Asuka closed the door behind her and turned the lock with a satisfying click. Slowly she turned around to reveal her reflection in the dimly illuminated mirror. Her hair resembled a fireball, and the rest of her body was none the better. The redhead noticed a small package of amenities wrapped in clear plastic. On it were large green letters: SANITARY.
She tore it open and pulled out the plastic comb, slowly working it through her unbrushed hair. Perhaps after getting home she would cut it--then it wouldn't take so long to organize.
When she emerged nearly thirty minutes later, arms sore from the battle against her hair, Hazuki-san was waiting outside for her.
"I should have given this to you last time." She held out a familiar notebook. A few loose green pages embroidered with cherries fluttered to the ground, each covered with pencil scrawls. Quickly Hazuki-san bent and picked them up, folding them back into the notebook as she murmured, "Gomen, Asuka."
Asuka took the notebook into her hands silently, her eyes downcast.
"Thanks," she said sadly at last.
The nurse looked up at the grandfather clock solemnly. "He should be here soon."
Asuka nodded, not lifting her head. She had said He. So it was Shinji who would be coming.
"Would you like me to accompany you?"
"No." The words came out before she was ready, but as the nurse nodded in calm understanding, Asuka decided it was the correct choice. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life in and out of the hospital.
The past doesn't matter, she thought to herself. I just have to be ready to face the future.
Hazuki-san nodded toward the door, suddenly mute, and Asuka saw the source of her sudden silence: Misato had arrived in her blue car, the left half of which was tipping off the side of the road.
Asuka waved, then turned back to her nurse.
The nurse shook her head and just smiled.
She watched as Asuka-chan ran outside through the sliding glass doors, the notebook pressed tightly against her chest with both arms. Hazuki-san sighed. It was so hard to be a nurse sometimes. Time after time she watched patients leave, wishing that she had more time to get to know them, but not wanting to prolong their suffering by seeing them return to the hospital.
And Asuka was no exception.
= = = = = = =
Misato greeted Asuka as she got her, her light frame aiding slightly to balance the car. "Hey."
"Hi, Misato," Asuka replied. They were several miles down the road before Asuka dared to ask the question she'd been pondering.
She'd shortened and reworded the question, instead of bluntly asking, "Why didn't Shinji come?" Shinji had not come to visit since the day she'd blown him off, at least not that she knew of.
"He...had other things to tend
to," Misato replied, and Asuka did not question further.
Misato pulled into her driveway a short time later, followed by the excited screams and yells of the children. They had been waiting at the nearest corner, their arms laden with balloons and flowers, and chased the car as it made its way up to the old wooden house. Asuka could barely open her door without pushing someone over. Misato got out of her side, which was devoid of cheerers, and promptly cleared the children away so that Asuka could get out.
She was bombarded with children throwing their arms around her and their flowers into her arms. Feeling very moved by their love, Asuka took time to thank each child for their flowers and balloons; by the time she had finished, Misato joked that there were enough balloons to carry her up into the air when she held them all.
Kimie fell into step beside her as they made their way to the house, having wisely stayed out of the way while the younger children had their turn with Asuka first.
"Welcome back, Asuka-san," she said, smiling.
Asuka tried to hug her and ended up spilling flowers all over her head.
"Kimie," she asked quietly, after all the children had somehow gotten into the house (the situation had resembled trying to force many grains of corn into a narrow bottle opening at the same time), "Where's Shinji?"
Kimie blinked and turned away, apparently afraid of revealing something.
Her words only increased Asuka's trepidation to the point where she was hesitant to enter the house. When her foot finally crossed the threshold that marked the beginning of Misato's wooden floor, the house was deathly silent.
Asuka stopped, but Kimie's small hands found her back and pushed her into the kitchen.
He was standing with his back to her, bent over the counter. From the back she could see that he was wearing Misato's apron, tied crudely--one side seemed to droop much more than the other.
He wasn't speaking to her. He wasn't even bothering to look at her or welcome her back. The hurt she had inflicted upon him rebounded to hit her tenfold.
"Shinji?" she whispered quietly.
He stiffened, paused, then stood up straight and slowly turned around. In his hands was a large cake in the shape of Asuka's head. It was not a birthday cake and no candles were on it, but Shinji's face needed no firelight to brighten the smile on his face.
