices to pay and which of the meager boons to attain, just as he had said.

“Right now, I think, the reason why I’m doing it is that I want to stay here. With you, and Ayanami, and everyone else. I like it here. I like this world, as it is right now. I like it, despite everything, because it has granted me life, and allowed me to experience things. I like the people, the music, all of the fascinating interplay of human nature… I wish to stay here just a little longer. I want to be able to laugh with you all, together in this world.”

I like that reason.

I could relate to it, understand it. I wanted to stay with everyone, too, be closer to them even though the hardship.

I wish it could be my reason. But I’m not so noble, not so altruistic, not enough of an idealist that I could die for an idea. I couldn’t live off just air and love, I couldn’t bleed just for truth and justice. I very much wish that I could… I certainly didn’t want any bad things happening to my friends… but if I claimed that, I would just be deceiving myself.

Kaworu must have sensed my uncertainty, however, for he addressed me firmly and decidedly: “Shinji-kun. Everyone that lives, everyone that struggles carries some kind of doubt, fear, or uncertainty within them. Everyone. Rei. Asuka. Even me.

But if you live all your life according to that fear, it will only crush what little resolve you have built up. It takes a strong will to control the EVA – if you’re going to be a pilot, you mustn't let go of its reins.

The fear of pain or the fear of getting hurt are not the worst fears that one can face. There are worse things, worse fates even. Like losing yourself – losing your significance, or, all that which is dear to you. You’ll have to choose which fates you want to avoid the most of all.”

Yeah. Maybe you’re starting to understand I really, really like Kaworu.




Some of you might be wondered why I wasn’t more critical about that whole ‘artificial humans’ thing but Kaworu was right: It really had been obvious for a while, I had just consciously admitted what I had kind of already known.

Besides, I had been given the ultimate Carte Blanche justification – how convenient it must be, for my parents and the others, that they can justify everything they do by pointing to the imminent end of the world. If you’d heard that someone had gone and created life on a whim, you’d certainly be suspicious about the ethics, but with a possible apocalypse around the corner? The Godzilla threshold had been crossed long ago.

Kaworu was evidently given a rather large allowance by Chairman Keel, and I still thought – still wanted to believe – that my parents were treating Rei as well as they could, so far as the safety of this pesky world would allow them. Maybe I was just naive.

Or maybe my attention was just slipping, very far from its peak after the struggles of this very taxing week.




But you know, as much as I hated it back then, there would come a day when I ended up being rather glad for it. That is, I think I eventually got the lessons that Misato and Kaji were trying to teach us.

Just a week ago, I don’t think we were truly more than a collection of five lone warriors. We might as well have been living in different worlds altogether… and the worst is that I had no idea, though I had been calling myself their friend.

Now, I think that I had least come to understand each of them a little better, and myself in turn.

It helped me realize something:

As contrasting as the five of us might seem on the surface, as disparate as our attitudes might be, as much as our circumstances might diverge, I think deep down, there was a way in which we were really not so different. I think we all saw our role as pilots as a means to attain our own place in this world, something we might otherwise not have.

I think we were all just looking to prove that we were allowed to be here.


With this chapter, you have made it through full extent of any jealousy/triang stuff in this entire fic; It can be fun but it’s overdone sometimes & I’m not rly interested in doing that for this particular project, though the lust aspect is such a pronounced part of the Asuka dynamic that any intellectually honest interpretative work would at least need to address it briefly.
So if it seems like Mari/Kaworu/Asuka/Mana etc are appearing a lot (like some ppl have commented) that’s just ‘cause friendship is important too, they’re still important characters & this is still mainly a plot fic, but they’re all 100% going the friendship route in this one.
I just can’t stand that thing where everyone but [author’s favorite love interest] is completely sidelined, minimized or even bashed so I wanted to emphatically not do that.
That said, we’re scheduled to reach the romantic bits pretty soon… I have both an idea list and a pile of cute fan arts for inspo.

But before that, stay tuned for the last bit of 2.3, in which a long-standing evil is remedied and Asuka finally gets her long overdue birthday party.
Which motive rant might still be missing, you wonder, if we’ve already done all the pilots? Hint: She had an EoTV Segment and a Character Promotion Reel….

BTW, did you ever realize that, since EoE takes place on new year’s, Christmas falls pretty neatly in the week that Asuka was starving herself in the ruins, and her birthday must have been somewhere right before ep 22? As a programmer I’m obliged to think that math usually makes our lives better, but not in this case :(
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Aug 02, 2021 3:59 pm

2.3.6 Pilot Cohabitation Measure

SPOILER: Show
(2.3.6: PILOT COHABITATION MEASURE)




December 5th 2014




T minus 403 days




(Aftermath)




Sleeping at GEHIRN HQ had one advantage at least – It saved me the trouble of coming back here in the morning, letting me sleep in longer than I otherwise might have… which was rather fortunate, since my alarm clock was forgotten at home, presumably beeping up a storm in our empty apartment.

I had the chance to wake naturally, gradually, sluggish as though the process was from the lack of genuine daylight streaming in. Tentatively fluttering open, the first thing captured by my eyes was Kaworu, laying on his side, resting his head on a hand propped up by his elbow, somehow fully dressed, observing intently from above.

I felt like I had caught a glimpse of a stranger for a moment, staring straight at me from on high as if there were a spotlight aimed at my person… but that was but a fleeting impression, a brief phantom of half-sleep – I rubbed the sand from my eyes, and found him smiling pleasantly, just as I had always known him.

“Good Morning, Shinji-kun.”

“Ah, yes- Good Morning to you too, Kaworu-kun. ...Were you waiting for me to wake up?”

“Just a bit.”

“You should have woken me up…”

“Oh, but I wouldn’t want to interrupt your dreams~” He chuckled. “Breakfast?”

He dangled a brown rectangular paper bag in front of me, which, judging by the big fat GEHIRN Logo on its front, was something he must have gotten from the cafeteria.

Looks like he did way more than just get dressed while I was still dozing.

“I- thank you. You’ve got everything prepared already…”

He fetched two bottles of milk tea, too, just as a little pick me up.

He even managed to get a hold of the single best thing out of all the snacks in the cafeteria, which would be the fresh handmade rice balls.

“Tuna and pickles! My favorite! How did you know? You’re amazing, Kaworu-kun, you got me totally figured out!”

“That’s because I am always thinking of you.”

“-you really didn’t have to go all out like this…”

“Nonsense. That’s what friends are for~”




Needless to say, this was a very welcome change from sitting by myself at the kitchen table or squabbling with Asuka first thing in the morning.

We both showed up to training in remarkably good spirits.

It was back to the usual sessions, the ones we sometimes had together with the other candidates. But the attention was very much on us five: After they’d made us jump through all sorts of hoops, I guess they wanted to make sure that it wasn’t all for nothing…

That is, they wanted to see how it had impacted our growth, especially for the new kids on the block, which would be Mari and me – which is why they had clustered a veritable battery of our usual tests for today. No rest for the wicked.

I was mostly just glad to see Touji and the others again… even if they seemed to have got the wrong idea: “So how was it, you two lucky bastards? Being locked up with three pretty girls for a whole week…”

This earned him some discipline from a wrathful Hikari: “Su-zu-ha-ra…!”

“It was nothing like that – Honestly, the whole thing was super exhausting…”

They would never have believed me if Kaworu hadn’t backed me up…




All things considered, it was really nice to see everyone together again.




So, our usual training regimen resumed, and Asuka went right back to being good at everything as if her struggles with the teamwork exercise were but a temporary fluke from which she had emerged victorious.

Coming out the other end of the emotional turmoil, I think Asuka felt rather good about herself on the first day of this new year of her life.

She’d go on to crack another synch rate record today, and this time, she took Kotone’s fawning without any hostility or defensiveness, responding to any gushing about her greatness with a triumphant “Yep, that’s me.”




There was good news for Misato, too: It seems that most of our performances had increased greatly. After one week of constant drills from hell, the normal exercises were beginning to be a bit of an old hat.

The other candidates ended up bombarding us with questions about just how exactly the ‘special secret training’ had accomplished this.

“So music can help you with piloting EVA?”

The impassioned earnest looks on the faces of Kensuke and Kotone filled me with a dreadful sense of foreboding. Marie’s expression borderline qualified as diabolical glee.

I half expected one of them to pull a clipboard from hammer-space and start taking notes.

Even Asuka’s numbers had taken a noticeable leap, even though she had been a pilot for many years.

For today’s battle exercise, Misato even proposed to simulate a scenario where communications might be cut off, and put Asuka in charge instead of giving orders herself – which isn’t to say that she took the session off. She carefully observed the performance to give Asuka pointers on how to boss us properly. Apparently, she thought of Mari and me as ‘brute muscle’ and of Asuka herself as ‘the precision knife’. She agreed with Asuka’s choice to put Rei on support duty , but chided her for ignoring an observation she had made since she was ‘the brains’.

“How am I supposed to keep track of everything she mumbles to herself? If it was important, she should’ve told me so!”

“-but your order was-”

“Shut up about your orders! The whole point of this exercise is that sometimes you have to think for yourself! And that goes for all of you. I swear the only one here who ever does anything on her own is four-eyes, not that she seems to be thinking much either, with the way she went charging in blindly!”

“She’s right,” agreed Misato, in a serious voice that somehow validates Asuka’s shrill complaints by extension – “It’s risky do go at it on your own. You have a great many resources here to support you, so please use them.”

I’m not sure that she was convincing Mari - “If you say so?”

(It briefly occurred to me then that Misato didn’t seem to have very much to say about Kaworu. It was Asuka who first brought him up: )

“And Nagisa! You! I admit that you’re good – you could easily be an ace in the hole for us. But what’s with that whole thing you pulled where you spent half a minute monologueing about what the enemy’s strategy might be, when you could have been doing something? While you were busy overthinking, Baka Shinji here rushed right in and almost ruined our entire formation!”

“But you said we should act on our own more…” I feebly insisted.

“That wasn’t acting. That was just reacting. You didn’t listen to a single thing any of us were saying!

I insist that you add ‘overthinking’ to Nagisa’s weaknesses!”

“-but it was me who messed up!”

Kaworu, however, did not protest his case: “So, she’s right. I was my mistake. You were waiting on me.”

“No, I didn’t – I should have heard you out!”

“Are you two really going to argue about which of you is the bigger idiot? Well I can save you the trouble there, cause you’re both dumb!”

“Second child. Your impatience is not helping our communications.”

“Oh really, miss honor student? You want to lecture me about communication? That’s rich!”

“But Your Highness, you complain that we have nothing to say, but when we do talk, you keep telling us to shut up~ So which one is it? I’m just an itty bitty bit confused here~”

“Shut up, four-eyes!”

Well. We were getting there. Not quite there yet.

Miss Ritsuko was not yet ready to strike the ‘teamwork’ weakness from the books, but she did inform us that she had added ‘leadership qualities’ to the stack of Asuka’s strengths.

“Of course I’m the leader. I’ve got the RED Mecha, after all. the color of justice. The red guy is always the leader. Didn’t any of you watch the Power Rangers?”

“She’s got a point.” admitted Kensuke, nodding sagely (the other candidates had come along to watch our simulation, still in their plugsuits from the synch test.)

At the edge of my perception, I noted that Marie Vincennes had in fact acquired a real actual clipboard, maybe from a GEHIRN member she had ‘politely’ strong-armed into submission, and was taking real actual notes while Kotone curiously peered over her shoulder.

Kensuke had not bothered with such things cause he had been way too distracted with gushing about the ins and outs of our simulator performance today.

It’s not often that he and Asuka agree.

Normally I’d be glad that they’re not squabbling, but, under the circumstances, I was kinda worried that this was going to give Misato ideas.

I really didn’t want to end up in a power rangers costume.

Mari, of course, had no such reservations, and immediately struck a pose… with EVA 05. Or at least a simulation of it. No, really. “Go go pink ranger~”

She truly possesses no filter whatsoever. Much to Asuka’s exasperation.

“Four-eyes, you’re green!”

“Am I? Last time I checked I was kind of beige. I’ll have to look in the mirror again.”

“Grrr. Damnit Four-Eyes, you know I’m talking about your EVA!”




But hey, maybe Mari’s direct, uncomplicated nature is precisely why tends to make her EVA copy her body language without even thinking about it…

Well. That’s not the only reason, actually.

Her synch rate had been shooting up like a rocket lately… as had mine.

“It’s like our lines are dancing with each other~~~ meow~~”




Asuka seemed tempted to elbow her. “Be serious! Aren’t you worried that Baka Shinji is gonna get to be the Third Child instead of you?!”

“Not really.” Mari shrugged, “I mean, if he was, they’d probably just make me the fourth.”

“How can you be so blasé about this! Don’t you take anything seriously at all?!”

Well. At least she was looking out for Mari in her own way.

That’s kind of sweet…




This day, however, was yet to take a turn for the surprising.

The last batch of training was done, we were all about to get changed and go home.

I wasn’t going to impose on Kaworu for yet another day, and besides, there was going to be school tomorrow, as Hikari had sternly reminded us all before she made off – I wouldn’t be able to avoid the surface if I wanted to get my bag or a fresh uniform.

Best just to get it over with…

I was all ready to slip out of the room as quietly as I could and take a ride upstairs, as an unobtrusive, self-pitying little heap tucked in a corner of a wagon, but before I could so much as leave the actual experimentation hall, I heard Misato’s voice calling out to me from behind -

“Actually, Shinji-kun, could you come to the cafeteria later, when you’re done showering? And you too, Asuka. I’ve got something important to discuss with you.”




You would think that a single grownup on this planet might be capable of remembering the lump of dread that all of us felt whenever some parent or authority figure whipped out any variation of ‘we need to talk’.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing bad.”

Well that doesn’t reassure me at all!

Meanwhile, Asuka’s concern was of a different sort:

“For real? Seriously, we’ve been here all day after you’ve been keeping us all week. I feel like there ought to be a law against that! I wanna go home and get my beauty sleep!”

