New Perspective Evangelion
Part 14: I was a Teenage Shoujo Protagonist...
In which we achieve two things:
Beat the 13 Chapter curse.
Manage to update an Evangelion fanfic from the location where it's set.
January 31st, 2013
Weather: Warm. Sunshine. Drizzle.
Mam is coming home. She called me from America today to tell me. Just one more test down in Brockton and then she come. Straight on the plane. I am looking forward to seeing her again. I think my father is too. She has been gone for years. Maybe it time I got back my family. While papa tries it is hard for him alone with work
Please Come home quick!
February 18th, 2013
Sorry for the delay. Things are difficult. Mam died on the way home. A car accident on the way to the airport. They held her funeral today. It was awful. I could not stop crying. No matter what I did.
Some of her friends from work came, including the one my father blame. His daughter there too . She told me to stop crying and grow up but I cannot. She was supposed to come home. Supposed to be family again. But now she is dead.
It rained. It always does in this country. It hid my tears. I still cannot believe I will never see her again. It still feels so fake and unreal. I lived without her for years. I could always tell myself she was just a call away. I go home and it does not feel different. Same emptiness. But now, I will never see her again.
Papa stood in the rain. He never shed a tear.
November 11th, 2013
Weather: Cold. Cloudy
I'm sick of being teased because I'm flat chested. I'm sick of being called an uncute tomboy, or mangirl. Just because you grew your tits years ago you fat bitch does not make you more grown up than me. At least I'm not so fat people don't offer me seats on the bus because they think I'm pregnant, Amy.
December 15th, 2013
Weather: Showers and Sunshine.
Being the school track-star has its advantages. Nobody dares touch you
February 7th, 2014
Weather: Hot Sunshine.
It is mam death anniversary today. I went to the grave with papa. She loved the mountains here, with the two lakes. They remind her of home. It is hard not to cry, even though it has been a year I can still remember her last phonecall clearly. I still wear that silver bracelet on my arm.
It was a beautiful sunny day at the graveyard. I could hear the birds sounding so happy in the trees. He put flowers on her grave and bowed his head silently. Her grave marked by a simple black pole with a name on it. It is one among thousands the same.
My mother is still dead. All I have his him. I want to feel her hug me again. I want to see her smiling face. He just beckons me to come home with him.
How can he be so stoic and strong when it still hurts me?
Sometimes I wish I could be more like him.
May 18th, 2014
Weather: Thunderstorms and sunshine.
"I qualified! I qualified I qualified I qualified. First place in the provincials! Results all year good enough for nationals. I'm running times a second or more faster than anyone in the country. I'm going to be national and then I'm going to go global.
I'm amazing. I'm the most amazing running coach says he's ever seen.
July 4th, 2014
Weather: Cool. Rain.
I think I'm finally starting to get my breasts. It's about time! Why do I have to be so late? The doctor thinks it's my own fault for being so fit and doing so much training. Maybe now I won't be called washboard…
Papa's finished with the plant. It's up and running. He's being transferred home to Japan. It's been years. I can barely remember it. Even if he insists I speak the language with him again.
This December, I go home. 2015 I'll be in Tokyo-3.
The modern future-city. It's going to be awesome.
"September 11th, 2014
Weather. Warm, Sunshine.
They had to reschedule the national finals. By the time they're held I'll be halfway around the world. My qualifying times were over a second better than anyone elses…a second at age 13.
I can beat these people. I won the county, and the provincials Nobody even came close to me. I was going to get that national trophy. I could touch it, and now it's taken from me by a double booking with some stupid concert.
If I'd won the nationals... go to Japan with a trophy in my cabinet and then I'm in line for the Olympics. I really could've made it but now these bureaucrats ruin it for me.
I guess I'll have to try in Japan. All over again. From the start.
"October 15, 2014
Weather: Hurricane Logan
Houses in this country are well built.
I am stuck inside. Watching Blu Aru.
The final movie. It's as dense as the neutron shard that hit Antarctica. And then Tsubasa no Kudasai kicks in you see the big jets just soar through the open sky above the world. We don't even get to see who shot who down in the end or how things were resolved…. they just fly.
It is beautiful.
Sometimes, I close my eyes and just imagine myself slipping out of this world into that cockpit and soaring through empty skies and I wonder how well I'd do in their place. What's it like to fly one of those machines? Even to be someone else.
But I am too short. And those shoulder straps look uncomfortable. Or they will be when I get older.
"November 23, 2014
Weather. Grey. Muggy.
My last Con before I leave. I sold most of my stuff.
Very annoying to be watching subtitled anime, and knowing when the subtitles were wrong. Or completely misinterpreted the meaning, despite getting the words right. Still, it was a fun was a mix of exotic attention ,ruined by a creeper on the morning train.
I have just enough breast for it to hurt when someone grabs one.
Spike was an interesting guest. He signed my Blu Aru tinbox. And then I get quizzed by 'real' fans desperate to prove that I'm just a poser.
You know… I'd like to get in touch with my home in some way. Just because I don't sit in front of a computer 14 hours a day doesn't mean I amn't a real fan. Arseholes! The minority, however. Most people were nice.
Anyway I cosplayed as Mikasa, from that Titan show Papa didn't want me to watch. Something about humanity fighting against extinction and winning I liked. We're 14 years from Second Impact and you'd never even know it had happened.
I won the youth competition for it. Even if I had to add 'padding' to fill out the top of the costume.
In a month. I'll be going home.
December 8th, 2014
Weather: Warm Sunshine.
It's my last entry from this country. Next time, I'll be home. hopefully in about 4 days time. Packed and ready, the diary is the last thing to go. Most of my things were picked up by DHL earlier today, the last of the rest was sold off. The apartment is so empty now… Now that I'm faced with actually leaving, I'm really going to miss this place. At least I have all my friends on DSpora, and the pictures from the 'wake'. It's a local tradition to have a funeral wake when someone's leaving for parts foreign…
The Flight leaves in about 6 hours… I'm scared. Fear of change, papa calls it. If I get on that plane, my life is never going to be the same again.
Farewell friends. Sorry to be leaving you. Next entry, Hello Japan and Tokyo-3
I woke to voices.
Cold, wet fingers crawled across my back, my clothes soaking through. The pressure on my chest squeezed the breath out of me. My stomach burned, something gnawing at me to the core. My leg was numb and cold, my arm pinned awkwardly underneath me. I tried to move, being rewarded only by a shot of pain rising from my stomach.
Again the voices called out.
Above me, the aircraft window and fuselage, scarred and scorched and cracked. Beneath me, loamy forest earth. The stink of jet fuel filled my noise, mingling with acrid burned plastic and something that might've been roast ham. It took only moments for me to place myself, memories of the crash flaring bright. I tried to scream, but only a whimper escaped.
I struggled for another breath, feeling my heartbeat race in my ears. I could feel myself starting to shiver.
Heavy feet trudged all around, flickering torchlights passing over me. Rescue! I hoped for a moment that they'd find me. I swallowed another gasp of air and tried to call out.
It came out as a wheeze, crushed out of my chest and smothered by the metal around me.
"Help" I gasped again.
The feet seemed to stop, waiting. He called out again, and I knew he'd heard me
"Help me," I whimpered.
The cold spread through me, it's fingers squeezing the life out of me. Help stood right there, right beside me. All I had to do was make myself heard, make myself known and I'd still get out of it. They'd find papa. They'd find everyone and I'd go home and everything would be okay if I could just get myself spotted.
It strangled in my throat. They began to walk again, footfalls receding away.
No. That can't happen. I'm right here!
"Come back," I pleaded. "Come back. Come back." I hiccupped, gasping for breath. "Come back."
The shivering stopped, numbness crawling up through my legs.. I had to do something - anything. One last gasp. One last burst. One last try. I focused the last dregs of my strength into my good arm and punched. Knuckles cracked against the metal of the fuselage, broken rivets biting deep into my knuckles. I punched it again. And again.
I counted it out. One, two, three. Breath. One. Two. three. Breath. One. Two. Three.
The shock ran through my body, biting deep on my knuckles. I didn't care. I focused all my effort just into making as much noise as I could. Dozens of shouts answered. Footsteps scrambled towards me, thudding through the ground and up my spine. I knew I'd done it. Everything would be alright.
The pressure on my chest eased as the wreckage was lifted, allowing warm sunlight to blanket my body. A man stood over me, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with a heavy climbing harness hanging from his shoulders, with a medical kit under his arms. I could count every steel buckle on his harness, every plastic snap on his jumpsuit.
My mouth opened to breath. Nothing. It just caught in the back of my throat like a hiccup. I gasped again, feeling my chest crush and contort, but gaining nothing from it.
I watched his mouth hang open, wondering why he was just standing there with that dear-in-headlights look on his face.
I tried again, surprised that nothing happened. I looked at him, wondering why I couldn't breath, or why he was just standing there watching. I could feel myself draining away. The last dregs of my strength had been spent beating my fist against the fuselage and now I was left with nothing.
I tried to reach up . A weight like lead tried to pinned my arm down. He started to beckon others over, his voice tinny and distant to my ears. My hair prickled against the back of my neck, mingling with the sudden sensation that I needed to sleep.
I tried to stay awake. I tried to fight back….
I felt myself just drift away, thoughts slurring drunkenly together. I was aware of more people around me. I was aware of a feeling like my chest was being squeezed over and over again. and something being pushed against my face.
And after that….
Nothing for a moment.
I woke with a start. I tried to jump upright. Nothing happened. Disembodied, I lay immobile in silent darkness, unable to move. Unable to breath. Unable to call out for help. I drifted in the dark, fighting for any sense of my self, for any spark of sensation beyond a strange, smothering warmth.
Am I dead?
Had the last few weeks been nothing more than a flash in the pan? A cruel teasing joke? The last spark of a dying mind struggling for life and now here I am, teetering on the abyss?
In nothing. The last gasp of eternity before oblivion. They say time slows down before death - that in a real way you never truly experience yourself dying, you just linger above the black hole of nothingness, wringing an eternity from a moment. That's what I heard. It was something quantum, to do with perception. Everyone else gets to see you die, but you get to live forever in the moment.
My mind raced, my thoughts clear as a bell. Hell isn't fire and brimstone, it's nothing. It's nothing forever. The dead have nothing. How horrible it would be for that to be true.
I hoped it wasn't true. I hoped I was somewhere else. I didn't want to die. I didn't deserve it. Not at my age. Not at any age. I didn't deserve to die. Not when I had such a future ahead of me. Not when I could save the world. Not when I'd met such interesting people…
Inside my mind, I screamed. I don't want to die.
Again. I don't want to die.
I found my voice and I screamed. "I don't want to die!"
An echo of my voice answered, ringing off the walls as I sprang upright. The full weight of the world and my own dual identity crashed down on top of my shivering body. I patted myself all over, confirming that I was really alive, that I sat in my own bedroom, and that I was Noriko. A raw rush of relief sent tars trickling down my cheek.
