Disclaimer: see chapter 1.
A couple of days after the debacle at Rei's apartment, Misato stood waiting for her husband outside of the showers at NERV. So far, Asuka had not done anything overt to get the Third's attention, but Misato knew the redhead was just biding her time and waiting for the best opportunity. That girl's more determined than the Commander when she wants something, she mused, and I still… I'm still not sure what I would do if I had Shinji all to myself.
She scowled, reminding herself that she had not had a drop of alcohol since that night. It just wasn't safe.
It's weird, though, she thought, smoothing out her skirt as the door to the locker opened and Asuka emerged, the whole 'beer goggles' thing is in full effect. Every time I look at Shinji, he looks better to me. She nodded as Asuka mumbled that she was going to Hikari's house for the evening. Oh sure, leave me alone with the one man I can't keep my pants on for. Maybe Ritsuko was right… I should either sleep with him and get it over with, or hurry up and divorce him. This bet thing seems like a worse idea every single day.
In spite of these brooding thoughts, she found a silly smile lighting up her face as Shinji came out of the locker room. "Hey honey," she said. "Ready?"
"Actually, no," Shinji sighed. "Doctor Akagi told me she needed to see me before I go. Can you wait like, a half hour?"
"Of course," Misato said evenly. "I'm not leaving my husband here alone."
Shinji chuckled weakly. "You don't have to say stuff like that if no one's listening," he pointed out.
Misato winked, only half joking when she replied, "I know, but it makes me happy. I'm gonna go hang out with Kaji for a few, then. Meet me by the car in forty, ok?"
Giving him a playful salute, Misato wandered down to Kaji's office, knocking on the door and finding that he was actually there. Wow, she mused as he gestured her in, he's like, never here… this must be a first.
"Hey Katsuragi," he said brightly, "how's the husband?"
"Tempting," Misato retorted. "How's your magazine collection?"
"Getting bigger all the time," Kaji said coolly, "and it never complains when I stay out all weekend."
Misato stuck out her tongue. "You're probably reading other magazines on the side."
Kaji looked the woman up and down, shaking his head and unconsciously returning her smile as he observed, "Someone's in a good mood."
"Yeah, what's not to be happy about?" Misato wondered. "There haven't been any angel attacks for a little while, it's smooth sailing at work, and I have a great husband at home – everything's aces."
Cocking his head to the side, Kaji folded his arms over his chest and took a deep breath. "You mention that a lot, you know," he said, his voice carefully neutral. "I do believe that you're… a little more serious about this marriage than everyone else thinks."
Misato snorted. "Jealous, are we?" she asked dryly. "Sorry, Kaji… back then, I just wasn't ready for the whole bride and groom thing."
"Yeah, me either," Kaji replied, "I thought things were going great just the way they were… and then you told me there was someone else – no, I'm over that now, it's cool… but just so you know, I liked everything the way it was back then."
"Well, I did too," Misato smiled. "Until things started getting so heavy and moving 'that' direction."
Waving a hand, Misato said, "You know… the 'wife, kids, and mortgage' direction you were pushing things in."
Kaji shook his head. "I wasn't pushing anything anywhere," he said smoothly. "Seriously… I liked things the way they were."
"Sure you did," Misato said playfully. "You were always so serious and went on and on about how we belonged together – it was only a matter of time before you asked me to marry you."
"Umm, yeah, a lot of time," Kaji said seriously. "We were 19, Katsuragi… I wanted to be with you… but to say 'forever' back then? No, that wasn't on my mind at all."
"Yeah it was," Misato retorted, "I could tell."
Looking her in the eyes, Kaji slowly shook his head.
Misato's smile faded. "So you weren't… going to ask me to marry you?"
Averting his eyes, Kaji gently whispered, "No, Misato… I wasn't. Maybe, someday, I might have… but not then."
Misato leaned back against the door – hard.
"No," she said hollowly, "no, don't be, I just… I always thought that's what you were going to say the day we split up…"
Kaji got up from his desk and leaned against the wall next to her. "You didn't think I was going to go for a simple 'I love you'?" he wondered quietly. "That usually comes first, doesn't it?"
