Disclaimer: I do not own NGE, so no litigation!
Love in the Time of Hipsters
"Hm. Record sales are down this quarter," Gendo Ikari, CEO of Nerv Music Group, commented.
"Not surprising. Second Impact just released another album this week," Kozo Fuyutsuki, vice president, replied dully.
"Seele has stolen all of our business…for now," Gendo said in an ominous manner.
The two business executives leaned back in their chairs in the large boardroom.
"What about Soryu? She's one of our star musicians. Potentially she could challenge Seele's Second Impact." Gendo was surprised that she hadn't managed to become a real threat to the pop group.
"She…has a bit of a problem."
"Soryu's talented and attractive, but her public image isn't what we'd call…clean. She…has a tendency to…hit things."
Like photographers…men in bars…men in coffee shops…men on the street…"
"…I see your point. We'll have to remedy that," Gendo said firmly.
"How?" Kozo inquired incredulously. The situation was becoming more and more untenable with every tabloid smearing the name of their star performer.
"I hate the day like Tom hates Jerry," moaned Toji Suzuhara, hands on his head.
"I thought the hate was mutual?"
"It's still apt. Mice hate cats and vice versa. And are you really one to criticize me?"
Kensuke Aida shifted uncomfortably in the barstool.
"I'm not the one who stayed up all last night," Kensuke said.
"Because Hikari was talking on the phone all last night…again."
"I don't get it. If she's so much of a bother, then why don't you break up and move out?"
"I love her," Toji said simply as if it was enough explanation. Oddly, it was. However, the masculinity affirming moment was tainted by the streak of pink on his cheeks.
"Aw. That's cute. I can just imagine the two of you. Hikari…and her blushing bride Toji."
"Shut up," Toji grumbled before taking a bite of his fish and chips.
"You guys skipping work?"
Both men turned around to see a whiplash lean man with piercing blue eyes.
"Shinji! I thought you were in Canada!"
"Just got back. Seele is still indecisive. They're not sure about hiring my firm. Something about metallic versus plushy."
"PR really is a thankless job, huh?"
"Eh, I get paid decently and I get to travel."
"I don't know. There are some hinky people you're bound to deal with. Like these Seele people. What the hell's a German company doing in Canada?"
"Why are you asking me? They're a music label. They're actually well known to pick world class musicians. But the company itself is just not known all that publicly for some reason. Maybe Canada has a higher concentration of good musicians? Speaking of good, we still on for Friday's dinner?"
"Course dude. Hikari's been dying to try some recipe or something."
"And you just care about being fed, Toji," Kensuke said caustically. "I'll bring my usual pie."
Little did anyone outside of their little group know, but Kensuke was an incredible baker.
"And I'll bring something of my own creation," Shinji said, ever the iron chef.
Kensuke and Toji started eating more enthusiastically and seemed a lot more animated since Shinji got there.
"You never answered the question, you know. You guys skipping work?"
"What? No. Toji's sealed the deal with another sporting goods shop. And I don't have much to do."
"Congrats Toji," Shinji said honestly before turning back to Kensuke. "Why don't you have anything to do?"
"We can't do anything without a good story to guide the programming of the game. Love sims are hard to make, man," Kensuke said dejectedly.
"I still find it both fitting and weird that you do that. I mean you played them all the time back in High School…but I've never known you to have a girlfriend," Toji said curiously.
"Rub it in my face, why don't you?" Kensuke grumbled miserably.
"Sorry, sorry. I was being an ass…" Toji said apologetically.
Shinji tried to smooth things over. "Come on guys. Work is miserable enough without us having to wale on each other…and I have no doubt that Toji could take you if it came to that."
"What!! Oh, it's on!" Kensuke roared animatedly.
"Bring it," Toji hissed intensely.
Kensuke forgot his misery and put his elbow on the table for the purest manly fight of all: a thumb war. Toji rose to the challenge and fiercely gripped his hand for the battle.
Shinji smacked his forehead and shook his head in exasperation until he heard:
"Hey! We got a thumb on the guillotine! My money's on four eyes!"
Half the men in the bar started to surround the two grappled in the war for thumb supremacy. And Shinji sensed a gambling opportunity.