“I know that, and I’m sorry to have to ask this of you. I’ll buy you dinner to make up for it, alright?”

“Am I required to attend as well?” inquired Rei, who had thus far not made any attempts to leave the room.

“Nah, don’t worry about it! Just go home and rest, okay?”

That was a surprise. If Misato were simply summoning all the pilots and priority candidates to one place, I would have found it a perfectly normal occurrence and straight-up assumed that she was going to make some remarks about our simulator performance without Touji and the other candidates present, but I couldn't imagine for what purpose she would summon myself and Asuka alone, and that ignorance made me nervous.

When we left, Rei just remained standing not too far from where Dr. Akagi was still looking through our results at the console. Perhaps she still had another appointment after this. Weren’t they working her too hard? Asuka wasn’t entirely exaggerating when she said that she’d been here all day… Maybe I was overthinking it, I didn’t know how hard or extensive that extra work was gonna be, if it was indeed more than a simple discussion.

Her workload was already a little worrisome when I thought that she was simply very devoted to my parents and their cause, but knowing as I did now that she couldn’t quit… It was natural to worry, right?

I didn’t know what to say to her about it – if I should say anything at all. I wouldn’t know where to begin. It seemed so easy to say something wrong.

I’m ashamed to admit this now, but, if I’m honest, I kind of avoided her that day.

It made no sense, really. It shouldn’t be a mistake. What does it matter if she was born to join the program? A lot of people are born because their parents had too much to drink, or because they forgot to hold onto the condom while pulling out.

How & why someone was conceived should have no bearing on how the rest of their life would go. She didn’t suddenly become anyone other than she had always been.

She was just like Kaworu – Actually, though I didn’t know this at the time, she was actually much closer to being a regular person than he was. She was a human with a little bit of angel, while he was effectively an angel with a little bit of human.

But here was the problem: Kaworu had told me this of his own accord.

Rei didn’t know that he had told me. Maybe she hadn’t wanted me to know – but it’s not like she’d been trying to hide it from me, either, she’d been pretty open about how she ‘never had parents’ and ‘was a candidate since birth’. Maybe she’d assumed that it was obvious, just as Kaworu had.

The cover story my parents fed me was so flimsy that even I had been able to poke holes in it; I had actually known for a while now that she definitely wasn’t my cousin. She wasn’t anyone’s cousin, really, if she had been made from scratch in a test tube. No family at all. No aunts, no uncles, no grandmas whatsoever. I couldn’t imagine what that’s like – my parents might be very busy, but at least I could still see them once in a while. Though I wondered what they were thinking…

I thought back to what Rei had said, about how she was ‘just doing what she’s for’… as if she were some machine specifically built for it, like a vacuum was for cleaning, and not a whole person, with every other part that a person tends to have, with the addition of whatever extra abilities she had been given so that she could pilot an EVA. Sure, you could get a cat to glow like a jellyfish, but that didn’t change that it was still fundamentally a cat, which would suffer if it’s environment did not provide sufficient enrichment.

I was never too fond of this fashionable idea that people are just more complicated houseplants, the sorts that tell you to drink water and work out without even asking you why you’re sad in the first place, advising you that you best not think about it too much. I’m not against drinking water or working out or chugging pills and I wouldn’t take those options away from anyone who feels that this helps them, but… and this might make me sound prideful… I would like to think, at least, that at least some of my feelings have reasons. That they come from causes.

I have no good rational arguments for that. It’s more an opinion than it’s rooted in fact.

The reason I think it is simply that the opposite makes me way too sad.

But however you wanted to slice it, whatever framework you liked to apply to it, no one can deny that people need a little more than just water, food and air.

I couldn’t imagine how my parents could go to work every day and work with Rei here, and then go home to me like nothing happened. Didn’t they ever feel sorry for her sitting all alone at GEHIRN, when they looked at me doing normal little boy things? Didn’t this ever seem like a contradiction to them?

Why didn’t they just take her home with them and have her stay with us from the get-go?

Then again, it’s not like they have had too many problems with letting me sit around all on my own as of late…

I could understand now why Rei had been somewhat awkward about the whole charade of addressing them as her aunts and uncles when she’d always known them as her superiors.

Nice and personable superiors, maybe, like Misato-san was to me, but she couldn’t have forgotten that these were the people who decide her life. I mean, they decide my life, too, but that comes with the expectation that I will eventually be a grownup, and decide for myself. They’re supposed to be preparing me for that… what would even happen to Rei and Kaworu, if we end up defeating all the angels before they’re 20?

Sure, they would probably get all that money that was promised to us, but they would be dumped into the world after spending all their lives focused on just one thing.

I was less worried about Kaworu, since he had so many talents, but I was not sure if Rei would know what to do with herself.

I see now why those two would be so formal in their speech if they’d spent their early lives mostly surrounded by adults with relatively little contact with other children – I wonder if they met anyone at all outside of Asuka, Mari and me. They’d probably copied the speech of the researchers they had grown up around.

No wonder that my mother wanted Rei to try out some new activities at school, so that she’d get used to having a life outside of GEHIRN…

I ought to have been helping that, but instead, I was soaking in the shower till my fingers pruned up, overthinking everything but doing precious little.

My thoughts and prayers were unlikely to be much help…

At last I urged myself forward. I had some buffer of time I could afford to waste since Asuka would need some extra time to dry and style her hair, but I didn’t want to make the others wait.




The sight that awaited me at the cafeteria was… not what I expected.

Misato was there, yes, but not she alone.

Just a little bit to her right were my mother as well as Asuka’s, sitting close to each other, eating fancy little cakes with elegant tiny forks.

What were they doing here? I should have been glad to see them, but… I think it was the presence of them and Misato together that irritated me. If they just wanted to treat us to some sweets, there would be no need to involve her. Or she would be slouching sloppily in her chair, not sitting upright like a tall tower...

Asuka was already sitting at the table, with a displeased curve to her eyebrows – there was definitely a ‘serious talk’ ahead of us.

I wanted to run. Or else, for it to be over with already, so that I could read the results on a paper or find them already tucked into my mind without having to go through this situation.

Instead, I saw down.

Mother looked implacably serene as always – except that I used to find that comforting. It never used to occur to me that I couldn’t ever seem to tell what she was truly thinking.

“Hello children. Lately, it has come to our attention-”

Whatever well thought out, carefully-collected plan she’d been meaning to execute, Ms. Soryu ruined it: “You’re not squabbling any more, are you? Katsuragi told us you were squabbling.”

“Of course not Mama! What do you take us for? Children? Is this still about the training?! How is this fair? We beat it already!”

“Yes, you did, and we are all impressed with your growth,” noted mother, measured but gentle, bringing the thread of conversation back under her control. “We’re glad to see you two reconciled as well. But, the point here is, that from what Captain Katsuragi here told me, things between the two of you had been tense for several weeks.”

“We had no idea!” added Ms. Soryu, “You’ve been best friends for ages, and neither of us realized that you were fighting!”

In this she was less deliberate and controlled than my mother, but perhaps more impassioned: “I know we didn’t have very much time for you recently, but I guess we didn’t realize just how little, until we learned about your spat…”

The way she kept poking around in her cake with her fork might be taken to suggest some manner of guilt: “We know we shouldn’t be leaving you alone this much, but we presently truly cannot spare even a single moment…”

My mom showed no such weakness, but she had certainly drawn a consequence from the situation at hand: “We’ve talked it over with your father and Captain Katsuragi, and we’ve decided that it would be best if she were to move in with you for the time being so that she can keep an eye on you while the two of us are forced to stay at headquarters. And the same goes for Asuka-chan, too – You will be staying at our place, from now on. You’d been spending a lot of time there anyways… or at least you were earlier this year.”

This was… I was not sure how to react to this, actually.

Yes, my parents were finally doing something about my being left alone all the time, but if they were effectively handing me off to some professional carer, that was effectively the same as telling me that I needn’t expect them to be coming home ever again – for where would they even go, if, so I presume, there would be someone else sleeping in their bedroom?

And it was someone from the organization, too. Their underling.

Out of all the GEHIRN staff, she was probably one of the friendlier faces, I didn’t dislike Misato, but she was still a person from work, not a family member… She’d be paid for this – to me, this was beginning to feel like a repackaged version of father’s plan to send me off to the countryside, except that instead of getting me out of harm’s way for the war, my caretaker would now be ensuring my participation in it. She was my direct superior, at that!

Was my life just going to be all GEHIRN stuff non-stop now?

What exactly was Misato’s job description here?

Was she just gonna make sure that I show up to training & eat all that broccoli, nuts, and fatty fish that I’m supposed to be consuming now that my brain is somehow a strategic government asset?

All this I considered as I sat there, stunned and dumbstruck as I saw my fate changing without any input from me. The sensation was not quite as dramatic as falling, though it might be considered a fall’s clumsy little brother. But what could I do?

Well, I could have protested like Asuka. “Whaaat? Why? What the heck? I’m not a little girl. I don’t need any sort of caretaker! I’m fine on my own!”

Yes. Very convincing, especially when you’re on the verge of yet another tantrum.

“And if I DID get one, why’d I have to share them with Shinji? If it has to be someone from GEHIRN, I’d much rather move in with Kaji-san!”

If this were a comic, our mothers probably would have giant sweat drops floating above their heads at this point. But as if to demonstrate her utility as our handler, Misato got this covered:

“You and Shinji-kun both lack communication skills. As fellow pilots, You will live under the same roof, and eat at the same table. That’s an order.”

“You can’t be serious! It was bad enough to be stuck with Baka Shinji for a week!”

Well, thanks.

“Why doesn’t the First have to do this?! Does she get an exception for being the commander’s favorite?!”

“She’s not the one with the teamwork problems. As we’ve seen last week, she is excellent at cooperating with others.”

And that’s all that matters to GEHIRN? Whether or not she follows her orders without complaint?

Asuka surrendered in frustration. “This is a horrible idea! Please, Mama, tell me you didn’t agree to this!”

“It’s not only about what I think, darling. As a pilot, you’re an important asset to GEHIRN.”

Yeah. I’d figured that this is what this was about…

But it seemed that neither Misato nor our parents had yet come to realize that we were old enough to notice the obvious….

“Don’t worry, Asuka-chan. It’s only for a short while, and if you want to, you can always see me at work~”

Oh, they said that it was a short while now, and they might even believe it, but I had no doubt that this would come to stretch on and on and on – from past experience, I knew that my parents would never run out of tasks to be busy with… never.

Misato must have sensed it too, given how hard she was obviously trying to cheer us up – the whole thing was rather transparent: “The three of us are going to have soooo much fun together~”

Her fake cheer was honestly just depressing… though I couldn’t find in it me to be mad at her. She was trying rather blatantly to sell us on the idea, but she was only doing it because she had to. I imagine that it was no less awkward for her.

The conversation went on after that, longer and longer – mostly empty assurances and trivial explanations. Misato was cracking some bad joke about how not everyone got a chance to make a mess in their bosses’ house, proposing that we could have that whole joint birthday party she was planning on at my place and have it double as a moving-in-party since you’re ‘supposed to’ have a party when someone moves in with you…

As if there was anything to celebrate.

I saw no point in making it harder on her, though – I had resigned myself to my fate. If anything, I was wondering if I shouldn’t have seen this coming from the moment that I overheard my parents having that conversation.

I’d always known where their priorities lay…

I think Asuka knew, too. But it was her manner of being to keep struggling to the last. Maybe this allowed her that one last shred of control that kept her trying.




“I don’t want to live with Misato! I hate her!” she proclaimed to me in the hallways afterwards, because that was safer than ‘I can’t believe Mama is sending me away again’ or ‘Why did I think anything would change.’

The disproportionate strength with which she threw her empty can of soda accomplished little but to make it fly at the trashcan rather than into it, sending it bouncing off from the edges of its opening. “How can you be so okay with this?!”

What makes her think I'm okay?




(2.3.6: The New Normal)




GEHIRN was a large, efficient organization with many resources at its disposal.

I got a text by Misato just a few hours later, a half-joking comment about how she could use the help of a ‘big strong man’ to help her pick up her stuff.

She said she’d pick me up on the surface, but I had never left the geofront to begin with.

I’m not sure where Asuka went – I assume she was probably picking up her stuff, too.

I met Misato at the terminals instead – she waved me over from a sleek blue car that appeared behind one of the wider gates.

We ascended towards the surface together, on the same bullet train that ferried the transport wagons. Her car was full of foreign smells. Make-up for last-minute touchups. Forgotten drinking bottles and food wrappers.

I’m sure she talked a lot, but I don’t recall most of her attempts at conservation.
I don’t think she said very much of note – only that she had obviously known about this before I did, so half of her stuff was already mostly packed away in boxes.

“I didn’t have time to clean it ought, though – so it might be a little bit messy. I’ll just have the landlord detract the cleaning bill from my provision~”

...well.

Let me tell you.

About Misato’s provision… I’d be surprised if she ever saw a single yen.

The 21st century was only just begun, yet I assure you that her warning about ‘a little’ mess would be its greatest understatement.

This is now how I expected her apartment to look like… at all!

Certainly, I would have noticed that neither the Badass Boss-Lady and the Cool Big Sis act were entirely authentic. If I was too dumb to notice, Asuka was most certainly not, and would have made me aware of the contest.

I’m not sure what I expected behind that facade – I probably never thought that far too begin with. But I am sure that I didn’t expect this.

The nicest thing I could say about Misato’s apartment was that it looked… lived-in I guess?

But only in the euphemistic sense. There were no loving decorations or individual touches. It was a place to sleep, eat and shower. A tiny hamster cage.

The building itself was somewhat upscale-looking, the place where you’d expect young professionals or well-off single persons to live, not too different from the neighborhood that held the Soryu residence. But the fancy kitchen counters were buried beneath empty takeout boxes, pizza cartons and discarded coffee cans.

Some things had indeed been stuffed into boxes, but there were clothing and dishes still scattered on the floor. Wasn’t she going to take this with her?

