"Sakura... stop. You're not thinking straight."
It was around 9:30 pm in Tokyo-3 when Misato answered the phone, which meant it was roughly 2:30 pm in Berlin. Almost as soon as the device was placed to her ear, Misato was motioning for Asuka to grab it.
The woman on TV said, "No Takashi. I'm thinking clearly for the first time in my life."
Asuka used a hand to put the receiver to her mouth and gave a greeting in German. She used her other hand to turn down the volume on the television.
"Should I stop?" asked Shinji as his hands rested on her shoulders. The girl shook her head and leaned forward. Shinji continued kneading the flesh around her neck. Given her well-crafted posture, there was no reason she should be so stiff all the time.
"You've done so much for me… I just want to return the favor."
Shinji watched as she rolled her shoulders along with his administrations, tilting her head this way and that as a means of suggesting where to go next. All the while she spoke German in low tones. Her answers were short and to the point (he assumed). Her head was tilted in a manner that made him believe she was still paying close attention to the TV.
"I did those things because I love you. I never wanted anything in return."
It amazed him the way Asuka could do that. Her attention was divided equally and fully among the three sensations presented her. She was clearly enjoying the massage, while paying rapt attention to the television, and simultaneously having what he could only assume to be an important conversation. He thought her multi-tasking skills to be nothing short of brilliant and, in a way, unnerving.
"But I am a selfish woman, Takashi. You've given me so much, but I want more."
She scared him when she was like this… when her mind took on several different tracks at once. It was as if he didn't know who he was dealing with anymore. Was she the Asuka who was wiggling her upper body appreciatively beneath his shy and unskilled fingers? Was she a serious young woman tackling a grave unknown problem head on? Or was she just watching a romance movie on the TV, the way Misato was watching from the chair across the room?
"I want all of you…"
Shinji's eyelids closed briefly and his hands ceased to move. He shifted slightly on the couch cushion and tried not to appear as uncomfortable as he was. The hatred he felt toward watching sex scenes with women was a fact he was loath to admit, much less advertise. Though no one else present seemed to mind, he secretly wished that more directors would take the artistic route and fade to black.
"Don't stop," said Asuka as she turned off the phone with the press of a button. Shinji's discomfort did not fade, but his hands instantly sprang to life. He nearly had to bite his tongue to keep from apologizing.
"Wha-chi" said Misato, performing the wrist motion of a whip. Asuka stuck out her tongue at the woman as Shinji blushed.
When Shinji had first began doing 'small favors' for his roommate such as these, Misato had teased him just as much as he'd feared she would. The ridicule escalated from the usual embarrassing comments about them actually being in a relationship, to purposefully lewd and outlandish comments about the nature of said relationship, finally ending with half-humorous/half-serious criticisms of their mannerisms.
Asuka openly stated that the other woman was jealous; an accusation Misato did nothing to support or deny. Shinji once thought it was all just in good fun, but now he wasn't so sure. He didn't buy into Asuka's theory at all, but he had no idea why she persisted with her not-quite-kidding line of critique.
"Hmmm…" said Asuka a fraction of a second before the woman on the TV let out a quiet moan. He pressed his fingers into the flesh beneath her t-shirt, happy to see her shoulders roll in gratitude. Still, he wondered how they could get away with showing so much skin on cable TV.
"Who was that?" he asked, feigning nonchalance.
She leaned forward and stretched out her neck. His fingers had their next target.
"Oh," said Shinji. He wasn't terribly surprised by this answer. She was seemingly the only person from Asuka's homeland who communicated with her on a semi-regular basis. He wanted to make a comment about how nice it was for her to call, but knew Asuka wouldn't have shared the sentiment.
A hesitant glance toward Misato revealed that the woman was oddly engrossed in the movie… it occurred to him she might be faking.
"How is she?" he asked, fingers digging softly into the back of her neck.
"… it's everything I've ever dreamed!"
Asuka said, "She's fine… considering."
"Oh?" asked Shinji.
Asuka's eyes bored straight into the television screen. Her neck shifted ever so slightly with each of his fingers' probing touches. Her voice was neutral and clear.
"My father's dead."
