Chapter 19: Confessions
An hour later, the three pilots found themselves seated at a small table, various party favors and half-eaten pieces of cake covering the tablecloth. They chatted amiably with Misato, their guardian leaning on her elbows, a persistent smile on her face.
After their little episode, the party goers had slowly made their way back into the room, the music and revelry recommencing almost at once.
It was shortly thereafter that most people realized that it was nearly 10 o'clock at night, and some of them had graveyard shifts to report to.
As it was, the Pilots and their guardian had the room almost completely to themselves, minus the dozen or so stragglers who were separated into small pockets of conversation.
"I'm hungry," Shinji announced, apropos of nothing.
Misato stared at him for a moment.
"There's plenty of cake, ya know...," she said, holding up her own partially devoured piece to his face.
Shinji pushed the plate away as Asuka and Rei chuckled softly, the former leaning against the boy.
Shinji glanced at her and grinned before turning back to Misato.
"No. I mean for real food. How late is the cafeteria open?"
Misato looked at her watch and squinted her eyes.
"Ummm... I think there's an all-night diner type thing that just opened a while back..."
Shinji nodded and nudged Asuka. She moved off of him and he stood up, arching his back and yawning. He reached over and plucked a jacket off of a chair and shrugged his way into it before looking down at the two girls in front of him.
"That sounds wonderful. Would you ladies care to join me?"
He offered his hand to Asuka and smirked. She took it without hesitation and stood. She looped her arm through Shinji's own and pulled herself against him.
Rei stood and moved close to him, her hands wringing together as Shinji offered her his other arm.
She looked from the arm to Asuka, a nervous expression on her face.
"I... I do not wish to intrude...," she spoke softly, averting her eyes.
"I told you, Rei...," the redhead spoke, smiling, "You're not intruding. Shinji said 'ladies', and since I have shared a locker room with you and thereby know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are, in fact, a lady, feel free to join us."
Rei visibly brightened and took the offered appendage and they headed off, Misato's warnings of curfew trailing behind them as they entered the hall.
Misato watched the doorway for a few moments before pulling out her PDA and opening her email.
She sat there, the image of Asuka's arm looped through Shinji's putting a warm but goofy smile on her face.
She didn't hear the door at the back of the room open and close with a soft click. Nor did she hear the soft footprints as they made their way toward her.
She did, however, smell the remnants of cigarette smoke, masked slightly by the scent of expensive cologne.
Misato's grin grew slightly as she turned in her chair to stare up at the interloper, the loosened tie and sloppily tucked in shirt matching the loose ponytail and sloppy grin on the man's face.
"Hey there, Katsuragi," he spoke.
They walked in a comfortable silence towards the elevators, the normally bustling halls now nearly deserted. They passed a man riding an electric floor buffer and he nodded their way before disappearing around a corner. Asuka snorted slightly at the sight.
"What was that for?," Shinji asked.
"I've never really roamed NERV this late at night before, I guess," she replied, tightening her grip ever so slightly, "And I've certainly never seen something like that before."
"They're quite common in supermarkets, actually...," Rei spoke up, leaning around Shinji to speak to Asuka directly, "I saw a program on television about them once, an American show called 'Modern Marvels', or something to that effect."
"Yeah, well... I've never seen one before," Asuka replied, "And I think they look stupid, to be honest."
Rei smiled and shook her head.
"Well, I think they look... Fun."
Asuka leaned back and stared at Rei.
Shinji only chuckled as they walked on, the three teenagers linked together as they continued toward the cafeteria, large smiles on their faces.
There was an easiness to their gait, something intangible but definitely real. They walked as though they were invincible, and for all intents and purposes, they were.
As far as they were concerned, there was no force on Earth, be it Angel or otherwise, that could break them apart. Not now, not ever.
Shinji quietly slipped his hand into Asuka's own and squeezed, the girl looking at him quizzically for a moment before returning the gesture.
Kaji took the chair beside Misato and leaned back, an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. They stared at each other for a while, small smiles coming and going on their faces.
"So...," Misato spoke at last, shifting towards him, "Now you decide to show up, eh?"
"You know me. I go where the excitement is."
Misato turned to him and narrowed her eyes dangerously.
"You know what I mean," Kaji sighed.
