Disclaimer: I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion, it is in fact owned by Gainax. Neither is there any intention to copy the works of any other writers. Any similarities in plot, situations, character dialogue, etc. found between this fic and any other fic is unintentional and purely coincidental.
Excerpt taken from: "All Under Heaven: A Comprehensive Report on the Greater East Asian War" by Akiko Morioka-Preston.
The UN and the JSSDF acted on what was later identified as faulty intelligence, under the impression that NERV, once it had defeated all of the Angels, would refuse to relinquish its Evangelion units to the UN. An independent organization in control of such power was viewed as unacceptable by the world at large, and NERV, having no nationality as an organization, had no allies to turn to. It was reasonable to assume that there were no objections to the UN's plan to put all NERV facilities out of commission through force.
The New Year's Massacre, which incidentally did not happen on New Year's Day but actually on January 25th 2016, was nothing short of a military fiasco. The JSSDF and other national military groups attacked the NERV facilities exercising extreme prejudice. However, the attack on NERV Central located in Tokyo-3 was carried out with the expectation that NERV would only have one qualified Evangelion pilot with which to mount a counter attack. JSSDF commanders wished to strike deep enough into NERV quickly enough to keep an Evangelion counter-attack from taking place. Even so, the Mass Production Evangelions, which had been built by China and Russia, were brought in to minimize casualties sustained in the event that NERV was able to mobilize an Evangelion. The Mass Production Evangelions (MPE) were operated through an AI system with the expectation that a highly developed AI could out-strategize and out-perform the human pilots which NERV used.
The assumption that NERV would only be able to mobilize one Evangelion was erroneous. Furthermore, the AI which controlled the MPE could not out-perform the human pilots as expected. After the destruction of one of the MPE, it became apparent that the battle could not be won. The remaining MPE were recalled. The combined JSSDF/UN forces which led the attack on NERV Central suffered tremendous human casualties.
"God fucking help us." Kensuke realized that he had been holding his breath.
"Fucking A." Loudmouth concurred.
"Fucking A." Chain Smoker echoed.
"What the fuck are you cocksuckers staring at?" Maeda's voice boomed from the back of the crowd. "Are Miko Kawada's bare fucking tits on that TV?"
The group of reporters remained silent.
"Then get the fuck back to work! The world doesn't stop with a fucking war! Those of you with political contacts, you should be on the mother fucking phones, jockeying for press conference spots and getting statements! The rest of you, I know you have work you could be doing right now! Get to it!"
The office erupted into a cacophony of yelling and high speed movement.
Kensuke loosened his tie as he followed Loudmouth and Chain Smoker back to their cluster of cubicles. "If Kawada's tits were actually on that TV, do you think he would've let us stay?"
Loudmouth and Chain Smoker laughed.
"The boss is fucking obsessed with that woman. I think he might've joined us." Smoker chained another cigarette.
"Aida!" Maeda's voice pierced the din and drilled themselves into Kensuke's ears.
"I'll send flowers to your funeral." Loudmouth ducked into his cubicle.
"Shit." Kensuke sighed.
"In my office, Aida!"
Kensuke felt for his recorder and jogged to Maeda's office.
"What's up, Chief?" Kensuke put on his best smile.
"I've been looking for you for the past two hours. Where the fuck have you been?" Maeda kicked back in his chair.
"Ken, I asked you for that fucking report typed up ASAP. You don't have fucking time for lunch when I want something ASAP!" Maeda was up and leaning across his desk.
"Let me rephrase." Kensuke could tell he was going to love the priceless look on his boss' face. "I was having lunch with Rei Ayanami."
Maeda was silent. Then he broke into a smile.
"Ken. Ken. I knew you wouldn't bail on me without a good reason. Hey!" He turned his fingers into mock guns. "You got a tape?"
Kensuke pulled his recorder and tossed it to his boss.
"You're fantastic. I wish all my guys were as innovative as you. Sit down! Sit! Let's listen to what you have."
The briefing room was packed with people. Asuka could barely breathe. She could feel her twitch developing, right at the scar beneath her eye. It pulled, it tugged, it made her blink. Shinji stood next to her, that solemn look on his face. She knew what he was thinking. She was thinking the same thing. She was thinking that she needed a hit.
She watched Shinji pull out his prescription bottle. He popped out two and downed them both. Lucky bastard. She sighed and chewed on her lower lip. She felt a tug at her sleeve. She felt Shinji press something into the palm of her hand. She tried, as discreetly as possible, to pop the pill. She dry swallowed it.
Murmurs and mutters filled the room. What was going on? Was this an all out war? How would the U.N. react? What countries were involved? Was that an authorized attack by the Russians? Were any other Chinese generals involved?
There was a bang as Misato entered the room with an authority Asuka had stopped seeing 10 years ago. The mass of bodies parted for her and Hyuga, her official aide. She situated herself at the front and center of the room. Hyuga laid papers and charts out in front of her. The room had gone completely silent.
"Unofficial NERV casualties number seven hundred dead, times two wounded and captured." She began and shuffled papers. "There was no attack on any Japanese territories. But many of our forward bases were hit. And many of those were either taken or razed. Cost of damages…are estimated to be quite high."
Asuka willed the painkiller to take effect already, to dampen the sinking in her gut which was bound to start once Misato began to outline their plans of action.
"Normally, our Director of Tactical Operations, Captain Takeda would be briefing you at this time, but he's still in Central Dogma. Directing the defenses of our facilities that are still standing. This is what we're looking at."
The room darkened and Hyuga pulled down a screen. He gave a thumbs up and a slide came on. It showed China, color coded according to who controlled what region.
"We have lost our forward bases in Harbin, Changchung and Hohhot, here in the north. We have also been cut off from our outposts in Macau-2, Manila, Saipan-2 and Bangkok. All of those outposts are considered lost. Our forward base located on Hainan has reported that they have successfully fended off a large, disorganized group of Pan-Asia Insurgents. Given Hainan's position, that being in the immediate proximity of our ally General Zhou's forces stationed in Guanxi and Yunnan, as well as taking into consideration that Guangdong is being governed by Admiral Lau, we believe that our base in Hainan is relatively safe for the time being. But we'll return to that in a bit. Meanwhile, our forward base just north of Seoul is still under attack. When I last left Takeda, the situation looked dire, but stable. Confirmed reports indicate that it is a combined attack by Russian and North Korean forces. We do not know whether or not this is an official declaration of war by North Korea and Russia. Neither country has made an official statement. Neither do we know if they are in league with General Fong and General Qiang. Until North Korea and Russia make official statements, we must assume that the Generals leading these attacks are acting independently of their countries."
"What about our base in Moscow?" A young officer asked.
"Very good question." Misato signaled a change of the slide. It was another map of China, but the colors had shifted. "Oddly enough, our base in Russia is untouched and they were unaware of what was going on until about two hours ago. Our extended family there is currently applying pressure to the Russian government.
"You'll notice on this map that General Fong seems to control more territory than we had initially thought. Whereas we thought he may have been confined to Sichuan and Qinghai, we think he may have acquired rights of passage through Gansu and Ningxia-Hui through bribery or any other form of shady diplomacy. As a result he had been able to move his extended armies up through Mongolia to position themselves for their attack on Hohhot, and allowed them to participate on the assault upon Changchung. That region is lost to us. General Qiang…well, there's not much to say about that cocksucker. He has every city between Shenyang and Shanghai-3. He could've hit Changchung with artillery and not crossed the border. However, that being said, Jilin has fallen to him. He has advanced and only within the past hour has taken our forward base in Harbin. The good news is that his advance has been stopped by combined NERV and UN forces. The bad news is that those combined forces are cutoff and surrounded by hostile Chinese, and assumed hostile North Korean and Russian forces. Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been fucked.
"Now. Here's the question of the day. How do we unfuck ourselves?"
The room was quiet for a moment before another young officer spoke up.
"Are they allied? These unified attacks aren't just coincidence, right?"
"It is safe to assume that General Fong and General Qiang are allied. It really does defy logic, one being communist and one being fascist. However, they seem to share a common goal in uniting China once again. We believe that this singular goal is what also ties them in with the Pan-Asia insurgents. We have no records of them meeting with leaders of the Pan-Asia movement, but that doesn't mean that meetings haven't been taking place. When it comes right down to it, we don't know a whole lot about them. All of Eastern Asia is in chaos. It's near impossible to accumulate any accurate data of political movement. I will say this. Let's not concern ourselves with anything outside of Fong and Qiang. There are eight Mass Production Evas left. Fong has two. Qiang has two. Czenko has one. And the remaining three are missing, and it is assumed that they are being utilized by individual Chinese and Mongolian warlords. Let's not give these people a reason to unite. Chaos is good. Now, let's hear some plans."
"No, frankly I don't see how it's our problem at all. We have no people there." Fuyutsuki held the phone to his ear, fingers drumming on his desk top.
Rei had changed back into her uniform and stood at attention the Commander's office.
"No, we are not attached to the UN. We are an auxiliary military group funded by the UN. It's true, we don't carry out many operations without their support, but only because most of our operations require more manpower than we are currently allotted." Fuyutsuki paused. "You're asking me to put my people and equipment in danger for an operation that has a very small margin for success. Why don't you ask New Zealand or Australia. They're closer to your outpost than we are…no, I'm not joking…I'm not sure they would find those comments very flattering…listen, what can you do for us…? Five thousand soldiers…yes…all right, I'll mobilize immediately."
Fuyutsuki hung up the phone and called an aide over.
"Have our outpost in Singapore immediately send a rescue team to the American Embassy in Borneo."
The aide rushed off with the message.
"Always collecting favors." Rei said and approached the desk.
"We always need favors. You know that." Fuyutsuki began to gather his things. "Walk with me. I have to get to the strategy meeting in the briefing room."
"Mr. Aida is proving to be a threat. I had lunch with him and he recorded our conversation." Rei recounted her afternoon.
"I thought you'd have something important to tell me." They exited the Commander's office and threaded their way through the halls. "Something like a reason as to why our friends in Mongolia and Central China, who we've been so graciously feeding arms and munitions at less than bargain basement wholesale prices, did not alert us to these movements. Have you even bothered trying to contact them?"
"This is important. The last thing we can stand right now is for the people to discover the truth about the pilots. Their faith in our organization will crumble. We will lose all support. And our enemies will try to take advantage of our weaknesses."
"Ayanami," Fuyutsuki sighed, "There is a very good chance that at least one of the pilots will be going overseas. Pilot Bridger has nothing to hide. We already know that Pilot Sohryuu cannot stand Mr. Aida so we'll just send Pilot Ikari. Stop worrying about Aida and redirect your focus."
"If we do that he'll slip under our radar and the next time we hear of him, it'll be an exposé piece in the Tokyo Eye written by Mr. Aida."
"We're at war. Has that somehow escaped you? I need you on counter-intelligence. And I need you to lean on our contacts. If you have to step on them, then do it. If they're out of the loop then we have no need for them anyway."
Rei bit her tongue and followed the Commander into the darkened briefing room. There was a map of China at the front of the room.
"Sorry I'm late." Fuyutsuki didn't explain himself. "Have we developed a plan?"
"We're sending two pilots to Hainan first thing tomorrow." Katsuragi proceeded. "Either Ikari or Sohryuu with Bridger. We're currently working on acquiring rights of passage from Admiral Lau and we hope to threaten Qiang's southern border, keep him from committing even more soldiers to the push northward…"
"Send Ikari and Sohryuu." The Captain's voice seemed to issue from right next to Rei's ear. The Captain brushed by her and pushed his way up to the front. Oh. That's why.
"How did the defense go?" Fuyutsuki asked the Captain.
"They retreated. We can't just threaten one and not the other. We have to make sure that we stop both Qiang and Fong by threatening both of their bases. I just got off the line with General Zhou and he agreed to retrofit his airfields in Guiyang to accommodate the Evas." The Captain took his spot front and center.
"I…see." Fuyutsuki raised his eyebrows.
Rei wasn't aware that the Captain had that kind of authority. And it seemed neither was Fuyutsuki.
"Please forgive my presumption." The Captain saluted. "But time is of the essence. Our forces in Heilongjiang won't last long under a three pronged attack. What we do is that we borrow a few divisions from Zhou and march on Changsha. Once we establish a new forward base there, then we'll be threatening both Chengdu and Shanghai-3. Not to mention we'll be just south of Hubei, and we know that Zhou has been itching to take back Hubei since he was driven out by Qiang two years ago."
