06: [The Place at Your Side]
Early morning, she wakes up
Knock, knock, knock on the door
It's time for makeup, perfect smile
It's you they're all waiting for
"Isn't she lovely, this Hollywood girl?"
Lost in an image, in a dream
But there's no one there to wake her up
And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning
But tell me, what happens when it stops?
"Isn't she lovely, this Hollywood girl?"
And they say:
She's so lucky, she's a star
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking
'If there's nothing missing in my life
Then why do these tears come at night?'"
Lost in an image, in a dream
But there's no one there to wake her up
And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning
But tell me, what happens when it stops?
„The patient in room twelve? She's the little girl who got trapped under debris from the first battle. She's been here a long time..."
"Her injuries were pretty severe."
"And to think that she's just a grade schooler..."
"Did the boy come in again today?"
"Yes, he did. After all this time, he still visits her at least twice a week. He must be very fond of his little sister, what an exemplary big brother."
"Boys of that kind are hard to find these days..."
Toujis smile disintegrated in the exact moment that he closed the door behind him. Little Sakura's lot in life was bad enough without any additional worries about his person, so he did his best to keep his composure, cite some entertaining trivialities from his week and relay some regards from their father. This time, he'd enthusiastically described the rather amusing sight of Shinji and Asuka in their leotards.
Though it was hard to deny that it wasn't easy to keep up his smile in front of a sight that still broke his heart.
After countless operations, the bones in her legs had been mended by liberal use of casts and screws, but it would likely take weeks of physical therapy before she'd be able to stand.
Same for the use of her right arm.
But even without any shattered bones to account for, the little girl would likely remain chained to her bed for the foreseeable future – The damage from her internal injuries and the blow to her head had not been that easy to fix, and Touji didn't feel like the amount of beeping screens and tubes in his sister's room had significantly decreased.
And there was absolutely nothing he could do to help her – Every day he came here, he came face to face with his own impotence, and every time, he felt like he was coming closer to tearing out his hair.
Since their mother had died early on and their father was required to work to keep the family afloat, it had often become Touji's duty to look after Sakura, and, for example, help her with her homework or console her when she was sad.
But when she had truly needed him to push her out of the way and take that chunk of debris in her stead, he hadn't been there.
The memories of the first battle, in turn, led his thoughts to the other reason of today's visit, a purpose for which the nearby pair of chatting nurses walking down the hallways would prove quite convenient:
"Excuse me, Miss, I have a question. About three days ago, there was this girl who's been found on the streets by a couple of boys. Did she, by any chance, get brought to this hospital?"
"Why do you ask? Do you know her?"
"Not exactly. I was one of the guys that found her. How is she?"
"Her injuries weren't as bad as they looked..."
"Thank goodness! Who was she? That is, if you're allowed to tell me."
The nurse sighned. "At the moment, we can neither tell not refrain from telling you, we don't even know ourselves. She gave us a name, but there are no records of anyone like that, and she doesn't match the description of any missing person reports. It's as if she didn't exist until three days ago."
"...can I visit?"
"I'm sorry, only next of kin."
"Alright. I hope you find some of these sometime soon, so the poor thing doesn't have to be alone."
Covered in bedsheets and bandages of sterile white, it took Yui a great effort to even move her head to the extent that she could see outside the window and catch a glimpse of the low-hanging cloudy skies.
But even if she hadn't managed, she'd still have known that it had only just rained – she recognized the fresh, cleansed smell of the cool air pouring in through the window.
The rain smelt just the same as it did back where her odyssey had started...the sky and it's whimsical weather had been the only constant on her long journey.
"If you were here... what would you do... father?"
The final battle was set to take place in three days, and the time remaining to them was not getting any longer –
instead, it was steadily ticking away.
Neither of the two children felt like they could afford any more delays. Determined to pull through, they devoted all their attention to their task and, by extension, each other.
But even then, to precisely match another down to a heartbeat, to familiarize oneself with their motions and thought patterns to the point that you could predict them was no easy task, especially when you were as different from each other as Shinji and Asuka.
At least, they were not on their own:
In the light of their adjusted attitudes and newfound determination, Misato's strict regimen felt much less like a curse and more like a blessing.
It helped that the local hot springs penguin attempted to make up for the first day's debacle by offering moral support, be it by cheering, keeping them company or sometimes even participating in the exercises.
Unfortunately, he had to stay home for the parts of the training that were required to take place in NERV HQ. Particularly in the morning, Akagi would put the Children through countless iterations of the same simulation to practice for the fight. Training in the actual simulation bodies was particularly important in Shinji's case, as the choreography required him to have his Evangelion perform movements that lay beyond what he was capable of in his natural body.
According to the test data, he should technically have been able to do this since sometime last week as his synch rate had recently passed 100%, but he'd never done it with conscious intentions, which was exactly why he was supposed to practice it now – In fact, he managed to surprise the scientist by managing a successful handstand in the very first simulation, though his landing afterwards had not looked much more dignified than the results of the last battle – He ended up going through a great deal of struggle concerning the 'superhuman' movements, not because he couldn't do it, but having a hard time gauging, coordinating and precisely regulating their force without overshooting the margins.
Asuka, for whom everything required for the plan demanded about as much effort as a few simple jumps, protested that she was forced to waste precious time because of the 'Stupid Daddy's boy', but ended up giving him tips – Not, as Misato's teasing suggested, because she had somehow changed her opinion about him, but simply because she wanted him to stop getting on her nerves.
Shinji got the issue worked out on that very same day.
The instructions on the area of the roundhousekick should be particularly useful, and not only because Shinji could personally vouch for Asuka's skill in the area – the plan was to finish the angel off with a pair of simultaneous kicks intended to shatter both cores.
He'd guess that he was probably supposed to see it as a sort of honor to be introduced into this art by one of its masters – and her tips had turned out quite useful and intuitive in their application – but he didn't think that he'd ever be able to perform that move outside his Evangelion.
At least in that era, he would never be Asuka's equal – Though 'beating people up' wasn't exactly the kind of skill he'd always wanted to learn.
Though the simulation exercises ended around noon, the arrival of the afternoon did not imply a break. Oh no, that's exactly what Misato got those modified twister mats for.
To be honest, the Children still had the occasional inelegant moments, but Asuka was consoled by the knowledge that her mistakes rarely ended with her rolling across the floor or landing flat on her face. Since Asuka appreciated this brightening of her mood, she showed her gratitude by helping Shinji find his way back to his own mat – usually with a good old Shikinamian roundhousekick.
