Small Betrayals/Identity Crisis [17]


[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

Rumours had been flying all day of the loss of Unit 04 in testing, when Asuka headed to meet Maya in one of the common rooms, before going to get a meal.

She stopped short at the door. Kaji was there! But he was bent over Maya, who was sitting on one of the benches by the drinks machines — it looked like he was trying to kiss her, as she flinched away from him. Couldn't he see that she didn't want him hitting on her? that his advances were not welcome? For an instant, she was transfixed.

Then she reacted, running across the room.

“Get away from her, you… you…”

He straightened up, turned in surprise, that usual roguish smile on his face, but she just carried on her trajectory, and she was pounding on his chest, snarling at him, “I hate you, hate you, hate you!” How could he do this? She felt sick — did he just chase anything female that happened to cross his path? had their shipboard closeness been just a meaningless little game of his while there were no other women around?

She felt his hands strong on her wrists.

“Let go of me, you pervert!” she yelled, and screamed. Not the girlish squeak like she had left on his voicemail not so long before, but a full throated screech, driven from her diaphragm, that she knew, even as she drew the breath, would leave her throat still raw the next day. She felt him recoil under the blast — she hoped it would make his ears ring for as long.

When hearing returned after she had to stop to draw breath, she could hear the sound of running footsteps behind her, felt Kaji's grip relax, felt him turn. She looked over her shoulder at the new arrivals — Ritsuko and Misato had rushed in, and Misato was slowly removing her hand from inside her jacket.

Kaji released his grasp, held his hands out. “It's not what you think,” he offered in the face of the two withering stares.

“Ryoji-san — Get out of here, now. But I shall need to talk to you later about those findings you showed me the other day.” Misato's tone was icy.

He shrugged, and sauntered off, not one whit abashed.

“See you later, then, Misato baby!”

When he had gone, Misato turned to the rest of them.

“Now, perhaps someone would like to explain exactly what happened here?”

“Permission to speak, Major Katsuragi.”

“Granted, Lieutenant.”

“Ryoji-san was — flirting, I suppose he would have called it. Asuka was meeting me here — I expect she saw this, and came to try and protect me. Isn't that so, Asuka?”

She nodded. At the moment she didn't exactly feel like speaking.

“Ha!” Ritsuko chuckled, “it seems like the idol has shown his feet of clay, eh, Misato?”

Misato said nothing, but her silence was eloquent. She too had had her hopes about this man dragged through the mud today.

Afterwards, at the ramen stall where they stopped for dinner, Asuka was still deep in a black mood. That had been a nasty, horrible, thing to happen, to make her have to choose between Kaji and Maya. The choice she had made was no choice at all. She had lost him, never had him except in her stupid, stupid, school-girl dreams — but he had just taken that and rubbed her face in it.

“That was very sweet of you,” Maya could not help noticing the girl's moodiness, and the cause was obvious, “what you did.” She put her hand on Asuka's, squeezed it gently. “I appreciated it. Thank you.”

“You did?” her face lit up, and she turned to Maya, and hugged her, “Thank you, Big Sister!”

Maya sat for a while, then “You're going to hear about this anyway, so I might as well tell you now, though don't spread it around. It's true about Unit 04 — and the Americans are not happy, to put it politely. They want shot of Unit 03 just as soon as they possibly can, so it's going to undergo its final trials at the Matsushiro site here. When it arrives, Misato and Senpai are going to be in charge there, so I'll be standing in for Senpai here — which means I'll be a little bit busy that week.”

“Is this going to be Misaki's Eva?”

“No, she's going to stay as reserve pilot — though she'll have to get up to speed on Unit 03 after its new pilot is imprinted. You're going to be getting another Pilot Suzuhara on the team.”

Asuka's jaw dropped.

Next day, at school, Asuka listened with heavy heart as the call came for Toji to go to the Principal's office. The mill was turning. At break time, she saw him sitting in a shady spot in one of the outside corridors, away from the hurly-burly of the playground, looking unusually thoughtful.

Why should it take someone that way? She had grabbed the chance with both hands, and if she had regrets, they were not to do with the actual job of piloting, despite the moments of sheer terror it had incurred. He, by contrast, looked like the whole weight of the world had descended upon him. But then, she reflected, all the other pilots appeared to have been forced into their roles, thrown in at the deep end and left to sink or swim — Ayanami seemed even to have been born to the role, for all she could tell; the rest drafted with no explanation or option. But it could have been worse, she supposed — Kensuke would have volunteered if given the option, and she really didn't think she'd be able to cope with his eager beaver attitude. Misaki had at least, in that respect, been neutralised to some extent by Shinji's passivity — the idea of Kensuke and Rei as a couple struck her as even more improbable than Shinji and anyone. Even contemplating such an unlikely pairing made her snicker. Not that it wouldn't be amusing to see wonder-girl trying to cope with a gear-head nerd — from a safe distance.

Toji returned to class before the last lesson, and even then he was clearly subdued. She thought that most people would guess that he'd been given a thorough chewing out by the Principal. The other pilots seemed oblivious.

When the bell finally went for end of school, she found herself at a bit of a loose end — no tests to go to, but at the same time, Maya was being kept busy with preparations for Unit 03's arrival — perhaps Hikari might be interested in some idle chat, take in a coffee bar, or something, after she'd finished doing all her class rep duties. She had been about to join the crowd slowly draining from the room, but stopped and turned to check. And there Hikari was, doing her class rep duties — she was waving a stack of print-outs in Toji's face.

“… and it's your turn to take these to Ayanami.”