Without thinking, Misato said, "Not with me and Shinji."
"Ah, that," Kaji sighed.
"What?" Misato demanded, pushing away from the door and staring the man down. "Is it time for the 'he's half your age' speech, or the 'don't get involved with people you work with' speech? Asuka and Ritsuko have already given me both, in case you were wondering, and several times – each."
Kaji shrugged, meeting the woman's eyes head on as he whispered, "Actually, I was going to give you the 'I think he's good for you, why don't you go for it and tell everyone else to screw themselves?' speech."
"You basta…" she started reflexively, "…huh?"
Smiling faintly, Kaji shook his head. "It took me years to understand that we never would have worked out, Katsuragi," he said gently. "Just the way you always assume the worst of me… man, you and me, married?" He averted his eyes. "I can't even picture it now."
Though hundreds of words and thoughts were fighting to get out, Misato found that she could not speak.
And even if she had, Kaji's next words would have stopped her immediately.
"I love you," he said calmly. "Always have, always will… but love, I think, can change – or maybe it never does, and back then I just couldn't understand the kind of love I felt for you, I don't know…"
"Y-you're not making sense," Misato observed, finding that she could not raise her eyes.
"Nah, guess I'm not," Kaji sighed. "Doesn't really matter anyway… but if my opinion means anything to you anymore – which I kind of doubt – I think you should make the best of what you have and try with all of your heart to make Shinji, and yourself, happy."
Scrubbing at her eyes, Misato whispered, "You're so damn corny… so God damn corny! Make it hard on me, can't you? Don't you blame me at all for breaking up with you?"
Kaji scratched his head. "Well I did," he admitted. "Used to be that your name always had 'that bitch' before it… but I finally realized that if it really was love I felt for you, I couldn't stay mad at you." He shrugged. "If it makes you feel any better, it wasn't until I saw you again that I was able to let it all go."
"God," Misato moaned, clutching her head as if it might burst at any minute, "nothing's the way I thought it was…"
Chuckling softly, Kaji said, "Welcome to life, Katsuragi."
( 0 0 0 )
In the days after Shinji visited Rei at her apartment, things had changed quite a bit. Kaji had made himself so scarce that Shinji almost never saw him, Asuka was being remarkably polite to him (not outright nice, but close), and Misato… Misato seemed have developed bipolar syndrome, treating him coolly one minute and almost tenderly the next.
There had been no more kisses. There had been a few quiet moments on the couch or in the kitchen where Shinji was sure Misato was about to lay one on him, but nothing ever came of it.
God knew that he wouldn't have the nerve to do it again – not without a crystal clear sign that it was wanted… which, based on the duality of her behavior, Shinji did not anticipate getting any time in the near future.
At least we had that one, he mused, giving Asuka a little wave as she came into the living room and joined him on the couch. It's weird, he thought, Asuka's my age, goes to school with me, and pilots with me, and Misato's twice my age, way more experienced, and my BOSS at work. I… I think I like them both, but if I had to choose, I think I would-
Asuka reached out and pushed the Off button on the remote. "Look at me."
"Oh, ok," Shinji said, turning to face the girl. "What do you n-"
Shinji was cut off as Asuka slowly leaned forward and touched her lips to his. "That's what I need," she said boldly, pulling back to look into his wide eyes. "Don't look so shocked… you should have known this would happen, Third Child. As a wife, I'm not just going to sit by and let the finer things pass me by, you know."
"B-but I thought you didn't want to be married," Shinji blurted. "You said so like, a hundred times."
Asuka waved a hand dismissively. "Forget what I said for a second," she instructed, "you want me to stay married to you, don't you?"
Blinking, Shinji said, "Well, I mean… sure, if you want to…"
"Your enthusiasm is frightening," Asuka muttered. "Maybe you should try asking me instead of assuming."
