The truth is spoken/Morning after [15]


[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

Asuka sat in the canteen, elbows on table, hands clamped around her tea-cup, staring vacantly into its depths.

It was early, yet, the whole evening ahead of her, yawning blankly. It had seemed a good idea at the time — with Misato going off to some wedding and then to the reception after that, which would be going on late; and Shinji accepting the offer for a room for the night from Misaki's aunt Shouko — to assert her own independence, that she wasn't a kid who needed to be put to bed. Her unstated plans for the evening had been sabotaged when Kaji had sailed into the labs after their tests, and departed with Ritsuko to the same do.

So she'd stayed at NERV HQ and had eaten in the geofront campus staff canteen — which might not be the best place to eat in the world, but at least it came free on her pilot's card. And she could pretend that someone had prepared it just for her, rather than it being just another freezer meal.

Now what?

She could go over to the rec room, rack up another high score on one of the games, take advantage of the policy that the four major food groups — salt, grease, caffeine and chocolate — were dispensed for free at the swipe of her card? Or home, and sit in front of the TV or a video until all hours? It wasn't as if Pen-Pen would make scintillating company.

No, much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, she actually felt isolated, alone. And that brought her back to the central issue of who there was here that she could really regard as one of her peers. And she really didn't have any candidates in mind.

“Are you OK there, Asuka?”

She sat up, swept the hair from her face. It was Maya who'd sat down across the table from her. In that they'd graduated at about the same time, she counted, Asuka supposed, as at least some sort of contemporary.

“People!” she said with a sigh, “Misato's off out, Kaji's either with her, or Ritsuko or the both of them. Shinji's off with Misakichi — and I'm all here by myself.”

“No school-friends to hang out with?”

“Those dummies? They're just kids. And the boys are such jerks.”

Her venom was especially directed at the boy that Hikari had set her up with for the afternoon just gone, as something that he had clearly regarded as a date. Once she had managed to establish that this would be a hands-off affair, he had moped around until her patience had snapped and she had abandoned him in the queue for a roller-coaster ride, on the pretext of needing to find the women's restroom.

“I don't think they get any better when they're older — they might just get house trained. You said yourself that you weren't sure who Kaji was out with tonight. I don't know what Senpai sees in him.”

“He was kind enough to me — and fun — while we were sailing here. I thought he appreciated me, understood I was different.

“You won't understand. You won't understand what it is to be different. But I'm not a freak! Everyone else is out of step!”

“I think I might understand more than you realise.” Maya's tone of voice changed, and when Asuka looked up, she could see that she was staring off into vague distance, as if remembering something uncomfortable. Then she put on a fragile smile, and said, “Well, if you want, I can offer a pair of ears to listen, a shoulder to cry on if you need, and a bed for the night if you want. I'll leave Misato a voicemail.

“I may not be the best person in the world to help with boyfriend problems, but I'll do what I can.”

Though the sun was low, streaming its ruddy light across the towers of Tokyo-3, the humidity seemed to have soared, so stepping out into the outside air felt like stepping into tepid water, and the short metro ride to Maya's apartment was like a sauna.

The flat itself was not large — it even made Misato's seem spacious — but it was air conditioned, for which Asuka gave thanks. She kicked her shoes off, and padded through the kitchen, past the little bathroom, and into the living/sleeping room. While Maya phoned to leave a message for Misato saying she was here with Maya — putting too much emphasis on the being “perfectly safe” to Asuka's way of thinking — as if she were otherwise going to have been wandering the streets and getting into all sorts of scrapes — she took the chance to look around the room.

It was generally quite spartan, but on one side wall, over the seating mats, a pin-board with some photos. Most were views — only two had people in them more than incidentally. One, Ritsuko and team, around a table with streamers and party hats — last Kurisumasu, she guessed. And another of Maya in a summer outfit — and she'd never seen her in civvies before — with a south Asian girl in a theme-park ride, hanging on to each other and grinning like they were having the time of their lives. Quite unlike how her ride might have turned out had she stuck with it that afternoon, she reflected. Who had it been to cheer Maya so?

Maya put the phone down, saw the implicit question in the look Asuka was giving her.

“Her name's Kavitha. She was, ” how would she explain it? “A good friend of mine at University. She's in Africa now, with the Reconstruction.”

“So she went away?”

“University is like that. Meet, make friends, then real life takes over. She knew what she wanted to do with her life. And by the time she decided that, I'd met Senpai, and knew what I wanted to do.

“Just like you'll have left friends behind in Germany.”