An hour later, Shinji walked out with a cool 200 dollars in his wallet and started walking back to his firm's offices.
"Hey, Ran. Any messages?"
"Just one. From your father: 'Call me,'" she said in a weak imitation of his cold, stern tones.
Shinji laughed nonetheless. Ran was a rare sort of girl: a nice one.
"Thanks. I'll be in my office."
Shinji heavily plopped into his chair and breathed deeply. He reached for the phone
"Hikari…do you think I'm sexy?"
The freckled brunette sighed in exasperation. Asuka always went through this routine every time she broke up with a man.
"I don't swing that way, Asuka."
"If I was sexy enough, I'd be able to make you swing that way."
"I have a boyfriend."
"I can kick his ass and claim you."
"Asuka…" Hikari whined. However, Asuka was relentless and kept looking at Hikari expectantly. At last, the brunette caved in.
"…You are the most curvaceous, gorgeous woman I have ever laid eyes on. The Goddess Aphrodite herself would be rife with jealousy at your oozing sexiness. If I did not have a boyfriend, I would swap teams and ravage your body right here, right now," Hikari said in a droll, dull tone of voice, having gone through this enough times to just give up convincing her.
"Ahh. Thanks Hikari," Asuka said as she leaned back in the plush sitting chair. "That gets me revved up for my next boyfriend."
"You just broke up. Don't you think that you should slow down?"
"Public image of course! That dork dumped me! Me!" Asuka growled indignantly.
Hikari rolled her eyes. She was her best friend, but at times she was just a little conceited. "Image? Asuka, I hate to break it to you, but it's a little late to worry about your image at this point."
"What do you mean by that!?"
"Well…you did punch those paparazzi before…"
"That was totally justified! I mean who hides in a dressing room!?" Asuka huffed.
"Okay, I'll give you that, but what about the charity worker for Seele?" Hikari patiently said.
"He groped my ass when we were cutting the ribbon for that new hospital! And by the feel of it, his hand was going even more south! I had to teach him a lesson!"
"And what about the grandmother that you punched instead when you tried to 'teach him a lesson?'"
"…that was a total accident. If only he hadn't ducked and taken it like a man," Asuka muttered contemptuously.
"My point still stands. You're not exactly seen as the nicest celebrity out there. Certainly famous, but not for the things that you'd like."
"Do they like my music?" Asuka asked brusquely.
"Yeah. You've gone platinum, but-"
"Do they like my movies?" Asuka asked again in the same blunt manner.
"You've never had less than a million dollar contract, but what I'm saying is-"
"Do they like my TV show?"
"Yes, they-wait you don't have a TV show."
"I will," Asuka said with a cute wink. "And it'll be a huge success, so what's the big deal?"
Hikari had enough with her interruptions and shrieked, "Because you're being seen as a spoiled, violent bitch!"
"Humph! Who cares?" Asuka said indifferently, crossing her arms.
"I care! You're my best friend! I don't want you slandered like that!" Hikari shouted with tears in her eyes.
Silence filled the room like a noxious gas.
"All right…I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean to-"
"Hikari, it's okay. You were right. I know that my name is being dragged through the mud lately, but I guess…I'm just used to it."
"You shouldn't be though," Hikari said softly.
"Well, if you're really so worried, the label sent a new PR guy to meet me tomorrow."
"Do you think he'll be any good?"
"I'd bet he's some mama's boy."
"Shinji. Your mother wants me to talk to you about something."
"…about what?" Shinji felt apprehensive. When his mother talked his father into having a conversation with him, it never was anything good. The last talk they had was the talk and that was the most uncomfortable, ungodly two hours of his life. It would've only lasted one hour, but he kept passing out at the time.
"She's worried about the state of your date life."
"…how does she even know the state of my date life?"
"Apparently, she's very good friends with your secretary. But that's beside the point. She's concerned about how you're 27 years old and you haven't had a girlfriend in your life."
Shinji threw a dirty look out at the door, where he knew Ran to be leaning against and listening in.
"What about Mana in college?"
"She was…a little too high strung to be considered a healthy relationship." Like on crystal meth.
"Look son, I personally have no issue with you being alone."
Gee…thanks dad. Shinji thought. As a child, he had grown used to his father's gruff mannerisms.