"Captain, I don't mean to contradict…" Katsuragi began, looking as though she, in fact, did mean to contradict. "You realize that Hunan is neither friend nor foe? They are a neutral territory controlled by General Xue. We just got through discussing that we do not want to engender any ill will against us."
"General Xue has never made a move because he's too scared. Qiang knew this which is why he left him alone, probably planning on coming back to him later. Zhou and Lau never moved on Xue because he holds an MP Eva."
"How do you know this?" Fuyutsuki asked sharply.
"Deduction. Why else would a wet blanket like Xue still be around? Laws of nature permitting, he should've caved long ago."
"If Zhou knew about it he would've told us."
"Zhou is our ally as a matter of survival. He figures that if he tells us, we'll move in and take the MPE away from him. He's just looking for an opening to take it for himself."
"None of that changes that we're going to piss off a lot of Chinese by launching an attack against a neutral."
"That's if we attack. If we throw our two best pilots out there with Zhou's army, Xue will cave without a fight. We give Zhou the MPE Xue has and promise Xue asylum. It happens clean. We hold Changsha, Zhou has an Eva he'll want to use to take Hubei. Fong and Qiang will stop their attacks. And they will not strike at Japan because our two best pilots are knocking on their doors." The Captain smiled.
"I hope you're right about that MPE." Fuyutsuki said and rubbed his sinuses. "All right, report to your offices, you all will be receiving assignments shortly. If you want to talk to your loved ones, do it now because all personal time will be forfeited once you get your assignments. Captain, in my office."
Rei exhaled sharply and got out of the room before the stampede. She leaned up against a wall and waited for Shinji and Asuka to appear. The tactical officers left the briefing room, talking amongst themselves.
Rei thought back on Kensuke and felt a headache coming on. She supposed that it was inevitable for the time being. He would have to go free. Or…she could keep tabs on him using Kitao's men. She felt a smile coming on. One weight off her mind. Two to go. The plant suspicion and counter-intelligence. Counter-intelligence didn't seem so difficult. She figured that information manipulation would work fine. Chinese spies weren't worth a damn anyway.
"I guess we're heading out tomorrow." Asuka said as she approached. "It'll be nice to see a little action for a change."
"You think so." Shinji had his usual dismal expression.
"Well, I'm off the clock. I need a drink. You want a drink, Wonder Girl?" Asuka pulled out her cigarettes and offered the group. Rei and Shinji accepted.
"You know I don't drink." Rei worked the kinks out of her neck. "But I'll join you if you want the company."
"Oh, I do want." Asuka pulled off her beret and stuck it in her belt. "Girls night out, Shinji. I'll see you at home. Don't start without me."
"Yeah, sure." Shinji seemed to say to himself before walking off.
"Are you sure he shouldn't come with us?" Rei furrowed her brow as she watched Shinji go.
"He'll be fine. He's no fun when he's sulking anyway."
"Everyone should aspire to such standards in a relationship."
"Oh what do you know? I'm trying to feel good about this whole thing and you're bringing me down with bullshit." Asuka shot back.
Rei just shrugged.
"If you must know, I was planning on making it up to him later." Asuka sniped. "I was planning on going out, getting toasted with you and then going back and to give him a good drunken fucking. The kind where I'm too toasted to care where he puts it."
"Oh, what a gift. He should feel so lucky. And you get nothing out of that deal?"
"You know what? I changed my fucking mind. I'm going drinking by myself. You can go home and fuck yourself."
"You already made the offer. You can't rescind it. You're stuck with me now." Rei snickered.
"Thank you so much for the invitation." Keiko said for what must've been the hundredth time. She realized that she must be getting a little annoying, but the truth was that she was excited.
"Really, you shouldn't be alone. Who knows what might happen now. We could come under attack…" Nozomi adjusted her glasses and smiled her strange smile. "What about your boyfriend? Kensuke?"
Keiko sighed. She had thought of calling him, but she knew that he wouldn't have picked up.
"Well, he's probably busy now."
"Is he with the military? NERV?"
"He's a reporter." Keiko smiled wryly.
"Oh! Ooooh." Nozomi smiled. "That must be interesting."
"That's one way to put it."
"Uh oh. It isn't?"
"Sorry. I shouldn't say. I'm just in a weird mood. I can be such a bitch." Keiko shook herself out and laughed.
"No." Nozomi laughed with her.
"We're here, ladies." The cab driver slid open the plastic divider and peered over. "Forty-three fifty."
"All right." Nozomi opened her purse and began to fish around.
"Here." Keiko had been watching the meter and had gotten money ready ahead of time. "Keep the change."
"Oh, no you don't." Nozomi took out some bills and held them out to Keiko.
"Please, no, it's the least I can do. You're having me over for supper." Keiko stuck her hands in her pockets.
"Take it. Don't make me look like a jerk." Nozomi's hand remained out.
Keiko found herself in an awkward position. Would it be more polite to accept or refuse?
"If you two are having a problem, I'll take it." The cab driver snorted like a pig as he laughed.
The situation suddenly became uncomfortable. Keiko took the money.
"Thank you." Keiko said and left the cab hurriedly.
And she found herself looking up at a magnificent house. Two stories, very traditional. Lord. It was her dream home. Or the closest thing she had ever come to seeing it.
"Is this your house?" She couldn't help but ask.
"Oh, well, it's my father's." Nozomi stood beside her as the cab drove off. "But I live here, yeah. I grew up here. I can't wait to move out."
"If I owned a house like this I'd never leave." Keiko caught a strange look from Nozomi.
"Yeah, it's nice." She concurred. "Come on in! Toji should be home with his kids."
"Oh! How nice that he's staying with you. Those kids are adorable." Keiko followed Nozomi through the front gate and up the walkway.
"I know!" Nozomi gushed and then pulled a blank look.
Keiko bit her lip and cursed herself.
The Horaki home was decorated exactly the way that Keiko thought it would be. She had to stop herself from touching everything. Real wood. Probably built with hands of an actual artisan, and not some rough, leatherneck construction worker with Yakuza tattoos. She loved the architecture. She loved the feel. She closed her eyes and smelled the dust, the finish, the wholesome nature of everything.
Keiko opened her eyes and saw Toji's son descending the stairs, one step at a time.
"Careful, careful!" Nozomi kneeled at the bottom and scooped up the child as he reached the bottom step. "Arr! C'mere you!"
Shotaro squealed and giggled as Nozomi held him under her arm.
"Where's your sister at?"
"And where's your daddy?" She asked as she put him down.
"Watching boring news." Shotaro pouted. "They took away Doraemon!"
"Oh did they? Well, we'll have to call them and tell them to put him back."
"Yeah." Shotaro took her hand and walked with Nozomi towards, what Keiko guessed was, the living room.
Keiko couldn't suppress her smile if she tried and could feel her biological clock tick tick ticking. She took off her shoes and followed the two.
There was no way that she could've missed the sounds the TV was making. She wondered how…how on earth she was able to miss the yelling, the gunfire, the explosions. Toji sat on the couch, back to them. Nozomi had picked up Shotaro, and the child had buried his face in her neck.
Keiko ventured around the side of the couch and saw Toji leaning forward, elbows on knees, staring wide eyed at the TV.
"This is live footage of the gallant resistance being put up by the soldiers of NERV. We are here, in a small town just west of Binzhou in the Heilongjiang province of China. We are here, in great danger I might add, to bring you this story. General Qiang's forces have been advancing ever steadily northward, razing and destroying everything in its path, or so it seems. We have seen them gun down innocent civilians trying to get away from the violence. It has reached such extreme measures that NERV has volunteered to stave off the advance while the remaining UN forces attempt to evacuate as many people from Binzhou as possible…"
The TV was clicked off. Keiko saw that Nozomi had finally taken matters into her own hands and had picked up the TV controller. But Toji continued to stare at the blank TV screen.
"Toji." Nozomi finally said.
Keiko watched as Toji slowly came out of his trance.
"We have a guest." Nozomi continued.
"What? Oh. Huh? I'm sorry. I…" Toji shook his head as if trying to get the images out of his head. "Oh! Forgive me." He stood up and bowed.
"No, please forgive me." Keiko bowed as well. "I realize that I'm intruding. If now isn't a good time, I can go."
"Nonsense." Toji waved it off and smiled. It made him look sick.
"This is Keiko Matsunaga. Kensuke's girlfriend?" Nozomi introduced her.
"Oh yes, of course. I don't think we met formally." Toji shifted on his feet. "Uh, well, will you be joining us for supper?"
"I know it's mostly bullshit." Kensuke leaned back in his chair, trying to suppress what he knew was a smug look. "But I figure…"
"Gain their trust, right." Maeda doused his cigarette and leaned back in his chair. "I heard this Section-2 come up a few times. Who are they?"
"Uh…" Kensuke scratched his chin. "They're kind of like NERV's secret police."
"They have one of those? Interesting. Very interesting." Maeda created a steeple in front of his face with his hands and stared straight ahead.
Kensuke shifted in his seat, just watching his boss.
"Very interesting." Maeda said again.
Kensuke jumped as he heard his cell phone ring. Jesus. He reached into his pocket, silenced it, then looked at the caller. Shinji's number.
"Who is it?" Maeda asked as Kensuke put his phone away.
"Ah, a friend. Shinji."
"Aren't you going to answer it?"
"Oh, uh, yeah." Kensuke felt his smooth run out and he fumbled for his phone. "Hello?" He answered, hoping Shinji hadn't reached voicemail.
"Yo, Shinji. How's it going?"
"Ah, you know." Shinji sounded uncertain. There was a pause before he continued. "So I was wondering if you wanted to go get a drink tonight or something? We never really did catch up."
"You know what, man, I got a lot of work to do tonight…" Kensuke remembered the report, and then saw his boss go wide-eyed, motioning him to keep going. "But, you know what, fuck it. I could use a drink. It's been one hell of a day."
"Yeah, all right. Well, I'm gonna be at Nori's downtown. It's a restaurant-bar, so we can get supper too. You need directions?" Shinji all of a sudden sounded relieved.
"I, uh…" Kensuke wasn't sure where it was going, he was fumbling with his words, busy watching his boss and trying to interpret the looks he was getting. "I can get a map from my computer."
"All right. You know when you're getting off work?"
"I can actually be out of here right now."
"All right. I'll meet you there then. I'm pretty sure I'll get there first, I'm on my way right now. I'll grab a table."
"All right, see you in a few." Kensuke breathed a sigh of relief as Maeda gave him a thumbs-up. He hung up. "So…"
"So I think you'll need this." Maeda pushed the recorder back towards him. "Do you need a fresh tape?"
"What about the report that you wanted me to do? I thought you said…" Kensuke knew the answer ahead of time, but needed to hear it nonetheless.
"Ken, I know what I fucking said. I was fucking there, okay? Take the report home with you and I want it on my desk tomorrow morning."
Well, he wasn't getting any sleep. Fuck. Oh well. Wait, shit.
"Uh, by the way, about all this stuff we're talking about, with NERV and the rest, I want the story." Kensuke felt fear rising in his chest. "If you hand this shit off to anybody else, print anything that I bring in without me knowing, you'll be printing premature and you'll destroy my contact…"
"Ken, I'm fucking insulted. You think I'm an amateur? You're safe. Now get the fuck out of here before I throw you out." Maeda dismissed him with the wave of his hand.
Kensuke left the office still feeling slightly deflated. Images ran through his head of headline articles on NERV. Maeda didn't seem like the kind of person who would think twice about printing a hot story. He thought of Rei…and wondered if it might've been better to take the verbal thrashing Maeda had been ready to give him for taking lunch. Shit.
"Where did you find your information?" Fuyutsuki looked none too pleased.
Misato didn't blame him. She, too, was not happy with their operations director.
"From Tactical Command." Takeda answered.
"Bullshit." Misato couldn't help herself. "We didn't enter that information into Tactical Command."
"So you admit that you already knew that General Xue was in possession of an MPE." Takeda stood at attention, looking defiant. Who the fuck did he think he was?
"That's not the issue at hand. You have accessed information which you were not authorized to see. That information is need to know…" Fuyutsuki took over.
"And I need to know that information, sir. I cannot do my job if I do not have all the information available…"
"Must you always be so righteous!"
Even Misato cringed when Fuyutsuki yelled.