“But I can't just go barging into a girl's room by myself,” he protested, looking around for some moral support — but Shinji and Misaki had already gone, and Kensuke had been out all day on some planespotting bash or similar.

“Hah,” Asuka joined in, “What — you afraid she'll leap out at you stark naked and have her wicked way with you?

“I know, we'll both come with you to make sure you come to no harm. You're going to have to get used to dealing with wonder-girl sooner or later, you know.

“That sound a good idea, Hikari?”

She nodded. Asuka knew that she was sweet on the guy — it took all sorts, she guessed — but if anything was going to happen there, someone would have to give things a push, since he wasn't going to notice any of the signals, from the looks of things.

Ayanami's place was in a dingy row of high-rises where Tokyo-3 faded into what everyone called Old Town, slabs of urban brutalism that had survived fifty years of earthquakes, tidal waves, sea level rises and typhoons, when you would have hoped that some act of God would have mercifully cleansed the neighbourhood. Asuka wasn't surprised when the lifts didn't work, and nor at the way that the stairwell stank of stale piss — just looking at the place she had anticipated the ammoniacal stench.

When they reached the right floor, they emerged onto an open walkway, walled against the drop, where a fitful wind blew grit into unwary eyes. Did anyone besides druggies and squatters actually live here? Asuka wondered. But there it was, Ayanami's name on the little card above the door, and a letter box overflowing with a lifetime supply of junk mail.

Toji was cajoled into pressing the doorbell, which he did, timidly, then again more forcefully when there was no response.

“Here, let me” Asuka snapped, and leant on the button for about twenty seconds. Still nothing.

“Well, we can't just post them, can we.”

She tried the door handle, intending to rattle it for attention, but the door opened to her. Either there must be some discreet NERV security around here, or this place was too low rent even for druggies and squatters. Privately, she tended to the latter opinion — with the depopulation, there were nicer suburban neighbourhoods, in more traditional towns, with plenty of vacant properties.

She peered in to the unlit hallway. There was a smell of damp and neglect, but nothing obviously offensive.

She looked back at the others. “We can leave the stuff for her inside somewhere, I guess. C'mon Toji. Time to be brave.” And not just Toji. As she kicked off her shoes, she just knew that her socks would stick unpleasantly to the floor beyond. The flat itself wasn't anything surprising — pretty much a mirror-image of Maya's, a design to fit a usable amount of living space into a small area. But the contrast was unbelievable. The kitchen here was just unused, thick with dust and grime. How could she manage this — to out-do Misato's squalor while keeping the place so spartan as to make Maya's flat look like some palace of opulence?

And the living room itself — a bed, a fridge with a scattering of prescription envelopes, a chest of drawers for clothes and — “Oh, gross.” she muttered to herself “something that looks like year's worth of used tampons.” — that a second queasy glance showed was other bloodstained surgical dressings, scattered on the floor near the bed.

“I didn't know a girl's room could look like this.” Toji, master of the understatement, strikes again.

Asuka gave Hikari a broad wink. “Well, Toji — time to make yourself useful. Put the printouts on the bed and get this place tidied up. There's a bin bag by the fridge there.”

“But…” his protest faltered against two determined stares.

“Just like you have to do at home,” Asuka rubbed it in.

“It would be ever so sweet of you,” Hikari took the good cop role.

He was still down on his knees, gingerly placing the detreitus into the plastic sack, when they heard the door open, and Rei walked in. She was a couple of steps at least into the living room when she seemed to react to the fact that she was not alone.

“Toji brought you a whole stack of class circulars and other such bumf — so we thought he also ought to make himself useful while he was at it,” Asuka explained, “after all, he's going to have to learn about being useful soon enough.”

“Yes…” Rei whispered, without seeming to actually agree with anything in particular. She coloured slightly. “Thank you.” she added, with little more animation.

“Uhh… where…?” Toji stood up, with the bag of trash.

“We passed the waste disposal on the way up,” Asuka told him, “Hikari — do I have to draw a diagram?”

“Unh-unh,” the girl shook her head, and grabbed Toji's free hand, dragged him out of the room.

“Bye, you two. See you around!” she called.

“Was there anything you wished to discuss, Pilot Soryu?”

“No, I was just giving the new Pilot Suzuhara some moral support. And now I just need to wait a while until Hikari can take him under her wing.”

“Yes.” Damnit, she was nearly as bad as Shinji with this yes, yes, yes.

She walked past Rei, into the unlit kitchen area, to wait a while before leaving. Idly, she flipped a cupboard door open — and revealed where someone had, long ago, left a modicum of household supplies. She returned to the main room brandishing a scrubbing brush, a bucket, and a bottle of cleaning liquid. She tossed the brush to the startled First Child.

“Right, Pilot Ayanami,” she smiled sadistically, “we've started, so I think we shall finish…”

Meanwhile, on a grassy hillside overlooking Tokyo-3, under blue sky and fair weather cloud, Shinji and Misaki were resting, enjoying the cooling breeze. They had walked up here from school, and while he stood looking down at the city, she was lying on the slope, her straw hat tipped down to shade her eyes.

“Did you know it's Toji?” she asked.

“What about him?”

“He's going to be pilot for Unit 03 when it arrives. Dr. Mihara told me.

“It should have been him, all along. Pilot Suzuhara. I was a mistake.”

“But you're the Fourth Child, aren't you?”

“No. He showed me the files. I'm Child Zero. Number None. Type O, the universal donor. I shouldn't even be a pilot, according to what the Commander had told him.”

“If my father made a mistake, then I'm glad that it was this one.”

“I'm glad too, Shinji.” Only her smile was visible beneath the brim of the hat.

[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.