At least, I doubt that she planned on bringing the empty bottles of various high-proof spirits that lined her shelves. All the ones that still had any contents were helpfully stuffed into a plastic box…

I think I even spied moldering leftovers and a few used condom wrappers here and there… didn’t she consider that I might see them?!

My image of her was shattered in an instant, blunt-force assault.

I couldn’t see this room belonging either to the nice, attractive lady or the imposing soldier.

The stranger who could be neither of those two people made a few awkward chuckling comments about the mess but showed little in the way of real shame. Out of all her various masks, she decided to don the cheery one, but I could not believe it anymore: “Oh, be a darling and don’t mention this to your parents, okay? Then I won’t tattle if you forget to vacuum your room~”

I felt reminded of these reality TV shows on TV where superficially respectable, even successful people were revealed to be leading serious double lives, like having a huge hoarding problem, or a secret porn career, or a room full of fursuits.

And this was the person who was supposed to supervise us?!

Who am I kidding? My parents probably had no idea of this. They hadn’t cared to check.

They do not care, period. It’s not like they seemed to care very much about Rei’s lodgings, either.

They’re just covering their asses by pushing us off to someone else… the next best person, probably. Ambitious underlings wishing to suck up to their bosses.

I had been completely forgotten, marginally remembered only because I was technically one of the backup pilots – out of sight and out of mind…

And maybe I’m being harsh in hindsight, or maybe I was being dramatic then, but the truth remains that most kids don’t ever get pushed off onto their parent’s subordinates.

I felt as abandoned and uncared for as this dirty apartment.

I think I probably disliked this arrangement as much as Asuka did, but unlike her, I saw no point in complaining. I wondered how long it was gonna be till my parents had time for me again… I wasn’t so optimistic as to expect it any time before the end of the war.

I understood that I had no real power to change the circumstances of my life.

Struggling would only make it harder – so I resigned myself to my fate, and picked up a box…

only to drop it straight away.

I’m rather lucky that I hadn’t lifted it too far, or the contents might have broken… or crushed my poor, poor feet.

You’ll never believe what came waddling out of the bathroom.

“Mi-Mi-Misato-san! There’s… an animal…”

“Oh, that’s just Pen Pen, my roommate~ He’s moving in as well.”

Did my parents agree to this as well, I wonder…?

The creature regarded me quizzically, angling his head.

He (or so Misato said) reached up to my things, ut didn’t quite reach my hips.

He appeared to be a kind of large, chubby flightless bird, with a pair of red crests atop his head and a big, yellow beak.

“...is this a penguin?”

“More or less, yeah.”

Misato was acting like all this was no big deal – I wonder if this was a deliberate bluff to get me to accept that this is somehow normal.

There was a penguin in her room.

Somehow, I felt like he was giving me the side-eye…

I slowly backed away.

“Don’t worry, Shin-chan, he’s friendly~ Just give him his space and you’ll be fine.”

Sure. All pet owners say that, and next thing you know, you’re covered in dog slobber.

And they’re probably not wrong about saying that ‘he only wants to smell you’, but the thing is, we’ve never had animals at home. Not even normal ones like dogs, cats or rodents – of course not. When would my parents ever have the time for pets? They barely had time for me…. That is, they used to.

And now, I wouldn’t even be able to go to the kitchen in my own home without encountering this bizarre bird which I’m sure must qualify as an exotic pet…

If you’d asked me just yesterday if I could picture Misato as a pet person, I might have said sure, these extroverted types tend to have an affinity for small dogs perhaps, and birds, too, are supposed to be fairly sociable animals – but this was just too much…

Gimme a break…

I didn’t sign up for this… but if hadn’t signed up at all, would I have been shipped off to the country by now, away from every single friend I’ve ever made?

How could my parents do this to me…

And Misato’s cheerful act only made it worse. “Here you go~” she commented, dumping yet another box into my hands… she had not even bothered to seal this one shut, though it was full of her underclothes. “By the time you’re done with all these boxes, you’re gonna have super strong arms that will get you all the girls~”

Couldn’t she hire some movers to do this? Or was she just too embarrassed to have them see all her crap? And yet, she wasn’t the least bit embarrassed of showing it to me…

I sighed and headed to the elevator.

I had a feeling that I seemed to be hauling way more boxes than her.

At least she had the decency of carrying her own bird, who ended up strapped in the car seat behind us. Shouldn’t she be putting him in a cage or carrier or a kiddie seat at least?

It was just a one-time exception for just one trip, but still…




The unpleasant surprises continued.

The second u-haul waiting in front of our house (…really just my house, except not even that, since I had to share it with all new roommates…) was not completely unexpected, since I’d known Asuka would be coming, but what I didn’t see coming was the sight of all my treasured possessions uncaringly thrown into wooden cartons in the living room. The old radio, my books, my cello, the notebooks with my feeble attempts at creative writing, even my alarm clock and that mildly embarrassing heart-shaped sign that my mother had put on my door…

Not to mention the clothes which I used to keep neatly folded and sorted on my shelf, all of them thrown onto a pile much larger than the box that contained it.

I had not even brought in the first batch of Misato’s boxes, but the living room was already full of them: Unopened ones with all-fresh postage stamps… and the cause of it all stood unrepentant in the doorway of what once used to be my room, casually sipping on a bottle of milk in a cutesy nightgown.

“Asuka..? What are you doing in my room?”

“Your room? What are you, stupid? That’s my room now. It’s only fair, since I’m the better pilot! Besides, the other room is too small! I could barely fit in half my stuff as it is!”

So that’s how it is.

My house had become an asset of GEHIRN, long before Misato even had the chance to release her pet bird or unroll her futon in what used to be my parent’s room. Of course, more and more of their stuff had been disappearing to their lodgings at headquarters already; I don’t think there was all that much left for them to have cleared out.

Did they come to do it yesterday, I wondered, and did they wonder where I was when they took note of my absence? ...probably not, I realized. One quick call to their security goons would have assured them that I was safe and sound at Kaworu’s…

Once she had asserted her dominance, Asuka quickly lost interest in me and turned her attention to Misato: “By the way, you’ve got to call the movers. There’s been a mixup – for some reason, they brought a bunk bed into my room.”

“Oh, that’s not an error at all~”

Before I could so much as wonder what Misato meant, all the world went dark as my field of vision was wholly taken over by a set of unexpected fingers.

“Guess who! I’ll give you some hints: Glasses, Parachute, Nice girl with big boobies~”

“M-Mari-san?!”

“Correctamundo~”

And there she was indeed, in khaki shorts and a spaghetti strap top with camouflage print.

I could finally see her once she let go of my face.




It seems Asuka was not expecting her, either.

“Four-eyes?! How did you get in here?!”

That was a good question for sure, since it seemed that she had not only leisurely snuck in here without Asuka noticing but found the time to change out of her street clothes.

Despite this, Misato was acting perfectly calm, like she saw this every day: “Oh, it just didn’t seem right to impose on Horaki-san any longer. Since we were already getting you two situated, we figured that we might as well take care of her as well~”

“What the heck?! But I don’t wanna share my room!”

Misato deftly responded to this by playing dumb: “Oh? But I recall you saying that you didn’t like to share your room with a boy. You could switch if you want, but then you’d have to take the smaller room…”

Somewhere in the background, Mari had discovered PenPen and was now joyfully introducing herself to him.

Meanwhile, Asuka kept arguing with Misato…

All this noise was making my head spin.

I wondered if it was too late to request a room in the geofront. Probably yes…

So anyways, we hauled up Misato’s stuff, and by ‘we’, I mean mostly myself.

Halfway through the ordeal, Mari’s stuff arrived, consisting mostly of piles and piles of books which Asuka was not too keen on having in her room. As recompense, she called dibs on the top bunk.

Another thing we distributed by the ‘fair and infallible’ metric of rock-paper-scissors was our household chores. I did always have the most rotten luck.

Once that was taken care of, Misato declared that we were most certainly obligated to have a proper celebration, even if it was just a prelude to the real party to come.

“Shinji-kun, would you kindly…”

And that’s how I was sent off to the convenience store to get snacks.

“Bring some Doritos, and some instant noodles… oh, and some sardines for PenPen. And a case of beer!”

“I’m not 20 yet, Misato-san. I’m not allowed to buy any.”

“Oh, just fetch a couple cans out of a vending machine~ But don’t drink it yourself, okay? Not until you’re 20~”

Well, it’s nice that she thought of adding that. I’m sure my parents would appreciate that she technically warned us if we ever got arrested for underage drinking.

Perhaps she still considered us too innocent to attempt it?

I guess at least I didn’t need to worry that she was going to monitor our diet.

Shouldn’t she fetch food for us if she’s supposed to be our guardian?

Before I knew it, Asuka and Mari were also chiming in about what kind of snacks they wanted.

I felt that I was well on my way to becoming this household’s designated errand boy…




By the time I was back with the snacks, Misato has made herself at home: Her long pants, sweater and uniform jacket had been replaced by a loose-fitting yellow top and some very short jean shorts.

I never thought I’d see my English teacher like this – let alone my boss.

All three girls had arranged themselves around the table, where my parents and Rei used to sit not too long ago, and like a nest of hungry chicks, they clamored at once for the snacks in my possession.

Misato, in particular, wasted no time in cracking open the beer can while it was still cold and instantly proceeded to gulp down almost half of it. “Ahh~ Stuff like this is what makes life worth living~”

I got the impression that she really, really likes beer…

Sigh. She isn’t anything like the sort of person I thought she was…

Thanks to our trusty water cooker and microwave, our selection of convenience store snacks were quickly prepared so that the four of us could have dinner – five if you counted Pen Pen with his sardines.

In the meantime, Mari and Asuka seemed to have worked out a treaty as to which side of the bedroom belonged to whom, with Asuka issuing serious threats about what might happen if any clutter were to find its way to her half.

“Aww, come on~ Sharing a room is not so bad. You used to share one with your sister Lisa back at your dad’s place, didn’t you?”

“Oi four-eyes, what are you talking about!”

Asuka’s obviously displeased expression did little to instill Mari with a sense of tact: “Oh, did you not want Puppy Boy and the Boss Lady to know about this?”

...apparently.

That explains why she crawled into bed with me during training week, if she’s not used to sleeping by herself away from her mom’s place. At least I wouldn’t need to worry about that, if she was gonna share the room with Mari.

I can understand why Asuka would rather have kept that under wraps, though, especially since Misato seemed greatly amused by this: “There’s nothing to be ashamed of~ Your Mom isn’t here anyway, so you don’t need to force yourself to act like such a good girl. It’s okay to want company, humans are social animals after all~”

“I’m not acting...”

One could see here for a moment just a bit of the frustration she had shown when she’d first received the news, but Asuka must have known that she’d gain little by insisting on her point.

“I’m gonna take a shower!” she announced, and thus she extricated herself.

Thus, the house that I’d resented for its emptiness had transformed overnight into a very noisy place.




It was almost a relief when I was asked to remove my boxes from the living room.

I hauled it all into the small quarters that had once belonged to Rei, but I was much too tired to bother with unpacking anything other than my blanket – I didn’t really care to use the pink one that Rei had left behind.

I wondered what she might be doing right now. I pictured her gulping down her pills all alone in the half-dark of that dim little apartment and perhaps washing them down with a yogurt drink or nutrition shake and then carrying on with whatever else she’d been doing, a simple, brief act of maintenance for the old meat suit with no regard given to pleasure, community or artistry, and the thought seemed even more desolate with the false cheer of the government agent assigned to our cases.

I tried phoning my parents, but I already kind of expected that neither of them would pick up…




Compared to what it had been at the beginning of this year, I did not recognize my life anymore.


I had very different plans for this chapter, but Shinji insisted on having an emotion.

I think act 2 might end up being the longest in the end with only act 4 having the potential to come anywhere near. A lot of them are likely to be shorter & crispier, though I'm trying to give each one a somewhat distinct mood & 'flair'.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Aug 31, 2021 1:42 pm

(2.3.7: PILOT SURVEILLANCE LOG)
SPOILER: Show
December 6th 2014




T minus 402 days




There was going to be school today, which, at this point, felt almost like a relief.

I was aching to spend some time outside the bubble of GEHIN that had occupied my every waking moment this last week and had now even encroached into my home life, to spend some time with some people who had never even heard the word ‘Evangelion.’




But as it was, it was beginning to look that there soon wouldn’t be a single aspect of my life that would be free of the organization’s tendrils.

“Do you really want to show up at school today?” I asked as Misato handed me my breakfast.

The toast on my plate was looking a little bit too…. crispy for my liking.

I was feeling rather awkward, actually, seeing as she was standing there in very short shorts, a light vest in the same color, and a very short top that bared her midriff.

It still boggled my mind to think that this was the very same person who had once made us all stand at attention in the classroom. Her hair was standing off in all directions.

Off in the distance, I could hear Asuka in the shower.

I’m not wholly sure where Mari went.

“Don’t you worry,” said Misato, waving her hand as if to downplay the effort, “It’s all part of my job~”

Right. Her job. For the government.

Which we were a part of, cause our parents couldn’t be arsed.

Like it would be so strenuous to keep an eye on me once in a while and pick up the phone when I need to ask them for help. I cook my own food, I clean up after myself, I show up where they want me to go… what about me is so inconvenient and burdensome that they need to push it onto Misato?

Some people might probably want a refund on their tax dollars if you told them that my parents were using them to fund their babysitting bills… or that this scantily-clad person was now in charge guarding our all-important brains…you know, the brains that now seemed to rather belong to the government than to ourselves, which our parents were totally cool with.

On top of that, Misato’s false cheer was like salt in my wounds.

I knew that it wasn’t her fault – I think she realized that reminding me that she only bothered with me to get her paycheck was not the wisest course of action, heck, she even spared me the embarrassment of having to comfort her as she tried to fumble towards an apology.

She put her grin back on, but she wasn’t too forward about it.

Nonetheless, the entire house was filled with extraneous noise.

Fridge number one was filled to the brim with Misato’s snack foods and beer cans. Fridge number two had been cleared out to house her bizarre bird, whim I just saw waddling out of there with a newspaper tucked under his flipper.