"We have our reasons for keeping that information secret! I have enough problems running this organization, lobbying with political groups, dispersing counter-intelligence, without having to worry about my subordinates going behind my back and hamstringing me! It turns out that when you're not making the pilots' business your own, you're peeking at information way above your pay grade! And I'm tired of dealing with it!"
Misato almost felt for the young Captain Takeda. Almost. He seemed to have paled and stood unsteadily.
"Shape up Takeda!" Fuyutsuki hands were balled into fists, his face red. "You are not going to China with the pilots tomorrow. You are staying here at base. Sub-Commander Katsuragi will be taking command of this situation."
"What?" Takeda bugged.
Yeah, what? Misato found herself staring wide-eyed at Fuyutsuki, but quickly corrected herself.
"I think you and I need to have a come to Jesus session. For the next few weeks we will be clarifying your position in our organization. Re-establish our boundaries."
Misato watched as Takeda visibly deflated. He looked as though he were ready to cry.
"You overplayed your hand." Fuyutsuki went on. "And I can't have that kind of judgment out in the field. I attribute your poor decision making to your lack of understanding of the political world, and in turn I attribute that to your youth. You're a terrific and talented battle tactician. But a political monster you are not. At least not yet.
"I want to see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning, and I'll explain exactly what you did wrong. But for now, I need to fix what you screwed up. Good job on the South Korea defense. Go home and get some sleep."
Misato watched as Takeda slunk out of the room with the tail between his legs.
"So I guess I should start packing?" She said, already feeling her stomach lurch at the anticipation of a long boat ride.
"If you want I can assign someone else from our strategist pool." Fuyutsuki rubbed his sinuses. "I volunteered you because I thought it would hurt less for him to know that I was sending someone higher on the chain than someone lower."
"Why are you taking it easy on him?" Misato took the seat across from the Commander's desk. "When I was Tactical Operations Director, I didn't pull that kind of shit. I know, I know I still pulled some stupid stuff, but him? He's all sorts of liabilities rolled into one."
"He's my conscience." Fuyutsuki sighed. "Not only is he a talented tactician, but he's also here to keep me honest."
"Morbid curiosity has me paying attention."
"We know things need to be done, and sometimes in order to get those things done efficiently, we need to take the less than ethical route." Fuyutsuki shrugged. "I don't want to become Gendo."
"Is your wife dead?"
"I never married."
"There we go."
"That's not the point. And you know it."
"I just don't have a good feeling about this kid."
"When's the last time you had a good feeling about anything?"
Misato smiled. He had a point. "Touché."
"Well, before I go, you want to go over a new plan for advance? There's no way we can go with Takeda's plan. Zhou is two steps ahead of us on this."
Fuyutsuki sighed. "Let's."
"Well, on the bright side, walking into a known trap is better than stumbling into an unknown."
Rei sipped on a Coke as she watched Asuka knock back shot after shot of sake. Of course, Asuka had chosen the Red Raccoon bar for her drinking. Rei knew from reports that she never drank anyplace else. When they had gotten there, they had been, of course, greeted by Mr. Kitao Asano. As Asuka was led to her table, Rei had pulled him aside.
"I'll need more of your men."
"I assumed as much when I heard of the attacks." Asano had said through a faux smile.
"Favor gets bigger."
"Oh, I assumed that much as well."
"I'll need your men tailing Mr. Aida. I'll have one of my men stop by later this week to give you a portfolio with pictures. Your men don't have to report to me. Shinji and Asuka are being redeployed anyway. I just want a list of places he goes, pictures of people he meets, standard information gathering. I'll have someone pick up reports at the end of every day."
"You government people are real keen on your intelligence gathering, aren't you? Consider it done."
Asuka hadn't said much, and she didn't need to. Rei knew what was going through her mind. She knew of Asuka's conflicting feelings toward war. Despite her revelations on the nature of Eva, she still clung to piloting like a life line.
"You never drink." Asuka said and ate some sushi.
"That's right." Rei sipped her soda.
"You're going to make me beg, aren't you? The second part of that question is 'why?'"
Rei shrugged. "It alters my state of mind. You know that."
"A little altering could do you some good."
"The same could be said of you."
Asuka laughed and knocked back another shot of sake.
"So what have you been up to lately?" Asuka asked.
"Work. Is there ever anything else?"
"I dunno. What about guys. You could be out looking for a date or something. I don't know what you do on your spare time. You're always quiet about that."
"And what makes you think that I'll be open about it now?" Rei sniffed. She found it slightly distasteful when Asuka pried into her life. "I don't need a relationship to define my existence."
"Neither do I. But it's nice to have sometimes."
"If you call what you have with Shinji a relationship."
"Oh get off it, will you?" Asuka snorted. "You don't know anything about our relationship."
"I know that Shinji was disturbed, disconcerted and troubled earlier, and you did nothing."
"There's my point." Asuka sat back and waved her hands. "You don't know anything. Shinji needs his alone time. I could've tried talking to him about it, but he clams up, all the time. He deals with shit his own way, just like I do with my shit. All he would've done is mope around."
"Maybe all he wanted was some company."
"Maybe you should shut up."
"Aren't you worried about him?"
"Of course I'm worried about him!" Asuka leaned across the table. "I'm always worried about him. Always." Her voice was reduced to a whisper. "Shinji likes the distance thing. He likes to think that what we have doesn't mean much. Frankly, I kind of like that way too. There's no demands. No expectations. We're just there."
"Doesn't sound like much to me." Rei sighed.
"We enable each other. And that's fine. I don't give a shit." Asuka knocked back one shot, then another. "Better than living alone. And better with him than with someone who'll either berate me because of my habits, or take advantage of my habits. Just because we fuck doesn't mean there's an emotional attachment or a romantic inclination. It just is. Get it? We need to get our rocks off, both of us, and we're exclusive because it's safer that way. Not because we're an item."
"So he means nothing to you?"
"Twist my words why don't you." Asuka snarled and knocked back two more shots. "Did I say that? No. Of course I care about him. Fuck."
Rei finished her sushi and took a long pull from her soda. She noticed Asuka seemed to just stare at the sake bottle. Light brown, almost the color of amber. How much farther would Asuka push it? She knocked back another shot.
"I can't wait to get back on the field." Asuka seemed to say to herself more than Rei. "Kick some ass. Fuck up that mother fucking cocksucker Qiang."
She bottom-upped the bottle and tanked the remains of the sake. She snarfed the last of her sushi and held up her finger.
"Kitao! One more bottle for the road and the check!" She called out before turning back to Rei. "Let's go for a walk."
"A walk?" Rei felt trouble brewing in her gut.
"Yes. A walk. I feel like getting some fucking exercise. I need to limber up for the up and coming rematch between me and whoever it was piloting that mother fucking MPE at Osaka."
"Where do you want to walk?"
"Somewhere, anywhere. Let's just fucking walk. Walk with me."
Kitao Asano personally brought the second bottle of sake and the check, at which Asuka flipped several bills out onto the table.
"Should be enough." She grabbed the bottle, pulled off the top and took a swig. "Let's go."
Asuka looked blasted, but she could still walk as if she were sober, which was amazing to Rei. But then again, she reminded herself that Asuka and Shinji had lots of practice in worse states.
"Large bottles of water, please." Rei said in a low voice to Kitao.
"Yeah, two steps ahead of you." Kitao waved and one of his men brought over two very large bottles of water in a bag. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you actually cared about her."
"Good thing you know better." Rei sniggered.
"It sends a shiver up my spine saying this, but I worry less when you're looking out for her."
"Have a good evening." Rei put her beret on and jogged to catch up to Asuka.
Toji didn't expect Nozomi to change her life for him. He didn't expect her father or her to make any adjustments to their schedules. He didn't expect them to treat him any differently. He didn't expect them to break routine. But all the same, he wished that Nozomi hadn't brought Keiko over for supper. He remembered her from the funeral. He remembered her condolences, the look of pity in her eyes. Pity. He hated pity.
"This is delicious!" Keiko exclaimed from across the dinner table.
"Isn't it good?"
Nozomi and Keiko were acting so much like girls…which was to be expected, he supposed. He just wasn't used to seeing Nozomi that way. It reminded him of Hikari, the way she and Asuka used to chatter endlessly about clothes, TV shows, and…inanities in general. Whatever they talked about, they were always so enthusiastic. This hot bun was absolutely delicious! Wasn't last night's episode so cool?! Oh, that looks so good on you!
"This was one of Hikari's favorite recip…" Nozomi stopped.
Toji saw her glance over at him, concern evident in her eyes. And that was the exact shit that he couldn't stand. Everyone walking around him on their tippy-toes. Like at the very mention of her name he would burst into tears. Didn't they get it? Didn't they realize that talking about Hikari was, true, like getting stabbed. But when they skirted around the issue, it was like getting stabbed and have the blade twisted.
There was a snap. Fuck. He broke his ohashi.
"Sorry." Nozomi said in a small voice.
"No, it's nothing." Toji lied and smiled. "It's nothing, really."
"Yeah." Nozomi turned back.
"So have you found a job in the city yet?" Hiroshi Horaki said from the head of the table.
Ever since he first met Hiroshi years ago, Toji had nothing but the utmost respect for the stern man. He admired his stoicism. Hikari's mother apparently died when the girls were young. Breast cancer. Hiroshi had worked hours of overtime to keep the payments up on the house that they had, and still managed to raise three fine young women.
"No, not yet." Keiko pulled a wry smile. "The commercial field is really competitive. I mean, tooth and nail, right?"
"It usually is. Have you considered taking a government job?" Hiroshi helped himself to more chicken.
"I have." Keiko's mild distaste was evident. "I don't know though. I've always been pushed to go for something in the business field."
"That's where the money's at." Nozomi smiled. "More chicken? Radish? Rice?" She offered Keiko.
"Oh, please!" Keiko bowed courteously. "So, what do you have there, Ryoko?"
Toji looked and saw Ryoko smile, hugging her purple plushy dolphin to herself.
"Her name is Miki."
"Miki? That's a pretty name." Keiko accepted her food with another bow. "Is Miki a fish?"
"No." Ryoko shook her head, a serious look on her face all of a sudden. "She's a dolphin. Dolphins and fishies are different. Dolphins breathe air. Fishies breathe water."
"Oh! You're right! I had forgotten." Keiko laughed. "You're so smart!"
Ryoko giggled and held her plushy toy out over the table.
"Would you like to hold her?"
"That's enough, Ryoko. You shouldn't have toys at the table." Toji reached for the dolphin but Ryoko snatched it back to herself, pouting.
"She's not a toy! She's a dolphin!"
"Ryoko Hozue Suzuhara, take Miki back upstairs this instant and finish your supper." Toji spoke in a low voice.
"No, Miki can stay! Right Aunt Nozomi? Right Miss Matsunaga?" Ryoko looked pleadingly at the two.
Toji caught an apologetic look from Nozomi. He looked at Hiroshi, hoping for some direction on what to do. Hikari's father just continued to eat, his eyes on his food. Goddamnit. Goddamnit.
"Put her down and finish your supper." Toji said softly.
Ryoko humphed and began to eat whilst brooding. The rest of the table had gone silent as well.
Toji could feel himself burning up. Ryoko had always been strong willed. She had black hair, like him. And his personality. She was cheeky. She was feisty. She had attitude. She was a fighter. And he could feel them looking at him. Their silence was them treading lightly. Not wanting to anger him, not wanting to step on his feelings, not wanting to set him off. There was a snap. He had broken another pair of ohashi.
"I'm sorry." He said softly. "Please excuse me, I don't feel very well. I'm going for a walk."
Shinji saw Kensuke enter the restaurant and look around, searching and obviously not seeing him. So he stuck up his hand and waved Kensuke over.
Nori's was restaurant that looked at though the architects took inspiration from modern art. Everything seemed to be based on some shape. Boxes, spheres, pyramids. The colors, the shapes, the people. It was all very busy. Almost too busy. But it was a good thing. Nobody looked twice at Shinji. Nobody really cared. They were all too self-absorbed.
"Hey Shin-man." Kensuke took a seat.
Shinji found that although Kensuke was finally there, he didn't know what to talk about. Asuka had gone off with Rei, leaving him to find his own way. His gut turned at the thought of going back out onto the field. He knew during the briefing that it was inevitable. There was no way around it. They had been attacked, and now they needed to strike back. That's the way everything worked. Revenge begets revenge begets revenge.