My eyes scanned around the room, confirming the truth. Moonlight streamed in through window, filling the room with a cool, blue glow. My copy of Gunsmith Cats stil lay face down beside my bed where it'd been left. The unfinished Evangelion Garage kits awaited a coat of primer and final assembly in their boxes. Clothes and underwear peppered the floor like landmines. Asuka's poster of Lindeman glared down at me from the far wall.
Asuka herself stared at me, wide awake.
"A nightmare," I offered, sheepishly grasping the back of my head.
"I was already awake," she stated, before rolling over onto her back to look up at the ceiling. "I wasn't going to back to sleep anyway."
I could hear the rustling of bedsheets through the thin wall beside me. We weren't the only ones awake. I glanced at the clock, before I feigned a yawn and flopped back down onto my pillow.
Good luck getting back to sleep. In Tokyo-3, the ones who slept soundly at night were the weirdos.
"Was that what I think it was?" she asked me after a few moments.
I lay there, just trying to assimilate what still played in the back of my mind. I patted myself on the chest, before clawing at the coarse matting covering the concrete floor, praying to any god that would listen that it wouldn't suddenly turn into wet forest earth in my fingers.
Coarse fibres tugged at my fingernails instead.
It all seemed perfectly normal.
There I was in Tokyo-3, and wasn't I glad? The more I lay there, the more I confirmed it, my mind reaching out to my extremities and grasping hold of them. I could feel my heartbeat in my breasts, proving that I was still myself.
At least, I was the person I was becoming.
Asuka shifted in her bed, turning onto her back.
"You know we've been asleep for more than a day, Noriko?"
I glanced around the room.
Impossible. There'd be some obvious sign. My mind began to wake up, more recent memories returning at full force. Three sleepless days of orbital bombardment. Minamiizu and everyone who lived there annihilated in a mushroom cloud. Tokyo-3 ablaze and burning. Gotemba abandoned to the flames. Munitions rationing. Water failures. Power failures. System malfunctions. Eva Unit 04 rushed into service. No sleep. Kaworu violating my mind again.
All of it culminated in the largest single nuclear strike in fifteen years and Misato's iron glare.
In a room that - to my eyes - seemed to be just as it had been left that morning before school. My heart began to clench in my chest, an uneasy sick taste crawling up the back of my throat. In my mind, I could see the city burning. In my room, nothing had been touched.
I sat up again, looking at Asuka.
"Did that really happen?"
"I guess. We lost," she said, softly, not even looking at me.
My eyes turned towards my feet. I crunched my toes beneath the bedsheets, soaking in the feeling.
"We're still alive," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
"We didn't win," Asuka corrected herself, before drawing in a deep breath.
King Pyrrhus might call it a victory.
Too awake to go back to sleep, I tried to read using the emergency torch built into my service phone. A news widget on my phone's screen begged for my attention, demanding I acknowledge the consequences of failure. The adventures of Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins provided an easy distraction.
I think my changed perspective made me feel a little more involved in the storyline. It definitely enhanced the experience. Asuka rolled over to face me.
"I don't know why you read that perverted trash. I'd expect it from the three stooges…"
Because it let me touch on a side of myself that I still made me uncomfortable. And secretly, I was a total pervert too.
She gave one of her deliberately frustrated sighs. "Are you sure you're not Misato's daughter?"
"Noriko Katsuragi?" I tried it on for weight and feel, wear wearing a cat-like smirk but it just didn't have the same ring as the alliterative 'Nagato'.
Asuka answered me with another roll of her eyes, before turning her attention to her phone's screen. Both of us sat there reading, small pools of blue light from our phones being the only illumination in a dark room. The only sound beyond our breathing came from Asuka's fingers tapping on her phone-screen as she brushed through page after page of news.
It wasn't until I made it to final page of my manga that I realised how fast I'd been reading through it.
I'd been reading the Japanese. I'd been reading the Japanese without needing to translate it in my mind. Cold fingers crawled up my spine as I came to understand that I hadn't just been reading Japanese, but thinking in it too.
I drew in a shivering breath.
"Getting turned on?" Asuka teased, interrupting my thoughts "Rotten girl."
I glanced at her, blinking in confusion before my mind caught up with what she'd said. I dismissed it with an unconcerned bat of my hand, earning a sour glower in return, Asuka not too pleased that her tease had just bounced off. I had more important things to worry about…
My phone's native language had been set to English. All I had to do was check the screen and see.
I read it like English had been my native language for twenty years. No obvious switch or jolt in my mind - no sudden change in comprehension or understanding, just an automatic mental gearshift, slick and smooth.
Continuing the experiment, I switched the phone's language back to the default Japanese. My mind's voice changed to match.
This might cause a problem with the Evangelion's language logic interface if I couldn't control it. Funny how your priorities change.
Otherwise, I wrote it off as a natural consequence of filling out Noriko's shoes. Something that drew an uneasy shudder, even as I accepted it as a part of my new self. Take a deep breath. Try to focus on the positives.
Asuka still watched, curious.
"My mind is changing," I told her, in a soft voice. "My memory's starting to come back."
I really had come so far from who I'd been. Gone Native in the most complete way.
Neither of us noticed the sneaking dawn until the alarm clock began to scream. My own heart jumped a few beats, while Asuka came close to hitting the roof.
Normal programming resumed. Two hours before school began we returned to being ordinary middle-school students. Familiar routine beckoned. A morning run, then breakfast, followed by an awkward moment with Motoko, then hours of droning lectures before afternoon training, homework, dinner and bed. Day in, day out.
I hauled myself to my feet, still feeling the warm pull of my bed even as I started to pull my nightshirt off. Cold air tingled at bare skin, chilled prickles spreading across my chest.
"You undress like a boy," said Asuka, catching me off guard for a moment.
I shuffled my nightshirt over my head, letting it fall to the floor before turning to face her.
"Nothing," she sighed, waving it off with a swat of her hand. "You're probably just a daddy's girl."
No. It was more than that. It meant that, even at the core, I was still myself. I placed a hand against my bare chest, a soft smile coming to my lips. My mind drifted through memories of my own and Noriko's father, playing them back in parallel with each other.
Both men were polar opposites in some ways, but the same in others. Both worked themselves into the ground. One enjoyed the sup and worked in a brewery, while the other hated that aspect of the local culture with a passion. Both Golfed. Noriko's father could stern and withdrawn while mine fuelled the party.
I found a clean pair of running shorts, then nestled my chest into a fresh sports-bra. I'd learned that lesson the sore way. I searched for a fresh tank-top while musing on the Eleusinian mysteries of women and all the things that came so naturally to other girls, which I'd had to figure out on my own in short order because asking would be just plain weird and awkward.
It occurred to me that I'd just described puberty in a nutshell; crashing around, trying to figure out what being an adult meant without fucking up too badly along the way. At least I had the benefit of some relevant experience….
Perhaps I was better off in some respects - I had an understanding of the opposite sex that no other girl could ever get.
Asuka had buried herself back in her phone screen by the time I padded my way out into the living area. Worn clothes sat in a heap in the washbasket by the bathroom door. A pile of dishes in the sink waitied for Shinji to clean them.
Asuka's A-10 clips had been left on the couch, abandoned in a hurry. I paused for a moment, wondering why they'd been just thrown there…. Normally she packed them away carefully beside her bed.
Only then did I notice the mould growing on the delph, chased by the heavy smell of half-rotten food and sweaty clothes left lying out in the hot apartment for days on end. It really had been nearly a week. It made everything smell like a men's locker room.
Pen-Pen's fridge clicked on, sending a little static shock through my body. It faded fast, leaving only a ghost of shame in its wake.
Shinji's bedroom door hung half-open, allowing me a clear view of him splayed out on his back on the floor, shirtless with his bedsheets crumpled around his waist. Catching myself appreciating the view, I sighed wearily.
Adult experience tempered bubbling hormones - I knew that if I tried anything with Shinji, it'd all end in tears right around the time everything began to fall apart. Clumsy teenage relationships just weren't a good idea when the fate of the world depending on not being in a fucked up state of mind.
Accepting what'd happened to myself to the point where I could live day-to-day, and being 'normal' were two wildly different things.
Shinji began to snore, his mouth hanging wide open.
I gave a soft chuckle, the went to leave the apartment. The door opened, human voices entered, chased by crying babies and complaining children. The bustle outside banished the silence of the apartment, parents shushing their children to keep them from making a shameful display.
A city officer with a clipboard stood outside, followed by a queue of families. Most still wore the same clothes they'd had on a week ago. The men hadn't shaved in days. The children were scruffy, some dozing against their parents, others too tired to do much more than stand there with heavy eyes.
They all needed a shower, badly. I could smell it as I brushed past; a mixture of body odour and burned plastic that clung to the inside of my nostrils and refused to let go.
The officer herself seemed only a few years old than me - barely finished school with her grey uniform much too big for her body.
Nobody pushed or complained. Nobody argued. Nobody pleaded. When the family name was called, they shuffled to the head of the group, took their keycard, opened the door and went inside. Nobody moaned about being passed over, or made to wait.
They waited with tired dignity.
Except for whoever'd gotten themselves stuck in the lift - they weren't exactly being quiet about it, rattling at the doors and promising to write to the 'highest powers' if they nobody rescued them soon.
I took the stairs down to the street - something everyone who lived in the building learned to do sooner or later. Outside, the perpetual summer sun welcomed me with its warm embrace, heat soaking through my tanned skin.
A packed bus clattered past, filling the air with the smell of hot rubber and diesel soot. Distant jackhammers rattled along with discordant beat of dozens of demolition balls swinging out their own independent rhythms. Big twin-rotor chinooks thumped through the air, transporting whole slabs of precast concrete slung beneath their bellies.
Half a building flew over my head.
Bulldozers filled Craters with rubble. Monster cranes lowered steel armour plates thicker than I was tall into place. Dozens of ammo-trucks fed open ammunition towers. Damaged buildings had been wrapped up tight with scaffold bandages.
Tokyo-3 had already begun to heal itself.
In Japan, cities were those things that tended to just go away from time to time. Oh No! There Goes Tokyo! Time to rebuild again. The whole country had dealing with disaster down to a fine art.
Shops had reopened. Inviting smells drifted from an open bakery in spite of the window being replaced by a sheet of MDF. The owner'd added a spraypainted Hello-Kitty holding a cake, along with the words "Still open for Business'. Hunger bit deep as I remembered I'd left my money at home.
I ran it off instead.
One of the park lakes had drained down into the Geofront, a hole punched straight through the glass bottom to the void below. Yellow tape cordoned it off, guards keeping me from climbing out onto the cracked glass to take a look.
Debris from a collapsed block still blocked two steeets. Nearby, Rei's apartment block had been reduced to a smouldering pile of concrete and steel. Fire engines still worked at dampening it down, flooding the steaming rubble-pile it with lake-water.