"Um, ok," Shinji said, "would you-"
"My room," Asuka ordered. "We'll have more privacy there."
Shinji rose to his feet, following as the redhead led him into her room and shut the door, leaning up against it with a tiny smile on her face as she looked him up and down.
"So," she prompted, "you were about to ask me something?"
Shinji clenched his hands into fists. "Well," he said slowly, "we were talking about being married."
Asuka looked impatient. "Yeah," she confirmed, "and you were just about to ask me to stay married to you, right?"
Slowly, Shinji uncurled his hands. "Yes, Asuka," he said quietly, "you're the kind of person I would like to spend the rest of my life with – you and Misato both are."
"Don't put me in the same category with her," Asuka snorted, "we're completely-"
"Let me finish."
Asuka gaped for a moment, but quickly regained her composure, shrugging and folding her arms over her chest. "Go ahead."
"You and Misato are both so strong," Shinji said softly. "Neither one of you hesitates, or second guesses, or worries too much about what you might be doing wrong. You're both… just so strong. A guy like me would be lucky to be married to either one of you." He stared into Asuka's eyes for a moment, but ultimately had to look away as he concluded, "It… it kind of sounds weird, but I'd kinda like to be married to both of you, so if you want to stay married to me, then yeah, I'd like you to stay married to me, Asuka…"
For a moment, Asuka said nothing, shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she stared down at the floor, clearly lost in thought. "I'm, umm… flattered, Shinji, really," she said, her voice sounding surprisingly subdued as she finally looked up into his face. "But I'm just not… ready to be married, you know? Even if Kaji wanted to get married, I'd tell him no. Yeah, sure, I want to go out with him, but marry him? No, I don't want to be married until I'm older… can you understand that?"
Shinji bit his bottom lip. "Yeah," he said carefully, "I can. Let's go back and talk to the judge tomorrow, then, and see if he'll reduce the time for us. I don't want you to be unhappy."
Asuka averted her eyes. "That won't be necessary, right Misato?"
Shinji's head whipped around as Misato slipped out of Asuka's closet, refusing to meet his eyes as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, carefully folded piece of paper. "Here," Misato said quietly, "you win."
Snatching the paper from the other woman's hand, Asuka darted out of the room, pausing only long enough to mutter, "Misato can explain everything." She hesitated once more, then whispered, "Thank you…husband."
There was a very long, very uncomfortable pause as Misato gathered her thoughts. God, she mused, this is gonna suck!
"Asuka and I made kind of… kind of a bet…" she murmured awkwardly, "about whether or not you would ask Asuka to stay married to you."
There was another moment of silence.
"Well I… I actually knew about that," Shinji said softly. "Ritsuko told me about it that day you had to wait for me."
Misato simply stared at him for a moment, as if trying to figure out if he was lying or not. "You… knew?"
Uncomfortably, Shinji averted his eyes. "Yeah," he sighed, "I knew… but I didn't know what to say, you know? I couldn't just confront you guys about it… I'm just not like that."
"So then, why did you ask her?" Misato wondered, still trying to put all the pieces together in her mind. "And why did you wait so long, if you knew about it days ago?"
Shinji shrugged, averting his eyes as he whispered, "Because Ritsuko told me everything about the bet… including the part about you still liking Kaji and maybe wanting to get together with him if things didn't work out with us."
Misato flushed, suddenly realizing how things might look from Shinji's point of view. "Oh," she said lamely, "right, yeah."
"So, yeah," Shinji said, shuffling his feet uncomfortably as he hesitantly looked up into Misato's face. "I guess… this means that the bet is over."
Rubbing her eyes, Misato bitterly muttered, "Yeah, and I lost."
Shinji's eyes lowered once more. "Yeah," he said softly, "you lost."
This sucks, Misato thought, screwing her eyes shut in anger, beaten by a snotty little redhead with delusions of grandeur. And Kaji… God, Kaji was right. We'd never…
Misato's thoughts trailed off as she heard the front door of the apartment close.
She opened her eyes… but he was gone.