But much more than the training itself, it was the corresponding everyday life that still created the most problems. In her endless quest to embarrass them, Misato had decided to boost the team spirit by buying them matching toothbrush mugs with their names on them. In hindsight, a larger sink might have been a more sound investment, as it might have prevented the kids from growling at each other each time there were some accidental sprays of water, which, given that they had to stand closely together, happened pretty often.
The evening's television program was another point of contention: They could neither agree on something to watch, nor were they very good at imitating each other's poses while they were pointing the remotes at the TV.
Their synchronization was fine up until the initial "Who watches this crap?" but there simply weren't that many insults that would apply equally to a soap opera and a cooking show.
The subsequent quarrels go so out of hand that Misato saw no choice but to place her own futon between those of her young wards to assure that they wouldn't smash each other's heads while she slept.
The next morning brought a small victory – after she'd made them sleep under the influence of the music intended for the attack plan, she'd found them in the exact same position.
Another indication that her efforts were ultimately bearing fruit was how the children's bio rhythms seemed to be adjusting to each other, which wasn't an entirely positive change given that the apartment had only a single toilet, leading to a distances where both children and the penguin who's faithfully supported them in their endeavors would embark on a three-way race for the toilet – It was probably enough to say that Shinji spent the rest of the day with the bathroom door's imprint on his face after Asuka had 'accidentally' slammed it into his face – somehow, both the redhead and the bird always managed to claim the porcelain throne before he did.
Despite these occasional unfortunate consequnces, Misato kept insisting that the three of them keep slurping their noodle soups at exactly the same time, though even her powers of persuasion were insufficient to convince Asuka to use 'those completely unpractical chopsticks', or at least, she'd given up when the girl's fervent speech about the inherent superiority of forks became too taxing on everybody else's eardrums.
Asuka kept her fork.
Annoyed by the whole incident, Misato actually made good on her earlier announcement to ensure that what little spare time the Children had left would be split evenly so that Shinji, who usually tended to back down in order to avoid further unpleasantness, for once received some help with the housework and even found some time to listen to his own music – which meant that Asuka was forced to take the other earbud and listen to his 'emo bullshit' as well.
Even so, he might have gotten more enjoyment out of his daily dose of musically underlined depressing poetry since Asuka had insisted that he keep his eyes closed as her underwear dried on a nearby clothesline.
This whole setup just made him nervous.
Participating in Asuka's hobby's did not offer him too much comfort either. For one thing, he quickly reached the conclusion that all those girl magazines were either evil or incredibly boring, no in-between. Honestly, he really dindn't understand how it was any of Asuka's business if celebrity A was dating celebrity B or not, and he felt guilty just for reading it – it felt too much like prying, or gossiping behind someone's back, and that was... well, not nice. The fashion magazines were a little better as the models were easy on the eyes, but god help him if Asuka should catch his eyes drifting from the clothes themselves to the unclothed bits – even calling one of the ladies 'pretty' had landed him a slap.
Another thing Asuka liked to do was to play video games, but she only owned a single handheld game, which resulted in the ceremonial unpacking of her gaming console and its swift connection to the television.
Misato insisted that they try the multiplayer setting together, preferably as a team, but even if Asuka's game of choice was nothing extremly girl-specific, Shinji was soon forced to admit that he didn't have the slightest bit of talent.
But even Asuka couldn't really savor the activity, given that she was stuck with someone who was dead weight in co-op mode, and easy prey in a duel. At first, she relished stopping him into the ground, but it lost its interest rather quickly.
...between the training and their spats, another kind of little moments began to slip in, scattered instants when Shinji felt like he was about to burn up from the inside, when time seemed to slow in brief seconds where his gaze lingered on Asuka's tauntingly perfect body longer than necessary, the times where their gazes would meet, when they'd accidentally brush against each other, or touch for some necessity of their constant company.
There was a warm, tingly consuming sense of desire that had somehow crept in through the backdoor before he'd even noticed.
Since that conversation in the evening sun, she had seemed more... tangible, like she actually existed in the same world as him, on the same plane of being, in the same number of dimensions. He became increasingly aware that she was still a girl his age, perfectly capable of being... vulnerable.
A girl his age, who, despite everything, was strong, brave, intelligent and attractive beyond all bounds...
So, what about that thing that commonly happened if you placed a healthy young male (presuming he wasn't asexual or exclusively interested in males) in proximity of a powerful, enviable and extremely attractive girl, when he was made to spend large amounts of time in her presence, exposed to her youthful breasts, her long, slender legs, her taunt behind, her shining, fire-red hair and her sweet scent?
What tended to take place if they were then made to share their highs and lows, and live through successes and failures, great strains and intense emotions side by side?
What tended to happen?
Well, at least in Shinji's case, it sparked the beginning of those miraculous processes which, until very recently, had been the sources of all life.
Before he knew it, Shinji found himself confronted with the situation that this person, whom he couldn't even stand until recently, caused him to feel desire.
The new and strange feelings bubbled forth from some obscure, arcane source that was unknown to him, in a way he had never known before.
He pined and languished for the dream to take her perfect, flawless body into his arms, to cover her neck in kisses and rip the clothes off her body, to grasp for her breasts and feel their tips brushing against the palm of his hands, to feel her perfect legs between his own.
They had warned him of this in biology class, but they had never told him just how... intense this need could be, how languorous its fever... but all of these were double-edges blades.
Precisely because he was always stuck with her, he never found the time to seek relief through certain... solitary activities, and the very fact she was so intelligent, attractive and physically mature made it rather unlikely that she'd give an ineffectual loser such as himself as much as a passing consideration – She'd spurned the most muscular, wealthy and most popular boys their school had to offer, and set her standards so high that you'd have to be a James Bond knockoff with a face full of manly stubble to get as much as a passing consideration.
Shinji could think of many words with which to describe himself, but that list surely didn't contain anything like 'cool', 'charming' or 'bursting with testosterone', which turned each of Asuka's bold provocations, each and every of her motions in her barely clothed stage into a preview of hell and heaven at once.
In between all of her 'Are you an idiot?'s and 'You're such a loser!'s, she would throw in a certain degree of sexual provocations, simply because she loved being popular and relished in being seen as sexy and desirable, though she'd always clarify right during the flirtations themselves that she didn't even remotely consider him an option, and that he should consider himself fortunate for the chance to waste away in her orbit.