So much water had been drained from Hakone lake to fight the city fires that the water level had dropped, leaving behind a bath-ring of debris. It hadn't stopped the pirate ships, which'd returned to carrying tourists as they always did.
The boats had been sailing since before Second Impact. They carried on sailing in spite of smouldering forests and scorched and cratered valley walls. When the Earth, Sun and Moon were gone, the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise would remain, whether it had passengers or not.
I took a seat on a nearby bench to rest. Days in an entry plug without a good hard run had left me feeling achy all over.
Hearing my surname, I turned around on the bench, to be faced by a figure in combat fatigues, aiming something at me. Shining glasses hid his eyes. Kensuke with a camera
"Fresh from the front?"
He certainly looked like it. The boy swallowed, looking uncomfortable in his dirtied boots as he shifted his weight from side to side. He lowered his camera.
"My home was destroyed," he said, his voice losing all it's usual energy. "This is all I have left."
My words just caught in my throat, leaving me standing there with my mouth goldfishing, feeling sick with shame. We'd failed, and now the consequences stood in front of me
"I'm so sorry," I finally blurted out.
His expression changed like a switch had been thrown, his usual bright cheer returning. "It's alright," he waved it off with a swat of his hand, before performing the Gendo maneuver on his glasses. "It can't be helped, it's a war."
Again, he caught me flatfooted, leaving me standing there trying to untangle my own feelings while trying to read him. The glare of the sun sparking off the lenses of his glasses hid his expression.
"Maybe," I breathed, looking back at the damaged city with a twist of guilt tightening in my stomach. "You didn't get assigned an apartment yet?"
"The water's off."
That filled his chest with pride.
The real war had come home to him in a real way, and he was proud of it. It was a badge of honour to be bombed out along with everyone else.
"So, you like actually being a part of the war now, rather than just a spectator?"
And that came out sounding far more caustic than I'd meant it to.
"Well yeah! It's like the most important thing in human history!"
I don't know what made me do it, but I was on my feet in moment, propelled by a volcanic burst of anger that erupted up out of the blue. I was a passenger in my own mind for an instant, pulled along by the rush.
"Look around you!" I yelled at him. "Gotemba burned to the ground, along with half of Tokyo-3."
"Um…." I saw him take a step back away from me. I could see my angry reflection in his glasses, a dark silhouette in front of the sun. I could feel myself drawing deep, shaking breaths.
"Or maybe, you'd like to join the people of Minamiizu… they got to be a part of the most important thing in human history too. Look, you can even see what's left of them drifting up on the breeze."
A single finger pointed at a drifting column of dark ash still rising over the horizon. The scent of scorched plastic and burned timber rode down the mountains, carried by a gust of wind sweeping across the lakeshore.
It hung in the air while my mind struggled to catch up to my mouth, wondering where it'd all come from.
"I can't be helped," he said eventually, a nervous quiver shaking his voice. He swallowed once, looked over my shoulder at the rising pillar of smoke, then across the valley at the dark scars blasted into the mountainside before finally focusing on his camera. "I know I'm lucky. Moping about it won't help, will it?"
I forced myself to relax, taking a long, calming breath before sitting back down onto the bench. All I could do was swallow the anger. It wasn't really him, and I knew it. My body still strained tight against it.
"I suppose," I breathed, looking out over the lake.
It didn't offer answers, only washing up more burned debris to remind me just how badly we'd been beaten.
Kensuke seemed to relax, sitting down onto the sand, training his camera on the lake. He took a peek through the viewfinder, clicking off a shot before winding the film forwards, then took another.
"Unlike you, I can't do anything to stop it," he mumbled bitterly. "If I was a pilot…."
I glared at him. The sun flashed in his glasses as he turned to face me.
"I could stop this from happening!" he announced "One more pilot might make a difference. Even a backup pilot. And I've studied military tactics and stuff, and I skirmish with airsoft and I know how mecha work and everything!"
And he knew in his heart of hearts that he was perfect for the job, he just couldn't understand why they didn't call on the one person who was fourteen and had all that experience.
"I used to hate fanfics like that," I deadpanned, burying my face in my hands.
Until my life became one.
I glanced at him through my fingers.
"Watch a show. Then write a fanfic where you go to the show's universe, fix everything bad that happened and pork the leading lady." I sat back upright, resting my hands on my hips. "Real life's a bit different, I guess" I sighed, finding my mind's fingers grasping at stands of memory. I read all about it once.
How many Evangelion fics had gone over this? How many of them had ratcheted up the tension, only to come up with another Yashima solution? Something awesome in scale and endeavour?
The Worlds Most Handsome and Sophisticated 14-year-old-boy launched to orbit with Asuka. Rei Ayanami's dummy-plug sister caught it, cut it, then never finished. The man from another world with his amazing jet-cycle did it with just a song and some encouragement. When we got backed into a corner, the only way out of it was to blast our way out with more gun.
"Because you can lose?" suggested Kensuke, his tone kept soft. He hoped that was the right answer, at least.
I nodded. "It's more than that, Being a Pilot is - " And that's where I stopped. He stared at me, almost begging for a mana of information from his source in heaven. And I was struggling.
In the end, all I could do was parrot what Misato had said.
"It's a responsibility unlike no other in the history of mankind."
Kensuke lowered his head. For one brief moment, I thought he understood. Then his mouth opened.
"But being an Eva pilot is the coolest thing anyone who isn't voiced by Norio Wakamoto can ever aspire to do with his life."
The lights were on. But nobody was home. Some people were just incapable of getting it.
"You know what I had to give up to become a pilot? What happened to me?"
"What? I'll do anything?" He leapt on the chance, the opportunity to know the secret. Green eyes pleaded for it - the one thing that'd be his doorway to awesomeness.
"Kensuke." I glared at him. "It cost me everything.," I caught a breath, caught myself for a moment, then rolled with it. When I really thought about what actually becoming an Eva Pilot meant…. "It cost me my name. My life. My identity. My family. Even my world." His eyes slowly widened, "It cost me my chance normal life."
"But who wants to be normal?" he spat.
For a heartbeat, I had the strongest desire to just punch him right in the face.
"Maybe somebody who can't be anymore,"
"Then why'd you agree to do it?"
"I had nothing else."
I lied. The whole lot was a convenient lie to cover something else.
I couldn't tell if it was pity or sympathy in his green eyes, he said nothing to me. All he did was nod gently, then take a snapshot of me sitting on the bench, gazing pensively out over the lake. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was aware of his gaze lingering on my body, and just what I looked like to him.
A fit girl in tight sportswear. Sweat-sheened, tanned skin glistening in the morning sun. As if Masamune Shirow had turned his pens a little more towards the underaged
Take a deep breath. Clear my head. Hear the camera trigger again.
Kensuke was easy to tolerate when getting annoyed at him meant being a hypocrite. All he wanted, was for one of the Hero-Pilots to like him, to let him become part of the show.
Thirteen years ago, I I'd been him. Two months ago, I'd been him. And I knew what was going on inside his mind because I used to think the exact same thing. Wouldn't It be cool?
I looked away at the boat still sailing on the lake, while he sat himself down onto the sand, kicking his heels in the sand. He glanced at me, like he was about to say something, but thought better of it at the last moment. He did it again, then again, cursing himself under his breath after a third time.
My mind was stuck in a strange kind of spinlock, not really thinking of anything while still having the whole world on my mind. Noriko's memories, dying, the last week, that look in Misato's eyes as she ordered that nuclear strike.
"It's not your responsibility you know,"
Kensuke's voice snapped me out of it, causing me to start .
He's a sharp little fucker when he decides he wants to be, I thought, biting my tongue in the process. That thing was starting to get me in trouble now that it'd figured out how to bypass my common sense.
One good thing about being a bit linguistically deficient - it really forced you to think about what you wanted to say.
Instead, I said nothing, pretending to ignore him.
"You can't blame yourself for the enemy's action."
Through the corner of my eye, I could see the expression on his face was almost hopeful, gazing up at me.
"You were just following orders Noriko," he tried.
I lowered my shoulders. I didn't even look at him, but I knew his whole face would be pleading for some form of recognition – for a few scant brownie points from one of his anime heroes in the flesh.
All I could do is take a deep breath and swallow that tight, screwing sense of guilt before it found its way out. I hadn't ordered the missiles to be launched. I hadn't pushed the button. I hadn't done anything but stand there and do my level best to minimise the damage.
"I think I need to get ready for school." I changed the subject with all the subtlety of a brick in a sock.
"Oh, school's closed until they get power back,"
The saccharine glee on his face made me feel just a little uneasy inside. He shifted his weight over, leaning towards me.
"Oh, It was nothing."
That feigned modesty just begged for the smallest drabble of acknowledgement, and I just didn't know what I could say to him without it getting misinterpreted. Besides, I had a better idea.
"So," I breathed. "What would you give up to become an Evangelion pilot?"
Just keeping it casual.
"Anything! Just name it. I swear I'll do it. "
Kensuke jumped down my throat, bringing a thin smile to my lips and lighting a spark of mischief deep inside me. There was one other thing I'd had to give up….
I looked at him, staring at me, wide eyes begging to know the secret and I knew exactly what secret to tell him.
"Both boys and girls can have the pilot gene," I began.
Which was true. As far as I'd been told, it was on the X-chromosome which meant girls had more of a chance of having it, but it didn't exclude males either. Knowing NERV, that was probably a lie anyway, but it made a good story foundation.
"But, I continued after a moment to let my thoughts catch up. "Evangelion works better for female pilots. It is….." I scraped around the back of my mind for an excuse, grabbing one from an old Gender-Bender Shinjiko fanfic I remembered."It's a hormone link."
Which was a complete lie.
Kensuke nodded, lapping it up. I took a cooling breath to keep myself from grinning stupidly at him before I delivered the big knockout. It was ironic - or something like irony anyway - he was probably the only person I'd ever tell.
"I was born a boy, Kensuke"
Kensuke's eyelids flickered as his expression dithered between disbelief and blank incomprehension while that statement hung in the air. The hardest thing was not to give him a stupid smile and blow the game.
His gaze fell from my face, down to my chest where it lingered for a heartbeat, before moving on to my legs
"You're a girl," he said, insightfully.
"I know." I gave him a cheeky smile, placing my hands on my chest. "NERV did this to me, to make me a better pilot,"
His mouth just sort of hinged open, either from the shock of it, or the horror. And I wasn't sure what horrified him more - the idea that NERV could and would do that to a person, or the fact that the girl he probably had some sort of interest in, had once played for the other team.
"Ha…. How?" he barely managed to ask.
"Classified," I answered.
"But Shinji…." he began.
Don't laugh, Noriko. Just don't. Sure there had been fanart….
"They haven't had the time yet."
"They stopped halfway through because they ran out of time."
His eyes narrowed, a spark of insight lighting up behind those glasses. He cupped his chin in one hand, turning it over inside his mind. The gears ground round while I swallowed a rising chuckle, forcing it deep down.