From Point A
A Fan Fiction by Fresh C
The moment Asuka had decided to tell Shinji the truth the evening had been ruined. She knew this would happen long before the words had left her mouth, but was unable to stay her hand. He stopped his massage as she was almost certain he would. It was unfortunate that she didn't have the heart to tell him to continue. After assuring him that she was most certainly okay, and that it was nothing to really worry about, she retreated to her room. She silently mourned the loss of her relaxing evening and not being able to see the end of the movie.
Her hands moved on autopilot as she flipped open her laptop and turned it on. Taking a seat at the desk she made Misato buy her, she rested her chin in her hand and waited for windows to load and for Shinji to check up on her. She wasn't sure which would happen faster.
*do do do dooo*
Windows won round one. Several clicks later and a web browser popped up. With dancing fingers Asuka typed the words "flight from Tokyo-2 to Berlin". The enter key was hit and Shinji knocked on the door.
She heard him open the door slowly, but didn't bother to look his way. She could easily imagine the uncertainty on his face, but didn't exactly feel like seeing it at the moment. Instead she continued to look up prices.
She noted that the flight would last about 11 hours as she said, "I really am okay, you know."
"You don't have to be…"
Shinji could be very annoying when he wanted to be.
"We were never exactly close." Her and her father of course. "I'm a little surprised, but nothing more. I'll be glad when all this is over with."
She heard him shift against the doorpost.
"When are you leaving?" he asked.
"As soon as reasonably possible… looks like Thursday."
Shinji walked into the room and took a seat on the side of her bed. Though Asuka still hadn't spared the boy a glance, she figured he was probably looking at her. Sometimes she liked to play a little game and imagine what other people saw when they looked her way. She wondered if he took interest in the dancing ring on her typing finger.
"You're flying coach?" asked Shinji uncertainly. "You never fly coach."
Asuka shrugged. "It's a matter of economizing. Father is the source of my allowance. He had a nice insurance plan, but the man was definitely worth more alive than he is dead. So the situation's changed. I want to have enough left over to put me through college again. The savings start now."
"I hadn't thought of that…"
The lowest priced flight was somewhere around 350 credits. It only stopped briefly in France for refueling. She'd have to wait less than an hour for it to take off again. It'd be boring waiting in the airport like that, but then again it was bound to be a long boring flight anyways. She clicked a bright green button that said "Buy now" and waited for the appropriate screen to appear. The bright white load screen held Shinji's face in its reflection. As she feared, he looked faintly puzzled. Nothing seemed too confusing about the situation to her, but she figured that's just how Shinji was. Always looking for meaning in the insignificant.
"350 per ticket is still a lot."
"I only need one of them."
"Yeah..." said Shinji. "I guess that's true."
Asuka imagined him briefly staring at his shoes.
"Are you going to be gone long?" he asked. He had a habit of saying things with a tone of uncertainty. As if every question asked was one he shouldn't have. As annoying as that was, she'd learned to ignore it for his sake.
"About a week or so," she said typing in her credit card information. "No longer than necessary, that's for sure."
A prompt appeared on the computer asking her if this was the correct information. Without looking she clicked "Ok" and waited for the confirmation email.
"Why?" she asked flatly. "Are you going to miss me, Third?"
As the screen whited out on the refresh, she saw his hesitance and embarrassment. Priceless. And though a part of her missed the days when he would flounder in denial, she felt a sort of transcendence when he quietly stated, "Yes."
Shinji let out a little humorous noise.
The confirmation email was received. The flight was booked. All was set. Asuka hit the power button and closed the laptop screen. With a gentle plop, she took a seat next to Shinji on the bed and examined his face.
"You've been staring at me this whole time," she said.
"Sorry." And he finally looked away.
"I really am okay," she repeated.
Shinji kept his gaze adverted and nodded.
"You can leave now." There wasn't enough force behind it to be a command.
Shinji made no response.
Breaching the inches of distance between them, Asuka reached out and grabbed his hand. Before he could say a word in response, she squeezed.
The market for young male weathermen was relatively small. Research showed that audiences put more trust in older males, and were certainly more interested in younger females. The former being valued for their assumed experience and the latter being valued for their... other appealing assets. That's why it was a bit of a surprise that Channel 6 News would choose Chen Satoshi to be the face of their "renowned" weather team.
