"This winter hasn't been so rough
Oh it was cold, but it wasn't cold enough
To freeze the blood beneath our spines
And at least I survived."
My brain has stopped working. I might still be drunk. I certainly still feel it at the edges of my temples when I move, but no amount of inebriation could have prepared me for this.
Asuka stands in the doorway of a bedroom I have no memory returning to. I think she's angry, but her voice is even and calm, like someone in shock. If she is angry, I have no idea what she's angry about. Then again, that's honestly kind of my default state with Asuka, anyway.
Her hand grips tighter on the doorway.
"You heard me," she says. "'I love you.' I do."
Yeah, I think I'm still drunk. I'm drunk or this is some sort of very odd, very wish-fulfilling dream. I feel my face start to heat up.
"I want to get out of here. I never want to come back," she continues. "Nothing here matters anymore. This is just the past." She draws a deep breath. "Here's what's gonna happen: I'm going to go onto the balcony, and I'm going to smoke my last cigarette. Then I'm going to come back in here, we'll pack, and we'll get on a train." She wets her lips and continues, paying no attention to the desperate look of confusion on my face. "We'll see Europe, we'll swim in the Atlantic, we'll do whatever the fuck we want and no one will tell us 'no', and do you know why all of this going to happen?"
I truly have no idea.
"It will happen because I love you." For the first time since she began talking, she smiles. A moment later a giggle slips out of her mouth. She looks… unburdened. She looks like she was in chains and is at long last finally free.
And she is overwhelmingly beautiful.
I finally find my voice, and ask the only question that seems relevant anymore.
"Asuka, is… is everything okay?"
She nods curtly. "I'll see you in ten minutes."
With a turn, she walks out of the room.
And everything she had said came true.
No one in the party is speaking, but Asuka especially seems frozen in shock. She might as well have been hewn from stone, stuck forever in a half-turn, surprise permanently etched into her blue and red.
My hands are shaking, and as far as I can tell they're the only things moving in the room. The ring box between them trembling slightly in the air and getting heavier by the second. How long has it been already? I feel like I could have lived and died and lived again in the time it's taken her to process what is happening.
Is this a good sign? At least now I know that she certainly didn't see this coming, but my girlfriend isn't always a huge fan of surprises. After five years of living as a couple, you'd think that I would have more of a grasp of how her brain works.
The shock slowly leaves her face, and is replaced with a terrifying blankness. The champagne glass in her hand, which she'd been holding at conversational chest-level, drifts slowly to her hip.
She's appraising me, looking at me in the way only she can – the way that seems to ask a million questions yet invites none in return. I know that this is her 'serious consideration' face, and I know she only brings it out when the gears in her head are working in overdrive.
What... what do I do if she says no? Certainly I've ruined everything then. I really don't know if I could go back to sleeping next to someone who told the world 'you're not good enough'. I mean, I know I'd do it. What other choice would I have?
I couldn't imagine a future without her; I couldn't imagine an endless expanse of time without her asleep to my left. I... I don't even remember what I did when I was single. How did I fill the days? Who did I talk about everything with? Where was the warmth that let me sleep at night?
Can loneliness kill someone? Can someone actually die of a broken heart? I never want to know, but I've thought about this long enough now to be sure that this is what I want. If she doesn't want it too, then I'll have to...
I'll have to accept that somehow.
Gauntlet thrown, response expected. My future is in her hands now.
Asuka's face is still serene; she's still thinking.
After an eternity, she gives me a small, secret smile.
Which is immediately supplanted by her trademark scowl.
"Okay, but for real though," she turns, addressing the crowd, "where is that Kansai-speaking sonofabitch?"
"What?!" Touji's yell is deafening in the quiet room. He pushes his way forward from behind me, and stands at my shoulder.
For my part, I remain on my one knee. Touji points at me.
"Do you know how long I had to talk this sad bastard into this?! He's jus' been whinin' and whining for months!" Touji runs a hand through his hair in exasperation. "Ring shopping, Sohryu. He took me ring shopping."
Asuka cocks a hip, and places her fist on it, "Aw, well that's really cute that you guys went on a date, but all I really want to know is if doing it at this party was your idea or his, because honestly?" She points around at the hanging chandeliers, festooned with New Years decorations. "…honestly this is tacky as hell."
I am literally dripping with sweat now. The ring is still hanging between us, and is so uncomfortable to hold that it feels like it's literally aflame.