He had taken a bus from NERV's base, not quite sure where he was going. He sat by a window and watched people go by. People were dying in China. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people. A war was going on. He detected a certain level of intensity and nervousness as people boarded the bus. People laughed nervously, their eyes darted back and forth, they rubbed their hands together, palms sweaty. They would look at him and relax. No. They looked at him and saw his uniform. The great protector.
The problem was that no one cared. As he looked out his window, no one on the street seemed alarmed. It could've been any other day of the week. People went about their business. The cycle of war continued because no one really had to suffer. There was no sacrifice made by the people. The government was so afraid of looking impotent that they kept assuring the public that they didn't need to worry, that the UN and NERV would take care of everything. And so they went to work, went to the market, cooked supper, and repeated the process day after day.
"I'm being redeployed tomorrow." Shinji said and poured himself and Kensuke a shot of sake.
"No shit?" Kensuke tentatively sipped at his sake.
"Yeah." Shinji tanked his shot and then another.
"Can't say or won't say?"
Shinji couldn't help but smile. He knew Kensuke was fishing. He figured that he should be bothered, but found that he couldn't care less.
"Sorry, it's my inquisitive nature." Kensuke continued to sip.
"It's all right."
The waitress arrived and placed a rice pot in the middle of the table. Next to it, she placed a sizzling platter of unagi. Bowls, ohashi. Shinji thanked her and the waitress smiled at him. He saw her glance over her shoulder at him. Obvious. He supposed that he should probably feel half a rod, but found that he couldn't care less.
"Pretty posh." Kensuke marveled.
"My treat." Shinji said and served himself some rice. "The unagi is excellent."
"Kind of a change from the place we went to yesterday." Kensuke laughed.
"Yeah."Shinji ate, though he was not hungry.
He watched Kensuke fidget. Watched his old friend grow uncomfortable.
"So where do you work?" Shinji asked, and watched Kensuke's look of surprise.
"Uh, the Tokyo Eye."
"Oh, right, right." Kensuke had mentioned it the night before.
"I had nothing to do with the article that came out this morning." Kensuke spoke quickly.
It was Shinji's turn to be surprised. Oh yeah. He had completely forgotten about that.
"I know. Doesn't bother me, to be honest."
"Anybody who's worked with a computer could tell the image was photoshopped anyway."
Shinji only shrugged.
"Anybody who knows you wouldn't believe that shit anyway." Kensuke continued.
"You do." Shinji said softly.
"You do." Shinji smiled at him. "It's all right. You don't owe me anything, not a kind word. It's, uh, it's been a while. How many years? I've changed. I'm sure you've changed as well."
He heard only silence.
"I'm sorry." Shinji continued, not really feeling anything resembling guilt. But it just felt like the right thing to say. "I'm no good like this. Just the stress before battle talking."
"Are you…" Kensuke licked his lips. "Are you scared?"
Shinji laughed. "I've been doing this for ten years. No, I'm not scared anymore."
"Then what's up? You're not like you were last night."
"Mm." He nodded to himself. "I'm sorry I pulled you away from work. I guess I was just feeling nostalgic. With you and Toji back in town. I thought maybe…maybe I could remember how things used to be. My memory isn't what it used to be."
Shinji knocked back a few more glasses of sake. He felt a pang in his shoulder. He winced, pulled out his Vicodin and popped a tab.
The night was cold and it bit at her face. Odd for the summer, but perfect weather. It reminded her of winters in Germany. But all the same, she drew her zip-up hooded sweater closer to herself.
"Are you sure this is safe?" Hikari walked slowly, taking careful steps.
A way back Hikari had tripped on the train tracks. Asuka had been balancing herself on one of the rails, one foot in front of the other when she heard her let out a cry. Hikari had been certain that she had scraped her knee, but lacking a flashlight, neither could see, so she told Hikari to suck it up and to keep going.
"These tracks are abandoned." Asuka sighed and kicked a rock. "The trains that ran along these tracks went out of commission a while ago."
"That's not what I meant." Hikari had a quaver in her voice. "I mean, what if there are people out here? Dangerous people."
"Like drug addicts?" Asuka snorted.
"Easy for you to take this so lightly." Hikari snapped. "You look like a hoodlum. I'm out here in my uniform…ohmigod, what's that?!" She let out a squeak and Asuka felt her grab a hold of her arm.
Asuka winced as she felt Hikari's hold tighten.
"Asuka, is that you?" A voice called out from the darkness ahead. Shinji. Hikari had freaked out over the idiots.
"Yeah!" Asuka called out. "See, it's just Shinji."
"You guys are insane, coming all the way out here." Hikari huffed and relinquished Asuka's arm. Sour puss.
"Oh lighten up, I didn't force you to come along." Asuka sniped.
"Yes. Yes you did."
She didn't have to see Hikari to know exactly what she looked like. Arms crossed in front of her chest, nose in the air. Hikari was right…Asuka had dragged her along, hoping to get her friend to partake in the copious amounts of ganja she and Shinji had bought.
Shinji and Kensuke seemed to materialize right beside them. Asuka nearly had a heart attack.
"You frickin' idiot." Asuka slapped his arm.
"Ow! That's still healing! Damn." Shinji protested and rubbed his shoulder. "You two all right? We were starting to worry."
"We're fine." Asuka huffed. "I needed to drag Hikari away from her study group."
"Asuka…" Shinji sighed.
The walk to the lighthouse was carried on in relative silence. The only noises were their shoes against rocks and gravel. The moon was mostly obscured by thick clouds. It eerily peeked out from behind its cover like a peeping tom from behind a window curtain. Asuka shivered. Gave her the willies.
Earlier in the day she and Shinji had attended synchronization tests. Her scores had been down. Again. She couldn't understand why. It made her ass burn just thinking about it. She recalled the battle against the MPEs. She recalled feeling her mother, sensing her mother, knowing she was there with her. And for a little while after, it was good. But the feeling eventually faded.
Asuka could no longer sense her mother. She could no longer feel her presence. She had gotten into the entry plug and felt cold. The plug suit was little better than a second skin, and it felt as though she had been sitting bare-assed on a folding metal chair that had been left on the sidewalk overnight.
She reared back and kicked a rock off into the darkness. Click, clack, click. The sounds echoed.
"Asuka, are you all right?" She felt Shinji's hand lightly take a hold of hers.
"Fine." Asuka pulled her hand away, hoping that the other two hadn't seen the exchange.
It was a few minutes longer walking along the train tracks before she could smell the bay, hear the soft sounds of waves, feel the prickle of sea salt on their skin. And then there was the abandoned lighthouse. The moon reflecting off the broken glass panes at the top.
"What is this place?" Hikari asked as Asuka yanked open the door.
"What does it look like?" Asuka held out her hand expectantly. "Shinji."
A flashlight was placed in her hand and she flicked it on. The interior of the lighthouse was barren. It looked like a condemned single bedroom apartment. There was an empty and rusted bed frame. A small kitchen. A small bathroom with a shower and a toilet. The only sink was in the kitchen. There was no running water.
"Careful. There are rats." Asuka pulled her hoodie up and smiled as she heard Hikari squeak.
"Ah, Hikari…" Without looking she could tell that Hikari was clinging to Shinji. "It's all right. There's hardly any rats here."
"But they're here? I mean, you've seen them, right? I mean, even if there's not a lot, there's still some?" Hikari babbled.
"It's all right. Asuka and I have been here a few times before, there's nothing dangerous here. Hardly any rats at all." She heard Shinji pause. "And if you see any, chances are they're more scared of you than you are of them."
Asuka suppressed a giggle as Hikari squealed.
"This is so awesome." Kensuke spoke with awe.
There was a click and a whirring sound. That fucking camcorder again, Jesus Christ.
"You better not have that thing running when we get up to the top, stooge." Asuka growled out.
"You think there are any ghosts in here?" Kensuke asked.
"There will be shortly if you keep that goddamn camera on. What we're doing isn't very legal and I don't want any evidence accrued against me."
"What?! What we're doing is illegal?!" Hikari's voice boomed through the rooms.
"No!" Asuka could feel a migraine coming on. "Not this. I mean…I'll show you when we get up there."
Asuka tried to balance herself on the rail road tracks, arms straight out from her sides, one foot in front of the other. And then she fell off. She almost spilled her sake. Damn.
"I used to be able to do this." She muttered.
"You're drunk." Rei said.
"Thank you. Yes, Wonder Girl. I am drunk. Thank you, that's nice." Asuka reared back and kicked a stone off into the darkness. "Fuck."
When Asuka decided that she wanted to go for a walk, she didn't know exactly where she wanted to go. She had already been toasted, so she couldn't very well think straight. At least she was sober enough to know that she was mostly inebriated. So she decided that she would just let her feet take her someplace. Cruise control, set. But even then, she somehow knew where she'd end up.
"Is something bothering you?" She felt Rei place a hand on her shoulder.
"Yes, something is bothering me." Asuka took a pull from her bottle. It tasted bitter. All night the sake had tasted bitter, but she drank anyway. "I'm hungry. Do you have any food?"
They continued their walk in silence, two officers of NERV, following the path of a broken down, derelict train track. Asuka took another pull of her sake. If she were to guess from the weight of the bottle, she had about a third of the bottle left. Shit. She half wished for some moonlight so she could see if her judgment was right.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Rei broke the silence.
"If I wanted to talk about it, don't you think I would've said something by now?" Asuka snapped.
"Sometimes you need a little encouragement."
"Funny. It feels an awful lot like harassment."
They continued their walk.
"Perhaps we should go back." Rei suggested.
"Perhaps you should shut up."
Goddamn. What was with her? She just wanted some company, not her fucking mother hanging over her shoulder. If she wanted someone to nag her every step of the way, she would've asked Takeda out for a drink, that meddling little shit head. Though…if she could feel her mother again…just a hint of her presence…
The lighthouse came into view. Asuka tried to remember how long it had been since she had last been to the lighthouse. A while. That was the most definitive answer her alcohol retarded mind could come up with.
It stood, same as ever. Tall, dark. The waves coming in sounded stronger than she was used to hearing. But then again, the winds were pretty strong. Fall was coming. Asuka got that funny tasting saliva in her mouth and spat. If she drank anymore, she would probably throw up. She took another pull from her bottle.
As she got closer, she could see the lighthouse had broken down a bit. A few large bricks missing from the outside. There was no glass at the top of the structure, at all. The front door had fallen off. She thought she could see its shadow off in the grass someplace.
She found herself standing on the far side of the tracks, looking over at the lighthouse. It towered over her. She stared at the top, and wondered what it might've looked like when it was still in use. What would it have looked like from, say, a barge coming into the bay on a stormy night? A crew working on the decks, trying to keep the cargo strapped down as gale force winds threatened to break the holding lines. Rain coming in sideways, stinging their faces like thousands of needles. The storm seemed as though it had been pounding for hours. Gigantic waves slamming the side of the vessel, rocking everything back and forth, sea water sloshing up onto the decks. Life lines secured so no one would slide off the deck and plummet into the dark water below. And the captain on the bridge, one eye watching his men work and one eye searching the darkness which threatened to swallow them whole. And then…there it was…the light house. They were approaching the bay. Everything was going to be okay.
No. Everything wasn't going to be okay. Someone was dead.
Asuka reared back and flung her bottle across the train tracks. She felt her shoulder pop and her balance give. She heard the bottle land just on the other side of the tracks. She heard it break, glass shattering all over the gravel and rocks.
She was on her hands and knees. She had a hard time breathing. She knew she was staring at the ground, but she couldn't see anything. Her vision was blurry.
Asuka wished the alarms would just stop. They were in NERV base for fuck's sake. Yes, they knew that they were under attack. She had heard the sirens. That's what had woken her up from her sleep in the first place.
One of her arms was wrapped around Rei's shoulders, using her as a crutch so that she could get to the lockers at a speed faster than crawling. One of Rei's men was helping Shinji in the same way. Fuck. She couldn't see a damn thing. Blurbs moved in her field of vision. She had hoped that by the time they had reached base, the high would've worn off. Goddamn, how much had they shot up the night before? Either they were one step away from an O.D. or that was some real powerful shit, which also meant that they were one step away from an O.D.
"What the fuck is wrong with them?" That meddling cocksucker, Captain Takeda.
"Nothing." Rei growled out.
"No, not nothing. Can they even fucking stand?"
"Get the fuck out of my way, Captain." Rei snarled. Go Wonder Girl. Asuka almost smiled.
Whoa. What happened? All of a sudden everything was white.