She taunted him with things she would never give him... and that almost led him to a kind of anger. Suddenly, all of her scoff and her mockery cut deeper than ever before, and he could no longer turn a blind eye to all the debasement humiliation she had visited upon him, losing the will to put up even the half-hearted resistance he'd managed thus far.
He'd begun to actually care what she thought of him, and weakly hoped that he might get along with her, and be there for her when she needed him.
She, of course, did not want this. She was merely holding back with her insults and physical beatings because she longed to excel in battle.
He was nothing but the means to an end, and slowly but surely, it was beginning to bother him.
One way or another, the days before the angel's return steadily approached their end, and by the time Misato declared the last of their training sessions to be over, the two EVA pilots had perfected their team work and synchronization down to the smallest detail.
"So... see you then, Sakura-chan. I'll visit you again on Thursday, okay? I promise."
Beyond the door to his sister's hospital room, Touji encountered the same nurse he'd spoken to earlier, not that the news she's brought had been all too encouraging.
She appeared to have been waiting for him to leave.
"By the way, Miss... What about the mysterious girl? Have you found her family? ...eh? Disappeared?"
"I'm afraid yes. We were going to hand her over to social services yesterday, but when we came to wake her up, her bed was empty and her window was smashed. It seems like she knotted her bedsheets and duvet cover together and used it like a rope to climb out. The police is already looking for her, but they haven't found her yet..."
The last eve before the battle had been long-awaited, and yet it snuck up on them; The last three days, which to Shinji, had felt like three small eternities as he'd been living through them, in hindsight appeared like they'd just sped past him like a passing train, making it hard to believe that all that had taken place in so little time and through such a limited number of events.
A few rather fundamental things had changed irrevocably, and he too, had been changed, tortured and enriched by some wholly new experiences.
At times it had felt like this evening would never come, in part because the times preceding it seemed to have lasted long enough to give him a sense of being significantly older than before, but now, this moment had finally arrived, and it didn't even feel like it was anything special, and there was neither anticipation or tension in the air.
In and of itself, it was nothing more than a regular, relaxed evening, the infamous calm before the storm.
Since Misato had left for headquarters to attend to the last preparations for the battle, and Asuka was currently in the shower, Shinji had decided to use the brief moment of quiet to take it easy – If he hadn't sufficiently memorized the attack pattern by now, it would have been too late anyway, so he'd put on some loose, comfortable clothing and pulled out his cassette player in order to treat himself to some calm and pleasant music and take the time to read that one comic book that Touji had lent him a while ago.
When the end of his brief respite was announced by Asuka's steps, he kept his eyes closed as as wise precaution – given her tendency to run out of the shower wearing little more than a towel, it had proved to be a rather effective method of avoiding unecessary pain.
Indeed, the noises in the background suggested that she was about to get dressed.
"Where's Misato?" Asuka asked as she pulled her nightshirt over her head.
"At work. She just called to say the she won't be coming home."
"Great! That means we have the place all to ourselves!"
Before Shinji's hormone-addled brain could convert that sentence and the seductive smile that accompanied it into a wild, steamy fantasy involving copulation, reality burst his bubble with a cold reminder that her choice, insofar as she had one, would always lead her away from and not towards him – Only under duress did she even lower herself to breathe the same air as him, and once that coercion was gone, she immediately packed up her futon and carried it into the next room, where she closed the door with her foot without sparing him as much as a glance.
What else could being 'alone together' mean but freedom from the embarrassing circumstances necessitated by their training?
He'd barely removed his earbuds out of some hope that she might have something to say to him when the door had already been slammed shut before his eyes.
And to be honest, he didn't have the heart to remind her of the mandates of their training, he wasn't really keen of being stuck with her grumpy self next to him, and if he looked at himself, it was barely a mystery why someone like Asuka wouldn't want to stay in the same room as him – perhaps, she even thought that he, too, would be delighted to have a bit of privacy, after all, she couldn't have known what she would likely never find out.
Suddenly, the sliding door opened again.
Her loose-fitting, yellow nightshirt didn't do much to conceal her breasts, but her hostile tone efficiently assured that his glances didn't stay from her face.
"Consider this door as the invincible wall of Jericho!"
Shinji blinked in confusion.
What was that again? Some sort of western thing?
In any case, he couldn't remember ever hearing of any such thing, not that this would have been unusual.
Luckily (?), Asuka was 'compassionate' enough to deliver an explanation:
"That means, if you cross it, I will kill you!
So, and now be a good kid and go to bed. It's way past your bedtime!" and before she'd finished speaking, the door slammed shut once again – this time, for good.
He heard her complaining about how the Japanese could possibly stand to sleep on the floor, but then, the clicking of the light switch revealed that she had no plans to waste any more words on him.
To avoid her wrath, he put away the aforementioned comic book, turned off the light and decided that she was probably right as far as his bedtime was concerned.
Feeling rather depressed for a variety of reasons ranging from Asuka's disinterest to the writing he'd found in that alley three days ago, he decided to listen to some o his own music while falling asleep, since the steady repetitions of Track 27 reflected his mood rather well.
Beyond the windows, one could see the last light of the dying day, which no longer even bothered to disguise its impending end through the warm colors of sunset, but simply clad itself in a fallow blue that was about to fade into blackness at the furthest edge of the horizon, and in its fading glow, make out the reflective surfaces of Tokyo-3s skyscrapers, and observe how they, as well as their countless antennas, began to display the twinkling of those little red lights intended to warn and guide the flights of nocturnal planes and helicopters, showing them the path to safety like a lighthouse would out on the open sea.
Shinji wished that he had something to show him the way – towards Rei, to Asuka, to humanity's salvation or even to his father...
Or the way to the answers to all of his questions.
He could really use some of those red lights to demarcate just how far he could go with each person without being rejected, and which areas to avoid so she wouldn't be hated. But he didn't have him, and so he was forced time and time again to enter the black spots on the map, where the Unknown dwelt... he couldn't stand this constant uncertainty in this big, confusing world, in which he was always surrounded by a large margin of emptiness, and all those who could have helped him were always far away.
The door turned the two or three meters that separated him from Asuka's place of rest into 'the next, enclosed room', and the words 'past your bedtime' made them a deep chasm.
Presumably, she lay somewhere over there, sleeping peacefully with no clue of the terribe power she could have over him without even knowing...