The fact that the man landed the job at all was evidence to his charming nature. When people watched Chen Satoshi they felt as if they were with Chen Satoshi. The words he said exceeded mere audio reproduction and entered the realm of casual conversation. It was like he was talking to you personally, explaining some small, yet significant tidbit of the day. Always with warmth and always with a smile.
And though charm was a major factor in the man's appeal, his looks didn't hurt him. Asuka certainly found him attractive. Kind of like a stubble less Kaji, if you squinted a little. Or maybe a charismatic Shinji, if you were willing to squint a bit harder. However, Asuka's rapt attention to the man's presentation had nothing to do with physical appeal.
"Hello and happy Tuesday to everyone out there," said Chen. The camera was firmly focused on his face as a graphic displaying the day's temperature appeared at the bottom of the screen. "We've had some beautiful weather this week and I for one will be sad to see it go. Today we saw a high of 68 degrees with a windshield factor of -1. You should expect the temperature to stay in the high sixties well into the next morning."
The new graphic that appeared showed a weekday forecast.
"But I'm afraid that's all the good news I have for you. Tomorrow should be similar with temperatures ranging from 55 degrees to 67. Expect high cloud density and a light chance of rain. It should stay cloudy straight through Wednesday with light showers scattered throughout."
Chen's expression then grew grave.
"But on Thursday be prepared for the waterworks. We can expect a lot of residual precipitation from the category 2 storm that should be passing right through the Sea of Japan. The storm is currently not in a trajectory to hit land, but it is possible that the west coast will see heavy downpours and light flooding. This only mildly affects the Tokyo region, but it'll be a good idea to take those raincoats and umbrellas out of the closet."
After that Asuka pretty much stopped paying attention. The word hurricane continued to flow through her mind. She went to her room and looked up her flight information on her laptop.
Screw You Chen Satoshi.
Misato held the warm cup loosely in her hand as she raised it to her lips. Her legs were crossed casually under the table and there was an opened newspaper in front of her. Shinji observed through sideline glances that she seemed calm to the point of uncaring. Ironically, this was the usual expression she used when contemplating tough decisions. Asuka was sitting across from Misato on the other side of the table. She was the only one there not enjoying a cup of tea, as she never cared for the stuff very much. She was also growing increasingly annoyed as Misato seemed to be ignoring the fact that she'd spoken to her at all.
Studying her charge through lidded eyes, Misato took another small sip of tea before saying, "No."
"Why the hell not?"
Shinji frowned and Misato sighed.
"Lots of reasons," she said. Her voice held an instructive quality to it. "For one it's dangerous."
"I already told you. It's the safest bridge in all of Japan. Only 5 years old with no recorded major maintenance problems."
Misato took a deep breath. "You'd be driving in a hurricane."
"It's only a category 2 storm."
"Which is a hurricane."
"Hardly. Street signs can survive category 2s. The thing couldn't even move a trailer."
"A car is not a trailer."
"I know a car is not a trailer!" said Asuka. She opened her mouth as if to say something else before abruptly stopping. Then in a calmer voice she said, "It's a tunnel bridge built above and beyond seismic standards. I did my research, Misato. They say that it's safer on that bridge in a storm than it would be in almost any other shelter throughout the whole of Japan."
"So what you mean to tell me," said Misato skeptically, "is that you'd be safer on a bridge in a hurricane than you would be here where there is no hurricane?"
"And you're telling me that you'll let me ride in a building sized robot, but you won't let me drive across a bridge?"
"If by driving across the bridge you'd save the world, then sure. As things stand... I'm not hearing any good reasons to take the risk."
"My father is dead," said Asuka. Misato visibly softened.
"I know Asuka," she said almost sadly. "But you have to see this from my perspective. Even if I thought the bridge was safe, it still wouldn't be a good idea. What type of guardian would I be if I let a teenage girl drive to Berlin by herself? You must realize how irresponsible that sounds."
Shinji thought that those words meant a lot, considering the source.
"I'm only driving to Beijing. I've already booked a connecting flight from there."
"Oh, that's a much better distance for a girl to drive alone."