"Where am I?" She asked, hoping that there was someone there to give her an answer.
"In the locker room showers. I have to report to the Commander. Take a shower and sober up. Then report to the briefing room. Date is waiting outside to assist you." Rei's voice faded as she walked away.
Date was the only woman on Rei's team. Feisty girl, kinda pretty, but Asuka suspected that she was a dyke. What the fuck? Head in the game, Asuka. Head in the game. NERV is under attack and you need to suit up.
Asuka hit the shower. Fuck! Cold! She tried to back out, but felt her footing give…everything went black.
Asuka threw up. It tasted rancid and sour. It stung the back of her throat. It burned her nostrils. She heaved and a second wave came up. And then a third wave.
As she fought to catch her breath, she realized that Rei was holding her hair back. She felt a sob escape her. It made her stomach hurt. Tears forced their way up.
Everything wasn't going to be okay. Someone was dead.
Asuka grabbed Rei and pulled her tight. She needed something, anything. The smoke and destruction invaded her mind. It smelled like burning tires. It felt so cold in the entry plug. Where had her mother gone? Why wasn't she there? The giant, black gravestone towered over her, accusing her. You did it. You did it. You did it!
"No!" Asuka screamed. "I'm sorry!"
She clutched at Rei and felt her arms wrap around her and hold tight. Make it go away! Make it go away!
"I'm sorry!" Asuka sobbed. "I didn't mean it! I didn't mean it! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Shh." Rei's whisper reached her ears.
"I didn't mean to kill you." Asuka wept. "I didn't mean it. I'm so sorry, Hikari. I'm so sorry."
"I know." Rei said softly.
Shinji pulled himself up to the top of the lighthouse. He had mixed feelings about the whole evening. Before that night, it had been only him, Asuka, and Toji who had hung out at the lighthouse. It had actually been an interesting ordeal the first time.
It had been a few months prior. A cold day. Shinji had gone with Toji to get him fitted with some artificial limbs. They weren't much. Just stiff replacements. Asuka had gone with him because she had nothing else better to do, and she said that she wanted to get out of the apartment.
Once newly fitted, Toji wanted to get a feel for his new artificial limbs. So he was going out walking. Asuka had complained, bitched, and everything in between. Toji had said, fine, then he would go by himself. Of course Shinji wasn't going to let him go out walking by himself. He hadn't even had any training with it. Asuka bitterly tagged along.
They walked out of base and cruised along the outskirts of the town. They passed by a shady looking bar called the Red Raccoon. Thugs had stood outside of the establishment, staring them down.
Shinji and Asuka followed Toji out onto a trail about half a mile away from the bar. That's where they had found the train tracks.
Shinji thought that Toji carried himself well, considering that he had just got the limbs that very morning. The afternoon sun played across them. Toji walked a few paces ahead, and he and Asuka followed silently behind. He could sense Toji's resentment. Of course Shinji understood. He wouldn't want to feel as though he were being babysat either, but all the same he wasn't going to let Toji just fend for himself.
Then they came upon the lighthouse. The three of them had stood at the base, just looking up at it. Then Toji clumped his way inside. He insisted that they go to the top. And he insisted that he do it without any help at all.
At the moment, they were sharing the spot with two unfamiliars. It had been Asuka's idea. Her half-baked plan to get something together for the group. He did feel guilty keeping the spot from Kensuke and Hikari, but he kinda liked the idea of the place belonging only to him and Asuka. And Toji. It felt more exclusive that way, more private.
Shinji flopped down onto the walkway and enjoyed the view. The ocean rolled along. Small waves, lapping up against the cliff side. He inhaled the salty air and smiled. Peaceful.
"Break it out, Shinji." Asuka commanded.
Shinji sighed and reached into his backpack. He pulled out rolling papers and a zip lock bag full of MJ.
"What. Is. That." Hikari's voice sounded several tones too tense.
"It's called Chinese Chocolate." Asuka spoke as though she were addressing a fifth grader.
"Is that weed?!" Hikari had become shrill.
"Give her a prize."
Shinji knew it was coming. He trusted Asuka to make it right.
"Asuka! Shinji! What are you doing with…with…that?! Do you know how bad that is?!"
"Not as bad as you think." Asuka sighed. "I don't want to have to go into the scientifics of how this is better than drinking or smoking, both of which are legal, I might add. So take my word for it."
"No buts. If you don't want any, then sit there quietly. I'm in no mood to hear a lecture."
Shinji felt sorry for Hikari. Asuka was being particularly bitchy. What's her problem?
He put it to the back of his mind and rolled a couple of joints.
"You want one?" He asked Kensuke.
"I'll…uh…I'll try anything once."
He could see Kensuke smile nervously.
When he was done, they all lit up, with the exception of Hikari who just sat in silence. Shinji wanted to say something to her, to try to make her feel better, but couldn't think of anything. Where was Toji? He was supposed to have met them there already.
"Damnit, this keeps going out on me." Kensuke swore.
"One, you need to rotate it, dumbass." Asuka snorted and laughed. "Two, it has a tendency to go out."
"Well excuse me. This is my first time."
Shinji laughed. Oh man. He could feel it kicking in. And he knew that Asuka was feeling it as well. He watched her stand up and spread her arms, joint held firmly between her lips, the bright red cherry a firecracker against the dark backdrop.
"I love this place." Asuka pulled the joint from her mouth.
Shinji inhaled and held it. He heard Kensuke break out into a fit of hacking and coughing. And Shinji joined in. It wasn't his fault! He started laughing while trying to hold it in and it caught in his throat! Damnit!
"This fucking sucks." Kensuke spat as he caught his breath.
"Virgin lungs!" Asuka declared and laughed. Shinji couldn't help himself and he joined in.
"Ha ha, fucking hilarious guys."
"Aw, c'mon man." Shinji slapped his friend's back. "Everybody sucks their first time."
"You didn't!" Asuka plopped down next to him. "You were great…your…first…time." She whispered in his ear.
He felt himself go red in the face and hoped that the other two didn't catch the double entendre. He felt her breath against his ear, heard her giggle and he felt himself go a full rod. He cupped himself with one hand and took another drag from his joint. He felt Asuka lean up against him, still giggling. He looked down into her sharp blue eyes. Even in the dark, they seemed to reflect light. She was so beautiful. She exhaled smoke into his face and giggled. He wanted to kiss her.
"Holy shit. How much do you have here?"
Shinji looked over and saw Kensuke rifling through the backpack.
"I'm no drug dealer…but this is like…how did you afford…"
"Put that back you cock-munch." All trace of menace was gone from Asuka's voice. "Cock-munch." Asuka repeated and started laughing.
"You know, you guys are becoming really obnoxious." Hikari stood up. "I'm going home."
"Yo guys, I'm here…" Toji pulled himself up and froze. "Hikari."
The two stared at each other. Awkward moment. Shinji giggled and looked down at Asuka who made an exaggerated 'sh' motion with her finger.
"Uh…" Toji finally said. "What are you doing here?"
"So, uh," Kensuke began, looking incredibly uncomfortable, "I don't know what to say, man."
"You don't have to say anything." Shinji lit a cigarette. He supposed that he should feel guilty for making his friend uncomfortable, but found that he could care less. What was wrong with him? Goddamnit.
The rice and the unagi was gone. There was half a bottle of sake left. Shinji wanted to finish it, but saw that Kensuke had no more than two shots. It made him feel like a drunk.
"Well, I mean, hey, between old friends…" Kensuke scratched his neck. "Really, you can be honest with me, you and Asuka, you fucking her?"
Shinji burst out laughing.
"What kind of question is that?" He asked.
"I dunno." Kensuke smiled. "But I got a laugh out of you."
"Son of a bitch." Shinji laughed to himself. "It's really not what you think."
"So you are fucking her?"
Shinji felt a familiar burning sensation creeping up his cheek. Shit, even now he couldn't face it. He just shrugged.
"Oh God." Kensuke started laughing again. "I knew you two…man, that's great. I'm happy for you."
"Are you?" Shinji smiled, but felt the joy passing. Ah, fuck it. He was finishing the sake. "I just said that it's not what it seems."
"Yeah." Kensuke nodded. "You two always had some kinda fucked up relationship. No offense."
"None taken." Shinji shrugged it off and knocked back a shot of sake.
"So what, how long now?"
"I…uh…eight, maybe nine years."
"You two were going at it in high school?" Kensuke leaned forward, practically bug-eyed. "Holy shit, how'd you pull that off without anyone knowing?"
"By being very discreet."
"Why keep it from us?"
Shinji didn't have a real answer. At the time that the relationship had started, it had been because they didn't want to be separated. But after that?
"I, uh, I don't know." Shinji knocked back another shot of sake.
"I suppose you had your reasons." Kensuke looked away and seemed to take in the restaurant. "This place really is nice."
Shinji thought about Asuka. He wondered where she was at that moment. How she was doing. And he wondered what the fuck he was doing with Kensuke. The entire thing was a mistake. But then again…it was what he did. He clung to the past like it was a life line. Every time he had sex with Asuka, he hoped that he'd feel the same thing that he felt all those years ago, that throbbing in his heart every time she was near. Instead, it was the same empty release it had been since the war started. It was just sex.
He didn't even know if she felt the same way. Even when the relationship started, when she said 'I love you,' it was an empty phrase. Did she actually feel anything at all? But…but at least back then, he could pretend. He could imagine that she felt the same way about him.
"Hey, Kensuke." Shinji finished the sake and doused his cigarette. "You want to go visit Toji?"
"What?" Kensuke checked his watch. "It's like, eight thirty."
"Yeah, I know. Let's go. Get the old crew back together. He's staying at Hikari's old place."
Toji walked slowly. He needed to in order to keep his footing. The gravel didn't agree with his prosthetic limbs, which Toji equated to having a mannequin's arm and leg.
"You didn't need to walk me home." Hikari finally said.
"I know." Toji smiled at her, but saw that she wasn't looking at him.
"You could've stayed with them."
He couldn't believe that Asuka had invited Hikari to the lighthouse. Kensuke, fine, okay, but Hikari? And he felt like clocking Shinji for even going along with it. Goddamnit.
"I can't believe you do…THAT with them!" And there it was.
"Do you know how bad that stuff is for you? Not mention how illegal that is?" Hikari's eyes spat fire. He actually feared for his safety.
"It's not bad for you!" He protested. "I mean, smoking and drinking…"
"Yeah, that's what Asuka said. But guess what, we're not supposed to be doing those either! And I wouldn't! And I would've thought that you'd have the sense not to do it either!"
Toji let the silence fall. He had given up. Game over. There was no way to win the conversation. He just hoped that she didn't think him so low as to…he bit his lip.
"And what about drug testing?" Hikari exploded again.
Ouch. That really did hurt. Toji felt it in his limbs. The doctors called it phantom pain. Something about nerves thinking that the limbs were still there and…some other technical shit, he wasn't really paying attention.
"I'm sorry." Hikari all of a sudden sounded small. "I didn't mean to…" She trailed off.
"No, it's nothing." Toji rubbed his prosthetic arm. There was still pain. Shit.
There was more silence broken only by crunching gravel.
"But why?" Hikari's voice lost the edge and she pleaded. "Why? You don't need that stuff. You don't."
"Yes, I do." Toji said evenly.
"No. Why? Why do you need it?"
"Ah." Toji waved it off. "You don't want to know."
They had stopped walking. Toji felt his mouth dry up. He knew she expected an answer, and he wanted to give her one, but…he felt so weak.
"I have problems." He copped out. "A lot of problems you wouldn't understand…"
"Please." Hikari pressed.
"Because I care." Even in the darkness he could see her blush. He wondered if she could see his as well.
But how could he tell her? How could he tell her that he was always hurting? How could he tell her about the phantom pain? How could he tell her that it woke him up at night? And the shame he felt at not being able to operate the way every normal person does. The way that he missed having his arm and his leg. How depressed that made him. That he even entertained thoughts of suicide. How could he…
He felt her lips against his. Tasted her tongue. Felt her arms wrap around him. Felt her body press up against his. And the pain…was gone. He didn't know how long the embrace lasted. It was both an eternity and a second of bliss.
He broke the kiss and squinted into…light? A fucking flashlight? What mother fucker…
"Go Hikari!" Asuka, Shinji and Kensuke neared. Goddamnit. Goddamn those…and yet, he couldn't help but smile.
"I can't say I approve of your taste in boys…but…" Asuka smirked. "I'm glad you finally did something about it. You were seriously bringing me down."