Maintaining a straight face was a steadily loosing battle
Again, Kensuke glanced at me, focusing on my legs as I crossed them, before looking down at his feet.
"Didn't your father try to stop them?"
I sighed, still playing the game. " I don't have one of those. I am an orphan. A Nervling."
The exact phrase I used in Japanese was 'One of NERVs puppies'. It'd probably get translated as 'Juvenile Dog property of NERV' by overzealous fansubbers keen to get to the true meanings of Eva. But Nervling's what I meant.
"Man, that sucks," said Kensuke. "They can do anything to you…"
"Unh." I nodded. "They can justify anything to save the human race."
Which came with a cold ring of truth that caused a shiver of unease to run up the back of my spine.
Kensuke took one long, deep breath, closing his right hand into a strong, solid fist, his face set solid into a determined grimace.
"If they asked me. I'd do it."
Meganekko Kensuke-chan? Who probably wouldn't look that different, now that I thought of it.
That mental image finally popped the seal on an eruption of bubbling laughter that refused to die down no matter how hard I tried to smother it. Kensuke sat, nervously looking away, unsure if he was the butt of the joke or the catalyst for something else. He chuckled along timidly, more afraid of being left out than the alternative.
The silence that followed could've been awkward and long. The tree-breaking snap of a sonic boom rang off the walls of the walls of the valley put it to an early end, chased by a dull roar like a distant waterfall that seemed to come from everywhere at once.
Angel? Was my first thought, momentarily fearing Iruel had decided the railroad of canon wasn't for him. My second, was to mentally map my running route to the nearest access shaft down the geofront, and the nearest one to that in case it'd been blocked.
My mind slipped over into Pilot mode without me even asked for it, training and practice taking over and pulling me to my feet before I could look around and see Kensuke on his feet staring mouth open at the sky.
"It's a real Blackbird…."
I looked up, for a few seconds seeing nothing but stray whisps of pale cloud. A single black spot sliced through the sky high above them. In moments it was gone along with its photographic cargo, returning to base with the scoop on Tokyo-3's true level of damage. Only rolling thunder remained in its wake.
Proof that there was a big, wide world beyond the walls of the Hakone valley. And the sharks who lived there were circling.
"So long as it doesn't start bombing us," I said.
"Oh no," Kensuke latched on with an instant correction. "The Blackbird is strictly a reconnaissance plane - even the Kedlock variant was an interceptor and only carried anti-aircraft missiles though an RB-12 was studied it was thought to be politically inconvenient to give so many contracts to Lockheed so was cancelled on the drawing board."
He finished with a deep breath, before adjusting his glasses.
"It's what follows…."
"It's unlikely the United States would be considering bombing Tokyo-3 - at least in the short term. It could be a statement of US power sure since they used to specifically do that to dictators but more likely it's just a damage survey that'll be used by the Americans to strengthen their position in negotiations with the UN or NERV."
Tomu Kuranshi just had to prove how much he knew.
I stretched, feeling blood fill my legs and arms, and his eyes on my body.
"They're smaller in person," I remarked, drawing a look that was somewhere between open-mouth surprise and wide, green-eyed jealousy.
A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, in a museum that probably didn't exist, I'd seen one in person. It was another little anchor.
He looked at his feet, shuffling uncomfortably beside me. Another awkward question was building in his mind, I could feel it crawling across my skin
"What was it like?" he whispered, lusting for an answer. 'Being a girl, I mean"
"I better get going," I blurted out, offering him a smile to make the question go away.
He pursed his lips into a pout. "But you've gone where no man has gone before!" He loomed towards me, hungry for an answered
"Not easy to talk about." I held my hands up in front of my face, stepping back. The lakeshore pinned me in place, leaving me no way escape but through him if he continued to push the point.
"Aw…" he deflated, stepping back way fro me. Every muscle in my body relaxed, letting go of the tension.
"One more picture then?" he aimed the camera at me.
It wasn't aimed at my face. Nothing I could do would stop him. I glared at the end, doing my best imitation of a piece of Asuka fanart. The shutter clicked twice.
"Thanks Noriko," he beamed at me, wearing a broad grin. "I'll see you at school."
"Be seeing you,"
The traditional salute went unrecognised. Maybe expecting him to be familiar with that was asking too much.
It wasn't until I'd run nearly three blocks that I realised he'd probably tell Shinji that NERV were planning on turning him into a girl, had already half-turned Kaworu and had fully-turned me. Misato was going to have an awkward question to answer.
It's hard to laugh while running.
It was hard to keep my mind away from that question.
What was it like?
I could remember waking up and how utterly terrifying it had been. I could remember my first trip through the real Tokyo-3 in the passenger seat of Misato's car and how alien every little movement of my body had felt.
Now, not so much
And I could step back before that into my own life and hers, parallel streams that I could step between at will. The girl I was becoming growing strong while my own memories had begun to take a step back, like memories of a dream that refused to fade.
What was it like?
Hard to sum up, really. And hard to really make the comparison when it seemed impossible that I could've ever been anything else but Noriko Nagato.
All it had taken was two months for manhood and a world where giant robots and Angels were considered television to become a strange and distant dream that refused to be forgotten. My own version of history had already been written off as a poor attempt at a technothriller by a schoolteacher and - thinking back on it- there was something vaguely cinematic about it. Even I'd said the same thing myself, when I was a fourteen year old boy, watching it all live on the afternoon news after school.
It made for a strange memory to anchor myself on, but a solid one. It reminded me that I really had been born within a month of Misato. Her teenage years were a bit different, to say the least. We both went through college at the same time, mirroring each other. We were both the same age. Had we ever met, we could've been friends. I knew someone who worked in a brewery... I owned a fast car. I drank. A lot.
In truth, I still wasn't sure whether I wanted to be her, or be on her. Maybe both.
And now, here I was aged fourteen again and Misato was nearly twenty-nine and all of that seemed a lifetime away.
At the same time as I was getting ready to start college, Noriko and her family had moved into an apartment building not far from where I lived, not far from the train-line that led to the old Intel plant her dad had been given the job of re-activating. Of course, mam hated the place because the people were all so boisterous and intrusive while I didn't speak a word of English.
Worse than that - I was under the threshold for local language classes. They had me learning it in First class.
I remembered going to see Jurassic Park in the cinema when I'd been in First class. That would've been '93, at a guess. At the same age, she was watching a Disney animation about a family surviving the Impact and finding each other years later in a language she could barely comprehend. Finding Nemo, it was called. Two very different movies that happened to have the same title.
Her mother left for a job in a Massachusetts college about the time I started my first work placement. They still kept in touch. Noriko chose not to go with her - she had athletic commitments. As I was graduating from college, she answered the door expecting her mam coming home, only to be met by the ashen face of Ryouji Kaji.
My dad didn't cry, he didn't have to. He took it with that uniquely Japanese stoicism. He was a rock, even while I bawled my eyes out in my room. He moved on, dragging Noriko along until she passed it too.
I started secondary school two months before she was born, the same month the Impact happened. Twelve years later, she took her first steps into the same building. By then she had a confident command of the English language and a half-dozen athletics awards to her name. She joined the school running teams, while I busied myself in the workshops. I stepped around in her memory, aghast at how big everyone had seemed to her and at how run-down everything was compared to what I remembered. The wooden floor in the gym had been worn and warped, while the textbooks were more than a decade old, paper yellowed, torn and doodled. Windows were rust-stained around the edges, cracked seals letting green water pool between glass panes. The roof leaked on the mezzanine, staining the carpets with blotches of mould. Classroom doors didn't lock properly. The intercom sometimes failed and the firedoors were notorious for randomly closing and knocking people over.
I wondered if she'd ever met my mam, who worked in the school, or saw me in one of the class photographs on the wall but I don't think I ever noticed them. I was more concerned about hanging around with friends from the team, even if they teased me for being completely flat-chested and a good deal shorter than anyone else. Now who's laughing, I thought, smirking pridefully, patting myself..
The local park for me was, for her, a shallow inlet with a muddy beach. A nice place to cool off on a warm day. Or go diving out amongst the deeper ruins of a nearby village main-street through a butcher's shop I knew sold the best sausages in the world. Or had done before it was inundated. The ruins of an old shopping centre stood half collapsed around a rusting steel skeleton, the same one that'd contained my favourite local gaming shop.
Her father had been on a waiting list for four years for a new car - a duroplast-box Volkswagen Satellite that consisted of a diesel engine, 4 wheels, some seats and not much else. It'd taken me four years to save for my own Mazda Rx-8, built in a factory that was now probably underwater.
Aged thirteen, she was a provincial champion, and could've gone national or EU, if not for dad telling me he'd been transferred back to Japan. He was so excited about going home, with his job finished and the production lines now running full speed. We both attended the same anime convention, on the same date, but held in a different place.
On the night I last went to sleep in my own bed, Noriko's friends gave her a final blowout going-away party - dumping a week's worth of rations in one electric drunken night - and I'd promised I'd get in touch as soon as the plane landed in Tokyo-3.
That's when our pasts met and her future ended...
Lying in cold, kerosene-soaked dirt under a piece of wreckage pleading weakly for the rescue teams to come back while the frigid fingers of death closed in around her throat. She screamed and pleaded, my free hand finding a single loose piece of metal, burning the last few dregs of my strength to whallop it off the wreckage pinning me down.
That was how she died. My whole body went cold as I recalled the experience of my mind closing down. Somewhere in there, Kaworu does whatever funky thing he did to make us merge as one person.
Then I come in, inheriting her past and her future, fighting back tears.
My last day among men had been nothing to write home about. I woke up. I spent a few hours searching for work, earning a grand total of one PFO for my troubles. My copy of Der Monde arrived in the post, crisp and fresh, along with the Grand Mal comic. I had a dinner of chicken and chips, bought a bottle of whiskey to drink and enjoyed a late night movie on the television. I made plans to meet a friend who was due to leave for Australia. Before going to bed, I completed a quick survey on the fangeeks forum on the types of people who actually watched Evangelion, for shits and giggles, before pulling down the next few chapters of a manga I was following from the internet to read later.
That was it. Nothing strange. Nothing that jumped out with neon green signs that announced "This is why you were chosen over all the uber-fans of the multiverse - especially the ones who were girls who could speak Japanese". No sudden deaths and offers of re-incarnation. No call's to adventure from ghostly Rei-clones. No offers of a 'more interesting life' that I would've refused. No fanfare. No flair. No flash. Nothing at all but me going to bed the same as I always did.
The only thing we shared was a soul across universes. Each of us just one of potentially billions of options. Billions of possibilities on top of possibilities of who I might've become had my parents been different, had my chromosomes been different, or had innumerable other choices turned out slightly different.
And of those billions, how many had been fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion? How many of those were women, maybe half? How many potential Norikos were Norios instead? It might've made life easier of Nagisa had bothered to match like-with-like instead of just cut-and-pasting from a random sample.
