Chapter 1: November 28

The hospital is quiet, taking the confidence from my stride as I near room 222. The metal of the door handle is cool against my sweaty palm, and I wish that my stomach would stop quivering. It's threatening to eat me from the inside. Maybe it was the four cups of coffee before I came here, or something about the soup Marina made, Jesus just open the door.

It creaks on the hinges, the only damn sound in the entire building. My boots squeak as my heels scuff against the linoleum, why the hell did I wear these things?

Because they make you tall.

The air is chilling. A newspaper shifts and a nylon jacket screeches. Deep, cloudy blue eyes stop my heart – just a moment before it kicks into overdrive, and the boots don't make me feel so tall anymore. I swallow, trying not to think about how terrified I am of this man sitting across the room from me. That's when I realize I've stopped in the doorway. I look away, to the floor, to the T.V. in the upper left corner, wherever, and I close the door. I can still feel his eyes on me – dark with a hidden horror I've heard in screams and quiet sobs as a child.

The room that was just a second ago too cold is pulsing with a warmth that's choking me. I wait for him to say something. His gaze leaves me as he stands, making it to the side of the lone bed with a barely noticeable limp.

My heart swells, and the breath is gone from my lungs. She's hooked up to an IV, screens and monitors humming and beeping over her head. Strands of gray I don't remember streak their way down her faded orange-red hair. My mother was always a pretty woman, hard to miss in a full room, always sure and confident in presence. Not this time though, where the crows feet edging from the corners of her eyes seem deeper and her skin paler. Some part of me wants to rush to her side and touch her, hold her hand or hug her or–

I take a step back. That would mean forgiving her – and I don't know if I can do that.

My father takes her hand in his, a thumb brushing over her knuckles. "He came, Asuka... he's here," my dad whispers, and he sounds... excited? Relieved? I don't know, maybe I'm hearing things. I'm glued to her every movement, the subtle twitch of her left hand and the way her eyelids flutter open, weakly. A soft noise hums from her throat and her eyes punch a hole through my chest when they find me, unfocused and far away. I remember them being so bright and sharp.

"Kazuya..." she croaks and her lips twitch in an almost-smile.

It's too much. My head is spinning and my stomach is twisting in a knot – I think it's going to explode.

"I have to use the bathroom," the words spill out in a rush and the next second I'm out the door, slamming it shut behind me. My shoulders jump, shit, hadn't meant to pull so hard. I can't walk fast enough down the hall towards the restrooms. Can't just stand in the hallway until my nerves stop screaming, have to keep up appearances – might have to puke too.

The door cracks into the tiled wall as I stumble in, and I'm hunched over a sink. My right hand fishes through the pockets of my brown overcoat. Dammit, dammit, dammit where is it? A smooth cylinder brushes my finger tips. I almost rip the pocket yanking it out, muttering a curse as I fiddle with unscrewing the cap. Pills pour into my palm, but my hands are shaking. Some clatter to the floor.

Throwing my head back, I dry swallow three of the tablets, allowing my system to bathe in sweet, sweet benzodiazepines. They wouldn't really start to kick in for another few minutes, but just knowing I've taken them is bringing me down.

I throw the faucet on, splashing scalding water over my face. Hate it when it's cold.

I shouldn't have come. Why did I come?

Because you'd be an awful person if you didn't. They're still your parents, even if you haven't talked to them in 8 years. You can stand to show them your face for a few minutes when your mom is hospitalized after a heart attack – it's just a routine visit. "Hey, doing well? Fantastic! What's that? You'll be out of the hospital in no time? Me? Oh, yes, I've been doing great, mother – take care now!" Then I walk out those front doors and we go our separate ways again.

God, what the hell is wrong with me?

It takes a while before I feel up to stepping out into the hallway again. I have to go back into that room and say... something. I thought I'd planned this so well in my head. It's alright, Kazu – you've taken your pills, you can face your parents for a few measly minutes.

"You hungry?" a quiet, but gravely voice asks.

Normally, I might have jumped finding my father leaning on the wall beside the bathroom door. I just sort of turn, the world is moving in slow motion a bit, head feels fuzzy. Good, the meds are kicking in. Still, I can make out that hard stare from behind his glasses, the big kind that might be more suitable for a 90 year old man. I catch the shadow of stubble over his jaw and chin too. Dad's never liked keeping facial hair, he must have been staying at the hospital the past few days.

I give a half-shrug. "Not really."

His eyes dart downward, locked onto something. "What's that?"

"Nothing," I say, stuffing the bottle back in my coat.

Those blues come back up to pin me with a level stare and I can't hold it, never could. His hands slide into the pockets of his dull sky blue nylon jacket and he turns around. "Come on, let's get something to eat."

My right hand squeezes into a fist and I want to tell him off. I end up following him after another beat, biting my tongue. You're here to see your mother in the hospital. Be diplomatic.