I decided not to question it. Nor anything else of this madness.

Asuka had spread all her cosmetics around the sink. I’m still not sure where Mari was, but I could hear her singing to herself somewhere in the vicinity… no, actually, I found her.

Both girl and bird were parked in front of the bathroom door, waiting for Asuka to emerge.

Mari was still in those same khaki shorts, her long hair unbound, holding a messy pile of clothing that was presumably her uniform.

If I waited any longer, I doubt I’d make it to school in time, so I should probably just hold it in until I can use the toilets at school.

I had come to loathe the silence in here, but now, I felt no more comforted by the superficial clamor that swamped this place. I felt that I should probably make sure to stock up on batteries for my cassette player so that I might drown out the cacophony of here.

Then things went from bad to worse, for the doorbell rang, and Misato was still pretty close to naked though she cheerfully ambled towards the doorway.

“Don’t answer the door like this!” I pleaded desperately, rushing to the entrance so as to preempt disaster.

The ringing of the doorbell should have marked a happy occasion: Touji and Kensuke had come to pick me up. But I had little time for delight – my only thought was that I must get them out of the house before they see Misato.

Somehow, I managed it. There was one close call when I heard her voice call out: “Bye Bye, boys, have a safe trip~”

At once, I froze in mortification, but somehow, I was able to prevent my naive friends from seeing much more than her waving arm.

Or perhaps, she was not quite as inconsiderate of my often tarnished dignity as I had feared back then.




Once the door had closed behind us, however, all the attention was soon refocussed upon me, so that I could no longer escape the indignity of being forced to provide an explanation.

My friends, I found, lived in a different world. Even the ones who had seen the facilities of GEHIRN seemed to have been left behind in a simpler, more innocent world to which I could not return. Not too long ago, I’m aware, my response might not have been that much different from theirs:

“Wow! You lucky bastard! I can’t believe you get to live in close quarters with so many cute girls!”

“It’s not like that at all…”

Touji wasn’t buying it: “Oh come on. Granted, Makinami is a bit weird, and Soryu is Soryu, but they’ve still gotta be super hot in their pajamas. Not to mention that you get to live with the super cool and gorgeous Misato-san!”

“She’s no different from the other two,” I mumbled, pouting. “Worse, even.”

Touji and Kensuke, however, could not seem to believe it: “How can you say that?!”

“You two have no idea! She might look cool at GEHIRN, but at home, she’s super messy and undignified, and embarrassing. The very opposite of cool! She’s only been here one day, and I’ve already had to clean up after her… even though she was supposed to be looking after us.”

I felt a little bad disclosing this, but at the time, I just wanted to be mad.

I thought this ought to have wiped the big grins of their faces, but to my great consternation, their smirks only grew wider.

“What’s there to laugh about?!”

Quite a lot apparently, if you’d asked Touji:

“Man, you really are a baby sometimes. You really ought to appreciate your luck!”

At last, finally, Kensuke deigned to grace her with an explanation:

“You get to see her how she really is. All the uncool bits that she hides from everyone else. That’s almost like a special honor~ ”

That’s… not something I had considered before.

Nor this: “Besides, at least your parents can afford to make someone look after you. I only have my father, and he’s busy all the time! At least Touji has his grandfather and his little sister, but for me, it’s usually just me, myself and my computer… and even when Dad is home, he just doesn’t understand me! I’d much rather be living with a cool person like Misato-san.”

He sounded displeased.

“Have you guys been fighting?” asked Touji straight away before I could decide whether to do something similar.

Kensuke shrugged, trying to act non-committal. “Sort of. He’s against my taking part in the whole pilot training thing. He just doesn’t get it.”




I began this conversation thinking that those two were being ridiculous, but in the end, I was left wondering if Touji isn’t exactly right about us being a ‘baby’. For all that Kensuke could easily be taken for a wide-eyed dreamer, in some ways he can be really wise.

For the most part, I felt ashamed. My friends were considerate enough with me that they had not schooled me with harsh words the way Asuka did last week, but for someone who was supposed to have been their friend, I realized then that I spent precious little time considering their circumstances before complaining to them of my trivial luxury problems.

I’m so weak...

I mean, at least I still had my parents. If I really wanted to, I could see them at GEHIRN any time I wanted. They weren’t far away on the other side of the planet like Asuka’s father or Mari’s family.

Touji’s and Kensuke’s moms were gone forever. They could never see them, no matter how long they might wait. Rei and Kaworu had no parents at all, not even busy fathers.

And sure, Misato might be a measly caretaker, but she was nice to me, and at least I wasn’t alone.

I had no right to complain.

I chided myself inwardly all the way to the school all the while I quietly followed behind my friend, trying to deny the selfish, bratty part of me that chimed in that it wasn’t luck to have a sloppy government employee who barely cared about basic child safety watching my every move.

A drill sergeant might give the recruits under their commands great advice for their personal development, but that doesn’t mean that the military cares about your self-actualization.

They’re after a very specific end product, which is an obedient, functional soldier.

That ought to be a downgrade from living with parents who, at least in theory, we're supposed to care about you.

And yet those very parents were the ones who left me with Misato…




Now that Rei lived in a completely different part of the city, our paths didn’t cross until the very last tram ride. I spotted her unmistakable head of pale hair in the wagon, but when I thought of approaching her to seat myself across from her, or even speak to her, some reluctance held me back.

I thought that things would be awkward since I didn’t talk to her earlier – or maybe that was an excuse, but the longer that I didn’t say anything the greater the chance that awkwardness might, in fact, arrive. Or maybe she wouldn’t say or notice anything, and act as nothing happened – and I don’t know that I was ready to deal with how that would make me feel, either.

Or was I just scared of saying something wrong? That I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from blurting out the elephant in the room?

I couldn’t even say why I was acting so silly.

Nothing had really changed. What I had learned recently had been true all along, all the time, every time we’d talked before.




Yet, I simmered in silence, looking on only from afar.




I think that time I helped her moved her things, she said some things that made me think that she actually longed to connect more with the others at our school, and didn’t us five ‘active duty’ trainees get to grow a little closer over the course of the week?

So I expected, perhaps, to see a change, but I could make out no such thing.




On the tram, she talked to no one. If she saw me, she did not think to approach – some cowardly part of me was even grateful for that.

Once we got to school, she silently took her usual place at the window and waited for the teacher to arrive.

Nothing seems to have changed – no, not quite. She was reading one of those books – those ‘how to make friends’ type books that she had borrowed earlier and presumably didn’t get that much of chance to read through during last week’s mischief.

Maybe that’s about as far as she felt ready to go for today.

Can’t say I don’t sympathize… no, the point is, I had no right to judge.




The closest I got to her that day was when we were having lunch together, but that was mostly thanks to Kaworu.

He suggested that we eat together. How did he put it? He wanted to relish the limited time we were getting to spend together?

I thought then that he, too, must be much wiser than me in this.

I’m no longer sure how much this is true.

It was a relief, though, to be sitting there together. To feel that we still sort of had a connection, even if I was only lingering at the very edge of it.

Neither I nor Rei really said all that much – Kaworu did most of the talking.

He even tried to invite Asuka to join us, but she had declined:

“Thanks, but I would like to maintain at least some sense of normalcy. If I ended up spending all my time with you weirdoes, I’d end up becoming weird myself.”

“Ah, but aren’t you already somewhat unusual yourself? That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Whatever!”

For Pete's sake. She didn’t have to put it like that like she was looking down on us.

We got an apologetic wave by a mildly embarrassed, apologetic Hikari, and another by Marie Vincennes who evidently wasn’t sorry at all, though she seemed woefully unaware of what might be considered her own weirdo credentials.




It’s not like I didn’t get it, though. Earlier during recess, I had a starry-eyed Mana asking me every possible detail about our week of training like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Actually, I had been hoping that hanging out with her would result in a conversation about something other than evangelions.




And this was not the only way in which my return to school had not lived up to the relief I’d hoped for. Immersed in a world of deadly aliens and demon-machines, my recollections of the carefree schooldays of yore might have acquired a rosy tint, but once I got back here, I found myself quickly reminded that school was still school… and that we’d all missed a full week’s worth of it.

In most classes, I didn’t understand a fraction of what the teachers were talking about. It doesn’t help that we got all new teachers with all new styles for us to get used to when the GEHIRN staff left their undercover jobs behind. Maybe we could have afforded to miss a full week back in elementary school, but here, the teachers were proceeding much faster through the topics than I’d once been used to.

More than just the training sessions themselves, I felt that my free time might soon be eaten up by make-up study sessions to compensate for these inevitable gaps.

And to think that this blasted war had not even started yet.

Yet I felt already like I was about to be in all over my head.

I’d thought of going to Nene’s next tea outing, just for the change of scenery, but now things were beginning to look as if that was not going to work out…




I ended up walking home with Mari, whom I spotted standing on the roof by herself. Maybe I was just avoiding everything else.

She for her part seemed perfectly entertained by herself, looking up at the sky, smiling to herself for no discernible reason.

She was kind of hard to get a read on, but I kept thinking back to some of the things she’d said, suggesting that we as her comrades were a lot more important to her than one might think.

At least, she didn’t seem to particularly mind me tagging along with her.

“So, uh, were you watching the birds earlier?”

“Yep.”

She was smiling, at least, though not necessarily at me.

“Are you interested in birds?”

She shrugged casually. “A little.”

Aha.

“What’s that song you were humming earlier?”

“Ah, that? It’s pretty old so you probably wouldn’t like it.”

“If you’re into retro music, maybe we could check out a store that has old records and cassettes or something...”

Mari shrugged. “Sure why not? If you like.”

She’s hard to get to know, I guess.

She’s not quiet or reticent or unworldly, nor even harsh – she talks a lot, but rarely about herself.

“I hope it doesn’t bother you too much that the people at GEHIRN made you move in with us...”

“Eh.” she answered nonchalantly, “I am the cat that goes by herself. All places and times are alike to me.”

“Huh?”

“Uh, sorry. It’s a reference to a British TV show… or a poem? Both, actually.”

Well. I’ll take your word for it, Mari-san.

“I bet the boss lady and the others are just miffed that their security people keep losing me.”

She was quite blunt about that.

I mean, I knew that GEHIRN had us under surveillance and all, but most of the time, I preferred not to think about it too much.

And I certainly wouldn’t know how to get “lost” by the “security people”…




I went right home like a good little dog and went about reading through my printouts just as I was supposed to, which Misato noted with glee when she went and placed a cup-a-noodle next to me on the table. Well, it looked like a cup-a-noodle, but I got the impression that some extraneous sauce had been poured into it.

Asuka, who was reading through a fashion magazine nearby, was not impressed at all.

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“Curry~” beamed Misato, bright as a smiley emoji.

“It sure is… interesting…”

Oh dear. If even Mari could not think of anything nicer to say, then I am not looking forward to this dinner.

“It’s good that you’re studying though,” remarked Misato, plastic cheer undimmed. “Don’t forget that I get all of your grades sent right to my terminal at work~

Your pilot training has priority of course, but don’t think that you can afford to neglect your studies. School is also important for your future after all~”

Ah, is it?

Or would you simply feel bad if we fell behind at school because of our training?

Would that confront you with the inconvenient truth that you’re turning school children into soldiers?

Would that make it hard to pretend like this isn’t affecting our lives at all despite the fact that there’s literally a government agent living in our house? What’s more, it is one who can’t even be arsed to cook us proper food...

Rather than having received the support and companionship that was missing from the absence of my parents, I felt like I had been saddled with further scrutiny and yet more obligations.




Having snacks or instant food once in a while is nice. I’d even be glad of it.

But this was getting beyond ridiculous.

Even I could have cooked a better curry.

I decided, once I was done with studying, to go and fetch some actual vegetables.

Of course, one Asuka and Mari saw me retrieving my shopping bag, they badgered me to bring stuff. Misato, too. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that Asuka flat-out commanded me. At least the other two said ‘please’, but I highly doubt that they gave much thought to whether there would even be enough space in my bag to fulfill their many demands.




Upon my return, the many contents of my overfull bag were nearly sent tumbling to the ground on account of Misato-san’s weird bird.

I’m still not used to him at all. I wonder where Misato even got him in the first place. Why not get a normal pet, like a cat or a dog, or maybe a parakeet, if it has to be a bird.

Inevitably, an unfortunate package of beef jerky went tumbling down to the floor, and the odd critter wasted no time in grabbing it and scampering off with it.

In hindsight, I think I should have been more impressed by his ability to open the package.

Ah geez. I had actually bought this for Asuka…

No sooner than she heard me pass the door, she showed up to grab her stuff and berate me for all my negligences: “I would never use this cheap brand of shampoo! Buy a decent one next time! And why did you buy whole milk? Do you want me to get fat?”

Didn’t Miss Amagi say that we’re not supposed to do any diets? I’m sure she’d said something about how brains are mostly fat…

At least Mari didn’t complain, though she did not wait for me to put the bag down either before reaching right in to retrieve the tea she had requested.

“Thanks Puppy boy! Nice to see you back! The princess here was just telling me about her plans for tomorrow-”

“-Which are none of your business!”

Alright, alright. So don’t tell me. Lest people suspect… what? That a teenage girl had spent some time talking to her friend?

We can’t let people know we feel.

That said, I did make a mental note not to involve Mari in anything that I wished to keep a secret.




I trudged to what was now Misato’s room, to find the bizarre bird’s bizarre owner so that she, too, may snatch her groceries out of my hands, but as it would turn out, she was already snoring away on a futon, hand still clasped around a big ol’ bottle of booze.

She didn’t even wait for me to come back even though it was already dark out in these shortening days of winter.

It’s like she was making a point of rubbing it in my face that nobody cares about me anymore.

No, that’s not fair. I knew that even then, but still-

Seeing the state of the room, I could not doubt that the presence of my parents had been soundly overwritten. Misato had spread herself out quite shamelessly.

Her day clothes were still scattered about, posters of fancy cars covered up the walls now.