"Asuka!" Hikari was so red.
Toji laughed and kissed her again.
It was unusually chilly. His breath came out in small clouds. He stopped to catch his breath as he rounded the corner of the block, back onto the street on which the Horaki Household was located. A bus passed by with a growl, belching exhaust fumes at him. He wrapped his trench coat tighter around himself. He didn't know how long he had been out. Damn. Nozomi was probably tucking the kids into bed for him. Was Keiko still there?
The shame killed him. He was letting it all get to him. Screwing with his head. Goddamnit, goddamnit. He told himself that he shouldn't feel guilty about getting up and leaving the table. He was getting testy at supper and he needed to clear his head. The last thing he wanted to do was to snap at them. Shit. He could hear his old anger management counselor talking to him.
"Feeling angry is okay. Anger is natural. No one can never be angry. That simply isn't healthy. Anger is frustration, irritation, stress. There are those, of course, who would say that anger can be controlled and that it's all a matter of how you perceive a particular situation. Ideally, that's true." The soft spoken, older man had paused to smile. "But we both know that the endeavor to accomplish that is entirely absurd. There's nothing wrong with getting angry. It's what you do with that anger. Snapping at people that don't deserve it. Hitting, fighting. Yelling. Anger, if you've noticed, is cyclical. When you find yourself getting angry with people, excuse yourself from the situation. Isolate yourself, try deep breathing."
That's exactly what he had done. But then why did he feel like a coward?
The word 'tired' couldn't even begin to describe how Eito felt. He stared out of the passenger side window watching the trees pass by. There were no lights on the mountain road. No lights save the stars and the moon. Yet, as tired as he was, he couldn't close his eyes for more than a few moments before feeling the need to open them again.
He sighed and rolled down the window and took a breath of the forest air. Thick. Humid. Earthy.
"Roll the window up. You're letting in a draft." Moriya grunted from the driver's seat.
Eito looked over at his partner, exasperated. The older man's stubble seemed thicker and darker with the moonlight playing on his face. His eyes seemed even more sunken in.
Moriya never looked away from the road.
Eito rolled the window up, wishing that he was at home.
"You know," Eito began, "It wasn't even our call to pick up."
"I know." Moriya grunted.
"Yet you had to pick up the fucking phone."
"What are you complaining about? You're young. I thought your stomach was supposed to be full of fire."
"My stomach should be full of supper. Instead we're on our way out to the mother fucking boonies picking up a stone cold whodunit. That shit looks good on my record too, by the way. Every young detective dreams of picking up unsolved cases. You know, when I reach your age, I plan on running homicide."
"Start small, puppy." When Moriya chuckled, it sounded like a dog growling. "Start small."
Eito turned his eyes back to the road. As they rounded a bend, he could see the crime scene far ahead. The only man made lights they had seen for miles. A coroner's van. A crime scene van. Three marked cruisers.
They pulled up behind a cruiser and stepped out. A uniformed officer approached them. Eito pulled out his badge and saw that Moriya already his displayed on the breast pocket of his brown blazer.
"Detective Moriya Ito. This is my partner, Detective Eito Nishimura. We're from homicide."
"Oh. Okay. Uh…" The officer looked around, a stupid 'what now?' expression on his face. "Well, uh, right this way."
As Eito followed the below par police officer and his senior partner into the thick of the forest, he could feel the damp soil giving and getting all over his shoes. Fucking hell. The officer led the way through the dark forest with a kel-light.
"How much farther?" Eito asked, feeling just a tad irritable. If the officer told them that they were lost, he was really going to be pissed.
"Shouldn't be much longer." The officer answered with a slight quake to his voice.
Then Eito saw it. The way he saw the cars parked curbside. The scene cordoned off. Yellow tape wrapped around trees, haphazardly. The hum of a generator and a series of flood lights. Everything illuminated. Everything in shadow.
"Oshiro!" The officer leading the way called out. "Homicide is here." The officer quickly retreated back towards the cars.
"Smoke 'em if you got 'em, gentlemen." A plainclothes officer approached them. Younger man. Older than Eito but younger than Moriya. "This one's a stinker."
"Pretty far out, aren't we?" Eito ducked under the yellow tape.
"Yes we are. Oshiro. Crime scene." The plainclothesman introduced himself without bowing.
"Ito. And this is my partner, Nishimura."
"I don't envy you two. Not one bit." Oshiro led them to a spot between three trees.
The smell started off light, but got worse as they approached the body. Oh good God it was horrid. Oh…Eito was actually thankful that he hadn't eaten yet. His stomach did back flips. He pulled out his handkerchief and covered his mouth.
"Family had gone hiking earlier in the day. On the way back, they took a little detour off the beaten track, trying to get back down to their car faster on account of it being late." Oshiro had opened his notebook and leafed through. "Came upon the body half sticking out of the ground. Top half. Face down."
"Did you move it?" Moriya asked.
Eito looked at the body. Festering raw spots on the arms and the back of the neck. Face down, lying on top of its arms. Hair long, matted, greasy, full of dirt. Fuck me.
"Take a look at this." Oshiro kneeled down and used his pen to part the body's head hair. "Two holes. Entrance wounds, probably. I'd say three-eighty, probably hollow point. Won't know until we find the bullets. And I doubt that we will."
Eito could actually see the small bugs and maggots crawling around the skull cavity.
"Mm." Moriya grunted.
"Shit." Eito could smell the decomp through the handkerchief. "Got any theories for us?"
"Go fuck yourself." Oshiro laughed. "I just gather info. You two are the detectives. That's your job, theories and motivations and the darkness of the human mind, and what the fuck ever."
"How'd it get exposed?" Moriya kneeled down to examine the holes.
"Whoever did this probably did a half-ass job. When this sorry son of a bitch was buried, it was probably in a three foot hole. Maybe less. Remember the rains from a couple weeks ago? Well, mountain side, slight grade, downhill, loose dirt moves, and our buddy gets daylight." Oshiro let out a belch. "That's my guess anyway."
There was a moment of silence.
"You wanna flip the body?" Oshiro asked.
"You get pictures?" Moriya stood up.
"Then let's flip it."
Oshiro gave a whistle and a couple of officers ran up. "Sift through the dirt. Dig up his other half. Then let's flip it over."
"So what do you think, puppy dog?" Moriya asked.
Eito wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Better something than nothing.
"Leftovers from the Asano-Yoneshige War?" He ventured.
"That was two years ago. Decomp isn't that bad. Few months at most." Moriya clicked his teeth. "Besides, this guy isn't Yakuza."
"We haven't even ID'd this asshole yet and you already know that he's not a gangster?" Eito snorted and watched Oshiro and the officers dig up the body's legs.
"Slacks. Polo shirt. Glasses." Moriya indicated a nearby evidence marker situated next to a pair of filthy, broken glasses. "He's not Yakuza."
"Take pictures." Oshiro instructed his photographer. "Flip him."
The body was turned.
The front was even worse than the back. The face was bloated. The bullet exit wounds were torn, black, suppurated. One hole was high on the left cheek. The other towards the center of the forehead. One of the eyes was missing, dirt caked into the socket.
"God." Eito swore.
"Look at that." Moriya pointed. "His hands are bound."
Eito looked, and sure enough, thick, knotted rope bound the body's hands together at the wrists. "In the front."
"Yeah. And see how the front of his slacks aren't torn at all?" Moriya continued.
"He was led out here." Oshiro finished the thought.
"The hole must've been pre-dug." Moriya spoke slowly. "They had him here, in front of the hole. And then put two into the back of his head. Execution style. Body falls in. They cover him up. Heartless mother fuckers."
"And why do we care?" Eito shook the image out of his mind.
"Details, puppy. You're new to this job, so stop pretending that you know everything." Moriya growled. "All the details help. In order to determine what happened and to be a better detective, when you look at a scene, you have to see everything. Re-imagine how it happened. Who was this man? Who wanted him dead? Who tied him up and led him out here? What was he feeling when the two bullets went into his head? Was he expecting it? Or was he on his knees at the edge of the hole? Praying. Pleading. Crying. Begging them to let him go."
Tabito wept. His legs felt like jelly. The large, mustached man led the way with a flashlight. The smaller, louder man brought up the rear. His wrists burned. He reached up to rub tears from his eyes, but the tears kept flowing. He sobbed. His foot caught on something and he let out a cry. Before he hit the ground, a hand caught him and pulled him upright.
"Keep going." The smaller man snarled.
"P-P-Please." Tabito gasped. "If-if-if you a-a-are t-trying t-to m-m-make a p-point, you…"
"Shut the fuck up you whiny little bitch." The small one snapped.
Tabito couldn't suppress his wail. He cringed, expecting another slap. Though none came.
Through his tears, he saw a light up ahead.
"Wh-where are we g-going?" He pleaded. "Wh-what are you g-going t-t-to d-d-d-d-…" He squeaked and cried. The tears kept flowing.
"Keep moving, faggot."
"N-n-n-…" He shook his head and felt his knees give.
Tabito was yanked to his feet and pushed forward. "N-n-no." But he kept walking closer to the light.
The light came from a lantern. It was set on the ground in a small clearing between three large trees. A dark figure was in a hole. There was the crunching of digging, and dirt was tossed out of the hole.
"We're here." The smaller one said.
"I know. I could hear the crying." Oh…oh no. That soft voice.
The figure in the hole looked up. Those red eyes.
"N-n-n-n-no!" Tabito's legs gave again and he fell to his knees. "Oh no! Oh no! Oh God! Oh…mama…mama…"
"Edge of the hole, Kenji." The dark figure stepped out of the hole and dusted herself off.
Tabito was yanked to his feet, yet again, and pushed forward until he stood at the edge of his grave.
"P-P-P-Please…" He managed to sob out. "Please, I d-d-d-don't want t-to d-d-die! Oh mama…help me…oh God…mama…"
"This one is a real pussy." The small one spoke. "All I needed to do was slap him around a little bit. We didn't even need to drag his sorry ass."
"P-P-P-Please." Tabito couldn't move. He willed his legs to run, but he couldn't move. "I-I-I p-promise I'll r-retract m-m-my st-statements. I-I-I'll shut down m-my b-blog a-and…"
There were two gunshots.
Tabito's glasses leapt off his face and into the darkness. His body collapsed into the hole.
"Fuck Ayanami…that shit's cold." Kenji whistled. "Didn't give him no prayer, last words or nothin'."
"Watanabe. Grab a shovel." The soft voice spoke. "Cov…"
"That's depressing." Eito rubbed his sinuses, feeling his heart sink. "That'll give me nightmares."
"Most of all," Moriya continued, "It'll get you closer to the victim. When you care about what happened to them, you'll be better as a detective. You need to care. It's the only way to do this job right."
Eito found that he had no response.
"Don't worry, buddy." Moriya said softly. "I'll find the mother fucker that did this to you, and I'll get 'em."
Rei watched Asuka stumble along the train tracks, trying to keep her balance. The night was cooling off. The grass on either side of the train tracks bent in the breeze. She didn't know how far they were from the road, but they were far enough away so that she couldn't see street lights.
Asuka took a pull from her water bottle and spat onto the rocks. She seemed to have composed herself after her breakdown, though she hadn't said a word since.
Rei felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. In the darkness it sounded like a cicada's hum. She checked the caller. Kuriki. She ignored the call.
"Who's that?" Asuka asked.
"You gonna answer?"
"I'm off the clock."
"Never stopped you before." Asuka took a long drink and let out a throaty belch. Utterly charming.
Rei chose not to respond and continued the walk. The earlier incident confirmed what she had suspected all along. Asuka blamed herself for what happened to Horaki…no…Mrs. Suzuhara. Rei wanted to talk to her about it, but Asuka was stubborn that way. If she didn't want to talk about it, she wouldn't. And every time in the past that Rei had brought up something that Asuka didn't want to hear, Asuka would just stop talking to her. Drug usage, alcohol, her relationship with Shinji. And it did hurt when Asuka stopped talking to her. So she learned to back off on sensitive topics.
"I can count on one hand, how many friends I have." Asuka blurted.
"There's Misato, but we never talk anymore. There's Hikari but, fuck, she's dead. There's you." There was a pause. "And I don't even like you."
Rei laughed and saw Asuka smiling.
"Nah, you're all right. Really. I don't know what I would do without you." Asuka admitted. "There's Shinji. But I'm not sure he even counts."