"Mhmmm...," Misato grunted and turned back to her PDA, "I'm sure I do."
"Really? Because I'm not so sure you do."
Misato put her phone down, slamming it harder than she had intended, and turned to the man.
"What's not to get?," she snapped, "If you think an Angel attack is exciting, then you c..."
Kaji silenced her with a look. Misato gulped, but didn't look away.
"I'm not talking about the Angel," he spoke softly, "Surely you didn't think you were the only one listening to Unit 01 and 02's radio chatter, did you?"
"What are y...," Misato started, but then paused.
Misato's eyes widened slightly.
Kaji nodded and took a seat next to her, his arm rubbing against hers.
Misato didn't object, so he let it stay.
"Honestly," he started, "I saw this coming a long time ago. I'm surprised it took as long as it did."
"Same here," Misato replied, still clicking through her emails.
"I mean, it's not like I didn't contribute or anything..."
"You always were playing matchmaker in college. I can't count how many of our old friends are married because of you."
Misato chuckled as Kaji leaned back and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. He stuck it between his lips and stared at the woman, his expression unreadable.
She pretended to ignore him, until she couldn't anymore.
"What are you staring at?"
Misato rolled her eyes.
"Well, obviously. But why?"
"Why not? I'm sitting here, you're sitting there. I like looking at you."
"Yeah, well... Stop it. It's weird," Misato grumbled, turning her head to try and hide the growing blush on her cheeks.
"Yes ma'am," Kaji deadpanned, snapping off a salute before leaning back again and staring at the ceiling.
After a few moments of silence, she chuckled and Kaji eyed her.
"What was that for?"
"Oh nothing. Just thinking."
Kaji sighed and leaned forward.
"Okay. I'll bite. About what?"
"About how we're going to keep this going. Shinji and Asuka, I mean."
Kaji looked at her questioningly.
"I thought it was pretty much a done deal, though. Especially after that little scene earlier."
"Yeah, you would think that, but I still don't think they've actually told each other how they feel, you know? I mean, the signs are right in front of them and are blatantly obvious, but... I dunno."
Kaji nodded his head, a knowing look in his eyes.
"Alright. I'm in. What've you got in mind?"
Misato grinned widely, teeth showing, and grabbed her phone. She stood up and motioned for Kaji to follow her as she began dialing a number.
"I thought you'd never ask. C'mon."
Kaji stood up obediently and followed the woman, taking in a good look at her posterior as he did.
"Are you staring at my ass?"
"Louse," Misato muttered halfheartedly as she pressed send on her phone and pressed it to her ear. It rang for a few moments before being picked up.
"Hey there, Rei."
At length the three pilots found themselves in the cavernous NERV dining area, now mostly dark and silent. A few technicians were milling about, cups of tea and coffee steaming in their hands as they headed back toward the Eva cages.
The faint sound of clattering dishes reached the Pilot's ears, accompanied by the tell tale scent of fryers and grills.
"Wow... That smells delicious...," Asuka spoke, rubbing at her belly as her stomach let out a loud rumble.
"Indeed it does," Shinji replied, picking up his pace as they rounded a corner and caught sight of the small diner, "Come on... My treat."
Asuka looked up at him, her look incredulous. Rei only giggled.
"You do know we never have to pay for this stuff, right?"
Shinji grinned down at her as they entered the restaurant. As expected, there were no other patrons and they selected a booth near the back.
Asuka slid in beside Shinji, keeping the bare minimum distance between them. Rei sat across from them and opened a menu, deliberately blocking her view of her colleagues.
Shinji looked over at Asuka and smirked, the redhead returning the expression. A waitress came and took their orders before disappearing into the kitchen.
The three Pilots sat in a comfortable silence for awhile, listening to the clanging of pots and pans coming from the kitchen, punctuated by the occasional swear from the chef.
At length, the waitress returned with their orders and they dug in, their empty stomachs growling in appreciation.
As they ate, Rei began to notice a pattern. She watched as Asuka would occasionally look over to Shinji and smile softly, her eyes softening and a small blush forming on her cheeks. She would do this until Shinji noticed her lack of movement and he returned her gaze, small smiles forming on their lips.
As they turned back to their food, they both happened to look at Rei. She continued to stare at them, a goofy grin on her face. Shinji glanced at Asuka and nodded.