And my family, my parents? As far as they were concerned, nothing changed. Their son still woke up and they carried on living comfortably for decades without ever fearing Angels or Armageddon. Even if I never knew what happened for certain, I knew they'd be alright without me. That was enough.
We'd been talking about emigration anyway... guess I went a little further than bloody Canada.
That train of thought arrived at its terminus just in time to bring me home to a warm shower.
Ten minutes quickly became twenty, as I lost myself in the fine art of getting clean. What began as a post-jog shower mutated into the human equivalent of a full automotive detail, washing every last trace of the previous week from body.
Wash off the slime of failure, then polish with a luxurious shave, before finishing with a hairbrush to tease the wet tangles out of my long hair. All sense of time lost to the soothing strokes of the brush.
A thump on the door snapped me out of it.
"Hey Fourth! You've been in there for an hour!"
Asuka ended the fun. Oh well. A towel around my waist covered my modesty before I slid the door open. She glared at me down her nose for a moment, offering one of her usual germanic snorts before shouldering her way past me.
"There's still plenty in the lake," I grinned back at her, earning a scornful scowl.
Maybe that's why she didn't warn me. The first warning came from Shinji's open mouthed stare. The cool breeze on my chest came second.
His eyes narrowed. "Uhm….Noriko." A single finger on his hand raised, scratching an invisible itch in the air.
Instead of a shocked scream of embarrassment, I laughed it off with a smile that must've been impish. The look of surprise on his face passed in a moment as he realised I wasn't about to scream at him, replaced by an illicit grin.
And, I won't lie either by trying to deny it lit a little spark of excitement deep inside me. It carried me through open the bedroom door with a giddy grin on my face. Taking a deep breath, I closed the door behind me and allowed myself sigh of satisfaction, leaning back against the lightweight door.
My towel dropped to the floor, leaving me a few moments to enjoy the luxury of being comfortable in my own skin. My chest felt good in my hands, and my hands felt good on my chest.
To feel comfortable in my skin was a blessing. One I decided to indulge in a little further to keep my mind off other things. It began with a pair of opaque tights, then moved into the part of my wardrobe that'd been gathering dust since my first shopping trip with Asuka.
The expression on Shinji's face was totally worth it.
Denim shorts hugged my hips, matched to a white tank-top cut for a tighter fit than I normally liked. Nylon stockings and my beloved pilot's jacket completed the effect.
Whatever effect it was.
Who cared. It patched the cracks left after the last Angel by grabbing a little spare self-esteem from elsewhere. Shinji helped, unable to decide whether he should be watching his bubbling pot of soup, or me.
Attention gave a powerful boost.
These were the good moments that came with coming of age. The price for which was standing aside with the door to my heart wide open, allowing another piece of the person I was becoming to evict the man I had been
Please, after you, I said to myself.
And with that, I was gone.
So it goes. I was on an emotional roll and keen to keep the momentum going. I just kicked back, put my feet up on an old cardboard box that made a convenient footstool, and turned on the television while kneading my nylon-stocking'd feet together.
It answered me with a screen the colour of a summer's day sky, and a simple message in yellow digital letters.
The good mood that'd taken nearly an hour to re-assemble collapsed in moments. Every channel dead, blanked out to a blue screen. Of course they'd be, we'd just knocked out nearly every satellite in orbit.
The only broadcast came from the NHK news, giving a colourful map of European fallout, with a ticker informing viewers that satellite reception was down due to radiation interference. We'd destroyed GPS, along with Glonass and Galileo. We'd crippled weather reporting and forecasting crippled. Low Earth orbit had come down with a bad case of Kessler syndrome. Parts of the EU had lost power after the EMP blew the grid. A few freighters floated dead in the Atlantic waiting for rescue.
The breaker in my mind tripped softly under the load, leaving only the television acting as background noise and Shinji as my focus.
"If you're hungry, I'm making extra," Shinji offered with a smile.
Without anything else to occupy it, the teenage brain returned to it's default setting. Stupid thing. Caught on the hop, the only answer it had was a hot flash of anger that brought a sour scowl to my face.
"I'm not hungry," I huffed, turning away from him with my arms folded.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, a pair of hands were slowly clapping. Nice one Noriko, acting just like a stereotype.
Not only had I frittered away the last of myself for a fleeting moment of self-esteem, I was subject to the rules of the plot. Every girl who lives with Shinji has to have a thing for him and act in an embarrassed and ambiguous way around him just to confuse the poor boy. The director had given his orders, the script was being written and I just couldn't help myself.
Or I was just ashamed of myself for pulling the textbook tsundere flip on him?
Asuka finally emerged, body-wrapped in a hot red towel, her hair bunned up under another. She stopped just long enough for Shinji to notice her and for her mind to realise what she'd been doing.
"Don't Peek! Pervert!"
Shinji's confused expression said it all as he watched her make a show of storming back to our shared bedroom. 'Now they're both doing it to me.'
The difference between myself and Asuka however, was that I knew I'd done it to him. A little self-awareness was a handy skill to have, if only it didn't cut in after the fact.
Meanwile, the television continued to report on the consequences of what we'd done. Chirping meters were being pointed at frightened children by austere men in white coats. Journalists in radiation suits with respirators stood openly in deserted city streets, traffic lights behind them directing invisible cars. Cold Sirens sounded out a noise that made anyone instinctively want to run.
For what did I give up the last gasp of myself? Thirty seconds of good humour, destroyed by television.
The television didn't even have the decency to offer a little morning anime to give me something else to think about. The only remaining channel insisted on reminding me just how awful the consequences of radioactive fallout had been fifteen years ago.
Shinji sat down for his breakfast the same as he always did, not paying any mind to the T.V.
Another pang of hunger bit deep, reminding me that I hadn't had breakfast yet.
Perfectly aware that I wasn't doing anything at all to help Shinji's comprehension of girls I poured myself a bowl of cheap cereal, sat down opposite him and began crunching through it without a word.
I remembered wearing the bewildered look I saw on his face so many times myself.
Girls are weird. I could hear him thinking it.
Asuka emerged with a draft of lavender perfume behind her, decked out in her favourite yellow sundress. Her rusty hair had a liquid sheen to it in the morning sunshine, her skin shining radiantly with reflected light. She'd turned herself into the picture of a summer's princess, striding confidently across the wooden floor.
"Shinji, that smells good!"
"Ahm," he was completely blindsided by the mood-switch. "You can have some," he managed to say. "There's plenty in the pot."
To him, it must've seemed like a perverse form a good-cop, bad-cop, a psychological torture method designed solely to put him off his mental balance, leaving him dazed, confused and vulnerable.
All we had to do now was ask him if he'd stopped selling drugs and we'd have him in the frame.
Instead, I crunched through another mouthful of dry cardboard cereal while Asuka pourred herself a generous portion. She dropped herself into the chair beside Shinji, grinding the chair's feet against the floor as she nudged herself in towards the table.
Shinji stared as she brought a spoonful to her lips and took a good loud slurp – as loud as she could possibly manage before settling back with a satisfied sigh and a dreamy look of satisfaction on her face.
"Mmmmm, Shinji. That was amazing."
Out of context, that would've been hilarious. Judging by the expression on Shinji's face, I wasn't alone in having that thought. His mouth slowly opened, but nothing came out.
"You know, Shinji you should say thank you when someone gives you a compliment," she chastised him, looming over him.
"Thanks," he managed to say, throwing a nervous glance at me, hoping for support.
I ate another spoonful of cereal instead. The only thing I could do was watch the act and see where it led.
"Where did you learn to cook like this?"
"My teacher," he answered, nervously. Asuka seemed to wait for him to say more, adjusting the straps on her dress in the most obvious manner possile, flicking a few strands of hair off of her shoulder, heaving a breast-raising sigh, then looking at Shinji for the effect.
The disappointment on her face stung. Shinji was well trained, steeling only the occasional illicit glance out of the corner of his eyes. Eventually, he focused on the bowl of soup in front of him.
"We didn't have any real meat, so I learned to use stock and tofu to make something like it," he said, proudly..
"Who asked you, idiot?" Asuka snarled at him with all the wounded venom she could muster.
"Sorry," Shinji mumbled, throwing me a look of confusion. I didn't have an answer for him. Reading Asuka was harder than reading Kanji..
The television died, leaving only silence. The fridge had gone silent. The lights on the cooker went dark. Outside, someone was complaining about a jammed door.
"Power's out," I sighed.
No more hot water. No more air conditioning. And if the whole building had gone down, we'd loose mains pressure when the rooftop tanks drained. Voices from outside filtered through the door as the sorting process continued.
After hours in the heat, people still waited patiently in line.
We were left only with only silence and our own company in which to contemplate the desolate emotional wreckage of our lives. Shinji cleaned up after breakfast, Asuka lay flat on her back on the couch reading a magazine while dangling her legs off the armrest, and I was busy trying to sculpt the chest armour on Unit 02 out of putty.
The result was far better than anything I'd expected.
"I'm going to get some air on the balcony, it's stifling in here." The way Asuka stared at me, she wanted me to follow her.
"The fumes are strong."
It was no less stifling outside. Mid afternoon in Tokyo 3 was dead heat, and Asuka'd taken the only shaded corner of the balcony for herself. I was left to sweat in the sun.
She turned to me. "Alright Noriko, you got one almost right. What's coming next?"
"Does this mean you believe me?"
Her arms folded across her chest. "It means I'm listening."
It was hard not to smile. I had my crack. I had my chance not to be alone in knowing
"Next one is in the MAGI system, during a harmonics test down in the Pribnow Box, for something called the Dummy Plug. We're doing the test naked because it's something to do with how the..."
"Dummy Plug?," she interrupted, throwing me off balance. "I've never heard of it,"
"Um..." my mind searched desperately for an explanation that didn't involved the word 'Reiquarium' "It's an autopilot for Eva"
The same way the MAGI was a computer system. Or September 13th was a disaster. Or Evangelion a Giant Robot Show Technically true, but missing all the fucked up details that made it fun.
"Alright," Asuka nodded. "So how do we beat it?"
She accepted that. "We don't. Nobody tells us about it. We just get ejected naked into the lake, while Ritsuko tricks it into destroying itself."
"And the one after that?" she pushed.
I rifled through my memories of the anime.
"Shinji... gets a high score in his sync test. He gets overconfident and takes the lead position. The 12th Angel is a Dirac Sea and Shinji falls in after shooting its floating shadow."
"Do you even know what a Dirac Sea is, or are you just repeating some anime technobabble you heard on T.V?"
"It's a black-hole alternate dimension thing on the ground that Unit 01 falls into."
At least, that's what I understood. I really was just repeating technobabble I saw on TV
"A Dirac Sea is a theoretical model of a vacuum formed from negative energy particles. Saying Unit 01 fell into one is like saying it fell into Space. It's not possible."