"Then...well...then I'll take Shinji with me!"
Eyebrows were raised. The boy in question had a look on his face that said, "me?" But when he thought about it for a moment, he supposed it wasn't that surprising.
"That's even worse," said Misato abandoning all pretense of enjoying a quiet cup of tea. She crossed her arms across herself and leaned slightly forward in her chair.
Again Asuka's lips moved to form a rebuttal but she was cut off before the words left her mouth.
"Why's that?" asked Shinji. When Misato didn't immediately respond he asked, "Why would it be worse if I came?"
Misato's brow wrinkled as she looked into Shinji's questioning gaze.
"You're a new driver. You just got your license 3 months ago. You're even less qualified to take a long distance trip than she is."
"But it's all highway driving," said Asuka. "Straight roads the whole trip."
"That doesn't make up for his lack of experience. Long trips can be taxing on a new driver."
Shinji frowned again. Sure this explanation made some sense, but it just felt like...
"Bull," said Asuka. "If you don't trust us just say so. But don't insult me with these lame excuses."
Misato closed her eyes for several moments before throwing her hands in the air.
"Fine," she said and Shinji felt himself growing small. "You can go if you want. You're 17 after all and old enough to make your own decisions. I'm not going to force my opinion on you if you don't want it."
She was using the voice that's sole purpose in existence was to make them feel incredibly, irrationally awful. Even Asuka took no solace in this soured victory - like in winning she had somehow wounded their guardian. She hated how Misato so easily played the victim. Hated how she was forced to pretend that it didn't bother her at all.
"I'm glad you're seeing reason. It's not like I'd plan out a trip if it was dangerous."
"Oh, I'm sure," said Misato dismissively. She was back at her tea again, trying not to care.
"It's not even that long of drive."
"Just two days really."
"I've heard of worse."
"There's lots of restaurants and gas stations on the bridge. And we'll be sure to stop and rest if we get tired"
"I know you will."
Shinji felt awful watching Asuka try to sell an idea that had already been bought. She was like a used car salesman who didn't stop after you signed the contract. He thought it was rather cruel of Misato to feign interest.
"We aren't going to do anything stupid."
"Of course not," said Misato flipping through the newspaper. "I trust you kids. Only... "
"How are you going to get there?" she asked.
Asuka scoffed. "We're going to drive."
"In what car?"
"What do you mean, 'in what car'?"
Misato laughed in a high and airy pitch. "Surely you didn't think I'd let you use my car."
Color drained from Asuka's face.
In a more serious tone Misato said, "Life doesn't stop just because you want to take a trip, you know. I still have to get back and forth from work, sometimes at a moment's notice."
"Take the bus," said Asuka.
"Buses don't run at a moment's notice."
"Like you really need to be there, commander. Your job is useless. There's nothing to command. NERV might as well not exist."
Misato seemed unfazed. "Insulting my profession will get you nowhere. I suggest you try a rental car."
Asuka was through with this. She rose from her seat and slammed a fist on the table.
"If you were going to say no, then why didn't you just say it in the first place!"
The girl was already gone by the time Misato said, "I did."
Shinji closed his eyes and counted in his head. He reached six before he heard Asuka's door close with a slam. He then opened his eyes and exhaled. Misato was watching him carefully, it seemed. He took a hesitant sip of his tea. Seconds later his guardian did the same.
From the corner of his eyes, Shinji watched her lips purse around the cup. He didn't think about her lips often, but it was hard not to when they presented themselves like that. The kiss in the geofront was something neither of them openly acknowledged. It was hard for Shinji to ignore at first, but became increasingly easier after he'd had similar experiences that didn't involve blood loss or asphyxiation. The Misato he saw now was mostly un-erotic, though far from asexual. He could look at her and find her attractive without any real romantic implications. He liked it that way.
"You know," said Misato, smiling at him lightly, "if you keep looking at me like that, I might start blushing."
He thought his brief glance had been innocent enough, but suddenly he felt like his hand was in the cookie jar.
"Don't worry," she said. "I won't tell your woman about us. Affairs are more fun that way."