"Some men are islands, but you know your mother…" Gendo shuddered in remembrance of his first date with her. Contrary to popular belief, Yui Ikari was the first to approach Gendo Rokubungi, not the other way around. On that day, Gendo felt a distinct chill crawl up his spine as he watched the class representative walk to him with purposeful determination. Little did he know that beneath the cute, responsible exterior, lied an insane dominatrix. The date that ensued afterwards was…eventful to say the least.
"Just tell her not to worry too much about it. I just have a lot of work these days."
"All right. I'll tell her that…but I expect some compensation for what I'll have to endure."
"…fine. What do you want?" Shinji asked bluntly, knowing that the best way to deal with his father was to be as direct and honest as possible.
"I want you to meet Asuka Langley Soryu tomorrow morning."
"You want me to what!?" Shinji screamed loud enough that Ran jumped from her position against the door.
"You heard me. Soryu needs a good PR man to spruce up her image. The last one was incompetent and often hit on the client, so I fired him." And she made sure he would speak falsetto for the rest of his life…
"Why did you call me then!? There are hundreds more competent and experienced than me!"
"I trust you to do right by her," Gendo answered calmly.
"Isn't this just nepotism?"
"No, if you were incompetent I would've just ignored you and never even told you about this out of fear that you would try to curry my favor for the opportunity. Now the meeting-"
"No! No way! I've seen Soryu's situation. It'll take a miracle worker to pull a body from that train wreck! I mean where the hell would I even begin to cover her excessive relationships, much less the fact that she freaking punched a sweet elderly woman!" Shinji exclaimed.
"Shinji…you owe me," Gendo reminded none too gently. This was the reason he was CEO of Nerv Music group. He was willing to even endure an all night browbeating (amongst other types of beatings) by someone known to do unspeakable things (that even gave Gendo Ikari nightmares) if was for the sake of his company.
Shinji growled in frustration. If there was one thing that he'd learned from his parents, it was to always repay your debts. He finally ground out, "Fine. But I expect mom off my back for at least two months!"
"One and a half."
"Three weeks and I keep hiding the box of 'special' magazines you left at the house."
"…Deal," Shinji said grudgingly. "But! It's just a meeting. I'm not agreeing to become her agent. This is a one time consult!"
Gendo grunted, knowing that Shinji would not budge from that position. He hung up and made a mental note to wear a cup when he talked to his wife tonight.
Shinji impatiently tapped his finger on the table. He had been in the upscale coffee shop for at least an hour now. She was late! Shinji hated pretentious places like this. They were like Starbucks but with even more trumped up prices. The man balefully eyed the ritzy postmodern décor, the Xanax riddled baristas with smug little grins, and all the conceited, 'poetic' hipsters walking around. The worst thing of all was that the meeting place his father set up was something of a hotspot for singles to hook up. Shinji sighed glumly. Sadly his mother was right. He hadn't had a girlfriend or date in years. Because of this, his mother was on him 24/7 about meeting a nice girl and giving her plenty of grandchildren. The nagging blitz had been going on ever since college! It wasn't bad enough that he had a busy job; he had to have a mother looking over his shoulder. And now he had to wait for an insufferable pop princess! Because of her, he had to refrain from going to the bathroom out of fear for just missing her and making her think that he just skipped the meeting.
"We idolize celebrities all the time! It's absolutely disgusting! They're all shallow, selfish morons! Most couldn't even tie their own damn shoes! No social conscience! And the people! They shouldn't support idiots like that; they should be supporting men like Che Guevara! He was a real man of the people."
Yeah…a real man to slaughter dozens of innocents in cold blooded firing squads. Shinji thought sarcastically as he felt his eye twitch ever so slightly. God he hated these people. He would have preferred pot smoking hippies compared to these intellectual masturbators. At least hippies didn't try to rub their 'enlightened' state in his face.
The man at the adjacent table continued to jabber at his awestruck date (a girl who obviously had more money than brain cells.)
"You see all this? It's just a pure construct of big business to get more money. I myself am not fooled by their pathetic subterfuge. I don't give in. I actually help the poor," the man airily rambled as he toyed with his gold Rolex.