The elevator ride down is tense, awkward and mercifully short. As we're walking into the food court, I have to blink several times to make sure I'm not hallucinating. I've gotten taller than my dad. Or it's the boots. My chest is still quivering and I find myself looking for the exits and making mental note of them. It's a weird habit, I can't really control it.

I should be panicking that we're even in public, and at a hospital no less – where there's bound to be a spill of blood somewhere. What if my dad has an episode? What the hell am I going to do? I should be terrified. The wonders of modern science are making it all the more manageable, however.

He finds us a spot in the corner of the room, by the windows. I take a seat with my back to the wall, giving myself a clear view of the rest of the room. I lean forward on the table so I don't sway in my chair. Might fall off.

I don't remember him leaving for food, yet he comes back with a tray of beef stew and a side of mashed potatoes. The pungent smell of his orange juice makes my nose twitch. In my head, I know I'm just killing time – stalling to see my mother that much longer. The realization makes my vision fuzz out a little. Has it gotten that bad? Would I really rather risk sitting down with my father, who could explode at the drop of a hat, than just sit in the same damn room as my mother?

Maybe I need more pills.

My father's voice brings that particular line of thought to a screeching halt. "She hasn't woken up for anything the past fourteen hours," he says, spoon swirling his stew. His eyes shoot up to mine and I look out the window. "Not even to eat."

I try not to let it show, but that rips barbed wire through my heart and I don't know why. It wasn't my fault she was here.

"She asks about you, while they've got her all hopped up on medication. Asks where you are."

I sigh, a hand sliding through my black hair. "I didn't come here for a guilt trip."

"She misses you."

Looks like you're getting one anyway.

"Tough," I snap, "she made sure I wasn't welcome back home."

My father grimaces. "That's not true. If you–"

"We've already talked about this, dad. I'm not moving back down to Arizona. Transfer department would throw a fit anyway."

"You could at least visit every once in a while, or even call."

"I'm too busy."

"Right..." he sighs, a bit more life leaving his face. His shoulders sag. "Yes, you're right. I'm sorry, you're very occupied with your work as, a... what was it again?"

"Information Management Officer." pretty much a fancy title for someone who deciphers paperwork and figures out where it gets filed.

This is the longest conversation we've had in maybe a year or two. It's mostly emails I pass back and forth with my dad – and those are downright skeletal. It was just another report I had to write, like I was working back at the office. Just a routine communication. But hey, look at this, we're talking! We're almost normal!

"Right. It's been a long time, Kazuya... can't you–"

"Uh-huh, we done?" I say before I can stop myself. I try not to cringe, waiting for the anger to come.

It doesn't. Instead, he puts his spoon down, wipes his mouth with a napkin and folds his arms on the table, staring down at it. "You should talk to her Kazuya. Just..." he lifts his eyes and mine turn to the window. "Just think about it, okay?"

There it is. That tone again – trying its damnedest to hide how scared he is. That's the only reason I flew down here after he called me, which isn't normal for him to do to begin with. I've never heard him like this before, not even after he breaks down during one of his episodes. So I had to come. I had to see mom. If she was going to...

Did I want my scathing words to her 8 years ago to be my last? Wouldn't I want to be there if she passed? As much as I want to hate her, the thought of her going while we're holding this cold-shoulder grudge, well... it frightens me. For a moment, my chest is wound tight and it doesn't feel like my anxiety pills are working so well anymore. I don't want her to die. I've never wanted that.

I definitely don't want "I have to go to the bathroom" to be my last words to her.

My shoulders touch the backrest, and between a tsunami of emotions, the meds, my queasy stomach and a dozen other things I can't even process – a headache starts trying to pound its way out of my skull.

A puff of air escapes my lips. "You're buying lunch, right?"

Author's Notes: Submitting this thing now so I can't chicken out later. Not too long ago, I mentioned to another author here, Folk Devil, during a discussion that I didn't think Asuka and Shinji having a child was very plausible. Not impossible, just something I found very hard to imagine actually happening. I don't feel either of them would make particularly good parents (If their own parents, or lack thereof, are anything to go by). Since then, I've thought about it quite a bit, and the more I think about it, the more the idea of them being parents actually appeals to me.

This is mostly an excuse to stretch my creative legs – experiment with my writing, particularly learning to rely on similes and metaphors waaaay less. Also challenging myself to write a chapter a week, nothing pre-written, just to get into the practice of finishing something in a timely manner. One day, I'll probably come back and rewrite some of this stuff.

On that note, I've never really written a story from the POV of an OC. Let me know how that's going.

Oh, borrowed ̶s̶o̶m̶e̶ a lot of background stuff from Folk Devil's post-Third Impact story The Creative Principle, 'cause it's my headcanon. If you haven't read it yet, do it up. It's freakin' amazing.