The girl looked at the floor and shook her head. “I was only ten when I went up — I didn't have any…” She trailed off into silence, shook her head again, as if trying to deny the world, whimpered slightly.

Maya realised with a start that the girl was crying, despite her best efforts. She stepped forwards, and hesitated. Others might misunderstand. Then she put her arms around the girl, and provided a literal shoulder to cry on.

‘They've all taken you at face value, haven't they, you poor thing, ’ she thought, ‘Shinji's too young, Misato's too superficial, and Senpai — well, Senpai is just too busy. And no one has held you, maybe for years.’

After a while, Asuka's attempt to burrow into her shoulder relented.

“It's all right, ” she said softly, “If I had gone to Africa too, I wouldn't be here now, for you. Now, tell your big sister Maya all that's bothering you.”

This time, the girl's sobs were audible, and she wrapped her arms so tightly about her that Maya could hardly breathe. Feeling the warmth of the girl's body against her own, she thought wryly, ‘and you're not the only one who hasn't been getting a ration of hugs lately.’

When Asuka finally came up for air, before she could say anything, Maya asked, “Would you like some more tea?” The girl nodded, but showed no sign of wanting to let her go and make any. “Asuka, I'll come back to you. I'm only going to the kitchen.” She relaxed her grip, nodded, and then sat down.

When she returned with a tray, with pot and cups, she sat down in the corner, near the window, and Asuka slid herself over to sit next to her, resting against her. Slowly, as the evening wore on, and the red sunlight outside faded to sodium and fluorescent, she managed to coax Asuka to talk. She had known the bare history from what she'd seen in the pilots' personnel records, but out of Asuka's mouth it came as one great howl of rage at the way that she'd been forced to invent what an Asuka Langley Soryu was, with almost no clues as to how to go about it. And all the time, though the girl was looking away, she was snuggled up close by her side. ‘Like a lost kitten, who's been mistreated, who's finally found a home and a lap to sit on.’

Eventually, the incoherence of rage wound down into the incoherence of sleep. ‘At least, ’ Maya thought, ‘I have some spare heads for the electric toothbrush, and some baggy T-shirts to press into service as sleepwear. And bedding for two.’

Some time in the small hours, Maya suddenly found herself awake. She realized that her T-shirt had ridden up to her armpits. And that Asuka had rolled across, was lying with her face nuzzled into her breast as if about to suckle, and an arm slung across her waist.

And then again the sound that had woken her.


A contented sounding murmur.

Maya felt her eyes slowly welling with her own hot tears.

Interlude — Asuka

The dream vanished like a bubble when I woke. I wished it hadn't. It left such a feeling of — happiness was too active, too busy sounding — bliss, perhaps, that waking up was a sad thing.

Someone was cooking breakfast — and it smelt like real food. Then I remembered I was at Maya's place. And hadn't I started out on the other bed mat? I hoped I hadn't pushed her out of bed.

I blushed when I saw her. “I'm sorry, ” I said, “I rather dumped core at you last night, didn't I?”

“Don't worry. You needed that. And being here, to listen — that was the human thing to do.”

After breakfast, when I was about to go back to Misato's, she said “If you ever need to talk again, or anything, just come to me. The only time I'll be too busy is when you're piloting your Eva.”

“Sure thing, Big Sister!”

I gave her a big hug before I left. I hadn't realised it before, but Maya's cool — really centered. Not like Misato — I'm not sure why she wanted to look after Shinji, let alone both of us. Maybe she needs someone to look after her.

When I get home, after a walk through the bright morning freshness, Misato's still praying at the porcelain altar. She's still wearing her party frock when she emerges. She smells of booze, and vomit and tobacco smoke, and her bare feet are filthy.

“I hope I didn't wake you up at all, ” she says, vaguely.

But Maya's message wasn't there flashing on the voicemail. I guess Kaji must have brought her home — someone must have had to — and checked it then when I wasn't there. He's sensible like that.

That afternoon, in tests, I just sail through, not quite making a personal best — but that's still not too shabby a result. After we're out and changed, well, I think Ritsuko must have been going soft in the head with age or something. “I'm not sure I should ask, ” she says, “but who's the lucky boy?”

“Huh?” What the hell did she mean by that?

I can see Maya stifle a giggle behind her hand — but why is she blushing?

[Outro track — The Whole of the Moon : The Waterboys]

© Steve Gilham 2004
© Mr. Tines 2004

#include <std::copyright> — most of the characters and situations in the fic belong to GAINAX/Project Eva, and almost all the rest to the ladies of Clamp. It's just this form of words that is mine.