"All I know is what I saw," I defended, stepping back. "And around here, impossible things have a habit of happening."
Impossible is just something Operations division hasn't done yet.
"And the Fifth is really an Angel?"
"Unh." I nodded.
"So then, why is he on our side?"
"He loves Shinji, or something, and he wants Shinji to be happy."
I chewed on the words and spat them out.
She glared at me. Blue eyes bored, "You know how stupid that sounds? Angels can't think like that. All they care about is surviving and killing us."
"That's why he did this..." I pointed at my chest, "...to me. So we'd have a chance to win, and Shinji would live,"
"Can you prove that? Asuka asked midlyly.
"We can shoot him in the face and see what happens." I smirked.
"And get shot by Section 2..." answered Asuka.
I was blowing it. The crack was rapidly closing, and any chance I had to have someone who understood or I could at least share this with, was receding away out of my fingers. I glanced at Shinji inside, still busy tidying up. I glanced over the balcony at the city below. I searched through the back of my mind for anything that could help.
And all I could think of was the one thing that I didn't want to go for.
"But I've seen it all!" I pleaded, my voice coming out in a high whine
She held up a hand, stopping me dead before tears could flow.. "I believe you think you've seen it all, that's why I'm listening. And it'd be stupid not to plan for it, at least."
"Thanks," I breathed, shaking. I cleared my eyes with my fingers , hoping she hadn't noticed how close I'd been to just bawling it at her.
"That's enough for now. We'll see what happens after the next two Angels,"
"This one was already different. So I don't know how close things will be." I was still scrambling for traction, even as I breathed a sigh of relief.
"And what were you doing, while this was all happening, Fourth Child?"
Rotting in the ground, was the snarky answer that came to mind. I took a breath, letting the chill pass before answering plainly.
"I was dead."
Asuka blinked at me, shivering visibly as she processed what that that meant.
"You said you were declared dead?"
"I got better."
Nothing else came to mind. She closed her eyes, taking a moment to massage her mind clear. I swallowed
"So." she gave me a look: "You should be dead now. Kaworu's an Angel. But he doesn't want to destroy the world because he loves Shinji, so he saved your life and gave you the knowledge of what would've happened if you were dead, so you could change the future and defeat him?"
And I knew I'd failed. Sounding like that, even I had trouble believing myself. Steadying myself with my hand on the balcony rail, I drew a long, cool breath to clear my mind.
"The only way I can prove it, is being right about what happens. Or at least, being close to it."
"So, I wait and see, If the 11th and 12th match, then I will believe you. If not, then you will believe me. Seems fair, nicht?"
It wasn't an offer or a suggestion.
"Fair," I breathed. No it wasn't. Not when the Angels were changing. If I'm lucky, the next two will be lazy. "Can we talk about something else?"
Brain to default mode. Again. To hell with the Bechtel test.
"What about the dork?"
She loomed. I offered a nervous smile
"Your favourite part?"
Asuka's face lit up.
"Ooh, when did you hit puberty?"
"About a week ago," I giggled. It was nice to step into the shoes of an ordinary child. Or at least, the shoes I thought an ordinary child wore.
"Hmmm," she made a show of thinking it over. "I'd say it'd have to be his butt."
I answered her with a sage-like nod. Even though I was still barely coming to terms with myself, it was hard to deny that Shinji did have a nice arse. Just thinking about it made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, a vaguely uncomfortable sensation swimming in my stomach.
Asuka drew a long sigh, leaning forward onto the balcony rail, supporting herself on her folded arms. I leaned back against the glass of the door, watching her think for a few moments.
Neither of us could think of anything more to say. The busy sounds of construction and demolition in the city below filled the silence.
I glanced at Shinji just in time to see him quickly turn the other way. It took a few moments for the bubbling hormones to simmer down.
The front door opened with a whine. Misato braced herself on the frame, looking more drunk, than tired.
Her voice cracked.
"Welcome home," Shinji answered with a smile.
Misato answered with a hollow-eyed look, void of life or consciousness. Her body moved, but her mind had long gone asleep. She didn't even take her shoes off before shufling zombie-like to her bed.
"She hasn't slept," Asuka said to me. "That's over a week."
Misato closed the door to her room behind her, leaving the three of us behind. Pen-Pen's pecking at her door went unanswered.
Darkness came, but none of us could sleep. I lay in bed in my nightwear, scratching myself, dipping a toe in a few teenaged fantasies. Asuka shuffled under her blankets, alternating between reading or clicking away at the keys on her phone.
Nature called. Shinji'd beaten me to the bathroom, leaving his bedroom undefended.
And I was forced to conclude the absolute worst part about being a teenager is that sometimes you just do the dumbest or weirdest things and you don't even realise you've done them until you wake up in the middle of the night cradling a pillow in your arms that smelled of Shinji's deoderant.
Not that I'd done that.
Don't judge me.
The sun rose again.
Life carried on. Another 24 hours had given the city more time to recover. Most of the obvious cracks had been patched. The resources of the entire world poured into Tokyo 3, to give the whole world a chance.
America went broke. Africa starved. Europe glowed. But Tokyo-3 still stood.
I had to stop and take stock of this place.
I sat on a bench watching a half-dozen helicopters crane a truck-sized rifle across the city skyline, wondering when such dream-like images had become routine.
But then again, what had the line been?
Where is my reality?
At the end of your dreams.
My whole life before now, sat there as a two-decade long dream of rationality and sanity, feeding into this life of giant robots and Angels things that belonged on a Saturday morning cartoon.
I'd gone from the anonymous periphery of a cyberpunk technothriller in the making, to the main cast of a Saturday morning anime.
That made me laugh.
Misato waited for me in her red jacket, grave expression on her face. Opposite, sat Shinji in his nightshirt and shorts
"We need to talk," said Misato.
I took a seat without throwing up.
We're being stood down in favour of a nuclear arsenal. There's another Angel on the way. We know what you are, Noriko.
My blood chilled as Misato drew in a deep breath, clasping her hands in front of her
"We've all had time to sleep in it, and think about what happened. And I want to know how you feel about..."
"About irradiating an entire continent?"
Asuka crossed her arms in front of her breasts, daring Misato to answer.
Misato took a single, calm breath "I thought you should know, Asuka, before you say anything else. So Far, we lost One Point Four million people this time. Not including radiation casualties."
One Point Four Million People.
Asuka's jaw hinged open. "How?" she breathed.
"A quarter of a million in Minamiizu. Another hundred thousand along the coast as the wave washed ashore from the first drop. Four Hundred thousand in China. Three hundred thousand in the Philipine Federation. Two hundred in Indonesia. A hundred in South America. Fifty in Hawaii. Another fifty in the United States proper. Twenty-Five in the North Australian Republic. And more. The projections are still coming in."
Mother... And that's where my mind stopped dead. One and a half million people. Bigger than a statistic. Bigger than I could swallow in one bite. Bigger than my imagination could understand. Anything else I could possibly say just didn't seem like enough. What else could I say?
"We're supposed to help people, Misato. That's what you told me," said Shinji, his voice calm, even. He looked right at her.
"And we saved two point seven billion," answered Misato, wearing that Sisterly smile of hers. "We can't judge ourselves for the enemy's actions,."
She looked at me. I sat back. Maybe I was wrong, to compare Misato's decision with Omelas.
With Omelas, when those who turn their backs on the city powered by a forsaken child leave, there's no consequence to the city. It's inhabitants will continue as they always have and those few who find it reprehensible can continue to leave.
If we turn away, then the world ends.
When walking away from Omelas means certain death for the city and everyone who lives there, do I have the right to leave? Philosophy and ethics were never my strongpoint, but I think I had an answer I could stand over.
"We're still alive. And just rolling over and dying because it's easier than feeling guilty is wrong."
Choosing not to launch, would be no different, than choosing to destroy the world.
Asuka glared, aghast. Misato gave me that warm sisterly smile of hers, a proverbial pat on the head and I congratulated myself on giving the right answer.
Sorhyu's expression twisted into a malignant sneer. "I know the real reason you did it. And If I'm right, then you should never be forgiven," she hissed through her teeth.
"So be it," said Misato. "We had no choice."
Asuka said nothing, standing there with her mouth open waiting for words that just wouldn't come. Misato glared, daring her to burst out.
"I'll never understand the impact generation," said Shinji.
"Thank fuck," I added, under my breath.
Asuka took a deep breath, and I braced. "Oh the cruel Impact Generation for whom a hundred million is a statistic, look at you like you're the next Colonel Grun if you don't eat all your food and would kill their own mothers to save their skins. Aren't we all lucky they can be so ruthless they'll poison thousands of people just for their own revenge."
Misato glared, teeth clenched, wanting to snap off but knowing far better than to rise to the challenge. I sat waiting.
She opened her mouth to speak.
The opening door cut her off.
"Ayanami," said Shinji, stepping up.
She stood there, wearing a scruffy school uniform with nearly a week's worth of wear on it, holding her satchel in her hand and nothing else.
"My apartment was destroyed," she said, "I have orders."
And then stepped inside. That was that.
Asuka smothered a german curse, dropping into a hard wooden chair.
"They could've told me," Misato place a palm againstthe side of her head, before grinding her face into something approximating a smile. "Welcome aboard. You can stay in the girl's room."
Asuka sneered. "There's no space in there."
The idea sparked in the back of my mind, racing to my lips riding a bolt of mischief. "She can have my bed. I'll sleep with Shinji."
The look on Asuka's face pulled a smile to my lips. Showing the quick wit and reactions expected of an Evangelion pilot, Shinji sat there and stared.
"Hmmm. No, we can't have that." Misato touched a cheeky finger to her lips "You can sleep with Ayanami,"
Damn. Two weeks ago, I might've cared.
Asuka stepped up to our new roommate, inspecting. Rei went stiff. I'm sure Shinji did too. I watched him glance between all three of us, before finally settling on me, puzzling me out.
Did I mean it?
Really, I don't know yet.
"Is that all you have to wear?" Asuka plucked at Rei's blue uniform. "And that smell?" She wrinkled her nose. "The shower's through that door. Get yourself washed up while we find something to lend you for the time being so you can at least look like you belong."
Rei glared at Asuka, standing her ground.
"It's a good idea," said Misato. "You'll feel much better afterwards."
Ayanami went rigid, like she'd been stabbed.
"I...shall," Rei nodded, defeated. She dropped her things on the floor and went inside without grabbing a towel, resigned to following orders.
"You two. Find her some clothes you don't like."
I could feel Shinji watching me as I followed Asuka to our room. The door closed. She heeled around to face me.
"I can't believe you picked her side, Noriko..."
Backfooted, I pressed myself against the door.
"I don't like dying."
"It's the principal of the thing," said Asuka., sweeping her arm in front of her. "We don't want them thinking they have options other than Us, or what happens then?" A dozen fanfics, or thereabout. "We're the only thing that can save the world. If something comes along and replaces us, what'll be left? Think about that."