That said, there was also a lot that Shinji didn't know, things he couldn't have known, nor even suspected – For one thing, the distance between himself and the Second Child was only half as large as he'd thought: Still on all fours, the designated pilot of Unit Two remained on her knees next to the door, in the expectation that he would open it again, her thoughts quite removed fro what he would have expected them to be:
Just how stupid could he possibly be?
How much more obvious did she have to make it for this stupid idiot to finally get it? He hadn't exactly made it much of a secret that he was mostly governed by his 'little' brain, and it was not like a wuss like him could afford to be choosy with the ladies, so what was the matter with him?
What else could a boy of 14 years, the exact age where the hormonal urges should be doing their worst, possibly think of when he heard that they had 'the house to themselves' and an attractive girl right under his nose? What was the invincible Wall of Jericho famous for – if not the story in which it had come crashing down?
Wasn't it enough that she was parading herself around in mere towels or slutty nightshirts?
Did she have to shove her breasts right into his face for him to notice them?
Or did the legendary Third Child actually think he was too good for her, him, that brainless, cowardly daddy's boy who didn't even have the guts to face her, always running off with his tail between his legs to avoid any possible confrontation?
How did that loser expect to ever get some if he kept acting like this? This was probably why she tended to get at least one love confession before lunch break, while he didn't.
Not that there was anything she wanted from those little boys – and he was the worst of them, the most immature of them all, nothing but a baby meekly following 'the plan' while clinging to the seams of Misato's skirt.
She wouldn't even be surprised if the pathetic wimp had a little bit of a crush on the older woman – how deluded, to think that an experienced, older woman would ever consider him anything other than a child.
(To think Kaji would ever consider her anything else.)
It wasn't as if she'd been seriously interested in charming that moron – if he'd actually barged in, she would have called him an idiot and escorted him out of the room with a kick, just for daring to think that she'd ever consider the likes of him.
(But wasn't it her who'd attempted to lure him here?)
She'd simply intended to use him as a guinea pig to practice the use of her womanly wiles before she'd attempt to seduce Kaji, just to try them out a bit. And it was only his status as an EVA pilot that made him eligible for that role, not that he'd had any appealing points that she'd be willing to waste herself on.
She belonged to the elite, so normal boys were about as distant from her as monkeys!
But even so, the only way the Third Child could possibly hold over her was as a plaything.
(To console herself after the defeat and the humiliation that had come with all this 'team work', to come to terms with the clear-as-crystal certainty that she hadn't been... good enough by anointing her wounds with a little bit of attention, recognition and affection.
To quieten her fears of inferiority by dominating the lengendary Third Child with her body, at least.
And it hadn't worked.
She'd been waiting here for at least fifteen minutes.
He wouldn't come. )
Overcome with sorrow, Asuka lowered her head.
What was wrong with her, that she couldn't even tempt this horny nitwit even though he was quite obviously desperate?
If she couldn't even impress as hormonal teenager, how would she ever succeed with Kaji?
If she couldn't be NERVs best pilot, nor even an attractive adult woman, she'd be nothing but an useless child!
Everything... everything was working out without her being required or even needed for it... no one needed her, no one liked her, no one wanted her, no one admired her, no one would hold her, and no one ever, ever stayed with her!
Oh, how much she hated all this!
Everything and everyone here, this whole, damned country, she couldn't stand it, she hated it!
But what she hated the most was the useless, puny little child she had always-
She couldn't allow herself to sink that low, she couldn't stand this pitiful display.
This was just unacceptable.
It was him. This was all his fault!
How could he do this to her?
How could he spurn her so coldly?
There was no use in waiting for him, what more, she was glad that he hadn't come.
Determined not to waste another single second of her life on the Third Child, she sank onto her futon.
The silent apartment failed to show any particular interest in that.
She tried to get herself into some semblance of a comfortable sleeping position, but it just wouldn't work, and in the end, all her efforts amounted to was to restlessly turn in her sheets, bringing her legs close together as if she wanted to provide herself the warmth and consolation that this cruel, unfair world was denying her.
But it was no use.
She simply couldn't sleep, nor could she seem to relax or manage to overlook the gaping black hole in her soul.
Only when she finally gave up on trying to keep her eyes shut and found herself eying the sky through a gap in the curtains did she fully grasp what was eating away at her attempts to rest, and, indeed, had driven her to her attempt at luring the Third Child to her side – It hadn't been about trying out her feminine allures, at least not completely...
It was just that this 'adult', rather indirect, implied strategy was the only way in which the last reminder of her precious pride would allow her to beg for absolution from her suffering.
For up there in the dark firmament, there was a lone airplane pursuing its path, visible only a blinking red dot illuminated only by its nighttime security lighting.
Ever since she'd been a child, when she'd decided to devote every last second of her life to her duties as an EVA pilot, she had been striving to be just like that plane: The fastest, most expensive, most impressive kind of vehicle that could master even the furthest distances without being slowed down by the constraints of terrain, unimpeded by the mountains or lakes that forced other means of transportation to turn, and so special that it didn't have to share the ground with lesser options like cars or trains, being privileged to shoot through the heights of the atmosphere that were reserved only for its kind.
She'd always been a high achiever, or at least, she'd done her best to be one.
Yet, there were far fewer planes than there were cars, trains or ships, and when one flew above the landscape, one tended to have the whole sky for oneself, impossible to inore for anyone with the time and capacity to gaze upward.
That, however, was precisely the issue – that lone plane up there might have had the sky to itself, but what exactly was the sky even? There was nothing up there but the air and the cold and the gaseous waters of the cloud cover.
Whenever an aircraft flew, it flew all alone, surrounded in all directions by nothing but gaping emptiness.
Had she attempted to get the Third Child's attention because she'd felt alone?
Because she hadn't wanted to be alone and he'd been conveniently at hand?
Because she'd wanted a warm body to cling to to distract herself from her failures?
Disgusting! Pitiful! Unacceptable!
Asuka couldn't make sense of the world anymore.
"Up until now, it's been the most natural thing for me to be alone..." she explained to the shamelessly disinterested air molecules. "Loneliness... isn't supposed to bother me..."
The Second Child wasn't the only person in this household who was having a hard time reaching a state of sleep – Even though Shinji knew that he would need to be well-rested for the big day tomorrow, it was simply not possible.
Even the music didn't help – he had far too many worries swimming around in his head, and they were not being helped by the additions of Asuka's rejection and the tensions regarding tomorrow's battle.
Then, suddenly, a noise.
It was a sliding door being opened – Asuka.