Rei noticed Asuka ticking off on her fingers, muttering names to herself.
"That's four, minus one, equals three." Asuka said softly. "There are only three people I can call friends."
"Some people have no friends."
"I remember back in high school…people adored me." Asuka let out a heavy sigh. "Do you remember? Every guy wanted me. Every girl wanted to hang out with me. I mean, I was popular. I don't have that anymore."
"But none of them were friends." Rei stopped and grabbed Asuka to keep her from falling over. "They didn't know who you were. They knew what you did. They knew what you looked like. If they knew who you were…well, you'd have been as lonely as you are now."
"Fuck you." Asuka laughed.
"I don't want to bring it up, but you don't seem to want to be around others either."
"Because they're all cunts, pricks and assholes." Asuka spat. "Every last one of them. But I liked the attention. Because, if I died, they would've remembered me. They would have carried my name with them for the rest of their lives, told their kids that they went to school with the Great Asuka. Eva pilot."
"You're an Eva pilot now."
"But no one gives a shit anymore." Asuka stopped. She looked a little green and Rei expected another heave. Asuka just burped and waved it off. "No one gives a shit. We've been at war so long no one knows or cares. When we fought Angels, people feared for their lives. They cared about who was protecting them. Now, we're fighting humans. And it's just another war to them. Me? I'm just another soldier. They could replace me with some po' dunk hick from Bumfuck, Anywhere and no one would know the difference. No one would miss me."
"Yeah." Asuka seemed to contemplate that, a small smile on her lips. "I have a college degree. Got one when I was thirteen. Did I ever tell you that?"
"Did I ever tell you what my degree was in?"
Rei waited, expecting Asuka to continue. When she heard nothing, she looked over and saw that Asuka actually expected an answer.
"Liberal fucking Arts." Asuka laughed. "Worthless fucking degree. Goddamn, what a waste of time that was."
"That's nothing to sneeze at. Some people don't get their degrees at all, and you got yours when you were thirteen."
"Piloting is all I've ever known." Asuka didn't seem to hear. "As far back as my memory goes, I've been piloting, training to pilot. I…don't know anything else. I went to school. I went to college. I got a degree. But I have no experience in anything. If I ever became useless as a pilot, I have nothing to fall back on. I'm a bitch, no, I know that. I know that. I am a bitch. I have no people skills, I…I…I've got nothing besides this. Right here. This is who I am. And…I never…I never told anyone this before…I fucking hate this. I hate piloting."
"Bullshit. You love it. And you're the best." Rei could see Asuka's tears reflect in the moonlight, like stars running down her cheeks.
"Fuck that. Shinji's always been better than me. And I don't mind that, not anymore. But…I hate this…I do, I hate piloting." Asuka sobbed. "I hurt people. But I don't know how to do anything else! This is all I am! I have absolutely nothing else!"
"You have Shinji."
Asuka lapsed into silence.
Rei continued to walk, hand on Asuka's shoulder, leading her, keeping her steady, and hopefully comforting her.
"Shinji's never said that he loves me."
"Bullshit." Rei cut her off. Couldn't let her take it any further. "You know he adores you."
"But he's never said it, so I don't know."
"Bullshit, Asuka, bullshit. He has said that he loves you."
"When? Can you tell me one time?"
Rei opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She desperately searched her memories. Every moment he saw Asuka and Shinji together, drunk, high, sober…and she couldn't think of any time where Shinji had said those words to Asuka.
"He loves you." Rei finally said.
"He doesn't even say it when we fuck. The closest I've ever heard is when he cums, he says, oh God, Asuka, I…goddamnit."
"He's said it to me." Rei lied.
"He's said that he loves you?"
"Don't be an asshole."
"Well, why couldn't he have told me himself? I mean…I know he…it's just…it'd be nice to hear it. I mean, it's not normal, right? When you love someone, you tell them, right? I mean, I've said it…I think."
Asuka went silent.
Rei's cell phone went off.
"Damn." She ignored it.
"I'm fucked up, Wonder Girl." Asuka finally said. "Where's Shinji?"
"Probably at home."
"I'm taking you home and you'll see him there."
Rei sighed and checked the miss call. Kuriki again. She passed on it and dialed Shinji's number.
"Hello?" He answered.
"Shinji, where are you?"
"We're going to Toji's place. Well, I guess Hikari's place, or Hikari's father's place…you know what I mean." He sounded drunk.
"Me and Ken."
"I see." Shit, that must've been what Kuriki had been calling about. "Are you driving?"
"Well, no. Ken is."
"Have him drop you off at home. Asuka is in a bad way, and I think you need to be there for her."
"Oh…we just got here. I mean, all right, I'll be home."
"Never mind, stay there. I'll come pick you up."
"Wait, Shinji, you haven't said anything…never mind, I'll see you in a bit."
Kensuke turned off his car and just waited. On the way to the Horaki residence, Shinji had gotten quiet. Kensuke had tried to start a couple of conversations, but his old friend remained silent.
He had to admit that he was weirded out by supper. Six years. Enough time for someone to change. But Shinji was still his friend, right? It didn't feel that way. He wasn't even sure if Shinji still thought of him as a friend. All through supper, he felt as though he was just a sounding board. A mannequin for Shinji to talk to. When he saw Shinji at the funeral, he could see glimpses of his old friend. At the bar, Shinji had seemed almost manic. And as he sat in his car, Shinji on the passenger side, parked a block from Horaki's house, he could only wonder which Shinji he would be talking to when his friend decided that he wanted to say something. Old, manic or bipolar?
Shinji stared out of the passenger side window, cell phone still in hand.
Kensuke tried to see what he was looking at without making it obvious that he was curious.
"I had a dream last night."
Kensuke gave a start at the sound of Shinji's voice. Fuck.
"After I left the bar, after I got home. I don't know if it was because of the funeral or what. But when I slept, I had a dream. I was a bullet. Chambered in a gun. I don't know who was holding the gun or whom or what the gun was pointed at." Shinji stopped to light a cigarette.
Kensuke waited for him to continue, but he didn't.
"Let's go." Shinji turned and smiled. It was frightening. The eyes were empty and without feeling, the smile looked as though it were made of plaster. "Rei's going to pick me up at Toji's. I want to at least say hi."
Keiko couldn't stop thinking about him. She just felt so awful about the whole thing. When Toji left the dining room table, it felt as though time had stopped. Nobody had moved. It wasn't until he pulled on his coat that she realized that she had been holding her breath.
As the door quietly shut behind him, Nozomi's father, Hiro, had gotten up without excusing himself from the table, and slowly retreated to his room.
"I'm so sorry." Keiko had said softly.
"No, I'm sorry." Nozomi shook her head. "It's not you."
Nozomi had ushered the children up to their bedrooms.
Keiko felt lost. Sitting by herself at the dinner table. Looking upon what was actually a beautiful spread, but with no one there to partake, no one there to talk, to joke, to laugh. She had never lost anyone that mattered. Her father was still alive, still managing her town's grocery store. Her mother was still a house wife. Her brother…away with the JSSDF forces, stationed at an air force base in South Korea, a munitions man, but out of harm's way. And she still e-mailed him, at the very least, once a month. One person gone…and the entire family seemed to be at the edge of falling apart.
"I'm so sorry." Nozomi had said again after she put the children to bed. "It's just, things have been very hard for Toji. He always tries to be the strong one, you know? Hikari always used to tell me, he seems like a gruff dog, but he's such a sweetheart on the inside."
"Really, I understand, you don't have to apologize. I should've known better than to intrude while he's still grieving. A man needs time to himself, doesn't he?" Keiko began to clean her place. "He can't always be strong, he needs time to himself."
"Please, stop. I'll clean up."
"Don't be silly." Keiko put on her best smile. Enough was enough. "I need something to do. I Might as well help. It's the least I can do, anyway."
"Gosh you're stubborn." Nozomi laughed. "Thank you."
It was relatively quick work, gathering up the dishes and cleaning the places at the table. Nozomi had taken the leftovers and sealed them in saran wrap. Lunch for the kids tomorrow.
"So, are…were you older or younger than Hikari?" Keiko ventured.
"I'm the youngest." Nozomi smiled as she did the dishes. "Hikari was the middle child. The responsible one. Dad was always at work, and Kodama was always out with guys."
"Oh right, I think I met Kodama at the…uh, so she graduated already?"
"Yeah, business management degree. She runs a Starbuck's downtown now."
"Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but was that her husband with her?"
"Mm-hm. She married last year. I actually didn't think she'd ever get married, she was really kind of…ah…a player of sorts." Nozomi blushed and laughed.
"What does her husband do?"
"He's a cop. He's really smart, kind of a…well, he can grate on you sometimes."
"Insufferable?" Keiko offered.
"A bit." Nozomi laughed. "Well, apparently he got a criminal justice degree in college and graduated near the top of his class. Then he aced the police academy exam. Now he's made detective and has been moved to Homicide, and he's only 28. Youngest in his division, supposedly, and he likes to let people know it. Thinks…well, he thinks he's hot shit."
Keiko laughed as Nozomi pulled a face, as though she couldn't believe that she just uttered those words.
Keiko turned and saw Toji in the dining room taking off his jacket.
"Oh." He said and looked surprised. "You're still here?"
"I'm sorry, I was just helping Nozomi clean…"
"No, no. I'm sorry." He turned red and bowed low. "I didn't mean to sound unwelcoming. I was just surprised. I'm just…I didn't think…"
"Stop while you're ahead." Nozomi said in a tone that sounded only half-joking.
"Right." Toji stood up. "Uh, can I offer you a ride home?"
"Oh." Keiko wasn't sure how to respond. "I don't want to…"
"It's no trouble." He turned red again. "I mean, I'm not saying you should…"
There was a knocking at the door. Everyone stopped and seemed to just listen. Knocking.
"Who could that be? It's almost nine thirty." Nozomi quickly went to the door.
"So, uh, would you like a ride?" Toji continued as Nozomi ran past him.
"Thank you very much. That would be great." Keiko bowed, feeling a little flush herself.
"Toji? Some of your friends are here to see you."
Keiko followed Toji to the entryway and felt her heart jump.
Kensuke looked apologetic…and he should. She though he was supposed to be working on some…well, something big. Shinji looked a sight. Like he had been drinking all night. Which meant that Kensuke…oh, he was gonna get it.
"Toji." Shinji smiled and bowed slightly, but just slightly. He looked as though if he bowed any lower, he would tip over.
"Shinji." Toji shook his head. "What…are you all right?"
"Perfectly fine." Shinji stepped into the house. "I'm just…I thought I'd say bye. I'm going to war tomorrow. Mainland China."
"Sorry man." Kensuke entered as well and put his thumb to his lips, indicating drinking.
Keiko found herself in a moment of silence. At that moment, she saw stones rise from the floor and erect themselves into walls, separating the three men. She saw the looks in their eyes, the things they didn't want to say. I don't know who you are. And then she thought, perhaps the funeral they had attended was in memory of more than just Toji's wife.
"Stay in the car." Rei said and unbuckled her seatbelt.
"I'm not going anywhere." Asuka murmured from the passenger side.
Rei took the keys from the ignition and looked over Asuka. Her friend curled up against the door, head resting on her hands, eyes closed, brows furrowed. Somewhere along the way she had lost her beret. Her hair noticeably tangled in spots, more of a brown than red colored in the moonlight.
Rei reached over to pat her shoulder, but stopped. She got out of the car.
The burbs were quiet. No sounds but a jingling bell, perhaps on the collar of a cat let out for the night. Up the perfect sidewalk, nary a crack on the concrete. Every home had a car. Every street lamp was lit. Every rain gutter was clear. The sky even had stars.
She found Horaki residence and turned up the walkway. She knocked on the door.
It was Toji who opened the door.
"Hi, Ayanami." Toji smiled, obviously forced. "Shinji said you'd be dropping by."
"Only to pick him up." Rei removed her beret. "I apologize for the state he's in and for the trouble he must be causing you. I should've been watching over him."
"Not a problem." Toji stepped aside, allowing Rei entry.
The home was nice. Old fashioned. Much too homey for her tastes. Kind of bumpkin-ish. Too much wood, too much brown.
She found Shinji at the dining room table with Kensuke, Kensuke's partner and Nozomi Horaki.
"Rei." Kensuke quickly stood up, rubbed his hands on his pants and smiled. "Hey there. How are you? Oh, you're in your uniform. I thought you were off today."