She stared me down, aiming a finger at my chest. I didn't like thinking about that. I wonder what she'd think if she knew I had nightmares about that.
"The Angels can adapt to bombs," I said, stepping into the room pushing into her space.
"But they won't think of that. They'll just see a brilliant mushroom cloud and a few casualties in the future and think that it's so much easier to do it again and again rather than have us around."
I caught the trope.
"And then we get to make our glorious comeback from mothballs at the last minute. That's how it normally goes,"
"What?" she blinked, looking right at me with her arms stopped mid-gesture. Slowly, they fell down to her side.
"An old film. I can't remember what it was called."
A great way of avoiding having to name a film that I knew never even existed. My phone on the table warbled. I looked at it.
"Sync test this afternoon?" Asked Asuka. She filtered through her underwear, picking out the plain, the dull and the well-worn – things she could bear to part with.
"Back to the grind." I sighed, glancing at the screen. "At least I can wear my plugsuit again."
"So Shinji can see you?" she needled.
Now, I regretted making the joke.
"I just learned that I like boys. Give me a break. I'm still getting used to these new and weird feelings deep inside me." I placed a hand on my stomach.
"If you're not careful it'll be more than a new and weird feeling deep inside you."
Part of my body revolted against the idea. A growing part pricked up its ears and listened for more.
"He's not like that." I folded my arms. I didn't meant to defend him. I knew what it sounded like, but that wasn't what I meant.
"Domesticated?" she grinned, holding a pair of panties.
"A beginner-level male," I sat on the bed, trying to sort my feelings out in my mind. "This is still really weird."
Otherwise known as puberty. I'd done it before. That didn't stop it being weird and strange, like growing a new limb on your back or something. It felt completely different to what I remembered, but exactly the same at the same time.
Sorhyu leered at me, "To move up to something a little rougher, like Kaji?"
And now this had become my new normal. This is who I am now. Not a bad person. Not a bad life. Not even bad feelings. I liked myself, I liked by body. I liked what I did. I liked my place in the world.
I win, Nagisa. I win at Evangelion.
And my revenge will be my happiness.
I woke in the middle of night to a still and silent room. Rei had stopped snoring. Or Asuka had finally had enough and smothered her. Children were crying in a distant apartment. I lay in every Evangelion fanboy's dream;
Hot and sweaty under the covers with the real Rei Ayanami.
Both of us lay breast-to-breast, nipple-to-nipple, wearing nothing but breezy nightwear barely hanging on. Our nipples touched at the apex of a breath, a momentary static shock forcing both of us to slip back. Our legs slipped against each others, soft, sweat-slick skin sliding apart.
Gazing at her pursed lips as drew soft, sibilant breaths, only one thought entered my mind.
I hate sharing beds. Especially with the air conditioner dead.
In my plugsuit, I became my true self. The first image of me that I could accept. Not a guy stuffed into some girls body, or a girl saddled with some guy's memories – but the Fourth Child. The Pilot of Unit 03.
I faced down the end of the world.
The end of the world felt easier to deal with than another day of unemployment. At least I could do something about the end of the world.
The locker room door opened. Two armed guards waited for me outside.
"Pilot Nagato. Follow us."
They know! The idea bolted through my mind before my eyes caught the friendly smile on their face. Even if the smile told me I had nothing to worry about, nothing chilled the bone like armed guards in full body armour.
What had I done?
Is this because I fucked with Kensuke's head?
They led me up through the command levels, giving me just enough time to contemplate every single horrible thing that could be done before beckoning me through a single door labelled 'conference'.
Shadows shimmered at the edge of my vision. The hairs on my neck prickled, thrills racing around my body as I readied for the attack. A single spotlight fixed me to the ground, pulling beads of sweat from my face.
"For the record, please state your name, service branch, rank, service number and service capacity."
A male voice, booming from all around. My head spun, trying to pin it down. There had to be speakers in the walls, somewhere. It came from everywhere at once, pushing me into place.
"Lieutenant First Grade Noriko Nagato. United Nations Special Research Agency NERV. Nine-One-Seven-Eight-Four-Three-Six-Zero-Zero-Four-Juliette. Operations Division."
The automatic answer.
"You are the assigned Pilot of Evangelion Unit 03, correct?"
A different voice. Higher pitch, more nasal.
"Yes," I answered. The darkness swallowed my voice.
"You must answer any questions put forward by this committee truthfully and to the best of your abilities and knowledge. You may not refuse to answer. Refusal to answer or deliberate misinformation will be punished in accordance with internation law. Therefore, in respect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nothing recorded in this session may be used against you or your guardian in a criminal or civil prosecution. Do you understand this caution?"
Third voice. Definitely natural Japanese.
That was my first lie.
"This Committee has been called to evaluate the chain of events and decision making process which led to the request for order A-dash-Eleven-Thirty-Two and the subsequent use of nuclear weapons on the Fifteenth of September last. In your own words, please recount the events as you saw them."
The first one again. I guessed an American.
I stalled for time to gather my thoughts, hoping they'd let me make it a short story.
"From the time of the First Alert."
It took me a few moments. I read my own after-action-report from memory. It was dry and factual. This was the situation, these were the solutions suggested that I was aware of, this was what I was ordered to do. This was who ordered me to do it. This was the effect of that order. Our own AAR's didn't ask for much in depth analysis of command decisions - they were more focused on our own individual performance and piloting capabilities. How could we improve ourselves, how could we respond faster, was our response to our orders the correct one? Should we have suggested a different course of action, or should we have acted on our own initiative? What should I have done differently?
We weren't robots; we were the Pilots of giant robots.
Nasal voice cut me off.
"Do you think Major Katsuragi made the correct decision?"
But I knew the answer to this.
"It is not my place to question orders. An order is an order."
Nuremberg defence. It worked for the winners.
"To rephrase. Assume you have command. Would you have considered this option?"
No, I amn't the target. I felt it land on my shoulder, heavy. They wanted Misato.
"I wouldn't have been able to think of it as an option."
Because, when you get right down to it, Misato was Operations Director for one reason, and one reason only. It wasn't tactical genius or inspiration, or any of the traditional qualities of command or management. When you got right down to it, Misato got the job because she would do whatever was necessary to destroy an Angel, without blinking, without flinching, without ever looking for permission or forgiveness. She would never give up, until she had her revenge.
"A diplomatic answer." said the first, "Given the option. Would you have taken it?"
I answered quick, trying to dodge. Trying to to fuck up and give a solid answer.
"Without knowing what other options she had. I think Mi... Major Katsuragi made the necessary decision."
"But not the right one?" He pushed, proving I wasn't cut out for a career in politics.
"It was the right decision." And I said it with conviction. I'd believe it too, in time. Just to protect Misato.
"Thank you. That is all we require."
"You statement before this tribunal is classified Cosmic Top Secret Evamal and is not to be discussed beyond this room. Do you understand?"
The spotlight went off, leaving me cold in the dark. The people who would cause Third Impact had left me alone.
Naturally, the first thing I did after leaving the room was message Asuka and warn her.
Unit 03 welcomed like a warm blanket, sucking any stress from my body. Three hours gave me time to clear my head. Not enough time. A hot shower blasted off the slime, the naked image in a fogged up mirror smiling back at me.
I tried to conjure up myself – who I had been. How much taller I'd been, with deeper, steel-coloured eyes. Broader shoulders. A grey haze of stubble.
The image sat like a shadow in the back of my mind, refusing to come forward. I focused on the two big differences, building on my chest. I conjoured up a memory of twelve-year old Noriko instead, poking herself in the same place, wondering when the puberty fairy would finally come down.
That's who you were.
This is who I am now.
This is who I'm becoming.
Not quite a moment of melancholy, but a sense of passing nonetheless. Not like a death, but more like an old childhood friend whose face I'd forgotten long ago.
"I've gained muscle," I muttered, clasping my arm.
No, I didn't use a bundle of socks to make one last desperate attempt at spinning up my old self-image. Anyone who says they walked in on me trying that is a damned liar.
The whole way home, I waltzed through my mind, revelling in fresh memories, getting to know myself again.
Misato waited for me, alone. With a vulpine grin on her face
"Shinji and the other two are still on base, so I thought it was time we had another chat."
"Something a bit more feminine this time, woman-to-woman."
No! Not when I'd just gotten round to accepting myself right now and these conversations always ended up with another gear-shift in my self identity and I like myself now.
I turned back t the door. "I have to meet a friend."
"No. You don't," she said. The chair opposite her scratched away from the table. "Sit."
I stared, my arms folded under my chest.
"Sit. And you can have a beer."
I'll trade my identity for a single can. She placed it in front of me on the table as I sat myself down on the chair.
I might've downed half a can in one go – earning a cheeky grin for my effort.
"When I took Asuka in, and yourself I promised myself I wouldn't stick my nose in your personal lives." she began. "I wouldn't forbid anything, or tell you not to do anything because...well..." The can hung beneath her crabbed fingesr, slowly swinging it as she thought. "I didn't want you to think you had to hide."
My stomach tightened. "What makes you think I want a relationship?"
"I hoped he and Asuka would get together, and it'd be good for both of them. He could share some of her strength and maybe, he'd cool her off a little too. But it didn't work out."
"You want to try again?"
She's using me?
"I think you both need it."
"What makes you think he's even interested in me?"
"You've a pair of tits and aren't beating him over the head every night, I'd say you're in pole position,"
I winced. Bad choice of words. Alright. Time for final ultimate defense.
"Shinji and I are colleagues. It would just make things complicated. EVA is more important. Saving the world is more important,"
She answered with a sad smile, shaking her head. Wrong answer. "Noriko, a woman's heart isn't logical. It wants what it wants, and it doesn't always want what's best for us. It means sometimes, you sleep with the same man your mother did before she died. "
I tried not to laugh, knowing far more than I should have. She chuckled, taking a swig from her can.
"It means... it means you do something really stupid as a kid who's frightened and doesn't know better and you spend the next five years trying to patch the damage with a cycle of hollow joy and misery."
Regret hung in the air. That set my mind.
"I don't want to do something stupid as a kid."
"Sometimes, you don't know it's stupid until after the fact. Sometimes you know it's stupid, but it feels so good you can't help yourself. It's all diamonds and rust that way."
So, maybe not regret. Even knowing what I did, I couldn't read her. Her face betrayed nothing, only an amused smile that could've been an answer to me being stubborn as much as something remembered
"You've a choice to make. You can go talk to Shinji, either tell him how you feel or just see what happens when you kiss him on the lips – t might work out, or you might end up hurting yourself – but at least you'll know it wasn't supposed to be. Or, you can say No, and take the pain. Maybe he'll find someone else on his own and be happy with her, and the jealousy will hurt you. You'll hate her. You'll hate him for it and most of all you'll hate yourself for denying yourself the chance at that happiness. And go looking for it in the arms of another..."
"This is complicated..." I muttered.