As if by some sort of reflex, Shinji immediately let his head and limbs sink down onto the sheets to feign a state of deep slumber – She'd told him to go to sleep, and the last thing he needed at a time like this was to incur her wrath this late at night.
Correspondingly, he didn't move a single millimeter as he heard her steps somewhere in the background – The only muscle he moved was the one needed to hit his cassette player's pause button, so he'd be able to hear what she was doing.
Only when he'd heard the squeaking of a door did he dare to peer past his eyelids – He didn't catch sight of Asuka, but the sounds he detected disclosed that her journey's destination had likely been the toilet.
Thus, Shinji decided that it would be for the best if he pretended to be asleep until she was back in her room, especially since he had no idea of the surprises that this night still held in store for him.
He definitely heard Asuka's steps as she was leaving the bathroom, but then, after what could not have been more than half the way back, they simply ceased.
Of course, there was always the possibility that Shinji could have misjudged the direction of the noise or overestimated the distance, but... he didn't think he'd heard the sound of the door.
He could have made an attempt to ascertain the situation with an upward glance, but he didn't want to risk her noticing that he was still awake in case she was still in the living room.
For lack of other options, he decided to wait it out – but the answer he had refrained from seeking ended up seeking him out – quite literally.
Unbeknownst to Shinji, Asuka had spent a few moments looking down at him, conflicted and torn up by inner turmoil.
Then, he heard a definitive noise, along with a sudden sensation of warmth near his forehead, as he felt a touch that brushed against some of his hair.
Split seconds after he'd opened his eyes wide enough to realize what it all meant, they almost popped out of his skull.
The sight he was presented with drove a shock through his body and flooded the inside of his face with tremendous amounts of heat and blood.
As part of an instinctive flinch, his hand gripped the volume regulator attached to his headphones a little tighter, causing him to accidentally hit the rewind button, unleashing an ultra fast backwards version of his old familiar songs that was barely recognizable as music. It was a disquieting, disharmonious yet tolerable, screeching noise at the edge of Shinji's persception that vaguely conferred a sense of a time limit – He was far too busy with what his eyes were showing him to pay much attention to his ears.
For when he'd opened the former, he found his entire field of vision full with Asuka.
The source of warmth he'd felr against his forehead had been nothing other than a second forehead – to be exact, the one belonging to the Second Child.
She'd actually gone and planted herself in his bed, directly in his line of sight, her body aligned to his diagonal position, so that the distance between them remained consistently small – her long, slender legs were mere centimeters away from his own, as if they were only waiting for him to take the initiative and connect their forms until they were intertwined like a newlywed couple after their first night of passion.
All of Shinji's thoughts had been blown away, and all of what had once been his mind was completely paralyzed by the temptation supplied by his eyes, overloaded, conquered or everything at once.
He didn't even stop to consider what might have been right or wrong to do in this situation, what he 'should' have done or what the people closest to him might have thought of his actions. He did not even stop to wonder what just what in all of this immense, unfathomable universe could have led Asuka to do this.
For that, he would have needed to think in whole, coherent sentences, and that what not what he was doing.
He couldn't contain anything beyond this moment, as if nothing else had ever existed, and nothing else ever would, as if the Second Child were the only girl in the world, and the place at her side the only spot he had ever belonged in.
All he could think of was Asuka, all he could feel was the soft, warm skin of her forehead and the loving, mildly tickling caress of her hair, all he could smell was the fresh, fruity scent of her newly washed body, comprised of the perfume in her body lotions, her seductively-invigorating rosemary soap, the same strawberry shampoo he'd noticed after their first battle together, and another smell of her very own, and he could see nothing but her – That had been her intention, and that's what she had succeeded at.
Had there been other circumstances, or had this been another girl, he would have averted his eyes in shame by now, but here and now, he was overwhelmed, far too intoxicated by the prospect of his nocturne fantasies coming true.
Too long, too strongly, he'd been yearning for what Asuka had teased him with but never let him reach, and he was too infuriated by her constant humiliations and insults to think about her privacy right now – He was not that noble a person.
He knew that he ought to respect her basic human dignity like she'd never respected his, but right now, he couldn't feel that responsibility.
The Third Child was only a flawed human being, and in the middle of puberty at that.
He knew that he should be ashamed of himself, that what he was doing was low, cowardly and scurrilous, but in this instant, he refused to care – Here was the chance he had been hoping for... after all, it was her who had pretty much shoved her breasts in his face, offering herself on a platter like a common prostitute!
He felt the blossoming desire to take revenge for her scorn, to take her when she couldn't refuse him.
But most of all, he sought to prove to both himself and her that he wasn't the coward they both thought he was, that he could be a man and take the first step.
In some ways, he still couldn't help but admire Asuka beyond all bounds, simply because she was everything he wasn't: She was pretty, she was strong, she was proud and she was popular, graceful as she said and did exactly what she wanted. She took what she wanted.
She seemed to be much more open and confident with her sexuality than he would ever be, and he wanted to understand that.
To understand what it was that made her strong and what it was that made her weak, so he could find such a source of strength for himself.
In this moment, he lusted for her as much as he hated himself, for having all the things he found lacking in himself.
He was consumed by the burning craving to lick that strength of hers from her lips and skin.
So he stared, brazenly, without shame or apology, directly a her sleeping body, her soft red hair, the large amounts of fair flesh and flawless, well-kept skin that her loose garment revealed, her bare shoulder and her breasts, soft, light yet defined hills of bared while flesh which poured out of her nightgown light water balloons, the nipples barely covered and pressing through the fabric anyways.
They especially captured his wide open eyes, as if he still couldn't believe that they could be both real and this close at the same time.
Her bosom was squeezed just a little further from her nightclothes as she stirred slightly, but the main effect of her minuscule motion was to bring Shinji even closer to her face than he thought possible even just a moment ago, her lips slightly parted like an invitation that Shinji would not decline.
He wanted her.
Hastened by the sound of the rewinding player, Shinji reached something like a decision, insofar as his mental and emotional state allowed such a thing. 'Something like' because his next action wasn't anything he could have explained or defended with logical arguments but still deserving of the term 'decision' because he was, at that point, willing to carry it out without further thought or hesitation, or hopes of turning back.
Unceasing, he moved toward her soft, alluring lips, until they were all he could see, until they encompassed everything that was part of his world, her lips alone, as they slowly opened to welcome him–
No. Not to welcome him.
The cassette player reached the end of the tape and fell silent.
On the edges of Asuka's eyes, there was a gathering of liquid, the one chemical that could make any kind of lust evaporate at once.