She’d taken my father’s desk for her own; My mother’s laptop was replaced by Misato’s makeup.

I’m surprised that she didn’t feel more self-conscious in her bosses’ house.

She was all sprawled out, clothes crumpled, midriff bared…

...was that a scar on her chest? From her time in the military, perhaps.

The notebook next to her boxes of powder and perfume was not even disguised nor hidden away in a drawer. Misato’s handwriting might be messy, but not so much that one couldn’t read what had been scrawled on the cover with a sharpie: “Project E – Pilot supervision log”.

I could easily grab and read it, to find out all the hottest gossip about Mari’s latest attempts to evade GEHIRN’s surveillance efforts.

But I’d rather not subject my frail sense of dignity to whatever mortifying armchair analysis of myself might be contained therein.




You know, Misato could have at least have tried to make it look like she cared at all…




(2.3.7: Plusquamperfekt)




December 7th 2014




T minus 401 days




My dad always used to say that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

I was coming to find out just how very true this was.




Technically, it was supposed to be Asuka’s turn at making breakfast today, but as the minutes crept by and no breakfast materialized, I realized that it was very much up to me to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s… crispy... toast.




The ladies, as it would turn out, were quite willing to take the fruit of my labors. Once they saw me preparing the ingredients, they curiously found their way to the seats, expectantly directing their hungry eyes at my back.

At least Mari and Misato bothered with some token ‘thank you’, and didn’t immediately start criticizing what I was doing, as a certain redheaded person for example. Though Misato’s shame was not so great that she did not ask me to get her some booze.

Of course, I obeyed, and then I got back to work with a sigh.

Now that the stove was already heated, I might as well make enough of this to fill some boxed lunches….

You wanna know something funny? Our once empty table was fully in use again.

Misato had coincidentally picked what used to be mother’s chair. Asuka was in father’s place, and Mari sat where Rei used to sit.

Soon, it would have calcified into a fixed ritual of sorts. Misato always has beer, Asuka gets Diet Soda, and Mari used to drink black tea, one of those British breakfast blends. This, at least, meant that I could use the same kettle where I heated the water for my own beverage of choice (green tea) but things got rough for a while until I had the chance to buy additional tea sieves.

We used to have a coffee machine, but now, all that was left was a slightly lighter patch on the kitchen counter – my parents took that with them when they hauled their stuff to headquarters.

Oh, to have the utility of a trusty kitchen appliance, ever wanted, always welcome.

What a foolish dream -

If Rei had still been living inside these walls, I suppose she at least would have been wise enough to advise me not to envy my parent’s coffee machine, for such things that were wanted chiefly for their usefulness were quickly discarded when they lost that use, and my parents were, if nothing else, best described as a man and a woman obsessed with casting things away.

Even their own humanity had wound up on the chopping block in the end…

And I have known enough of mankind, and lived enough as one of their number that I do not think that humans are in and of themselves so great that it would be that great a sin to willingly leave our camp, but what’s the alternative? I have seen my father’s so-called paradise, and I could find no joy in it.

I couldn’t say exactly when my father ceased to be human enough to have need of coffee, or if this little machine even lasted him that long, but I have no doubt that it is discarded now.

As for myself: I’m not like them. Instead, I hang onto my old rubbish forever and never cease licking my old wounds, dragging the past behind me like a corpse.

I knew the light patch on the counter would smite my heart every time it caught my eye. I knew it wouldn’t blend into the background no matter how many months passed. I might be feeling its impact still when the actual light patch had long since darkened to match the rest of the patch.

So I hid it away, concealed under a shiny new airtight container that was supposed to keep bread fresh for longer, in case Asuka ever felt like having a european-style breakfast.

And if Asuka ever left, I should have mourned the absence of her breadcrumbs also, as another mark upon my heart.




The school was, if anything, even more, confusing than it had been yesterday. My study sessions weren’t wholly useless, but that was precisely the problem: Previously I could just mentally check out once I lost the plot, now I understood just enough to spend most of the class agonizing over trying to piece together whatever the teachers were talking about. I sensed that if I didn’t close the gap in my knowledge soon, it was only going to widen.

I asked Touji and Kensuke for their notes, but the former was incomplete and hard to read, while the latter had portions that were legible enough, but periodically petered out to be replaced with with doodles of battleships or bikini-wearing anime girls instead of mathematical formulas. Apparently, he had a particular fondness for Tsundere characters. Who would have thought?

Normally Kaworu would have been my go-to source for notes. His were downright beautiful – everything was regular and nicely underlined. You could have put them into a frame, or sold them on the internet once he inevitably made it into a prestigious university.

But last week, he’d been just as absent as I. He must be doing his own emergency studying… and it wouldn’t be too long until the exams at the end of the winter term either…

On a scale from 1 to 10, I was… well, I wasn’t exactly sure what number it would be, but the bottom line was, I’m screwed.

I wondered if I should suffer the awkwardness of asking someone else for help. Who else would have diligent notes? Kotone? But she was struggling with her studies as well. Hikari? But she might have lent them to someone else already. Marie? But would she even give them to me?

Sigh.




I resolved that I was gonna talk to Rei on the tram ride to school, but somehow I could not find a moment until school was almost over.

Maybe I procrastinated it.

But as the window of opportunity began to inch towards its inexorable end, I somehow forced myself to move.

“Hey Rei! Do you want to go home together today?”

I wasn’t exactly cutting a gallant figure here. Must have been very awkward.

Rei just blinked at me. “Today won’t be possible.”

Fair enough, I guess. Or wait? Was she busy at GEHIRN today, or was she giving me the cold shoulder as revenge for ignoring her? Or didn’t she notice that at all, because who would ever notice me anyways? ...In hindsight, I was probably overthinking this.

“Wouldn’t it be more convenient for you to go with the Second or candidate Makinami anyways?”

Eh… it would, actually. I suppose if I insisted my intentions would have been laid bare. Or would they? I mean, people walked home together out of friendship, too…

Noticing the glaring vibes of awkwardness, the class rep seemed to think that a rescue was in order: “Sorry Ikari-kun, it’s just that Ayanami still has cleaning duty today. We swapped our turns yesterday.”

...they did?

“Thanks again for that, Ayanami-san.”

“It’s nothing. Were you able to help your sister with her project?”

“Yeah! She texted me during lunch break to say that everything went great!”

“Uh- That’s great-” I supplied, somewhat stilted. “But, Ayanami, I could just wait until you’re done-”

“It’s still not possible. I already promised Yamagishi-san for today.”

She did? “That’s… that’s good…”

I’m not sure my voice brought that across, though, and not just because this means I’d squandered all opportunities to talk to ger today.

I wanted to kick myself for just assuming that she’d just be free. It’s just that, well… she usually was, unless she had something to do at GEHIRN. Doesn’t actually sound like a nice thing to assume about someone, does it? I wanted to hang my head in shame.

I just kinda followed Hikari out of the classroom without drawing further attention to myself.

We did indeed find Mayumi waiting in front of the doors with a book (which reminds me that I didn’t get to catch up on our reading for the literature club yet… I’ll still have to do that tonight.)

Hikari made sure to wave to her, so I did the same.

She took a bit to notice us but seemed pretty glad to see us. It certainly was a notable difference compared to how she’d been at the beginning of the year.

Hikari, too, has some genuine warmth showing on her face.

Once we turned the corner, she told me this:

“It’s nice to see Yamagishi-san and Ayanami-san coming out of their shells, huh?”

“...yeah…”

I mean, it was nice, and it did make me happy, but…

That wasn’t the only feeling, I guess.




I left on my own.

Once I got home, Mari cheerfully informed me that we’d have to be careful not to disturb Misato, who was currently catching some shut-eye after pulling an all-nighter.

In other words, she was too busy to be doing anything with us today. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. What was even the point of having her here?

She must’ve left for the night shift after we were already asleep… with the possible exception of Mari herself I guess, but rather than explain herself, she disappeared off to her room to get changed; Asuka refused to share the same room, so she laid claim to the bathroom to peel off her school uniform. I could tell that it was getting to be the middle of winter from the way that even their casual outfits had long sleeves these days.

Mari returned first, in a dark green union suit the likes of which I’d only seen in old-timesy black and white cartoons.

She sometimes liked to wear her hair in long braids for the night so that it wouldn’t tangle – I’m not certain if this was the case on this particular day, but I have various memories of her walking about the house in such a fashion.

She walked over to the table with a book under her arms and loudly indicated to Asuka that she could now have the room all to herself if she so desired, but there was no response but for a grumble.

So yeah.

There were no experiments or training sessions scheduled for today, so I figured that I had no choice but to continue my discouraging struggle to catch up to my classmates, though part of me considered if I should just give last week’s topics up for lost and hope that the teachers would soon start talking about something completely different.

It might have been a little easier if I couldn’t hear Asuka and Mari talking in the living room, having a heated video game session, I believe. I sincerely hoped that they wouldn’t wake Misato, but I don’t think reminding them of it was going to prove worth the trouble.

By now it was raining more often than not, and I at times found myself wondering if the schools’ dress code would allow me to slap on an extra scarf in the morning.

Now if I’d really thought it through, it would have occurred to me that they couldn’t be too strict about it seeing as Touji wasn’t wearing his uniform half the time and no one had ever objected to Mari’s eccentric taste in hair decorations or Kotone’s copious use of pink hair dye.

Basically, it was cold and rainy out and most of the trees were bare and brown, nude branches spreading out by the side of the road, but as of yet, no blanket of snow had come down to cover their nakedness. There was only rain, dripping down every now and then from a never-parting layer of nimbostratus clouds – and this could go from a gentle drizzle to a merciless deluge, sometimes in a manner of seconds.

It was probably such a whiplash of the heavens that led to a pair of weather-beaten refugees ringing our doorbell. At first, I had no idea who it might be, but I figured that I was the one still wearing clothes, so I went to answer it.

It’s probably good that I went, though, for I was met with what would have been a pair of very familiar faces if their hair weren’t all flattened by the rain.

I don’t think that sight left the need for any more explanation as to why they would have made for the nearest familiar address – I just let them in and went to fetch some towels.

Alas, Asuka showed up in the living room before I could make it back.

“What the heck are you two doing here?”

“They’re drying themselves off – please be quiet, you’ll wake Misato-san.”

Fortunately, Touji seemed way more interested in that tidbit than in picking another fight with Asuka: “Wait, she’s asleep?”

“Uh, yeah, she had to work late...”

Looking at their dissapointed faces, one might be led to believe that there was at least a bit of an ulterior motive for their visit, storm or no storm…

It was about then that Mari came trailing after Asuka, peering in curiously, shockingly unabashed about being seen in her silly sleeping clothes.

I noted that Asuka had not put on any pyjamas or comfy stay-at-home clothing after her sojourn to the shower – instead, she came in sporting a suspiciously coordinated outfit that was probably calculated for an elegant, mature vibe. She had a tight, short tan-skirt worn over black tights, matching stylish leather boots with dauntingly high heels and a sleek brown jumper, augmented with a form-fitting khaki vest and a cute brown hat with a little understated decorate bow off to the side, just understated enough to come off cute but not childish.

Mari was still awkwardly carrying the bottle of tawny nail polish that she’d presumably been applying to her roommates nails. Asuka had makeup on, too, looking, if anything, significantly more ‘ready’ than when she’d come home in her uniform.

“...oh, are you going somewhere?”

“I don’t know what business this is of yours!”

“Ryoji-kun is taking her shopping as he promised!” blurted Mari, in her presumed duty as Princess Asuka’s faithful royal interpreter – though it doesn’t seem like she was all too pleased with the results: “So what if I am? It’s the least I deserve after having to spend my one and only thirteenth birthday doing tricks like a circus monkey!”

“Hey, hey, it’s fine Your Highness!” said Mari, holding her palms out in front of her in what was probably supposed to be a conciliatory manner. “I didn’t say that there’s anything wrong with that~”

Asuka addressed me and my friends with a smirk:

“Guess you guys will have to accept the harsh truth that my heart is taken, huh?”

Touji took the bait straight away: “Who’d want to date you anyway!”

Kensuke was a bit calmer but no more flattering in his observation: “She’s very sure of herself, huh?”




With all this commotion, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there soon came a moment when the door to Misato’s room was briskly drawn open.

“Our Apologies!” the boys supplied swiftly, suddenly the very picture of gallantry. “We didn’t mean to disturb you!”

Or maybe we needn’t bear the guilt: Despite my initial concern to the contrary, she was fully dressed; Her her was combed and her usual red uniform jacket all ready for work, her smile the same polished, welcoming thing straight out of the can that she served us up at GEHIRN:

“Welcome you two!”

I guess she can be bothered to act like she cares when someone else is watching.

She got down to business pretty fast: “I’m going to headquarters, I’ve got something to sort out there – if you like, I can drive you guys home first so you don’t get any wetter.”

I had a feeling that they were going to take that offer – pity. I had been hoping they might stick around until the storm had passed, even though I knew that I definitely should be studying.

“By the way, Shinji-kun, don’t forget to check your new training schedule. They should have sent it to your work e-mail by now.”

I nodded reflexively. Calling it my ‘work e mail’ made me sound way too mature.

“Asuka, Mari! You hear that too?”

“Yeah, yeah…” - “Yes ma’am~”

And that would have been the end of that, if Kensuke had not at this moment taken note of a significant detail, a flashing something that was revealed on the jacket of Misato’s collar when she’d turned her neck to face us.

One split-second look of realization later, he was bowing all over again, and Touji had the good sense to follow along right away while I still stood there blinking in confusion:

“Our congratulations on your promotion!”

“Huh? What?”

I must have looked pretty uncool.

Even Kensuke seemed a bit offended: “Haven’t you noticed? She’s got a second stripe on her collar! That means she’s been promoted from Captain to Major!”

“-really?”

It was a rare day when even Asuka looked a little impressed: “Wow, I didn’t know that!”

“Pff! You really ought to appreciate Misato-san’s hard work. It can’t be easy for her to be minding three half-grown youths at such a young age! It’s like we’re the only ones here who have any human feelings!”