"That's being a woman," she said, taking a drink. "Get used to it."
How does she do that? How does she always manage to turn me from dead set against something to really, honestly thinking about it? To turning the idea over and over in my mind to the point where I actually start liking it
"I won't tell you what to do, Noriko. It's your body and your life, and your decision." She giggled. "But it's only scary up until your first kiss. And then, well, you'll know what to do next."
That grin sent a shudder up my spine. Is it still too late to turn around and go home?
Right. To hell with it. Time to be a man again, one last time. One last battle, against the night. One last mouthful of Dutch courage.
"I'll do it,"
Just to prove, once and for all, that I could make my own choices. That I could say no to her and stand up for myself and do what I wanted and not what she thought was best for me.
Man or woman, girl or boy, some things would always be the same. Everybody experiences The Wait.
You sit and spin it over and over in your mind.
You entertain your worst fears, all the ways it could blow up in your face, all the ways they could turn around and say they hate you, smack you, slap you, leave you sitting with your guts torn out and your heart in pieces.
You try focus on the positive
How they'll feel in your arms, the tickle of their breath on your lips and that electric moment when you finally touch. The happiness, the days and weeks to come, the shared moments and the simple fun that comes from having someone around day to day.
How hot they are under the blankets, the feel of their legs sliding against yours and the warmth of their body clutched tight. I try it on for size, a little teenaged fantasy.
He's on his back. I'm straddling his hips. His body firm beneath me, thin lines of muscles betraying the first flicker of manhood under his skin. It's awkward, pawing, grabby and sweaty but it feels...
I know what I want to do when the train arrives.
My palms prickled with sweat. My heartbeat reverberated through my chest. I recalled all the stupid fics that had ended in the awesome wish fulfilment character ending up on top of Asuka or Rei, and wondered if any of them had ended up on top of Shinji instead.
Every muscle in my body clenched tight as the geofront train whined to a halt. I could've just sat there and convinced myself he took the next train instead, but no, I'd prove my decision to Misato.
Step one. Find him.
I mustered the willpower to stand up and walk to the station gate, waiting under the Hakone-Yumoto sign, taking a space against the tiled wall between the gate and the exit. He had to pass through here, so I could make the intercept.
Shinji walked with Rei, sharing that comfortable silence they both enjoyed. She held her bookcase in front of her skirt as she walked, keeping just behind him, guarding him.
Step two. Open my mouth. Shinji beat me to it, spotting me waiting.
"Shinji. Can we talk?"
For a moment, I recognised the look in his eyes. I'd worn it myself once. A mix of terror and hope. His worst fears crawled up out of the well to meet him, thick strands of hair hanging down over its face.
"Okay… ahm." Rei stood waiting, handbag by her side, her eyes focused on mine, an expression of some discomfort etched on her face. He glanced over at her. "I'll catch up."
She nodded. My gaze lingered on her a moment, watching her stand there as I led him to a nearby bench. Both of us sat down, my legs crossing while I fought the urge to lip closer.
"So…" he said.
"So…." I breathed.
My hands clasped on my lap. "Alright Shinji." Take a deep breath. This won't hurt. Just three words. I stared right through his eyes, right into my own reflection and forced it to speak. "I like you."
"What?" He blinked.
How the fuck did he not get that? Why? Just to rub it in that I had to admit it. I stared through his grey eyes.
"I like you. As a boy."
He looked down at his feet, almost sounding disappointed.
"Is that it?"
My voice cut, sharped than I meant. The boy winced.
"That's the first time anyone's ever said that to me," he said.
My body relaxed, offering a mollifying smile.
"It is weird for me too," I breathed.
"So. Do we kiss?" he asked, almost sounding hopeful. "Or, do you want to do something?"
Yes. I swallowed it.
"No," I shook my head.
"But you just said...Why?"
It sounded painful. I couldn't look him in the eye.
"A lot of reasons." Because a few months ago from my perspective, I might've been sitting in his place. "But, with Eva. I think it would be irresponsible to add the stress of a relationship, to being a pilot."
"Oh..." his shoulders fell.
I felt sick.
"I thought it would be better if I told you, rather than confuse you with secrets and mixed signals."
He offered the faintest of smiles. "Thanks."
My hand found his thigh. Warm and firm. His eyes, crystal and longing. My heart pounding, begging for more, smothering my mind.
What would be the harm?
"Maybe just one kiss?" my lips suggested, outrunning my mind.
"My first," he said.
"Mine too." For a definition.
A firm hand fell on my shoulder, pulling us together. My free arm slipped between his chest and the bench, pulling him against my chest. The bloody smell of LCL on my breath trickled through my nose, a cold chill running through my spine as every nerve sparked to life.
How I could feel every muscle beneath his shirt, the firmness, the strength of his body, all in my arms, in my control. There, just for me and me alone. All I had to do was move forward.
Our eyes closed. Our lips touched in a lightning moment, my body shaking as his hands fell behind my back, easing me towards him. His tongue tasted of LCL, breakfast and canned coffee, hot and moist, slipping through my lips. Afternoon stubble prickled against my cheek, brushed by whisps of teenage fur. My hand slipped to his thigh finding firm muscle to pull myself tighter. Breath tickled my cheek, hot and moist.
A deep kiss.
An adult kiss that pro,ised the rest after we got back.
A shudder ran through his body as my fingers went elsewhere. His fingers locked with mine, edging my hand away. Go! Go! Go! Drummed my heart, pushing further. I pushed against him. My breasts compressed against his chest, thrilling lightning running through my body, striking to my core, an ache of a desire deeper than anything I thought possible.
And I saw. I saw myself as his girlfriend. I saw where to go, what to do, what would happen, all sparkling and spinning with roses. I saw it all, who and what I'd become and part of me screamed, begged for it. I could do that and I could be so happy and I hated it.
The betrayal of my soul.
I saw the way he looked at Ayanami as he walked away to speak with me, that spark of longing in his eyes and knew.
My body went cold.
I snapped back. Shinji blinked, licking spit from his lips.
Hi eyes blinked. His fingers touched his lips. Mine went cold.
"Who do you like?" It sounded more like an accusation than I meant, stinging him. "I know you like her. I just want to hear you say it."
He threw me a guilty look, like a chastised puppy. Something lit behind his eyes, the spark of an idea catching fire.
"I like Ayanami," he said, his voice tentative. A look of horror crossed across his face, both hands coming up between himself and me. "I don't mean I don't like you and I think your okay but..." he trailed off, looking away.
Ouch. Shinji x Rei confirmed. OTP
It felt dirty in some way I couldn't explain, even though I'd known myself it sickened, almost like a betrayal of the moment we'd just shared. The urge to scream bloody fury flared…
I caught it. The benefits of what used to be an adult mind. This wasn't my first rodeo. I could swallow it. I could handle it. I could keep up appearances and force myself to smile and nod. Don't ask a question if you can't swallow the answer.
"I understand. Thanks for telling me."
I did understand, but it didn't sound like I believed it. It hurt. But I could take it. I'd expected it. I could accept it.
With a few moments breathing space, I felt good. At least, I'd tried. We could be friends. We could sit a little longer and think about what might be and then we could both take different routes home.
While I wondered what I could've done.
The taste lingered on my lips, memories of that moment begging to turn and run and call it all a big mistake. But not that big mistake. To use that prerogative I'd fucking earned in the last two months and change my mind and maybe ask to try again.
I want this.
This is my choice and that makes it valid, right? The heart wants what it wants, but I'm more than that. There's more to me than that.
It hurt in ways I didn't expect, cutting through my core.
I like him.
He likes her.
That's poisoned from the start, a relationship based on mutual desire rather than a friendship based on trust and clear communication. I could've been happy for a while, basking a fleeting moment of hollow joy, followed by the crash when the awful truth came out. This is better, really?
So it goes. The more I thought about it, the more right it felt. I could grow. Maybe find another and I'd be happy then. Maybe I'd find out more about myself, take more steps, grow more into this new person.
Be me in all the ways that mattered. A whole person rather than some cut-and-shut stuffed together and made work.
Be able to have a normal relationship.
I could do it.
I beat Misato by choosing not to.
I beat him by showing that I could.
I proved myself the real adult and not some actor like Asuka.
And now Shinji would catch up to Rei. They'd walk They'd talk. Maybe he'd work up the nerve to speak and make that tenuous connection. Maybe their fingers would touch, entwine and the quiet moment would be shared on a park bench with neither feeling the need to fill the peace with anything so inane as chatter.
They'd sit. He'd smile and she'd wonder why it felt so warm on such a cool evening.
But it feels good for her to, an aching sense she can't fathom deep in her body. Because fuck me she likes him to even if she doesn't know – it just feels right.
She likes the feeling. He does too.
And they sit, hands together, hoping the moment never ends, watching the red sunset burn behind the mountain while a cold night breeze nips at my legs.
So it goes. I'll bare the cold instead.
A sterile apartment door waits for me. A push on a button whooshes it open.
"Wark!" greeted the penguin.
I reached out. He turned and ran. Rejected
Only one other remained in the apartment, sitting in shorts and a tank top at the table with her laptop open, and a can of beer beside it. A vulpine grin split her face as the door sealed me in.
"So," she said.
"So," I answered with a shrug, slinging my school backpack against the wall.
"Oh. This and that."
I stepped passed her, making a beeline for the couch rather than falling into the trap.
"Really?" she hmm'd, leaving he bait hanging.
She stared, taking a sip from that can of hers while I sat myself down, making a show of looking for television remote.
"He likes Ayanami" I took a breath, not looking at her, hiding my expression. "And I think she likes him."
My jaw went tight.
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Alright." I breathed again. My arms folded. "I'm just not ready for a relationship like that anyway."
"So how far did you go?"
I glared at her. Fuck off.
My stomach turned.
"And?" she leant towards me, begging for the lurid details.
"It was good." I admitted, with a shrug, praying she'd drop it.
"A full deep kiss?"
She proved that, once again, appeasement in the face of tyranny is doomed to fail.
"Unh..." I nodded, licking my lips at the thought of it. A giddy thrill went through my body. "It felt good but it didn't feel right."
"Hmmmm..." she swung the can between her fingers, giving me that moment to tell her I'd changed my mind. "If that's your choice as a woman. Can't say it's the right one."
She downed the last of the can, crushing it in her hand, before starting on another.
I hadn't thought of it like that, exactly. But I suppose it marked the final point on my little journey. Two months, give or take, that in hindsight could've been ten years. I couldn't tell anymore
There we go. Another final nail in a coffin made mostly of bit of steel held together by the dregs of a few matchsticks.
"There's something under my bed you'll need tonight. I'll leave it out for you later"
Dammit Misato, stop breaking my mind.
I made it to 2am before proving her right. As usual.
Shinji's stolen pillow smelled like that moment in the train station all over again, teasing what could've been.
I did do the right thing, didn't I?
Next Chapter. Fanservice and…..