Glittering little tears, matching her childlike little voice.
Shinji came to a petrified halt stopped less than nail's breath from Asuka's fate.
He felt like he'd been thrown into a pool of ice cold water.
It just wasn't fair.
He'd wanted to steal a kiss the superior, provocative young woman whose strength he'd been jealous of, not from some sobbing little girl that cried because she was missing her Mommy back home in Germany!
To put it bluntly, the young EVA pilot felt conned.
That arrogant little...!
She acted like she was all mature when she was no better than him!
He should have known.
Why did he even do this whole, pointless thing?
Frustrated, he grabbed his blanket and curled up beneath it, hidden away on the other end of the room, as far away from Asuka as possible.
"You're still a child yourself." he mumbled, almost contemptuously, before pulling the blanket over his head and trying his best to forget this entire incident.
A torrent of folders and papers kissed the floor.
He squeezed his right leg between both of hers, and, all-too enabled by her short skirt, rubbed his thigh against her panties with a kind of practiced professionalism, using his left arm to squeeze her against his chest while his right held her trembling hand.
"Cut it out! What if someone sees...!"
"You know, someone..."
Before she had the chance to say anything else, he'd already sealed her lips and shifted her weight against the wall, where her resistance finally melted completely and allowed his tongue to pass the gateway of her lips.
He demanded a long, intimate kiss, and all the time, the guilty, sullied glance of her eyes was transfixed on the counter that told her how many floors the elevator had left to pass.
Only when its doors opened did Kaji release Misato from the firm grasp of her arms, whereupon she departed in a firm stride, bringing a full meter of space between them before she thought of turning back around.
"Don't do this ever again. It's over between us."
"That's odd..." Kaji retorted, as he gathered up the papers that Misato had dropped when his sudden 'offense' had surprised her. "Suddenly, your lips are saying 'no', even though they were saying 'yes' just now. So whom shall I believe? Your words or your lips?"
With his usual pompous smirk, he handed her the papers, and then had the audacity to actually bow to her.
But even so, the emotion displayed upon Misato's face was not anger or indignation, but guilt.
She'd felt guilty and dirty... because just for a moment, she had enjoyed this.
No she hadn't. Most certainly not!
Why should she even, with that self-important macho?
As far as she was concerned, he could stick his mucilaginous gentleman shtick where the sun don't shine! He could even have the papers back – right in the face, zing!
To this day, the poor, innocent elevator doors behind which Kaji had disappeared stilll wondered what they might have done to deserve the load of paper that isato had angrily thrown their way.
"Here, for you."
"Oh, Thank you."
Thanks to the coffee that her faithful friend had kindly provided her, Misato actually managed a grateful smile despite all the frustrations concerning both Kaji and the bickering kids.
"I admit, it's a bit unusual to see you sober." Ritsuko commented as she sat down next to her friend, on one of the large tables next to the wide panorama windows of the canteen.
"Is it because of work... or because of a man?"
"There are many reasons."
"Still in love, hm?"
Misato, who had been sipping her caffeinated beverage at the time, barely managed not to choke. "What? Is that supposed to be funny?!" she retorted once she was done coughing. "I miss that guy like I miss a hole in the head. He was the worst mistake of my life! My only excuse for having been with him at all is that I was young and stupid."
"You know, actually..." Ritsuko started, still surprisingly calm. "I meant to say that Kaji is still in love. But evidently, the same is true for you."
"Oh, shut up..." Misato griped grumpily.
"If I'm wrong, then why are you getting so worked up? Just give him a chance. Who knows, maybe he was also young and stupid eight years ago."
"That might make sense if he had changed in any way, but he's exactly the same! He simply refuses to grow up."
"Look who's talking." Ritsuko commented. "Last week, when he did your job for you and thought of a battle strategy, you still though it was cute. I don't want to meddle in your private life, but don't you think it's a bit unfair if you only refuse him when it's not inconvenient for you?
That sounds a bit like you're taking advantage of him."
"It's not like I asked him to do that! He's the one who can't get it into his head that somone might not want to have anything to do with him. He still acts like he's the center of the universe. But let's just let this topic be, okay? We have a lot of work to do. Tomorrow is the big day."
And the big day did come.
Exactly as predicted, the Angel resumed his march toward Tokyo-3, stomping through the landscape as the morning sun illuminated its partially metallic body.
But Israphael wasn't the only one who'd spent the last week preparing for a rematch with the humans – they, too, were thoroughly prepared, having prepared their counterstrike down to the smallest detail.
"It's coming!" Misato informed both of her wards. "We won't lose this time! Deploy your AT fields as soon as the music starts, and then do everything just how we practiced it!"
"Roger!" both Children confirmed in unison.
Whatever may have happened the night before, Shinji considered it to be wholly his own fault once he'd looked back at it in the morning light – He'd pulled some absolute nonsense there, and even he could no longer understand just what had driven him to do that.
He stayed at the conclusion that Asuka was not much better than him, but at the same time, it wasn't like he was so much better than her, and now, it was time for the fight.
Before them lay yet another battle for the fate of humanity, so his own chagrin (or lack thereof) could wait.
Deathly serious as always when he was mentally preparing for a battle, he went through the sequence of moves one last time before his mind's eyes, and felt deeply inside the EVA's mindscape to make sure that his connection with it was of sufficient strenght.
This would be the moment of truth – In a few moments, it would be decided if he could keep up with Asuka or not.
"Don't forget that we're supposed to go for maximum output and velocity from the very beginning." Asuka reminded him, her anticipation at this chance to finally prove herself apparent in her voice.
"I know." Shinji confirmed. "We'll finish this in 62 seconds."
(Though Asuka would never admit this, he always sounded significantly cooler once he got inside his EVA.)
Finally, they both heart Aoba reporting that the angel had passed the point they had discussed earlier – The moment had come.
Misato's last instruction was for the power plugs to be divulsed – this operation would require maximal freedom of movement – and then, she gave the launch order.
Evangelions, likewise, go!
With the elegance of professional ballerinas, they shot out of the ground and immediately used their momentum to jump multiple times their own height – all of that in perfect unison.
Together, they threw two retractable staffs, between which an electromagnetic force field formed immediately upon their landing, neatly bisecting the angel.