Shinji felt the awkwardness leave. The mention of Asuka was good for them. It served as a significant buffer between the fantasies her words stirred up in his head and reality. He wondered (not for the first time) where the two of them would be if it weren't for Asuka's presence. He probably wouldn't be able to look Misato in the eye. He definitely wouldn't be chuckling at her joke.
But in moments the laughter died. The silence that followed was more reflective of the previous conversation than their usual post-school/work relaxation. It was kind of sad because both of them enjoyed this time of the day. It was the only time they regularly spent together and now it was tarnished. Shinji began to wiggle in his seat like he always did when he wanted to be somewhere else.
"You understand, right Shinji?" She was referring to the conversation with Asuka. "It's just not a good idea."
"You two on the road by yourselves just isn't safe. A lot of things can happen on the road."
"And the timetable she has is ridiculous. It'd be different if you were stopping at a hotel, but she has you driving straight through."
Shinji nodded slightly. He wondered why Misato hadn't mentioned this directly in the conversation. Apparently Asuka wasn't the only bad salesman in the apartment.
"It's not like I'm doing it because I don't like her. It's just a bad idea."
Shinji was wiggling again.
"But I understand why she doesn't like it. I just wish she'd be reasonable once in a while. It's always all or nothing with her. Sometimes it wears on me."
Misato sighed and leaned back in her chair. Her legs recrossed under the table. She took a sip of her tea and observed Shinji from the side of her vision. He was once again shifting positions. Misato sighed once more.
"You don't have to sit here and listen to me complain, you know."
Shinji smiled uncertainly. "I don't mind."
"Go ahead. I know you want to check up on her. She should have cooled down enough to approach without the risk of heatstroke by now. I doubt you'll get burned at all."
"She's not that bad." said Shinji frowning.
Misato nodded slowly. "She's gotten better. I think you're good for her."
Somehow that didn't feel like a complement.
"Thanks," said Shinji. He finished off the last of his tea and placed the cup in the sink before making his way to Asuka's room.
Asuka was attempting to choke the life out of a pillow. She laid face down upon her bed with her arms squeezing the hypothetical breath out of its hypothetical lungs. She realized that the pillow had no life to begin with and that's the only reason her efforts resulted in failure. Another failed attempt involved not imagining that the lifeless dying thing beneath her was Misato. Admittedly, she wasn't trying very hard.
The knock on her door was surprising and unwelcome.
"Can I come in?"
Asuka released her stranglehold and let out a hot angry breath.
"If you have to..."
Before he had a chance to open the door she was sitting upright on her bed. Her back was straight and her shoulders properly aligned with her waist. Her piercing glare was fixed where his eyes would be. Was she angry? Yes. Pissed off? Sure. But something like this did not get to her. She was above petulance and despair. She was Asuka Langely Sohryu and no one would forget that. Especially not Shinji.
He caught her gaze and instantly looked down and away. Good for him. He knew his place.
"... about back there..." he said.
"Oh what about it?" asked Asuka. Her acid smile should have burned a hole through her lips. "You were a real big help, you know. Thanks for jumping in there and taking my side. Couldn't have done it without you."
"That's not really fair..." Shinji looked amazingly hurt. He held the undisputed title of number one household martyr. Misato eat your heart out. Luckily Asuka was still a little too ticked off to care.
"Fair. Right, you two seem to know a lot about fair. It's so wonderfully fair for me to sit there asking for permission to do something responsible and then have you all laugh at me like I'm some sort of idiot. 'Oh look at Asuka trying to drive in a hurricane. Doesn't she know they're dangerous? Doesn't she realize she can get hurt? What a silly little girl driving off into the big bad storm on a whim.' But I'm going to bury my father, not a trip to the damned beach."
"Nobody thinks that," said Shinji, but he might as well not have.
"And then she says, 'Go get a rental car.' But she knows damn well that there isn't a single place in Japan that would rent to a minor. Thinks she's so smart, kicking me while I'm down. Like I haven't taken enough. Like I don't even deserve her respect. The least she could do is have the guts to just tell me no, but instead she's got to toy with me. Has to flaunt her power. I'll be so glad when I'm 18. I can't wait to get out of this place. I can't leave faster."
"You don't mean that."