It’s ok Kensuke, you needn’t lay it on so thick. I get your point. I’ll do my best to feel shame. I didn’t mean to be careless. I guess, when I really think about it, I’m sure that it must be very hard work to be in charge of saving the world – and for all her flaws, she’s really trying in her own irritating, cheesy kind of way, which is more than I can say about my parents right now…

It’s not her fault that she isn’t my mother…

I outright wanted to kick myself – I ought to be grateful that I had anyone to look after me at all...




Though we had flat out failed to take note of what must be a major milestone in her career, Misato seemed ready to laugh the whole thing off, finding our various puerile antics amusing. She seemed ready to downplay it if anything, to the point where I wondered if she had chosen not to tell us or make a big deal of it on purpose…

It was inconceivable after all that we wouldn’t have noticed by the time everyone at GEHIRN started calling her ‘Major’all the time…

Once she deemed that enough token pleasantries had been exchanged, she left to deliver Touji and Kensuke to their homes on their way to work – of course, they thanked her effusively for her great sacrifice and promised to hurry along so that she wouldn’t lose too much valuable time.

Some mean-spirited part of me was tempted to stew in the thought that they wouldn’t be nearly so dazzled if they knew what a slob she’d be the moment that they turned around, but the wind was rather taken out of its sails.

I half considered asking to come along just so that I could chat with Touji and Kensuke in the car and maybe say hi to my parents at the geofront, but when I considered that I had no clue if either of them was going to be free or not, I hesitated, just long enough for them to disappear out the door.

In hindsight, I wonder also if Misato chose to deal with that urgent business at headquarters precisely when it would give her the handy excuse to be out of view when Mr. Kaji was due to come to pick up Asuka – he showed up not much later, expressing some good-natured disappointment at finding the lady of the house absent. Taking advantage of that, Asuka took the opportunity to attach herself to the crook of his arm, regaling him with a melodramatic lament about how the blasted weather had put a wrench in their plans, though she didn’t need long to suggest that perhaps the arcade would be a nice, rain-free place to pass the time, since it definitely had a roof. Fortunately, the mall did as well.

“Mind if I tag along?” questioned Mari, peeking out from their room with an expectant, cat-like grin.

“Well of course! It’s supposed to be a date!”

Judging by Kaji’s awkward expression, he must have been mentally debating wether not bursting her bubble would give her false expectations. In the end, he avoided the subject by merely promising Mari to hang out with her some other day, which satisfied her well enough.




Once she’d decided on going out, she wasn’t too deterred by Asuka’s refusal, and promptly grabbed her bright pink umbrella once she had procured a thick dark-green sweater and a long, loose skirt, announcing that herself and PenPen would be taking a nice stroll all by themselves.

I sure hoped that she’d be able to handle him all by herself… then again, she was pretty experienced with animals, wasn’t she? So in a sense, having this bizarre creature around her must be a relief to her, a return to normalcy almost. He seemed to like her well enough.

Which made me wonder who might be taking care of all her pets back in Britain… but I thought it better not to ask, in case the answer was something sad. It needn’t be, though, they would have servers and housekeepers on her father’s estate… I think?

She asked me blithely if I wanted to come along but for all that I felt like I ought to have taken this opportunity to get to know her better, I really didn’t feel like it.

I wonder if she was going to try losing her security escorts again.




I tried as best as I could to get back to studying, for what little that’s worth.

My suspicions about Misato’s convenient timing were considerably strengthened when she managed to be back before Asuka was - Not Mari; I was vaguely aware of her idly singing to herself when she came back; She’d made straight for her trusty stacks of books after gracing me with a brief greeting and some teasing about my supposed studiousness without waiting for any sort of reply. As far as I know, she’s still in her room reading…

Misato, by contrast, at least took the time to ask me how my study efforts were going while she got herself a beer from the fridge and sat down across from me, swinging one leg after another as she popped the can. Contrary to her intentions, this was probably what put an end to that day’s study session as it just didn’t feel right to me to keep sticking my nose in my textbook while she was right there, at least at dire risk of possibly talking to me at any given moment.

“Is Asuka back yet?”

“No, she’s still with Kaji-san.”

“Keh! Nothing good will come of being involved with him!”

“...is it allright to send Asuka out with him then?”

I admit that my impression of him had been positive thus far, but I didn’t know him that well yet at this point, and Misato was pretty consistent in her negative characterization of him – it was true that I’d seen him being a little forceful in his occasional attempts to hit on various GEHIRN staff and we’re always told that one should believe girls about harassment or mistreatment since there was a social bias towards the opposite, and a tendency for dudes to underestimate this as we did not experience it ourselves – Misato, however, did not seem to have realized how all of her off-handed complainings could be assembled into a distinct capital-I-Impression, and her entire posture shifted, sitting up straight from her once leisurely slouch as if suddenly shaken awake.

“No, no, no – that’s not how I meant it- It’s not- He’s not like that. It’s just that-”

Her cloud of good cheer was all but dissipated by now. Some sort of sorrow or discomfort pulled her chocolate eyes to the side.

Her voice had gone quiet, much slowed down from it’s usual breakneck pace, heartfelt, stopping pausing, where it usually seemed to speed past everything, brushing no further than it’s very surface.

“He can never look away when he sees a young person looking lost and alone. - Don’t tell Asuka this. Of course, she’s very strong and proud. But her family is all the way in Europe and her mom is very busy so… probably… you all remind him of his little brother.”

“His… his brother?”

“The two of them were orphans who spent most of their childhoods being passed around between various foster parents. They had nobody to rely on but each other in order to survive – No connections, wealthy, influential parents to secure them cushy internships at prestigious institutes, unlike Ritsuko and me. He was our friend at university. We ended up at the same dorm, that’s how we know each other – me, Ritsuko, him, and Kenzaki from the security department. He’d talk about all that terrible stuff they’d had to put up with like it was no big deal at all. I guess it made me realize how good I’d had it despite everything.

All my many complaints about my life seemed puny and small. So we pulled a couple of connections to get him a job at the laboratory, back when that was still GEHIRN’s main site…”




But wait… Kaji-san had worked here before? And if Misato-san went here straight out of college, then when did she do all this other stuff she’d mentioned? At some other lab, or in the military?

Just how did these things add up?

For now, I just kept listening to what she was willing to tell me.

“He wouldn’t accept the position though. He felt that, if we were going to get anyone a chance to get ahead, it should be his brother – He had only just graduated from school at the time, just eighteen years old. There weren’t as many places to put him in a lab as for a college student like ourselves, but after putting our heads together, we managed to get him a position as an intern somewhere – he was mostly just bringing people coffee, but it was a living, a chance to win himself a future, to work as a technician maybe…”

Yet somehow I could tell that this was not what ended up having – Misato’s voice was much too drawn.

Unbidden, a certain memory crept to the forefront of my mind. That confrontation between Mr. Kaji and my parents which I had overheard last summer – concerning, among other things, the death of an intern.

“Something happened, didn’t it?”

Misato nodded. “The incident ten years ago. Near Second Impact.” Her voice, her lips, her hands on the furniture – everything about her took on the quality of something tightly pressed, locked down to prevent herself from bolting.

“I think he feels responsible somewhat… maybe because he pushed his brother to get the job. I’m not exactly sure what happened. We weren’t together in the same room when it was happening. All I know is that Kaji escaped from the wreckage all by himself, and his brother didn’t.

I think every time he sees some wayward young person, he sees something of his brother – and he wants to make up for what happened. And since Asuka doesn’t have anyone to take her out shopping-”

“I see.”




It was surprising to see, though, that she could still look with seriousness or even tenderness at the tragic humanity of a person that she usually professed to hate.

It wasn’t even that she was being especially noble, fair or empathetic here in a love-thy-enemy kind of way – she simply knew because she could not help but know.

Because she didn’t always use hate him – once upon a time, they were each other’s special people, part of the select few to whom their heart would open wide, and then they weren’t, and they were each left knowing things about the others that they would never have chosen to leave in the care of their enemies.

It’s really depressing when you think about it – It’s hard enough as it is to find someone that you can share your inner heart with and then find the courage to actually do it; I don’t want to consider that someone like that could still end up becoming just another hated person that you never want to see again even if you did find them.

It’s not a nice feeling.

It’s not nice to sit with or imagine or even consider, sitting there in the pit of your stomach.

Back then, I didn’t even want to think of it for too long.

Now, I no longer need to imagine.

I can only assume that I have become such a hated person for everyone in this apartment – Mari. Misato. Asuka.

They probably stopped looking back many, many years ago while I’m still left out here in a hallway with all we used to mean each other stuffed into a suitcase...




I was not there yet. I’m not even sure of this foreboding, or if it’s not something I’m only inserting in retrospective, unable to imagine a world that was yet still and at peace.

Like the wide awake passenger in a spiraling, crashing plane, I had to live until I died, and keep living, moment by horrible moment.




There ought not have been anything horrible then.

The appartment filled up with color and noise as I helped Misato with assembling dinner, hoping to perhaps direct her towards some slightly more edible options, and soon after that Asuka arrived, brightly smirking and sure of her ambitions, showing off the fancy new swimsuit that she had bought, fire car red with white stripes.




As soon as she came in, Mari rushed out of whatever hidey-hole she had returned to without my notice and pulled her into an exuberant hug – “Welcome home, Your Highness~”

“Yeah, yeah, chill out four-eyes, you’re gonna make me drop my shopping bags!”

She had much to say about her shopping trip, to which Mari and Misato each had many comments in turn; I gratefully hung back, gladly relieved of any duty to fill the silence by myself.

Lingering at the margins, I do think that I must have begun to feel a sense of connection.




I’m sure that until now, you might have been wondering why I would be addressing a teacher or superior officer thus informally. I’m not wholly sure when I stopped thinking of her as ‘Major Katsuragi’ and began seeing her as just Misato. She tried to be all approachable & have me use her name, so it can’t really have been much later than this.

At the very least, I am pretty certain that I was pretty used to thinking of her as ‘Misato’ by the time the holidays rolled around. By now, she’s been just ‘Misato’ to me for so long that I can’t really think of her in any other way. Even now, that hasn’t changed.

These days, she’d probably want me to say ‘Captain’ again, though that would be a different sort of Captain this time.


Misato is a definite upgrade from the random sensei, the borderline neglectful uncle from the manga, or any variant of Canon!Gendo, but for this timeline’s Shinji, she’s probably going to feel like more of a downgrade at first, so he wasn’t in any mood to hear her motive rant last chapter and I had to focus instead on getting him to warm up to her. It’s been fun to play around with how some reactions might be different.



I’m still not wholly sure if adding Mari to the Katsuragi household was a good decision, but I wanted to keep her & Asuka as roomates. It’s certainly helps how she can simultaneously be very affectionate but also utterly intangible.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:08 pm

(2.3.8: MOVING-IN-SLASH-BIRTHDAY-SLASH-PROMOTION-PARTY)

SPOILER: Show
I keep thinking back to that one conversation that I happened to overhear.

I wasn’t even paying much attention at the time, nor did I realize its full significance then – I was trying to wash the dishes we had used during our breakfast, not to eavesdrop or to solve some looming mystery that I didn’t yet suspect.

Scrubbing the sauce stains off the plates in the green apron that mother had left behind, I was dimly aware of some lively complaining on Asuka’s side.

As best as I understand it, Misato had used some of her face cleanser without asking.

“You can’t just take my stuff!”

“Ah, come on don’t be such a cheapskate~ I’ll buy you a new one.”

“It’s not about the money, it’s a matter of principle! You can’t just take my stuff – what if I run out?”

“I wouldn’t worry so much about that. You’re so young, and you’re a natural beauty, you don’t need any of that stuff yet~”

“You just say that because you’re an old hag who no longer feels any passion! What if I can’t cleanse my face because you’ve used up all my face cleanser, and then the next day, I wake up with a pimple? What if I have to go to GEHIRN that day? I can’t let Kaji-san see me with a pimple! What is he going to think of me?”

“That you’re a growing human girl with pores and skin oil, maybe? It’s okay, Asuka. You don’t always have to act like you’re always perfect – your mother isn’t here. You don’t need to force yourself to be a good girl.”

She meant well and probably wasn’t all wrong, and yet it seemed obvious as a strategic attempt to win our trust by ‘cool adult’… which made it stranger yet that Asuka’s retort wasn’t one of her usual sarcastic clap backs:

“I’m not acting-”

I should have wondered if Misato had struck a nerve – in truth, I was mostly filled with the selfish worry that there would be some sort of argument and tried very hard to divert most my attention to drying off the plates so that I could get to school and hear as little of this altercation as possible.

If there was to be any lingering drama, it would have spelled doom for the event that was scheduled for this afternoon.



December 8th 2014



T minus 400 days



We had two signs:

A small one which we taped to the door, and a big one that we hung all over the living room, a rather crowded pair of papers filled up to the brim by our considerable baglog of, supposedly, things to celebrate:

‘Misato-san’s promotion Party’

‘Asuka’s & Misato’s Birthday Party’

‘Moving-in Party for Misato, Mari and Asuka’

It’s not like I wanted to contest that any of these things were worth celebrating – of course they were – but if I had imagined having so many things to celebrate that we couldn’t get the parties prepared fast enough…? This would not be it.

The ‘joyful occasions’ here were rather simple markers of the progression of things than truly successes, apart from perhaps Misato’s promotion.

So, since it was Misato’s party, it was expected that Miss Ritsuko would show up, and maybe Mr. Kaji (perhaps Misato would be merciful on him since he had helped her in improving our abysmal simulator performance) …oh, and I was told that Mr. Kenzaki from security might come, since he went to college with Misato and the others. I didn’t have to deal so much with him since he didn’t work directly with the pilots… or no, that’s not correct. We don’t interact with him much, but since he’s assigned to guard us once in a while, he might know a lot more about us than we do about him. That’s really awkward, actually, come to think about it…



Eh… at the time that my recollection of the party begins, none of them had arrived yet. But Touji, Kensuke and Kaworu had come, and brought with them an enormous teppan grill along with other miscellaneous parting supplies, including portable speakers that they meant to plug into an mp3-player containing a carefully curated playlist. I think Kensuke might have gone a wee bit overboard and got the others to go along with him through clever persuasions…

Not that Misato was going to complain about being gifted free food, or that Touji would have otherwise passed up a chance to ‘impress’ her. And I guess Kaworu just liked to help people whenever he could.