Like before, it's reaction to this was to split into its two miniature forms, whose size roughly matched the Evangelions – The EVAs themselves landed on the floor smoothly and whirled back to their feet in a kind of one-fourths pirouette, in order to grip the guns hat had been prepared and handed to them through the hidden armories in some nearby buildings – This was a point where the timing was particularly important as the gunfire was only meant to draw the angel's attention.
Striding forward with graceful sideways steps, both pilots aimed for the angel and emptied their magazines into it, both showing clear signs of strain or excitement.
Their painstakingly prepared reaction to the retaliatory cross beams resembled less a regular evasive maneuvers than it a kind of deathly gymnastics jumping course, given that it consisted mostly of a series of synchronous handstands – Shinji was surprised that he even managed it, but it was surprisingly easy, almost as if his imagination were the only real limit on his freedom of movement.
He even managed to maintain synchronicity with the Second Child as he did it and landed precisely on the white chalk outlines that demarcated where exactly the Evangelion's feet were supposed to go – which, in turn, activated the steel plates intended to keep the angel's next shot from reaching them, giving them time to grab another pair of guns to continue shooting at the angel – it, however, seemed to have realized that it wouldn't be getting very far with its regular energy beams and decided to go all-out, causing something like a halo to appear over each of its halves, both of them connected in the shape of a sideways eight.
Shinji had seen something like this before – with the very first angel he had fought.
And just like it, the two smaller figures began to levitate the very moment the rings of light appeared, landing directly in front of the steel plates before tearing them asunder with their claws – Both Evangelions had evaded their assault with a simultaneous jump at this point.
While the few bombs and rockets that Misato had fired at it distracted the angel however briefly, the Children prepared the decisive strike. Moving like the halves of a single body, both of their battle cries melted into one, and even without having to sit inside the same EVA or any other physical connection, the pilots could feel that they shared exactly the same will.
And then came the part where Shinji got to show off everything he learned from her – the part where they both rained down from the heavens to give one half of the angel the kick of its lifetime – 'kick of it's lifetime' because the next one was supposed to be lethal.
As the angel, now back in a single form, was being propelled across the landscape by the momentum of their assault, incapable of stopping itself or otherwise escaping its fate, a pointed glance passed between the pilots, blue-into-blue, Shinji, serious and cautious, looking to assure himself of her support, and Asuka, ecstatic and joyous in her triumph, ascertaining to him with a nod that he would have her full trust for what was to come –
And then, they delivered the coup-de-grace.
Spinning like dancing swans, they shot upwards into the sky, only to descend like bloodthirsty Valkyries, determined to strike the angel''s cores before they could dive back inside its greenish-black flesh.
Arranging their Evangelions into a giant letter 'Y' without them touching each other, the unlikely pair sealed the angel's fate. Euphoria flooded the command center before their blow even connected, Misato's playful smirk brimming with pride for her young wards, Kaji with a triumphant grin, Maya jubilant, Hyuuga in awe, Aoba appearing genuinely surprised and astonished before his features settled into a thin, content smile, and even Ritsuko, usually the designated cynic, couldn't find a reason not to smile. Nay, even the usually rather serious subcommander, who had so scolded the pair just a week before was swept up in the wave of faith and rejoicing.
And for good reason – Israphael never had a chance. Its cores splintered from the force of the initial impact, and the more the force of the attack led it to slide up and down the mountains, the more the cracks deepened, until they finally broke to pieces at the exact same moment, bursting into a bloodlike liquid that splattered both EVAs only to be burnt right off their armor when the angel's remaining body exploded as well, wiping the small hill upon which it had expired of the maps in the firestorm that doubled as the messenger's funeral pyre.
This was followed by the usual cross-shaped light beam, the rain of blood, a double rainbow – even triple at the edges – and a crater that had been molten deep into the ground that would likely become a new lake with time.
"What about the EVAs?" Misato asked, curtly.
"No damage." Maya reported.
Indeed, the explosion's fading light eventually gave way to reveal the two colossal shapes – one had to look closely to make them out as everything inside the crater was splattered with the angel's sticky, crimson remains, but they were there – Mission accomplished.
An all-around success then?
Once you made out the EVA's outlines within the burned-out sludge, it was impossible to miss how their bodies were hopelessly tangled – Misato and Ritsuko immediately recognized what was now inevitable.
"Oh noes!" the former commented, indulging in a generous facepalm.
The scientist extended her her full sympathies. "Any moment now..."
As soon as Shinji had climbed out of his entry plug to get a good look at the results of the battle, the internal line rang out and presented him with an adorable hologram of a rather cantankerous Asuka.
"Look what you've done! This is the second time I looked uncool because of you!"
"How is this my fault?" Shinji protested angrily. By all respect and so on, how could she make a fuss about something like that after they'd succeeded at taking that thing out without damages or injuries? She couldn't be serious!
She really was a total toddler! Granted, there were some things about her that he found impressive, even intimidating, but in moments like these, Shinji felt like he'd been sent out here to babysit her.
"You're the one who ran into me from behind!" he added, in order to at least clarify the facts.
"Only because you lost track of the timing!" came her caustic retort.
Beyond the semi-transluscent hologram, he could see her real body in the distance, gesturing just as wildly near the hatch of her entry plug as the virtual image of her that was currently screaming in his ears. "Are you always this lame, or is it because you stayed up so long yesterday?"
She... had noticed?
"I was making sure that I's memorized the right steps!"
"Liar! I bet you tried to kiss me in my sleep!"
She's noticed that, too?
Struck with sudden despair, Shinji swallowed.
"It's not fair to pretend to be sleeping!" he replied, sounding a little lost.
"You PERVERT! That was supposed to be a joke! Then you really did it? You dared to ruin my first kiss for me, after I'd saved myself for Kaji-san all this time..."
"NO! I stopped!"
"Who'd believe a pervert like you?!"
"You're the one who crawled into bed with me in the first place!"
It was probably hardly worth mentioning that the whole control room had long since dissolved into homeric laughter.
Resigned, Fuyutsuki once again buried his face in his right palm.
"They're embarrassing us again..."
As of late, the subcomander was losing all hope for Ikari's son.
Much to the chagrin of all involved NERV employees, the Children continued to argue all the way through the retrieval mission and their transport back home, and even Misato couldn't manage to shut them up for long.
By the time they made it to the shower rooms, Asuka seemed to have lost the interest in further arguing – perhaps she had simply ran out of insults, though it may also have been related to the familiar face that had greeted them in the corridors, joining them in a white plugsuit dripping with LCL.
"Hello, Ayanami!" Shinji greeted with a friendly smile. "It's good to see you again!"