He was disgusted. If there was anything that his father taught him, it was a sheer disdain for the hypocrisy and idiocy that permeated society at times. Shinji didn't have anything against Guevara or any real love for celebrities, but he found it disgusting that this man disregarded everything except for Che's more notable accomplishments and the seedy excesses of celebrities. This led Shinji to conclude that the man (like many others of his kind) was just repeating what they heard in hopes of a higher approval by their peers. There wasn't any real thought, just a hungry desire to receive some recognition, so they shout in shrill cacophony. Anything and everything to feel like they deserve love or peace. Shinji was a good study of human behavior since he had to for his job and so far he's never been proven wrong. People were jealous, dumb animals at the root of it…but they had certain redeeming qualities that made it worth still living.
"And, blah blah blah. I'm so important. I'm so smart. I'm so charitable." This isn't exactly what the man said, but it had been 20 minutes since he started on his celebrity rant and Shinji was losing focus.
Shinji shifted in his chair, realizing that he still had to go to the bathroom. It was getting unbearable now.
"What's wrong with you?"
Shinji's eye twitched as he turned in his chair to look at the offending voice.
"Asuka! You're late for your meeting!" Hikari exclaimed after glancing at her watch.
"So? He's going to work for me, not the other way around. Besides he's probably going to be a pervert like the last one," Asuka said dismissively.
"You should at least show some professional courtesy. You don't even know if he is a pervert," Hikari said sternly.
"Hikari, you're my assistant and I respect your advice, but courtesy isn't something needed here. If he can't handle a client being a few measly minutes late, then he's not worthy of working for me."
"It's been an hour," Hikari deadpanned.
"Oh…then I guess I should get moving."
A leisurely drive of about 20 minutes later and she was there. Asuka never saw the appeal of those trendy coffee shops, but she had to keep up with the latest styles and fads if she wanted to remain at the forefront of pop culture. It was when she just walked in that she realized she didn't know how the PR agent looked like. She was anticipating a pasty, sweaty middle-aged pervert like the last one, but so far she didn't see any. Just twenty-somethings loafing around, sipping their ninety dollar designer coffees and pretending to penetrate into the deep mysteries of the universe. One person stood out from the crowd though. He wasn't dressed in any fashionable manner. It was just a plain pair of slacks and button up shirt. To Asuka, it was almost refreshingly dull against the background of designer clothing and disgustingly tasteful contrivances of societal disdain. He looked rather irritable, the only one who even seemed remotely displeased with the shop.
"What's wrong with you?" Asuka asked sardonically.
The man turned to look. He had stone blue eyes that demanded nothing, but asked for nothing in return.
Soryu was finally here. She looked stunning, casually dressed, but made it look elegant enough to make most supermodels weep in shame. That didn't penetrate Shinji's mind at the moment though. What did pass was the sheer irritation of her making him wait over an hour in this stupid shop! Shinji was a patient guy (one had to be with his friends), but he desperately needed to find a bathroom, so he decided to try and make it as short as possible. No need for formality or politeness, it's not as though he was going to be Soryu's agent right?
"Now you show up!" Shinji snapped.
Soryu had the gall to look irritated right back at him. "Don't take that tone with me!"
"I'm sorry. Were you the one sitting around these 'rebels' this whole time!?"
She looked shocked that someone would talk to her like that.
"Screw it. Let's get down to business. I've compiled a list of pieces of advice for you to improve your image," Shinji said succinctly. "The most prominent I would suggest is for you to make it up to the old woman you knocked out. She has several grandchildren who would love to see you in concert up front. Use them."
Asuka opened her mouth, but Shinji kept on hurriedly trucking. Bathroom, bathroom, bathroom.
"The next is your constant boyfriend mongering. Cut it out. It makes you look slutty. Either go on a hiatus or find a long term committed relationship. Possibly lesbian. It'll bring bigger media hype and make you new fans due to the feeling of radical defiance of social norms. Or find a regular Joe. It'll buy you some credibility as a good person for not looking snobby."
Asuka looked indignant at the idea of going lesbian and giving up her free lifestyle. She now realized that this was the PR agent she was supposed to meet.