Asuka is barely even looking my way. It seems like she's forgotten about me, utterly and completely.
"T-tacky?!" Touji explodes to my right. He draws the back of his arm across his mouth. "Okay, you want to know the truth? Yeah, the party was my idea, because I thought 'Hey, if my buddy Shinji's gonna be stuck wit' you forever, then we might as well all get drunk before we watch him ruin his life forever!"
"Oh wow, that's super mature, Sohryu. What are we doing here?" Touji grabs my arm and hauls me to my feet. "Come on, bud, this shit ain't worth your-"
"She didn't answer," I say, finally finding my voice. The party is silent again, Asuka seems to finally remember I'm there. I shake out of Touji's grasp and step towards my girlfriend. I remove the ring and hold it to her. "I… don't care if the answer is no. I hope to god it isn't, but I need you to tell me."
I clear my throat and for the second time that night, I ask: "Asuka, will you marry me?"
"Huh? Oh, I mean, yeah, of course." My heart stops. She tucks her hair behind her ear, her face starting to turn the same color as her hair. "W-wait, that wasn't obvious?"
"Ya had me fooled," Touji grumbles somewhere behind me. He doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is that this is literally the moment all my dreams are coming true.
Her face is completely red now. "What?!" Turning away, she buries it in her hands. "I gave you the look, though!"
"Yeah! The look!" She turns, her finger pointing at me reproachfully. "It's that look I give! It's the 'yes' look! You know what it means!"
"H-hold on," I stammer, "when was the-?"
The redness in Asuka's face hits a critical level. She tosses her hands in the air, pacing madly. "Augh! God! You're such an… you're such an unbelievable… did you really think that-?!"
She comes to a halt in front of me, and shakes her head. Wetness stings at the edge of her eyes. We might be in a room full of people, but this moment exists only between the two of us.
"What are you stupid?" She whispers. She's crying, but she's no long self-conscious enough to hide it. "Of course I want to marry you, you idiot."
I pull her into a kiss and the rooms erupts into a cheer.
"What if she hates me?"
I sigh, "She's not gonna hate you…"
There's a shrug against my side.
"You don't know that. She might." Asuka Langley Ikari yawns, and moves her hands down to her swollen stomach. "I hated my mother. I dunno, maybe it's genetic or something?"
"I mean, that was different..."
"Why?" I continue, smirking. "Were you thinking about restarting NERV or something? Then she might hate you, but she wouldn't be the only one, let me tell you."
She gently pushes a fist into my side, then releases it. She sidles closer in the bed, nuzzling into my chest and snaking her hand down under the covers to find mine.
The room is warm, and I enjoy the feeling of the soft pillow under my head. There's silence for a long time. Seven months now…
Asuka didn't know how to take the pregnancy at first. We hadn't been trying for a baby, it had just… happened. It wasn't an insane thought though – we were established now, we had good jobs. It's not like we were in our twenties anymore…
But still, I had brought up the subject of 'options', simply to give her the peace of mind that if she wasn't ready, I didn't have to be, either.
"Do you… do you not want it?" she had asked, and she'd looked fragile enough to push over and shatter. "Because I- I mean... I'm scared, sure, but it's not like I..." She'd shaken her head in confusion. I could see the fear battling with something else inside of her chest.
Finally, she'd looked back at me.
"I mean… it's ours, right? I don't know if I can do that to something that's ours…"
After that the subject hadn't been raised again. We were going to be parents, for better or for worse.
Presently, though, there are no fears our doubts or conversations. There is just my wife, this bed, and the perfection of silence. The room is dark and it's well past midnight, but by her stirring I know she's still awake. Asuka has trouble falling asleep when something's on her mind.
"…tell me I'm gonna be a good mom?" It's a statement, like her commands always are, but it sounds like a question. She only does that when she really needs the answer.
"You're going to be a great mother."
"I'm not fat now, right? I don't know, I feel fat..."
"You're not fat, Asuka. You're pregnant. That's not the same thing."
"Tell me she won't hate me?"
I chuckle, "She won't, I swear."
"How do you know though?" She pushes back and looks at me – two blue fires in the stillness around them. She needs this answer most of all.
"Well," I venture, treading carefully. "If anything feelings are really genetic, it must be affectionate ones, right? She's half of me, and I certainly love you." I squeeze her hand tighter. "Even when you're being annoying and should really go to sleep. Like right now."
And then smiles. She plants a kiss on my cheek before lying back down.