Asuka, meanwhile, had Ms. Soryu pick up her whole posse of friends with her car and bring then here, all in their private clothes and all – Hikari showed up with a big bunch of flowers to beautify our new (to everyone but me) lodgings, in a cute yet practical-looking earth-colored suspender dress and a yellow striped shirt.

“Thanks for inviting me!” she dutifully complimented as she handed the flowers to Misato.

“Ah, don’t you worry~ At this point, one more doesn’t make a difference.”

It had indeed gotten fairly crowded in our little apartment. We had to get down the second table that we kept for special occasions, but since it was a different height than the one in the kitchen, it was less than ideal. In the end, some guests would end up having to sit on the couch:

They’d also brought Marie Vincennes, in an outfit that did not quite straddle the line between rich young lady and kooky college professor in-training with the old-fashioned high-colored dress shirt, the large jewelled-brooch and a skirt and vest that matched the brown headband she’d have to wear. They’d even brought Kotone, which I thought was really nice, since I’m sure that she would have felt a little included if she was the only pilot candidate not to be involved.

She had come in a sporty-looking black and white outfit, ready to commemorate the event with her trusty camera.

I guess this would be proof that we had become more than just classmates or co-workers by then, or so I’d hope… but if that was so, then what was I to think of Rei, who had somehow materialized in a corner when I wasn’t looking, sitting quietly on the floor with her hands in her lap? I presume that she would have shown up with Kaworu, or that Misato herself invited her, or maybe it was Hikari who’d brought her, at least, I am certain that she must’ve convinced Asuka to invite Kotone.

Whatever the case might be, she had come, which I don’t think she would have done not too long ago – that has got to count for something, even if she showed up in her school uniform, sitting at the edge of the table, a little apart from everyone else.

At times I wondered if this whole commotion really interested her – I hated to think that she’d just been dragged from her latest reading when she’d been hoping to rest up after all of her hard work at GEHIRN, especially not for an event that was at least partially for my sake.

At other times though I that she was observing at least some parts of the proceedings quite closely, though she wasn’t participating much.

I’m not quite sure – I don’t want to read too much into it and project too much of my own assumptions onto her just because I can’t make sense of what she’s thinking.

She moved even further off to the side to make room for Ms. Soryu and the girls when they arrived – at least Kotone thanked her.

Meanwhile, Asuka welcomed both Hikari and her mother to the seats of honor which she’d been reserving for them on the taller table. Far from apologetic, Ms. Soryu appeared to be in good spirits: “I didn’t think that the day on which you’d go to live by yourself would come so soon, but then again, my daughter’s always been ahead of her peers in many ways. I’m sure she won’t be any trouble. You’ll find she’s pretty self-sufficient – truly a brilliant girl.”

No trouble, huh?

If I was Asuka, I don’t think I would be puffing out my chest with every word of that rather ambiguous praise. But it can’t have been the whole story even for her, not per se fake, but not all that she felt, either…

Hikari, too, was fairly glad to be here:

“So, you’re gonna be living with Ikari-kun and Makinami-san?”

“I have to, for strategic reasons.”

“Where’s Kaji-san, though? You said he would be coming too…?”

“Well I hope so! I mean, this would be a pretty sorry excuse for a party without a single real man present!”

Touji was not inclined to take this lying down: “What did you say?!”

Asuka, however, only doubled down on her provocations, and turned to speak to Hikari, as if ignoring him deliberately, and yet very much meaning for him to hear the following: “Compared to Kaji-san, Suzuhara is a paramecium, Shinji is a paramecium, and Aida’s a mitochondrion.”

I suppose I should be glad that I’d at least been bestowed the honor of being likened to a multi-cellular organism.

Sensing my apprehension perhaps, Kaworu decided to deescalate things - “So, do you have a colorful epithet for me as well?” If someone else had asked this in a different tone, it might have been a provocation, but spoken with such perfect conversational calm, it was disarming.

Though perhaps Asuka didn’t feel she had as solid a foundation for dissing him as she did with the rest of us, so she contented herself with a pout.



Once the guests had, by and large, settled into their seats, our living room became the site of much-animated discussion, which neither Ms. Soryu nor Misato did very much to reign in. I guess our squabbles and concerns must seem downright adorable from their view.

One might almost be tempted to say that it wasn’t really too different from my own birthday party almost six months ago – except, of course, for everything that was different.

Not all of that was bad, to be fair. Having Mari and Kaworu around was definitely good.

But obviously, my parents weren’t here – and why would they be? It wasn’t my party after all.

Nonetheless, my dim enthusiasm must have shown on my face, since I soon found myself addressed by a mildly concerned Misato, and to be honest, my first thought was that my feelings must be pitifully transparent if the ever-cheerful Miss Tactless would pick up on them:

“Are you ok? I hope you don’t mind that we’ve turned your domicile into party central.”

“No, no, it’s nothing-”

This was a somewhat reflexive answer, but even if I had stopped to think, I do think that I would have expected that she would just take this convenient excuse to consider her duty done and jot me down as properly handled – but to my surprise, she didn’t buy it, and actually pulled out something of a teacher-like voice register:

“You know, if you say ‘It’s nothing’ in a tone like that, it’s practically the same as asking others to worry about you.”

Right away, I felt a sense of shame smiting me straight to my chest – I would have protested that I never wanted to attract anyone’s attention, but I can’t deny that her logic checks out. I guess I didn’t want to admit it. It’s a rather precarious position to be the one desiring attention.

I went over my inward considerations and concluded, just barely, that speaking enough to satisfy her wouldn’t save me more trouble than just answering her question in earnest, even if that meant that I had to consider my answer.

I creased my brows in thought.

“I mean – I don’t really mind it,” I confessed, even though I was quite aware that this would not immediately go into the direction that she wanted to hear, which added a little to my reluctance.

“I’m actually glad that everyone is here-”

At least, I felt like I ought to be since they were my friends and I like them.

“It’s just a bit much at once-”

I saw myself struggling to explain this without sounding somehow uppity or like I was rejecting all my friends, but mercifully, there was no need-

“Ah, I get it. Ritsuko also used to be like this back in college. She had a bit of a limited tolerance for the partying – still, celebrations are more important than you might think. They help to keep you remembering the good even in dark and desperate times…”

Such as the ones that may be ahead…

Though she didn’t like to dwell on those either, and deftly threaded the line of conversation back towards something good, turning to me with a smile:

“But you know, it’s okay if you want to go to your room later when you get tired. You don’t have to wait until the rest of us are all partied out…”

That made me feel… good feelings, I think.

At least a smattering of comfort and reassurance at a time when they had become raw goods.

I felt grateful to Misato at that moment, and I felt my body turning to draw just slightly closer to her, even as I was well aware that this might just be a temporary feeling.

With this basis guaranteed and the permission granted to see my being here as a choice rather than a chore, I began to find it easier to relax into the present, and maybe said a little more than I had meant to.

“...Thanks. But don’t worry. It’s not like I don’t like parties. Honestly, I think it’s a good thing to see my house filled with lively voices again. It’s been very quiet for very long…”

And as I said this, I realized that it was true.

Perhaps my resistance to this sudden change was starting to dissolve. For all her faults, Misato was still pretty nice. I was beginning to think that she might have a good heart under everything.

And after all, this wasn’t supposed to be forever, right? Only while my parents were especially busy. So until they were done, we might as well get along in the meantime…

“Your friends sure are very energetic.”, commented Misato, perhaps meaning to liven up the moment with some humor.

‘Energetic’ is one way to put it. On the other end of the table, Kensuke and Kaworu had their hands full with keeping Asuka and Touji from starting yet another argument, Hikari had taken Asuka’s side, and Marie’s attempts to dispense ‘sage and humble advice’ weren’t making it any better.

Mari was just enjoying the show, chewing popcorn and handing some to poor Kotone who was observing the showdown with some apprehension.

Rei alone was still sitting in her place, entirely unfazed.

Ms. Soryu, far from being the responsible adult as one might expect, was cheerfully asking if she might have some of Mari’s popcorn…

Maybe for now, I should just stick to talking to Misato some more. You know, since I had decided that we should get along: “Uh, anyway, congratulations on your promotion.”

That was, after all, one of the reasons for the party.

But looking at her, you’d think that it was merely an afterthought:

“Meh, I’d rather that everyone wouldn’t make such a big deal about it…”

Mood.

“Yeah, I think I get it, I also get embarrassed when people get all worked up about my test scores… But still, a promotion means that someone looked at your work, and thought that it was good, right?”

“I guess… to be honest, I think I got lucky with this one. Your performance on the first simulation was so abysmal that your parents and the sub-commander were all impressed when your numbers and your fighting got so much better in the span of a week. I’ve got to thank you guys for creating such low expectations~”

If this was a comedy, there would be a cymbal or a laugh track playing now.

I’m not sure if I should take this as a good sign or a bad one.

“...but it’s still a good thing?” I ventured.

“Yeah, it is, and it does make me a bit happy, but that’s not the reason why I went to GEHIRN.”

I guess my idea of her as an ambitious soldier our for medals and rewards was somewhat mistaken…

“...then why did you join?”

“Ah, that was so long ago. I don’t remember anymore.”

So, it’s an important special reason beyond just the glory, but also she forgot it? That doesn’t seem to fit together. I realized even then that I had received one of those simplified answers that one gives to children.

Captain Katsuragi would keep her secrets just a little longer, though I knew that she wasn’t as simple as a commanding pragmatist wearing a warm and cheery mask…



It was around then that I noticed that Mr. Kenzaki had arrived, quietly and without fanfare, in a prim and proper dress shirt.

Not long after, the guest list was finally completed when Miss Ritsuko and Mr. Kaji arrived all at once.

“We ran into each other on the way~” He supplied.

Misato and Asuka would both appear somewhat skeptical of this.

Of course, he just laughed this off, making a surrendering gesture with his hands which also served to highlight the bag of goodies dangling from his right.

“Now, come on, don’t shoot me~ I brought gifts from Matsushiro. Horsemeat~ Pickled Wasabi~”

He skillfully deposited a grab-bag of delicious snacks on the table and a neatly wrapped little gift in Misato’s lap before she could do more than grumble. I’m sure the little package must contain something that she would want so badly that she wouldn’t bring herself to refuse it.



“And what about me?” cried Asuka, “Don’t you have presents for me?”

“Of course I do. Here, this is for you.” He handed out yet another, neatly bought package.

“Oh thank you, Mr. Kaji~ I’m so happy! I’ll treasure it forever~”

I don’t think that’s true, it turned out to be a fairly basic souvenir, one of those waving cats I think. It was kind of the sort of gift you’d expect a child to get excited about, which in itself irked Asuka, whatever her actual opinion on the trinket itself irrespective of context – I never found that out.



But I don’t think that all of Mr. Kaji’s gifts could have come from his business trip. Those fruits were looking way too fresh.

“Now where might you have gotten such a splendid, pulchritudinous melon in the middle of winter?” Marie wondered aloud.

I must admit, it was a really nice melon. Not overly large, round, heavy, and with a bright yellow spot at the bottom, just like the ones every fruit picking guide on the internet would tell you to get a hold of.

Mr. Kaji winked conspiratorily: “That’s my little secret~ If you keep being good boys and girls, I might tell you about it.”

Since we were already marveling at his marvelous secret fruit and whatever wondrous secret fruit sources he might have, he decided that this might be a good time to fetch a knife so that he might carve it up.

I distinctly remember that it was pretty delicious.



(2.3.8: A Fragile Peace)


So what else do I recall from that evening?

Most than anything else, there would have been that general sense of having a great time, though when I look back, the specifics of the how and why are like vague nebulous dust that slipped through my fingers.

Whatever we might be using it for now that we have some however limited freedom of will, our brain was initially created by evolution to help us keep track of danger, so it retains the impression of bad things much more firmly than those of happy things; A few minutes of sorrow can overshadow what should have been years of pleasure.

That’s probably why I’m never going to have kids – I’ve seen firsthand how easily it is to do it wrong, and I know my limitations. It’s almost like we’re designed to suck up the negative implications of everything and let them fester inside ourselves like bacteria in an old disintegrating blackboard sponge.

The more I began to relax and consider accepting this new status quo for the now, the more that my memory trails off into rough summaries, individual sound-bytes and still-image impressions.

What would I give now to be back at this party with so many of my friends and all these people I cared about! I should have paid attention. I want to kick myself so badly for not doing it.

Though maybe if I had, I’d be desperate to forget. What images remain now burn inside my mind, untouchable and unalterable behind the veil of time.

I’m no longer all that sure about the order of things, but I’ll try to describe as much as I recall, the highlight reel as it were.

Since Mr. Kaji’s wonderful melon had already summoned us all around the table, we decided to follow up the juicy entree with the main course. Kensuke finally got his chance to show off the teppan grill he had somehow procured – he can be downright unstoppable once he gets an idea into his head. I recall him bowing dramatically when Misato thanked him for the free meat.

Then there was that one moment where everybody present looked aghast when Mr. Kaji cracked a particularly spicy joke. “So, you’ve moved in with Katsuragi now. Tell me, does she still mess up the bed when she sleeps?”

‘Well, actually yes’, I thought, wondering what to actually answer so as not to embarrass Misato. Then I realized from the ubiquitous noises of objects being dropped that almost everybody in the room seemed to have taken this as a kind of innuendo. Poor Asuka looked especially horrified, and Misato herself was none too amused.

Rei alone just kept calmly plopping food into her mouth without a care in the world. Kaworu regarded the commotion quizzically. Kotone was hiding half her face in her collar, while the other half had blushed the same shade as her hair. I got a distinct impression that Kensuke was trying very hard to think unsexy thoughts.