Misato nearly screamed out loud as she replayed the conversation in her mind.
Idiot, she thought brutally, racing to the door and jamming her feet into her shoes. God, why am I such an idiot? Yeah, I lost the bet, Shinji… I'm stuck with you now. Poor me – I'm STUCK WITH YOU.
Reaching ground level in record time, Misato looked up and down the street, squinting in the weak, dusky light and trying to spot Shinji. "Wait!" she shouted, her eyes finding the young man as he rounded the corner at the end of the block. "Shinji, wait!"
Without a second thought, Misato broke into a run.
Shinji cried out in shock as Misato threw her arms around him, making him lose his balance and tumble to the ground as she held him tightly, words bursting from her mouth in a torrent.
"I lost," she gasped, out of breath from her short run. "I lost, but I won. Don't leave, please – don't leave me because I'm stupid, ok? I don't… regret being married to you Shinji – in any way. I want to stay with you. I want you to stay with me, do you understand? I want to be Missus Ikari, so don't leave me, ok…?"
Twisting awkwardly in her tight grip, Shinji stared at her, hesitantly putting his arms around her as he whispered, "I was just going for a walk."
Misato looked at him, blinking uncertainly as tears began to run down her cheeks.
"I was just going for a walk, Misato," Shinji repeated softly, "I wasn't leaving… don't cry, ok? You don't have to cr-"
He was cut off as Misato suddenly leaned up and kissed him, holding her lips to his as her arms drew him in close. Let's make it clear, she thought, here and now… no more misunderstandings, no more second guessing… let's make it clear that we both want this.
Shinji, still a little dizzy from having Misato's lips stuck to his, gasped, "I already did, remember?"
Misato shook her head. "With flowers and guests and presents and the aisle and all that stupid shitty romance movie crap," she said, her words coming out so fast they almost ran together. "I want to walk down the aisle and I want bridesmaids in ugly dresses and I want a cake and I want to dance and throw the bouquet and drink too much and I really, really," she took a deep, steadying breath, "really just want… to be with you… ok…?"
Slowly – so slowly that Misato wasn't even sure he was moving – Shinji nodded.
Whatever the 'but' was, Misato never got to find out, because at that moment, an older woman walked past them, glancing down at them as she went by and muttering, "How inappropriate," under her breath.
Before Shinji could stop her, Misato pulled off her shoe and threw it at the woman, drawing a very surprised squawk from her.
"What do you think-"
"Hey!" Misato cut the woman off, "there's nothing 'inappropriate' here, ma'am."
She stared the older woman defiantly in the eye and drew Shinji into a protective embrace.
"He's my husband!"
( 0 0 0 )
All was quiet for a while. Asuka got her divorce, Kaji reappeared as if nothing had ever happened, and Rei gradually grew less interested in Shinji's affairs until finally, things returned to a semblance of normalcy. Misato agreed, after some discussion, that the fancy wedding she wanted would take some planning, and as they were already married, she could wait until their six-month anniversary to have the ceremony.
It seemed to fit.
The question of consummation came up several times – mostly brought up by a suddenly curious Asuka – but Misato and Shinji both remained silent on the topic, replying with blank expressions and unhelpful, monosyllabic grunts until whoever was asking gave up and changed the topic.
If they had done the deed, Asuka reasoned, they must have been very, very quiet about it, since she was with one or the other of them almost all the time, and the walls in the apartment were awfully thin.
…of course, she would have no way of knowing if Misato had installed extra insulation in her bedroom on a school day, or if Shinji was cutting his after-school programs to go to NERV before her and see Misato in the quiet and privacy of her office.
Both Misato and Shinji, if they had been asked about either of these possibilities, would probably have replied, politely but firmly, 'I'm afraid that's none of your business.'
One afternoon, much like the one that started everything, Shinji, Rei, and Asuka were heading towards the pribnow box to review the results of their synch tests, when the door suddenly flew open and Misato burst into the hallway.
"Hey, hey darling! Guess wha-mlph!"