"Recent events called me in on my day off." Rei nodded.
"Oh right! I almost…I mean…"
"I'm ready to go." Shinji stood up slowly, that depressing smile of resignation on his face. "I'm ready to go fight."
"See you later, Ken." Shinji bowed slightly and then ambled over to Toji. "I'm so sorry man." He hugged Toji fiercely.
Rei took Shinji gently by the elbow and led him out of the Horaki residence, leaving only silence behind.
"Of course not." Fuyutsuki sighed. "But it's the best that we can do. We've always been fighting the tide. They have eight, we have three. But they're not stupid. We send our two best out there in foreign territory with minimal support and they have to bite. The opportunity is too good to miss."
"Wait, whose opportunity is this? Theirs or ours?" Misato laughed dryly. "If they would just fight to the end, we would've had at least three of 'em."
"As I said, they're not stupid." Fuyutsuki leaned back in his chair.
Misato stared up at the ceiling of the room. The tree. Creepy fucking thing.
"You know, you really don't have to do this. We can send someone else." Fuyutsuki offered again.
"No." Misato shook her head. "I'm going. I need to look out for them. I'm not letting some young gun fuck this up. The margin for error is too small."
"Mm. What kind of mother would you be, right?"
Misato chose not to respond, but the words did catch in her throat.
"Who are you taking with you?" Fuyutsuki asked.
"Hyuuga. Definitely. I think Endo, too. And Koga, that kid from Saga. He should be handy, countryside." Misato stood up and felt her spine pop. Ow. "I want the First, Third and Seventh."
"I can't do that." Fuyutsuki shook his head. "You can have the Third and Tenth. I'm sending the Seventh to our people up north. And the First is staying right here, in case they try something cute."
"Leave me with my ass hanging out why don't you. The Tenth are mostly new recruits. Thanks for the third, but out of the original three I asked for, they're the most under strength."
"But they're all veterans."
"Gee whiz. Thanks."
"You'll have two thousand more."
Misato stopped and waited for Fuyutsuki to elaborate.
"US Marines." Fuyutsuki sighed. "From the Nimitz Carrier Group."
"Wow. Someone owe you a favor? Whose command?"
"Colonel Gerard Gottschalk."
"Oh Lord." Misato laughed. "You want to send me any more crazies? Our civilian community liaison could be Tsutomu Miyazaki."
"For what we want to accomplish, I think you could possibly find a use for Gottschalk's temperaments." Fuyutsuki said evenly.
"Are…are you serious?" Misato tried to think about it, then tried to not think about it, then shrugged it off. "Never mind. If I think I need to do it…"
"You definitely won't tell me about it." Fuyutsuki cut her off.
Misato chewed on his words, then nodded.
On the plus side, Shinji and Asuka being redeployed meant that he would have a reprieve from actually having to pump them for information. It hurt Kensuke's head when he thought about it, and he could actually feel himself turning red as he thought about and relived the awkward moment he and Shinji had share in the restaurant. Shit. Why should he feel so embarrassed? He actually didn't do anything wrong. He didn't press too hard, he didn't get anything useful or damaging out of Shinji. And yet…fuck. Why? Why feel terrible? Kensuke had just tried to be himself. It was Shinji that was all over the place. It was his old friend that had been acting strangely. And then going over to Toji's place?
He supposed he could've tried to stop him. But…he just went along with it. Why? Did he hope to get something else out of the situation? Did he hope that getting Shinji with Toji might've yielded more information? No, no, he hadn't been thinking about that. But then, what had he been thinking? It certainly wasn't to get to know Shinji better. Well…maybe at first…but after supper he realized there wasn't anything to Shinji that he really wanted to know about.
Two half-assed nights hanging out with an old friend. Conclusion: After six years, Shinji's closet still wasn't clean. In fact, the number of skeletons in there seemed to have grown exponentially.
Kensuke caught a red light and braked. An intersection near their hotel. The engine idled. His car was the only car at the stop. And yet, it was red. What the fuck? And with his luck, if he gunned it, a cop would tear ass after him. And he still had that goddamn report to write for Maeda.
He heard a heavy sigh next to him and his skin prickled. He looked over.
Keiko's arms were crossed in front of her chest. She stared out of her window. Her breath made small clouds on the window.
"How you doing, hun?" Kensuke asked.
"Asshole." She replied.
The light changed.
Shinji helped undress Asuka. What time were they shipping out? He couldn't remember…more than that, he couldn't remember if they had been told at all. Where were they going? Oh yeah, Hainan. Well, he wasn't so drunk so that he couldn't remember where they were going. Which meant that he was probably sober enough to cook himself up a safe dose.
He pulled the sheets over Asuka. Her eyes were closed. When Rei had picked him up, he could smell the liquor coming off of her. He knew that she was stone drunk. She had been passed out in the passenger seat and remained that way until Rei had dropped them off at the apartment. Shinji had to sling her over his shoulder and help her onto the elevator, all the while trying to keep himself from falling the fuck over from his own inebriation. Blind leading the blind.
He was gonna have a hangover. No doubt about that. He wondered…he checked the drawers in his nightstand. Nothing. Fuck. Dresser drawers? Nope. Under the mattress? Bingo. A few buds of grass left. He shook his head and tried to clear it, tried to dampen the sick feeling that was rising up in his stomach. He pulled out some rolling papers and began to try and separate the leaves. After a few minutes of steady work, he managed to grind it all down. Sticky fingers. He tried to roll the joint but fumbled a few times. No way was it gonna work. What to do?
Into the bathroom, bent over the toilet. He put his finger to the back of his throat. Dry heave. Again. Dry heave. Fuck. Again. Dry heave. Again. Dry heave with some mucousy shit. Goddamnit. Again. It all came up. Fucking finally. Again. More came up. Again. Less came up. Again. Dry. He stayed above the toilet, breathing in the noxious smell of his stomach.
Flush. He rinsed his mouth out at the sink, brushed his teeth, and out of mild curiosity he checked to see if his gum-line was receding. Couldn't tell. He felt much better heading back to the bedroom. He sat down and finished rolling the joint.
"You gonna share that?" Asuka's exhaustion thick voice traveled to his ears with lead weights.
"Gag reflex. You shouldn't."
"I threw up already, earlier."
"This is for tomorrow. Pick me up."
"We're shipping out high?"
"No worse than we've ever been." Shinji put the joint and the remaining pot in his night stand.
"At least cook something up."
"I was going to." He popped a painkiller and pulled out the baggy.
"I love you."
Shinji felt pain knife its way into his chest. He closed his eyes and felt it deep.
"I love you." She repeated.
He felt the blade break off in him.
Those were the words that he wanted to hear. The words that he had always wanted to hear. The problem was that she was drunk. Those were the only times he had ever heard her say the words. It was when she was drunk, or when she was high, or when she was tired. She didn't really mean it.
"Did you hear me?"
Yes, he did. Just like he heard it all the other times that she had said it. And just like all the other times, she would probably wake up the next morning and not remember having said it. They would never speak of it again. So it would go.
"I mean it."
He pretended that she did. But knew that she didn't.
Rei stepped out of her car and checked the time on her cell phone. Nearing one in the morning. She would have to schedule a meeting the next day, lunchtime or afternoon. Needed to get the word around, needed to round up the contacts, needed to grill some people.
Her apartment complex was the same as it had always been. The same small apartment in the same shitty complex, in the same shitty part of town. The only difference was that construction had actually been completed. Now a strip joint was down the way, and a few bars. If she was lucky, sometimes on weekends she would be woken up by loud voices, laughing, yelling, screaming. Drunk people.
Usually there were no cars in the designated parking spots next to the complex. No one who lived there actually had enough money for a car. So her unmarked, four door cruiser was usually the only thing there. When she had gotten her first cruiser, it had only been a couple of nights before it had been stolen. Of course, there was a tracker on it. The next day they had traced the car to a chop shop downtown. No police had been called in. But the boots had been put to the people who ran the chop shop. Then the boots had been put to their bosses. And the actual thieves got their share. She never had another car stolen.
However, as she pulled into her parking space, she couldn't help but notice another car parked on the far side of the parking lot. Odd. She couldn't make the model or year. After locking her car, she turned her back on the suspicious vehicle and headed toward her apartment. She heard the crunching of gravel. Thank God for that. She didn't turn around.
Pick up the pace. So did the crunching behind her. But they were still getting closer. Maybe forty feet. She ducked into the stairwell and headed up a flight, but ducked onto the second floor instead of continuing to her floor. So far she was impressed with them, but hoped that they were stupid enough to keep going without listening for her.
Yes they were. They passed the second floor started up to the third. She drew her gun and stepped back into the stairwell, checking down before pointing up. Downstairs clear. Two dark figures on the stairs heading up.
"Freeze." She said. "I have a gun on you. You move, you die."
Shit. Kuriki. But they kept their hands raised anyway.
"What are doing, following me like that?" Rei lowered her gun. "Put your hands down."
"You weren't picking up, and it's not like we were gonna just call out. Sensitive material." They turned.
The second man was Harada.
"You two disappoint me. I got the drop on you. Didn't you hear my footsteps stop?" Rei holstered her pistol and pulled out her pack, lighting one.
"Sorry, I guess we weren't expecting that." Harada took a seat on one of the steps.
"So what's so important? If it's about Shinji, you don't have to worry, I knew that he was with Kensuke."
"That's not it." Kuriki shook his head and reached into his jacket.
Rei had to suppress the reflex to grab for her pistol again.
"Take a look at this." Kuriki handed her a thin file. "Suda and Saito got word to us this afternoon that you wanted us to get checking on some things. They said that you sounded a little urgent, well, as urgent as you can sound I guess." He chuckled.
"So what's this?" Rei opened the file and used her lighter to read in the dark.
"Well, I know someone at the Prefecture Attorney's Office, and it just so happened she was working today. I got her to let me in just before the offices closed, so I was able to do a quick once over a few desks, grabbed some memos and shit like that." Kuriki lit his own cigarette. "Mostly bullshit, but I did find that gem on the desk of one Assistant Prefecture Attorney Wataru Suzuki."
Rei read the letter and smiled to herself.
FROM: MOCHIZUKI MOTOHARU
TO: YOSHIDA NARIAKI
CC: SUZUKI WATARU, YAMANE OTOYA, HARA DAISUKE, HAYASHI HAKUBA
Mr. Yoshida, regarding the Prime Minister's concern with the recent developments, please inform him that he has nothing to worry about. We are not concerned with dragging NERV's name through the mud, nor are we concerned with any "publicity stunts." Our investigation has been going on quietly for a while now and we see no need to go public anytime soon, or ever, that is, up until the point where the investigation comes to a close.
While we are making steady progress in our investigation, we are still in the information gathering stage. We do not see the end of this project coming to close anytime in the near future. However, that being said, please impress upon the Prime Minister the importance of finding suitable replacements for all high ranking positions within NERV immediately. I understand that this can hardly be done quietly, but please remind him that he should still use discretion as we do not want the UN to get wind that one of their organizations is being scrutinized, for obvious reasons.
Positions the Prime Minister should be looking to replace: Commander, Sub-Commander, Director of Section-2, Tactical Operations Director, Evangelion Pilots (aka Children.)
I will, of course, keep you informed of all aspects of our investigation. Take care and send the Prime Minister my regards.
Your Most Humble Servant,
Prefecture Attorney, Tokyo-3
"Very good work." The news was terrible, of course, and confirmed her worst suspicions, but she could feel her blood pumping. It excited her in a way. And better yet, knowing that it was there and letting it ride gave them an edge. Rei actually felt frisky. "What about you?"
"Nothing." Harada shrugged. "Nothing yet anyway. I jumped on it, about halfway through."
"Keep on it."
"Really?" Harada scratched his head. "But they just said in the letter that the Director of Section-2 was one of the targets."
"No, they said that the Director of Section-2 would probably need to be replaced. If he flipped then they would still need someone to take his place, since there would be no way that they could keep using him in that position." She tucked the folder beneath her arm. "Call in tomorrow at about eleven in the morning. We need to have a squad meeting."
"Got it, boss." Kuriki and Harada took their leave, and Rei stood by herself in the stairwell, smoking.
She smiled. It was going to be fun.
End Chapter 3
Writer's Notes: Chapter 3. After what seems like forever. Apologies. All reviews, comments, and criticisms are welcome and greatly appreciated. Oh yeah, I can't forget…www dot evafics dot org. Yes, we are still alive there.