After a moment, I can't help but ask: "How do you know it's going to be a girl, by the way? Did you ask the doctor?"
"Oh," she whispers, sleep now finally taking her. "I don't. But I'm preparing for the worst."
"I wouldn't mind a girl…"
"No," my wife says, decisively. "Girls are terrible. We don't want a girl. Trust me."
By the time we stop in front of our daughter's school, she's got a grip so tight on Asuka's leg that I'm not sure she's going to let go. Hana always flocks to her mom when she's scared – she may have gotten the hair and the eyes, but she certainly has my timidity.
"Do I have to go?" she asks, as the school comes into sight. Pre-school was fine, but kindergarten isn't something she thinks she's totally prepared for. I watch her shiver in the fall air.
"Yes, you do," Asuka gently removes Hana's hands from her leg, and crouches down in front of her. "I tell you all the time that you're stronger than you think, Hana. You're going to be fine," Asuka brushes a hair behind her daughter's ear. "And besides, you're so smart! Come on, I'm sure the other kids are gonna be impressed. How many red-heads are gonna be in the class, you think?"
Hana stifles a proud smile and shakes her head. "None."
A triumphant kiss to the forehead. "Exactly. Do you not want the other kids to know how cool you are? I would! I'd be proud to be so smart and pretty!"
Which is truer than our daughter will ever know. Asuka leans in and says something quietly in German that makes Hana laugh. I never really figured the language out, but Hana seems to have an almost preternatural gift for it.
"Fragst du Papa was ihm denken," Asuka suggests, with a sly smirk and a shrug. "Warum nicht?" After a moment of thought, Hana nods, and reaches for my hand.
I crouch down next to her.
"Were you scared when you went to school, dad?"
"Yeah," I admit in total honestly. "Every first day was a little rough, but you know, soon enough you start to make friends, right?"
Hana, for her part, still looks a little unsure, but nods anyway. It's decided. She's going to school.
Asuka pats her shoulders, "Now, that all being said: also remember what mommy told you, okay? If any of the other kids gives you shit, you punch them in the face."
I sigh, shaking my head. "Honey, mommy's just joking again."
"No, I'm not. If any of those kids gives you shit? You punch them. In. The…" Asuka tilts her head forward.
"…face," comes the reply. Asuka nods, beaming.
"That's my girl!"
We both embrace her, and I hear my wife whisper in her ear how much she loves her. Asuka always tries to do it somewhat clandestinely, in some struggling final bit of pride, but it's always obvious to everyone around.
It was the first thing she said to her, in fact.
Asuka was beside herself. Her hair was plastered to her forehead from sweat, her face a mixture of relief and unfathomable fatigue. All of her fears and doubts and misgivings had disappeared sometime during labor, never to be seen again.
The first time she held Hana, she broke down into tears.
"How do I hold her? Am I holding her right?!" she implored the doctors. "I don't want to hurt her. Please don't let me hurt her, if I start doing something wrong, you tell me, okay?!"
They assured her everything was fine, and then it was just us and the child. Our child. 'Hana'.
"She'll always know that she's loved - she's safe," Asuka whispered, promising the world. She re-positioned Hana in her arms, "Shinji, she'll always know I love her. That's all I want..."
Children, apparently, can learn from their parent's mistakes.
Hana gives us both a kiss on the side of the face, and shoulders her backpack before heading into the courtyard. As if on cue, another six-year-old lets out a yell of excitement and runs over to her. Hana's face lights up and quickly they begin talking.
"You know, you really shouldn't curse in front of her," I mumble.
"Oh come on! The kids last year were great, but what if these are just a bunch of little demon children? I don't want her to get eaten alive in there!" Asuka leans her head against my shoulder. "Besides, she's an Ikari through and through. I don't think she has it in her to punch a kid. Not yet."
"Well, I mean, we've got time." Asuka looks up at me, smiling devilishly, and I can't help but lean down and kiss her. She puts her hand to the side of my face, and we look back at Hana and her friend, disappearing into the sea of children.
A lifetime ago, Asuka posited that this moment could never happen because eventually everything ends, but I don't think that's true.
I think the answer is that a door you don't open is a door that's shut forever.
I think the answer is that nothing ends, and everything continues on. It twists and turns and spirals out until we are all together, for a while, forever.
"Do you think she's going to be okay?"
"Honestly, I wouldn't worry too much about it."
AN: Be kind to each other.