"Finally, don't be late. It gives the impression that you're spoiled and not down to earth. Fans will draw away from that. Your music and movies may be popular but if you're widely disregarded and hated in the public eye, your legacy will be tainted, thus leading to a dwindling respect for you."
Asuka stared; slack jawed at the young man. Also why was he fidgeting so much?
If you want to be seen as a truly unique celebrity, be a good person. Not just a good actress or singer. I assume that you want to be seen as this. Now thank you for the meeting, good bye."
Shinji got up, bowed shortly, and hurriedly ran out of the door, in search for a public restroom.
Asuka sat in stunned silence. She had been that way since the newly discovered PR agent left in a hurry. It slowly dawned on her that for once in her life someone stood up to her and dismissed her without a single backwards glance. Without her noticing it, Hikari walked into the shop.
"Asuka? Are you all right? You've been in here for a while now. Did the guy not show up?"
Asuka didn't respond.
Still no response.
"Asuka, you're scaring me now."
Asuka finally opened her mouth. "I'M GOING TO RIP HIS BALLS OFF!!!!"
Hikari backed up in fear. This was a very seldom seen level of rage that Asuka has attained. She gulped and asked, "Wh-what happened?"
Asuka noticed Hikari's trembling and calmed down a little. "That prick gave me a bunch of bullshit advice and then had the gall to just run off!"
"That's so wrong!"
"I know! I am so going to fire him!"
"And you should! Who sent him?"
"The record label," Asuka spat. "They should just neuter their entire PR department!"
Hikari just nodded, sharing in the righteous wrath of her fellow female. "What's this jerk's name?"
Asuka opened her mouth and then closed it, losing some steam. "…I don't know."
"Call Mr. Ikari then!"
Gendo Ikari sat patiently at his desk in his usual pose. The phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID. Asuka. He pressed a button releasing a prerecorded message. Then he slouched back in his chair and winced at the stings in his ass. His wife was none too gentle that night.
"Hello, Ms. Soryu. I cannot come to the phone at the moment. I anticipate that you've met my son Shinji and have called to complain. I'm afraid that he's here to stay and you must deal with it in a progressive, non-violent way. If you wish to speak with him, then his number is 555-4242."
Asuka and Hikari exchanged glances. His son? The redhead fumbled to dial the number.
"Hello?" A tentative voice inquired.
Shinji finally reached a bathroom in a local bakery. The trendy coffee shop's architect was so preoccupied on style and catering to expensive tastes that he forgot to put in a bathroom. Exhaling a sigh of relief, Shinji made his way home. He was off the hook from his mother for the time being and from the obligation that enabled him to do so. Shinji was certain that Asuka wouldn't choose him as a PR agent. He didn't want to have to deal with someone that famous. It was just too much pressure and money. Shinji didn't become a PR agent for the money. He just wanted to live comfortably and noticed he had a talent for understanding people. Indeed, he was not suited to becoming an agent for some superstar like Asuka. No sirree bob, it was just him remaining a faceless cog. No fame or glory, but at the same time no flack or unnecessary stress in his life. Unfortunately for Shinji, fate thought otherwise. His phone was ringing. Shinji stared at it for a moment and didn't recognize the number.
Asuka felt pissed again. "Don't 'hello' me, you bastard!"
"Is this Ms. Soryu?" He sounded shocked. "How did you get this number?"
"Oh…he is so going to get it later," Shinji muttered.
"Hey! You're going to get it now!" Asuka swore that she could hear the unseen man cringe on the other line.
"Fine. I apologize for being so rude and obtuse in the coffee shop. I was being unfair. I did not believe that I was worthy or capable enough to take you on as a client."
"You apologize!? That's not good enough!"
The man sighed and Asuka had the fleeting mental image of him pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation and guilt. "Fine. What can I do to make it up to you?"
Asuka beamed in delight at cowing him. She was about to reply, but realized that she had no idea what she wanted from him. He certainly couldn't buy her anything since she had all the money and material objects she ever wanted. However, she suddenly remembered something he said before. "Tell me I'm a great actress. A great singer."
"…why?" His tone implied that she was being egotistical.
"Don't question me! Before you said that I was just 'good'. Now it's time to set the record right!"
"That really all you want?"