"Of course you wouldn't think so. She treats you like the fucking penguin. I bet you couldn't wait till I left so she could give your belly a nice long rub." Asuka's smile was viscous. "When you have your little tea-time lovefest does she feel you up under the table?"
And that was where Shinji drew the line.
"Would you listen for a second?" he asked. But it wasn't so much a question as a command. A statement filled with surprising power. Asuka looked briefly taken aback. And then her expression sobered. The anger was still there, but the intensity was diminished. She looked as if she'd at least hear what he had to say. But when Shinji spoke again, his voice was diminished.
"I think I might know where you can get a car," he said.
Asuka just looked on with absolute hatred. Not of Shinji, but of the situation. Her frown was heavy and cumbersome. Her words had been bitter. She couldn't stand to eat them. But she had to. She had to because she'd been wrong. And he was right. And he didn't even care that he was right. It would have been so much easier if he did.
"I'm sorry," she said. Sour. Nasty. Disgusting. If he was waiting for her to say something else she hoped he had time on his hands.
"Don't worry about it," said Shinji. He had the nerve to smile, however weakly. The thought of violence briefly crossed her mind before she shamefully extinguished it. "It's just a small chance right now. I don't know if we can actually get it or not."
He was talking about the car.
"Thanks," she said. That had a slightly better flavor.
"Don't thank me yet," said Shinji, frowning slightly. "You're not going to like it..."
Toji wasn't the least popular kid in the world, but there was a reason he kept the amount of phone calls he made to a minimum. It wasn't that he didn't like hearing from people. On the contrary. It was nice to hear from his acquaintances and whatnot. He liked knowing what was going on. Or at least having a basic idea. But there was something about telephone conversation that hindered the process. Made it seem... inauthentic, if you will.
People lied on the phone. They lied often and more freely because they could get away with it. Without the visual clues to confirm their honesty, all it took was a carefully crafted voice to deceive and that was it. Though admittedly this wasn't a huge problem when talking to Shinji, who couldn't get away with a lie if his life depended on it. But there were still annoyances to deal with.
Why did people insist on giving him the runaround?
With idle questions...
"So... how was your day?"
"It was alright, Shinji."
... more idle questions...
"Oh... was work good?"
"Yeah..." And then a merciless pause before... "You hear from Kensuke lately?"
"Yeah we hung out the other day."
"oh... How's he doing?"
Toji checked his pulse. Yup. Shinji was killing him.
"He's doing fine."
"Hey I'm glad you called but I got a... thing... to do..." Definitely too easy to lie. "So unless there was something else you wanted to say..."
"Right... well actually I wanted to ask you about something..."
"You know how you have a car, right?"
Indeed. Toji was well aware of the car that he'd spent a year and a half working at a ramen shop to earn the cash for. This was not news to him.
"What about it?"
"And you know how we don't have a car?"
"Me and Asuka... Asuka and I... we don't have one."
It was like pulling teeth.
"We were wondering... you know... if we could borrow yours?"
Now he had his attention.
"For what?" Toji asked.
"We want to go to China..."
Shinji said in a near whisper, "... well how would you have told him?"
"Yeah... uh... China. For a funeral."
"Who did you know in China?"
"What?... oh no. The funeral's in Germany you see... it's just..." Shinji's voice lowered to a whisper, "Asuka... her father died..."
"Oh," said Toji. He tried to think of something better to say. The best he could come up with was, "Sorry to hear that."
"So... you need my car?"
"But why are you going to China?"
"Because there aren't any flights to Germany from the Tokyo-2 airport... there's a storm coming... you see..."
"Okay," said Toji, but he had to think about it. He wasn't going to answer on a whim when his baby's health was on the line. After a moment he reached a conclusion. "I'm not just going to let you take my car to China."
"Oh... I... well... oh..." Then in a whisper to his invisible friend, "He said no... I don't know... what do you want me to do?"
"Don't get me wrong... maybe we can work something out... but you can't just take it to China..."
"Well uh... Asuka... she really needs the car..." Then in a hiss... "I'm not sounding desperate..."
"Why doesn't she just talk to me herself?"
Apparently Shinji was taken off guard by this question as it took him a while to respond.