He then flicked a small lump of rice directly into Rei's face.
The girl recoiled with a small squeak, remnants of grain sticking to her nose as Asuka and Shinji burst out laughing.
"Oh Rei," Asuka managed after a moment, "You're so easy."
Rei stuck out her tongue and watched as her companions raised their eyebrows in.
"What's wrong?," she asked.
"Well, Rei...," Shinji spoke up, "It's just... You've never done that before. Sticking your tongue out, I mean."
Rei blushed and lowered her eyes.
"I... I'm sorry. I meant no offense. I just..."
"Rei, it's okay," Asuka interrupted, "It's just... Well, weird seeing you do that. Where, or who, did you learn that from, anyway?"
"In my downtime I have been watching various animated programs, most of them made in Japan before Second Impact. Between those shows and observing Major Katsuragi's behavior around other people, I assumed that this would be an ideal situation to try it out on my own."
Shinji gave her an approving grin and smiled before nudging Asuka.
"See? I told you Misato was a good influence on her."
"Indeed. I have also acquired a fondness for penguins. I find them... Adorable."
Asuka groaned and Shinji palmed his face.
"Aaand, there it goes."
"There goes what, Ikari-kun?," Rei asked, confused.
Asuka waved her hand.
"Nothing, Rei. Don't worry about it."
Rei only became more confused.
"But, I wish to und..."
She was interrupted by her cellphone, the tone ringing out loudly in the otherwise empty restaurant. It was a vibrant thing, and it sounded strangely familiar.
"Rei, what is that song?," Shinji asked as the blue-haired girl fumbled to dig her phone out of her pocket.
"It is the theme of my favorite TV show. The name eludes me at the moment, though. I believe it had to do with an angel's cruelty, or something to that effect."
Shinji and Asuka looked at each other and shrugged as Rei opened her phone and clicked answer.
"Hello Major Katsuragi..."
"Yes, I am well. The food here is delicious..."
"Yes, Shinji and Asuka are with me. Why do y..."
The two other Pilots tilted their heads as Rei's brow furrowed, her eyes dropping slightly. Asuka leaned forward and mouthed "What's wrong?"
Rei held up a finger, motioning for silence. She sat listening for a few moments, a small smile slowly growing on her face.
"Yes ma'am. I think that is a wonderful idea. I will meet you and Mr. Kaji shortly. Goodbye."
She flipped her phone closed, her smile now reaching to both ears.
"What was that all about?," Shinji asked.
Rei slid her phone back into her pocket and continued smiling.
Asuka started to fidget.
"Rei... You're creeping me out. What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing," the blue haired girl replied, "Major Katsuragi just wants to talk to me, is all."
Shinji and Asuka looked at each other, shrugged, and went to stand. Rei stopped them in mid-step.
"No no. Misato wants to speak to me, not us. You two are free to do as you please. I will see you later, okay?"
With that, she stood from the table and walked out of the diner, leaving the other two Pilots to stare after her.
"Well... That was weird...," Shinji spoke after a moment, leaning back on the bench and looking at Asuka.
"Yeah, well... if it has to do with Misato then you never really know what's coming," the redhead replied with a smile, looking at Shinji.
They sat like this for awhile, oblivious to the strange looks shot at them by the waitress as she cleared the table in front of them.
They both stopped and looked at each other, big, goofy grins spreading on their faces.
Shinji was the first one to speak.
"So, you want to talk a walk?"
Asuka thought for a moment and then nodded.
"I'd love to."
As the two Pilots exited the diner, they were completely oblivious to the three people observing them from across the room.
For good reason, too.
They watched as Shinji and Asuka made their way to an exit and walked outside, choosing that moment to emerge from the foliage of a thick artificial bush sitting in the corner.
Misato brushed some fake dirt off of her blouse and arched her back as Kaji and Rei did the same.
"So. I take it our little plan worked?"
Misato looked at the man and grinned.
"Not yet. But, I think we're getting closer."
"Good, because I'm getting tired of hiding in bushes."
Rei tilted her head at this.
"But, Inspector Kaji, I have only seen you do this once."
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Yeah... Well, I went to college with Misato. This is part of how she got all of our friends married."
Rei thought on this for a moment before nodding her head.