All three pilots blinked in surprise as Ritsuko tackled Misato from behind, clamping a hand over the operations director's mouth. "This isn't public knowledge!" she nearly shrieked, further increasing Asuka and Shinji's confusion as she tried to yank a sheet of paper out of Misato's hand. "Give me that!"
"Ahh, college friendship," Kaji commented, wandering up and putting a hand on Shinji's shoulder. "It's a beautiful thing, isn't it, Mister Katsuragi?"
Shinji smiled. "It's Ikari now… again," he said happily. "We decided that it was worth the money to get it changed back."
"Should have gone with Souryu," Asuka interjected as the two women continued to wrestle, "it's got a much better ring to it." She glanced sideways. "Then again, I do like the sound of Asuka Langley-Kaji."
"Ah… heh," Kaji said, edging a bit further away from the redhead and quickly changing the subject. "What are they fighting about, anyway?"
"I dunno," Shinji admitted, "whatever that paper is, I guess."
"Give it!" Ritsuko demanded, finally wresting the paper from Misato's hand. "God, you're so-"
Misato, finally breaking free of Ritsuko's grasp, jumped to her feet and ran to hide behind Shinji. "What's going on is simple," she said impishly, tactically weaving between the three pilots and her former lover as Ritsuko desperately tried to contain her. "You know how if you spend a lot of time at someone's house, for business or whatever, it might make sense to have your mail forwarded there?"
"Yeah?" Kaji said slowly.
"And," Misato went on, deftly sidestepping a clumsy attempt from the blonde to grab her jacket, "how if you get your mail forwarded somewhere long enough, some places think you live there?"
Asuka nodded. "Yeah?"
Triumphantly, Ritsuko wrapped her arms around Misato's waist… but Misato took the opportunity to yank the paper out of the blonde's hands and thrust it at Shinji, laughing with delight as Ritsuko let out a defeated groan.
"'Dear Missus Ikari,'" Shinji read, smiling a bit as he remembered that this title now applied to Misato, "'Congratulations on your marriage! We at the municipal courthouse are happy to inform you that as of September four, 2015, due to your continued cohabitation with-'"
Everyone froze as Maya poked her head out of the pribnow box.
"Doctor Ikari," she repeated, "the test results are up now."
Shinji blinked as realization struck, the paper slipping from suddenly numb fingers as his arms fell limp at his sides.
Silently, Rei stooped down and picked it up, her eyes quickly scanning the text before handing the paper to Asuka.
"You know," the redhead mused, handing the paper over to Kaji as Misato and Ritsuko resumed their bickering, "I'd have thought Misato would be the type to get along with her mother-in-law…" she smiled wickedly, "especially when she went to school with her."
"This is… complicated," Rei observed, her eyes cloudy with some unspoken emotion as she coolly regarded the blonde-haired doctor. "I believe I will need to speak to her about this… situation."
"Shinji," Kaji said knowledgably, "there's wisdom in this somewhere. Damned if I can find it, but I'm sure it's there. Best of luck, Mister Ikari… best of luck."
Shinji, watching his new step-mother put his wife into a headlock and utter some choice profanities, let out a deep, weary sigh.
"Thanks, Mister Kaji," he said tiredly, "somehow… I think I'm gonna need all the luck I can get…"
Author's notes: the idea for the last scene was supplied by MacBeth2001, cuz he's funny and stuff. I didn't want this story to be all laughs, but I didn't want it to be too dark, either, so I'm really hoping I managed to get a little bit of everything in, with an emphasis on chuckles and grins. If I've failed, or the ending came off as too sappy, oh well. I had fun writing it, and that's all that matters – so there!
I must thank Hawk for all of his pre-reading assistance, and for letting me borrow his idea and take it in another direction. Thanks man, I couldn't have done it without you. Also, for this last chapter, I asked Hawker-748 and MacBeth2001 to give it a good once-over to keep suckitude to a minimum. Thanks for the assist, fellas!
Thanks to WarpWizard for pointing out a rather basic typo/omission in the first release.