How bold of Mr. Kaji to say such a thing in what was technically still the house of his employer.

I’d expected Ms. Soryu to get more scandalized than anyone, since you sort of expect mothers to be properly responsible, but she just wistfully sighed to herself. “Ah, youth~”

I guess from her point of view Misato and the others were as close to counting as ‘silly young’uns’ as we were to them.

Still, you’d think she’d be more worried that her daughter might be exposed to inappropriate topics. Though viewed from a sort of cynical hindsight, you might remark that it shouldn’t have been surprising at all, since she’d long been in the habit of basically treating her daughter like a mini-adult.

Perhaps we didn’t see the problem at first because Asuka was so outwardly proud on her own self-reliance. Perhaps nothing too bad would have come from this if not for all that came after.

It might have been inevitable that she would have spent a few hours talking this over with a therapist before she could get her dating life in order and learn how to take a break off of work once in a while, but there was no reason for her to go through all the horrible things that she did…

No reason, but the actions of my parents… and my own failures.

Sigh.

After dinner, the grownups remained sitting around the table, washing the food down with beer and coffee while indulging in various chitchat. As Misato was still none too receptive to his flirting, Mr. Kaji spent most of the time catching up with Mr. Kenzaki and Miss Ritsuko, doing what he could to coax some words out of the more reticent pair – I noticed that Miss Ritsuko wasn’t wearing any makeup. Usually, she would lay it on pretty thick. Though maybe that’s just different when she’s not at work.

I think this must have been the first time that I saw her or Mr. Kenzaki just being regular people. Both of them are usually all business at work, and they don’t talk much about themselves, but in this more informal setting, surrounded by their longtime friends, they softened up somewhat.

But Misato and Kaji were different, too, in some subtler way that was harder to place – It wasn’t anything to do with acting less reserved, both were big personalities to begin with and they were never as strict about professionalism as some others.

In my old friend the ‘dictionary ob obscure sorrows’ there’s something called the McFly effect, though this refers more strictly to one’s parents and the way interacting with friends from their early life might reboot a person to the way they used to act in their youth just by calling up old response patterns from before they had to get all serious and responsible.

Now of course their time in college wasn’t so far back that the shift would be as great as with a 40 something with grown kids, but there was a little bit of that there.

Before the end, these people who had started out as simple work associates would become relatively known to me. They should become something like my community, just from being the close friends of a person I lived with.

Even on this day, I would overhear some significant snippets of their personal lives – Like Mr. Kaji asking Miss Ritsuko about the whereabouts of her cats and her collection of bonsais, or reminiscing about an occasion where Miss Ritsuko brought the other three along to a Punk Rock concert – this got them on a long tangent that ended with Mr. Kenzaki relating an incident where Ms. Kaga the technician had absent-mindedly wandered into the men’s showers at GEHIRN and not noticed this crucial detail until she stood soaked and naked before Mr. Kenzaki.

Mr. Kaji got himself scolded by Misato for immediately inquiring if he’d gotten to see any of her ‘goodies’. Miss Ritsuko remained calm and simply remarked that Ms. Kaga could be quite distracted despite her great promise as an engineer.

So yeah. Who knew that Miss Ritsuko liked Bonsais or Punk Rock? I would have imagined the cats from the figurines on her desk but I really wouldn’t have considered her as the Punk Rock loving type. Perhaps she had a wild phase when she was younger?

They talked very long about a great many things but I don’t recall many more. I probably never heard most of what they said simply cause I wasn’t really listening – the rest of us was rather busy playing a great variety of party- and board games.

This included Ms. Soryu, who was probably supposed to supervise us, but contributed little more than this than the occasional good-natured “Now children, don’t fight~”

Shored up with such backup, Asuka decreed that she should get to decide what games are being played and for how long, since she was the designated birthday girl. As such, we were treated to a drawn-out round of monopoly that left many of us rather exhausted towards the end Though to be fair, it was her party and she did work hard to earn it.

For the longest tie it seemed like Maria Vincennes was going to win and gloat in all our faces, which only renewed Asuka’s zeal to keep the game going until the victor was decided beyond all doubt. Fortunately for the peace under this roof, Kaworu clinched the victory in the end – he wasn’t going to be obnoxious about it, and he has the sort of face that nobody can stay mad at for long.

Asuka however, really wanted to win at something today, so she declared that it was now time for a video game tournament. She did take the time to prepare a little tournament graph with sparkly gel markers and lots for us to draw so that we might each get assigned a place for it.

Just as she’d hoped, she did win, though Kensuke did give her a more than a decent challenge in the semi-finale. As for me? Well. She demolished me in the first round, in less than half a minute.

When Asuka was having one of her matches, I made sure to at least look like I was cheering her on lest she and Hikari hold it against me, but I didn’t really know enough about this kind of fighting game to tell much about wether someone was doing poorly or well. It was all pretty fast and confusing and I couldn’t follow it well enough for it to hold my interest, so most of the time, I didn’t really have much to do, which is probably why I had the time to let my eyes drift around the room until I noticed something peculiar.

The grownups were all engrossed in their lively conversation. My classmates largely had their attention focussed on the screen. But curled up behind the sofa, with her arms around her knees, was a very quiet girl with a wild mop of blue hair, out of everybody’s way, her presence so slight as to be barely noticeable.

Before, there might have been some ambiguity whether she was apathetic or simply just observing, but by now she was making a distinctly… droopy impression on me.

I set myself down beside her: “Hey, Rei. You ok? Want to catch some fresh air?”



Next thing I knew, we were out on the balcony, surrounded by the cool nighttime aid and the stray lights of the city. It was getting to be the deep of winter, so, the sun would have gone down by the late afternoon.

This far in the city, one could not make out more than a handful of stars, and the blazing planet venus reduced to a lost little dot, but the pale disk of the moon still however above us.

I felt a bit responsible, honestly. Not too long ago, I’d been telling her to try to do more things with the rest of us. If she’d come here and just hated me, it would be my fault.

“I’m sorry. Are you tired? Didn’t you like the party? Can I get you anything?”

“It’s alright. I’m fine.” she said, perhaps something of a reflexive answer.

I don’t think she was finished thinking yet, her brows furrowed slightly like she was still considering how to articulate her thoughts.

“I’m just not used to this many people. There’s even more than when I was staying here with you and the Commander. There’s so much noise… ”

I wasn’t the most party-loving person in the world, but still it never would have occurred to me that something simple like a party might be completely foreign to someone. I guess this was just another sign that I’d been lucky. I was pretty sure now that Rei can’t have gone to a normal nursery school like most of us…

“I can’t blame you. I don’t suppose you had many chances to get used to parties when you were spending all your time at the lab… if you’re tired, I’m sure Misato-san won’t be mad if you live a little early.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m supposed to stay until the end of the event, right? I wish to do this properly. Otherwise, there is no point.”

“That’s not true – You’ve already made an effort. You showed up, and that means a lot to me.”

I made sure to say this because I think, if I were in Rei’s place, I would want for this to be made absolutely clear: “I’m glad that you came. I’m happy to spend time with you. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so – the class rep and Suzunami-san were probably glad to have you over, too. ”

“Even if I don’t do anything?”

“We didn’t invite you because we wanted you to do anything. This isn’t like GEHIRN. We just enjoy having you around, just for it’s own sake.” I made sure to say to her what I myself always longed to hear: “We’re not just putting up with you. because we’re expecting you to do this or that - We want you to be here. You don’t have to justify it or anything.”

“...I… I see…” she said, looking pensive like I’d just introduced her to a wholly novel concept.

Maybe I had.

“...Is this why the class representative keeps asking me to do things with her for no reason?”

That’s… one way to put it. I’m wholly convinced that this was an entirely innocent question.

She’s got remarkably pure, honest feelings once you get down to it. Still...

“You know, Rei, I’m sure you don’t mean that in a mean sort of way, but if you say stuff like that it’s for ‘no reason’, some people might take it the wrong way, like you don’t want anything to do with them.”

“We are mostly unrelated.”

That is true, but that still sounds a bit... – hm. I hadn’t really thought about why. I guess there’s a lot of implied stuff that you just never question or take apart because you just pick it up from your environment by copying others. Unless you’re raised in a lab, I suppose. Though even I don’t tend to pick up this sort of stuff as quickly as some of my classmates.

In the end, I guess that it’s also a kind of talent or intelligence that you can be more or less talented in, just like you can be good or bad at math or logic or language.

“...I guess when you say that you’re not related or have no opinion about someone, people think that you’re just dissing or rejecting them in an implied way.”

This, it seems, did not immediately make sense to her:

“How so?”

“Ah… I guess it’s because it’s not considered polite to say outright that you don’t like someone. I mean, even saying you ‘don’t like’ someone means that you don’t actively love them in particular, but when people say it, they normally mean the same thing as dislike. It’s one thing if you don’t know them well yet – everyone starts out that way – but people might think that you don’t want to get to know them in the future, either. Not that you have to be friends with everyone, but, you don’t hate them, right? So, I don’t want people to get that impression, ‘cause it’s not right.”

“I see.” noted Rei, wheels racing behind her eyes, as she’d just been told some illuminating factoid about how our positron rifles work and was considering how this might affect our strategy in training. “But then what do you do if you really don’t have an opinion? It is not possible to truly know every person present well enough to have a certain opinion about it, or to understand every topic well enough.”

“I-”

Big question there, Rei. You should’ve asked Dr. Akagi our councilor Amagi, or maybe some sort of philosopher, not your humble classmate.

“I’m not sure. I suppose people just assume or come up with some opinion based on gut feeling. Or they look to what their friends and family are doing…”

“I see. Is that why the pilot of unit two so often takes issue with me?”

“You don’t have to feel bad. It’s just how she is, and you are like you are. I mean, it’s great that you’re trying to be more polite to everyone, but you don’t have to change yourself completely to have friends. “

“That’s good then.” she mused, gloomily. “I do not think I would know how to do it.”

“Uh…” I felt like I should say something more. Like I wanted very badly not to leave this unfinished. “I mean – It’s not all your fault. It’s really not fair, that nobody ever explains this sort of thing, that everyone expects you just to pick it up by yourself. Some people do, but not everyone does. Just like not everyone gets math at the first try, or the meaning of a poem, or how to play music. But if you wanna get along with Asuka, you could start by calling her by her name. I get it – you first met her as your co-worker so it makes sense to call her that, but, it’s that implied rejection thing again. She probably thinks that you’re not using her name on purpose to diss her.”

“But does she not usually address me by my designation as well?”

Yeah. I think you’re starting to get the point here.

“Asuka can be- difficult. She’s not doing everything right either. She takes everything that other people do personally and assumes that she already knows what everybody thinks. I don’t really understand why she’s got it out for you – Sometimes, it’s really hard to get along with someone even if you try really hard. I think most people wouldn’t even want to try if they were in your place – she’s been pretty mean to you. But she’s dealing with her own stuff, and she also has her good parts so, I thought that using her name might at least be a good thought.

I’d love it if you could become friends. I can’t stand it when people fight – there’s always a part of me that wants to protect every person and can see where they’re coming from, so when I see people that I care about fighting, it’s a bit like being torn up myself.

Maybe that’s a selfish thing to think when I’m not the one having the argument. Sometimes, Asuka or Touji will have a fight, and they get it all out, and then they forget all about it and it’s not a big deal for them.

I know I can’t keep them from fighting just because I’d like to, but, if they didn’t, I’d like that.

We have this whole scary war ahead of us, and we only have each other to help us through it, so, if we could get along, that would be good.”

“I see,” said Rei, and then after some thought: “I think that would be good, too.”

I could definitely hear the tiredness in her voice by this point, though.



“...Can I walk you to the bus stop?”

“Won’t you miss the festivities?”

“It’s okay. I could use a little fresh air break myself.”

“I understand – Thank you. And when you get back, please thank Soryu-san for inviting me as well.”

I’d make sure to let her hear those exact words when she didn’t have her hands full with her controller.



We walked then, side by side, passing under the cones of streetlamp light over the narrow sidewalk, over that highway bridge and the many metal rungs of its banister and whichever stray falling leaves had been trodden into the mud.

I stayed by her side until the bus came.

Once or twice I was pinched by that engrained conventional sense that I ‘should’ be making conversation, but when I considered that the peace and quiet were probably welcome, I could relax.

We just basked in the cool nighttime together as the moments flowed meaningfully like honey.

In that tiny island of light amid the blue night, some slight warmth passed between us without words.

When the machine finally wheeled into place to pick her up, I definitely felt her absence, like when you lie out on a sunny day and feel some cloud inching its way into the path of the sun, leaving something that is still light, but nonetheless missing that special golden joy.

A sense of specialness still clung to me like gold dust as I made my way back.



When I passed our parking lot, however, I noticed that I was not the only one who had went out for some air today – A good deal away, I spotted a pair of figures, seated on the low brick enclosure that encircled a decorative tree.

I’m pretty sure it was Misato and Kaji. It seemed like a pretty intense conversation they were having, but they didn’t seem to be arguing, exactly...



Whatever it was, it was none of my business. I very much felt like to stop and observe would be the same as intruding upon something.

Shielded by the looming shadow of our building, I snuck my way back inside.


My Fetish: When ppl assure you that they still enjoy your presence if you don’t have the capacity to be a Super Fun Party Extrovert all the time.

Though I’m sure the extroverts would likewise melt for ppl who make time to hang out with them and telling them that they’re not annoying.

I think in the end everyone just hopes that they’re going to be actually wanted & chosen one day.



...aaand I’m already diverging from my outline by having both the joint birthday party and the Kaworu sleepover/motive rant much earlier than scheduled. I reached December quicker than I thought I would.
However; I’m only shuffling the order around, you can assume that everything I announced for act 2 will happen eventually.

Anyway, that’s it for section 2.3. It’s finally over with!

With this, Misato has now officially reached her canonverse age of 29 ^-^ I’m just hoping I can finally get her to show up more often from now on.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like


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