"Is it?" she answered, mildly surprised.
"Well, uhm, I... I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't be, since we haven't seen you in a long time. We'll be back in school tomorrow, though, just so you know."
"Good. Then you destroyed the target?"
"Of course we did!" Asuka interjected, sounding mildly indignant. "Do you really think you're so important that we wouldn't manage without you and your garbage can of a prototype? Really! Unlike you and this amateur over here, I'm not here because I had any sort of convenient contacts, but because I'm good. You can rest assured that some puny enemy won't be a problem for me! Granted, Daddy's boy over here helped me out, but it's faily obvious whose accomplishment this victory was! But hey, " Asuka flashed her a condescending grin. "I can hardly blame an antisocial girl like you for asking a stupid question so that people will task to you at all. Must have been boring to sit around in your half-repaired EVA without anything to do!"
"...hey, Shikinami-san..." Shinji feebly tried to intervene. "I don't think Ayanami meant to-"
"Can you two please chat some other time?" she interrupted him immediately. "I'd rather wash the LCL out of my hair before it dries, if you please. If you don't move your bachsides soon, I'm leaving without you!"
Now that the number of pilots being employed here had increased to three, the shower room actually looked like it was being used – If they all picked the same side of the room, the number of the cabins in use exceeded that of the empty ones by one – but what could have made the room more lively and pleasant merely succeeded in making shower time more stressful, as Asuka had threatened Shinji with the Death penalty multiple times in case he should leave his cabin before she was done getting dressed, after all 'she knew full well what sort of pervert he was'.
Technically, the cabin doors covered everything apart from her head, shanks and feet, which she normally presented to the world quite freely... and even then, there was very little about her that Shinji hadn't seen yet.
But due to his rather understandable aversion to pain, Shinji decided to keep these objections to himself and simply waited until she would 'let him out'.
Since she insisted on applying a generous regimen of of beauty products, this meant that Rei was the first to finish and emerge from her stall.
"See you later." she stated once she'd put on her school uniform and quietly walked toward the door.
Asuka took a good while longer, sat down on the central bench in the room and pulled out a hand mirror and a few jars of cream and makeup as she got to work on her face.
"You can leave, Daddy's Boy." she informed him after a while, after she'd taken her sweet time to assemble her 'beauty station', as if she'd only then remembered that Shinji existed and had probably spent over fifteen minuted standing fully clothed in his shower cabin at this point, where some leftover water had dripped onto his blue polo shirt and his hair had begun to dry in odd, standity-uppity angles before encountering a comb.
"It's alright, you don't need to wait for me."
"I just... wanted to..."
Asuka sighed. "You Japanese are going to drive me crazy! Listen, if you've got something to say, spit it out now or leave me in peace!"
"I just ….wanted to apologize. ...In case I... got in the way somehow... " he finally managed. Despite everything else, he'd seen just how important battle performance could be to Asuka.
"Don't worry about it. You weren't nearly as useless as I feared you would be. I must have rubbed off on you during training."
"Spare me the formalities and just get out of my sight!"
In part because of that order, she didn't get to see the noticeable blush that her compliment... or rather, her marked abstaining from using a stronger insult had caused on the shy boys's face.
Rather than pay attention to his steps as he left the room, she focused on the freshly beautified, seemingly perfect girl in her mirror.
Her smile seemed to have gone, but that was simply an unimportant external detail. Reflections couldn't ask questions, nor could they feel ashamed of weaknesses – The other girl, trapped all alone within the mirror, could not have met anyone else within her cage of glass, nor could she have called for help because she was mute –
Every time she appeared to speak, the only voice Asuka could seem to hear was her own.
She'd once heard her stepmother in conversation with her father, stating that mirrors did not merely reflect evil or imperfections, but that they outright created them, but the image that Asuka held in her hand didn't seem to have any flaws at all... If either her real mother or her stepmother had been given the choice, they probably would have opted for the silent girl in the mirror.
Even so, she was capable of flipping the mirror shut and packing it away. What did it matter to her what any of these women thought?
She did not want to be a silent reflection or a mute little doll, no matter how perfect that might supposedly make her.
She didn't have to be ashamed of having worked with the Third Child (or so she convinced herself), all things considered, he hadn't exactly been useful, nor would she want him to rival her level, to be honest. She was NERV's best pilot, and she intended to keep that position.
Besides, he was probably the lesser of two evils compared with the arrogant, antisocial cow that was the First Child.
And as much as she'd chided him, on some level it was actually quite flattering to be desired. Turns out that all her worries had been for nothing – Of course she could wrap a guy like him around her fingers. She just had to make sure to drop hints the size of sky scrapers with this guy.
Even if he was an idiot, she could probably manage to tolerate him for a while, and somehow, somewhere... well yes, though she would never have admitted it, somewhere deep inside she didn't find it all that unwelcome to have someone standing at her side during battle.
(1) Regarding the whole first name basis thing, there was a decision to be made, as this chapter would have been one of the logical points to insert it – One the one hand, the fact that they refer to each other by their first names is an iconic and important part of Shinji's & Asuka's relationship that actually fits quite well with the direction I eventually want to take them in, on the other, if I made her drop the 'Daddy's boy' thing now, it would barely have any presence and come off as part of the introductory process, and its importance would be lost – after all, she keeps doing it for a full third of 2.0, and underlines the fact that Asuka often relates to those around her as 2-dimensional roles in her personal script without even getting to know it, just like she calls Rei's 'Favorite/honor student/wondergirl' , manga-Kaworu 'replacement' and was to do the same with Mari in some unused scenes, how she and Rei never use each other's names (each for different reasons that nonetheless underline their imcompatibility) basically deciding that Shinji will be her rival without consulting him – when she used his name midway through 2.0, it meant that she saw him as a person and an equal, a point that should feel 'earned' when it eventually arrives, given the turbulent nature of their relationship. I was reminded of reading that bit in the 2.0 CR where Anno chose to downplay Asuka's connection with Hikari and scrap the Kaji thing to not dillute the more important point that she came to Japan on her own – Of course I'm working with a medium very different from feature films that are characterized by a spaciousness rather than a conciseness of time, so they'll remain at 'Daddy's boy' and 'Shikinami-san' for the forseeable future.
(2) The Hijinks will continue in 07: [Worthy of Her]
(3) It has come to my attention that this fic is mentioned & linked on the TV tropes page for "Groundhog Peggy Sue". *sparkly sailor moon eyes* "Thank you".