"Er... she's just a little... shaken up by the whole thing... she doesn't want to have to deal with... um... other people... er... OW! That's what you told me! Well it's true... I mean... but-"
"Suzuhara?" asked Asuka. Shinji's phone privileges had been revoked.
"I'll be paying for all the gas. I'm willing to offer you an oil change as well as a check up from a credible mechanic."
"I appreciate the generosity and all, but I'm not worried about gettin' paid. I'm just worried about my car."
"Suck it up. We'll take good care of it."
"Not good enough."
"So how do we fix this?"
"The car's not goin' nowhere without me in it."
"Fine... we're leaving Thursday at 6am sharp. Don't be late."
"Also I'm bringing Kensuke."
"Why in the world would you need to do that?"
"So we can drive in 2 man shifts. One person at the wheel, one person navigating, and two people sleeping."
"Now you're being over protective."
"Do you want my car or not?"
"Well I'm not talking to him any more than I have to."
"The same goes for you."
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
"And I'm not paying for that oil change anymore..."
"You already offered."
"I'm bringing a girl along too. I don't want to be surrounded by idiots."
"Fine. But it'll be cramped in the backseat."
"Fine. I'm putting Shinji back on the line."
"So... how've you been doing?"
Toji banged his head on the wall.
It had been relatively easy to convince Hikari to tag along. She had displayed some initial concerns, yes, but once she knew the nature of the trip, she had all but waved them away. Asuka didn't seem to care very much that she couldn't drive and seemed more interested in the company than anything else. Which surprised Hikari to a degree, but it was somewhat flattering.
The plans were made quickly since there was nothing to stand in their way. Hikari's initial concern for the risk involved in the trip was quickly swept away by Asuka's confidence in the matter. And once her fears were laid to waist, there was really nothing holding her back. She didn't have anyone left to ask permission.
Hikari slept over at the Katsuragi apartment the night before the trip, for convenience sake. They spent the majority of the time watching TV in their pajamas and talking. Asuka seemed incredibly chatty for a girl who'd recently lost a parent, but Hikari wasn't going to be the one to point that out. It was awkward talking so candidly in light of the situation, but she soon got past the discomfort. If Asuka didn't want to bring up anything unpleasant then she certainly wasn't going to be the one to break the mood. Besides, she couldn't remember the last time she'd talked so casually with another person. Maybe she was enjoying it a bit too much.
It was strange to realize all the things she'd been missing from life. The way Asuka smiled mischievously at the mention of anything remotely scandalous. How she still after all this time managed to put down Shinji behind his back. She loved the way that Asuka carried herself when talking to her. She moved her hands here and there, making tiny gestures that implied deeper meanings. The way her face would contort itself expectantly after finishing a sentence, just waiting for Hikari to give a response. For the first time in a long time Hikari felt that her input wasn't just wanted, but mandatory. It was nice to be needed again, even for something so small.
But what excited Hikari the most was the realization that Asuka wasn't going anywhere. Even after they'd brushed their teeth and slipped into their night clothes Asuka was right there on her futon, laying 2 feet away. She was curled into a ball and breathing softly, her face a blank slate, red hair slightly disheveled but not quite a mess and she appeared to be at peace. She wasn't going to leave. At least not any time soon. Once they got to their destination then inevitably she'd have to go. But for now, she was there. And Hikari couldn't have been happier.
"Thank you," she whispered in Asuka's general direction.
Then Asuka had to ruin the moment by saying "For what?"
Hikari blushed deeply and pretended to be asleep.
The atmosphere was kind of bleak as the four of them waited in the living room. Asuka and Hikari sat on the love seat, the former constantly glancing at the clock on the wall while the latter seemed lost in thought. Shinji took up a seat at the kitchen table with his traveling bag resting in his lap. Misato hovered around the room seeming to take up all places at once.
"Have you got all your bags ready?"
"Yes," said Shinji after Asuka didn't respond.
"You all have several sets of clothes to change into right?"
"You never know what might happen."
Asuka's face soured as the big hand reached 12 and the little hand reached 6. She knew she should have told Toji to come half an hour early. They were already behind schedule.
"You didn't forget toothbrushes, did you?"
"Toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant?"
"Yeah, we have them."
"Did everyone use the bathroom?"