"Humph! Like you have anything else to offer that I don't already have!"
Shinji stared at his phone in disbelief. Was this girl really as egomaniacal as the tabloids made her out to be? Regardless, he had to just pacify her with a few measly words and he'd be off the hook. Shinji resolved to do just that.
"I won't." The resolve melted away at the last moment. So quickly in fact that Shinji stood openmouthed for a few moments after he realized what he just said.
"Why not?" The question came in frigid tones that promised a slow, painful death.
"Because you don't have everything."
"What do you mean by that!?"
A pause. "You heard me."
"I heard you, but I don't believe you," Asuka grated.
"You have looks, talent, fame, an endless line of suitors and enough money to make Midas himself envy you."
Asuka felt the usual inflation of self esteem and preened.
"But you're empty. You don't have respect. For yourself or others," Shinji finished bluntly, praying that it would piss her off enough to get her off his trail and leave him alone.
"Who are you to lecture me?" Asuka snapped.
"No one. Precisely why you don't need to care about my opinion and just think of me as that loser pervert who insulted face to face. Just hang up and let me leave your life. Why should I matter to you? I'm nobody."
Asuka was about to answer back when the sound of the dial tone met her ears. He hung up. But for some reason Asuka wasn't angry. She tried to think of an argument against what he just said, but she couldn't.
"Asuka? What did he say?"
"…that I didn't have any respect for myself or others," Asuka said, dumbfounded. "Total load of crap, right?"
Hikari didn't answer. She just avoided her eyes.
"Right…?" Asuka repeated weakly. Hikari still didn't answer.
Asuka let the matter drop and dropped heavily into a nearby chair. The café was silent now. Now that she thought about it. She really couldn't think of something to refute his argument. She didn't know why, but she cared about his opinion, a guy that she met for less than five minutes. Asuka thought back to her words about a man worthy of being her PR agent. He wasn't like the people who usually surrounded her; that's for sure. He may have been off target about her, but he was clever and best of all he didn't even make one pass at her. This was somebody she could work with. And think about how sweet her revenge would be if he was forced to become her agent especially after he so vehemently fought against it. She smirked evilly and redialed.
Shinji eagerly closed his phone and realized that he didn't have lunch yet. As he walked to the nearest sandwich shop, he thought to himself That oughta scare her off! I'm not only rude, but I'm a complete ass! Shinji wasn't normally proud of this kind of behavior but if it meant that he could continue working quietly and peacefully, he would do anything. The life that being Asuka's agent would offer was decadent, exhausting, and frankly not for him. He just wanted to be ordinary. Once again fate decided to prove Shinji wrong…again. The phone rang.
"Yes…?" Shinji asked reluctantly.
"You're my new agent. Meet me Friday. I'll send details later." She hung up.
I guess…I could do worse than this…Shinji tried to console himself, knowing that his father would pressure him into it, no matter how hard he resisted. The one meeting agreement was just a bluff and they both knew it. Shinji's will was strong, but Gendo had years of experience in stubbornness and it didn't hurt that Yui would back him on a good job opportunity for Shinji.
But for reasons unknown to Shinji, a brief smile flickered across his face. Whether it was out of hysteria or some unknown well of happiness, Shinji didn't know. What he did know was that his peaceful days were soon to be over with.
Asuka closed her phone with a supreme sense of satisfaction. Now that idiot will be punished and she could prove him wrong. She took no note of the fact that she was enthusiastic about the opinion of a man she barely knew; only that she was going to show him up. A small smile graced her lips. However, it had nothing to do with thoughts of vengeance, but Asuka didn't know that at that moment.
A/N: First rom-com. Feels good after the slog of tragedy I had to go through with Pick Up Lines. I'm not going to give anything away, so please don't pester. I'm going to leave it ambiguously SR or SA for awhile until the endgame is near. Rei won't show up for a bit, so the next chapter or two will be focused on the expansion of Shinji and Asuka's relationship and characters. For any fans of Pick Up Lines, that will be updated sometime next week or so. I spent my time on this, so please don't be disappointed…I just didn't want to get into a depressed funk from writing so much serious stuff. Don't forget to review or drop a critique (or compliment, you know. I am totally down with some ego stroking). Until then, good night.