"I see. So, our hiding in the bushes will be conducive to Ikari and Soryu marrying?"
Kaji perked an eyebrow and turned to Misato, who in turn looked at Rei.
"One step at a time, Rei... One step at a time."
The night time air was cool and crisp, any excess heat from the day having long evaporated as Shinji and Asuka made their way out of the cafeteria. They started down the main road that lead from the NERV pyramid and stuck to the sidewalk, the light posts bathing them in a soft, natural light.
They passed by a lone Section 2 agent driving a golf cart as he made his rounds, the man waving and letting off a honk with the cart's small horn.
Shinji waved back, but the cart was already passing into the shadows beyond the end of the road and all he could see were the small brake lights flashing.
He turned his attention back to Asuka as she shook her head and smiled at him. He offered her his arm and they continued on their way.
At length, they came to a small hill a ways from NERV HQ proper. Shinji brushed off a small patch of grass and sat down, Asuka joining him.
They leaned back and stared out over the lake for awhile, neither of them speaking. A brisk breeze came rolling over the hill and Asuka shivered, pulling her arms around her chest.
Shinji saw this and pulled his jacket off, draping it over the girl's shoulders. She grunted softly in thanks and pulled the material tight around herself, leaning on the boy as she did.
Silence. And then...
"Did... Did you mean it?"
She moved and stared at him.
"Mean what?," she asked.
He turned to look at her, and she gasped slightly. There was something in his eyes, something she'd never seen before.
"On that day... The day I almost died. After that Angel. Did you mean it?"
"Shinji, what are you talking about?"
He swallowed and looked at the ground, his eyes focusing and unfocusing as he searched for what to say next.
"When they were wheeling me away..."
Asuka's eyes widened, pieces starting to fit together.
"When you ran after me and said..."
He stopped and looked at her, his expression firm, but open.
"You said you loved me."
Asuka stared at him, her mouth working up and down silently.
"I..I didn't think you heard that," she whispered, a small tear making its way down her cheek.
Shinji nodded and looked at her.
"I did. I was blacking out and there was so much noise and pain but... But that came through loud and clear."
He reached out and took her hand, gently squeezing her fingers.
"So... Did you mean it?"
Asuka stared at him, her eyes glistening in the artificial moonlight. Her breathing came in short gasps and her cheeks were a deep red.
He... Heard me...
She looked at the ground, unable to speak.
"Shinji...," she spoke up, her voice shaking as she inched towards him, "I... I..."
She looked back to him, and that was it. He was looking at her with that damn smile on his face, his eyes gleaming and she lost it.
She lunged forward, wrapping her arms around him as she pressed her lips against his. Shinji let out a muffled "ummmphh" as they tumbled backwards.
She released his mouth and looked at him. He stared at her with a stunned smile as he regained his composure.
"I'll take that as a yes?"
Asuka nodded, a look of relief flooding over her face.
"Yes, Shinji. I... I've tried to tell you before, but... I just... It never felt right."
Shinji looked at her, a knowing look crossing his features.
"Was... Was that what you were trying to tell me that day at school?"
Asuka nodded, plucking at the grass in front of her.
"Yep. I think we both know how that turned out."
They chuckled softly as their eyes met. Shinji moved to her side, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her into a tight embrace.
Asuka giggled and buried her face in his chest, returning the hug as they sat quietly.
After awhile, she pulled back and looked up at him.
Shinji looked around, confused.
Asuka sighed, shaking her head.
"Baka...," she mumbled, "Don't you have anything to say?"
He stared at her for a moment, several expressions crossing his features before finally settling on a small smile.
"Yeah, I suppose I do."
He leaned forward, leaving only an inch or so between his face and hers. Asuka looked at him, her eyes expectant. He let her breath tickle his nose for a moment before speaking, softly.
"Well, Miss Asuka Langley Soryu..."
He paused. Asuka smirked.
"I love you too."
He closed the final inch between them and pressed his lips to hers, silencing anything Asuka might have said.
So. For better or worse, here's the big moment. It's taken me almost two years and multiple false alarms, but now it's out there.
I know it probably isn't the best way to handle the moment, but I really wanted to get this chapter published.
Having said that, this is not the last chapter. That comes later. :)
So, enjoy and thank you again for reading.