"What are we, four?" asked Asuka with perhaps a bit more bite than necessary.
A knock on the door effectively ended the conversation. Misato hurried to open it.
"Hello Kensuke, Toji. It must be terrible out there."
The two were dressed in rain coats and dripping water onto the floor. Though they initially looked miserable, one glance at Misato cleared their expressions right away.
"Hello, miss Katsuaragi," said Toji. "It's crazier than hell out there. I've never seen it rain this bad in my whole life."
Asuka couldn't think of a worse thing for Toji to say to Misato.
"Well let's get going," she said loudly. She and Hikari grabbed their bags and headed toward the door.
"Are you going to be alright driving in that?" asked Misato.
"Sure we will," said Asuka.
"I don't know..."
Asuka let out a sigh of frustration. "There's nothing to know."
"Maybe you should wait until it clears up a bit."
"No," said Kensuke adjusting his glasses. "It's only going to get worse from here."
Kensuke felt a sharp elbow in his side.
"Ow... but once we get to the bridge, it'll be smooth sailing."
"Right, so no need to worry. Shinji grab my other bag. We're already running late."
Shinji made an awkward attempt to grab both of his bags into one hand while grabbing Asuka's extra bag into the other. After a moment of positioning, that task was accomplished. By this time Asuka was already beginning to nudge Toji and Kensuke out of the door. Misato was openly frowning.
"Well I'm still not sure if this is such a good idea..."
"Uh-huh," said Asuka. "See you when we get back."
Shinji brushed pass Misato as he struggled with the bags. "Bye Misato," he said.
Hikari thanked her for her hospitality.
"Alright, but you kids call me when you reach the bridge."
"Okay," said Shinji. Everyone else was already out the door.
"And make sure you stop somewhere and rest if you get tired."
Shinji said, "Right" as he began to walk down the narrow hallway with the bags banging awkwardly against his legs. He turned around briefly when Misato spoke again.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" she called after him and Shinji had to smirk a little. But as funny as it was, Misato was completely serious.
The trip to the car was short but miserable. Asuka used her freed hand to shield Hikari and herself with an umbrella. The men were left to what little protection they could find from their hoods. With all the shuffling around none of them managed to stay completely dry. There were brief complications with loading the car. Too much stuff and not enough space. Toji wondered aloud why Shinji had to have two big bags for a four day round trip and everyone besides Kensuke wondered why there was so much junk food everywhere.
A brief argument about the seating arrangements occurred after everything was packed into the car. Asuka simply would not be sitting in the cramped middle seat. Hikari offered to take the spot when Shinji didn't exactly jump at the opportunity, but Asuka wasn't content to let her slip so far in composure. She assured her friend that Shinji would be just fine sitting there, and though he did grimace a bit, he did not complain. It wasn't particularly comfortable for anyone, as almost every seat had bags of food where their legs should go.
"Do we really need all this stuff, Ken?" asked Toji.
"Just trying to come prepared..."
"Who eats pork rinds anyways?"
"Um... your elbow is..."
"Lots of people."
"Shinji, your elbow's right in my..."
"Try not to be such an idiot," said Asuka. "and why aren't we moving yet?"
Toji rolled his eyes. Amateurs, every last one of them. "Somebody's gotta say it."
"If I have to tell you..."
"Are you serious?" she asked.
"As a heart attack."
"Eh... why don't you say it?" asked Shinji.
"I'm the driver. How lame would that be?"
"Maybe you should give us a hint?" said Hikari uncertainly.
Asuka said, "Maybe I should put my foot up his..."
"Come on... one of you has got to know what I'm talking about right?"
"You got 10 seconds to get this car moving before I take a fist to your temple."
"You won't leave me hanging will ya, Ken?"
"No, no, I've got you. This isn't my first rodeo. I just didn't think I had the right... you know... not really my place..."
"Go ahead. No one else is gonna."
"Are you sure?"
"10, 9, 8, 7..."
"Well if you're absolutely certain..."
"4, 3, 2..."
"Spit it out already," said Toji.
Kensuke pumped a fist in the air and yelled, "Road Trip!"
Asuka decided to hit him instead.
AN: Thanks for reading this. Tell me what you think about it.