"Welcome home, Asuka!"
Asuka could only gape, as Shinji laughed with the children at her surprise. There was her head, the red hair taking up the majority of the space, and her features smiling up at them as Shinji placed it on the table. His eyebrows knotted suddenly, and all the children hushed as he asked, "Who made Asuka's other eye black?"
Everyone burst into laughter, including Asuka herself. One eye was constructed out of blue frosting, but the other one was indeed black.
"All right, let me through." Misato came through with a knife and sliced up the cake deftly. "Who wants Asuka's nose?"
Before long, all that remained was a wisp of sugary hair and the lower left quadrant of her face, and Kimie was kept busy wiping frosting off of Makoto's shirt. The boy grabbed a fistful of clean shirt and wiped his mouth. "Asuka-san, you and Shinji-kun are coming to play with us tomorrow, right?"
Misato glanced at Shinji sharply, then looked away.
"Of course I will," Asuka smiled, having missed the glance. Shinji, on the other hand, looked a bit apprehensive. The redhead turned to him, worry washing over her young face. "What is it?"
"Well...my two weeks are up," he mumbled. When she continued to look confused, he added, "I'm scheduled to head back to America tomorrow morning."
"No! Shinji-kun, don't leave us!" the children cried. Shinji smiled sadly.
"I'll try to come back from time to time and visit," he promised.
Asuka was silent, her eyes cast down. Shinji freed himself from the cries of the children and looked at her with concern in his deep blue eyes.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Asuka nodded, glancing up and forcing a smile on her face. Kimie once again took charge upon noticing that Shinji still looked worried, and began to ferry the children off to their respective homes.
"But I want more cake!" Makoto shouted, his little shirt nearly bright red from the frosting.
"Makoto! Stop that!" Kimie scolded. Shinji, however, shook his head and absentmindedly pushed it towards them.
"Take it home. I can always make another one."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes... yes... take it..."
Misato went to the kitchen and came back with a roll of clear wrap, then packaged up the cake and placed it in Makoto's sticky hands. Kimie turned to Shinji, bowed, and wished him a good trip.
"It was very nice to meet you," she said politely. Shinji gave both of them a hug (when Makoto backed away, there were two red handprints on the back of Shinji's white shirt); then Kimie led her brothers home.
Misato crossed her legs in front of her, using her arms to support her weight. "So you're really leaving tomorrow, Shinji-kun?"
"Erm... yeah," Shinji replied, feeling very tongue-tied all of a sudden.
The purple-haired woman shifted to one side so that she could use her free hand to brush back a stray lock of hair. "Any idea when you'll be coming back?"
When. Not if.
"Maybe Christmas," he replied.
When that failed to stir a conversation, Misato sat up fully. "I know this is Asuka's homecoming night, but it's also your last night in Japan. Shinji, why don't you decide how you want to spend it?"
"I don't have any ideas," he mumbled a bit too quickly, but when he saw Asuka's expression, he quickly changed it. "I want Asuka to be happy."
Misato smiled in the darkness, glad that Shinji couldn't see her or he would have blushed redder than Asuka's hair. "Then, Asuka, what do you want to do?"
"I want for all of us to go outside and split a watermelon," she responded smoothly.
= = = = = = =
Misato stayed only a short while. She ate her share of the watermelon, then told Asuka and Shinji that she was tired and needed to catch up on sleep if Shinji intended to live through her drive tomorrow. However, that was only half of the truth: she wanted Shinji to have some time alone with Asuka before he left early the next morning. Misato groaned inwardly at the idea of getting up at three.
Shinji did just that, but Asuka wasn't responding much.
She had to apologize to him before he left, she knew. The thought frightened Asuka; she avoided looking at his face and chose to focus instead on a pebble by the watermelon serving as her seat.
She spoke his name against her knees, and he missed the sound altogether. Asuka steeled herself and tried again.
Shinji swiveled around slowly, so that he could see her face. "For what?"
"I... I yelled at you... that day."
Shinji stared at her incredulously for a moment.
"I'm sorry," she repeated.
She was both confused and relieved to hear him chuckling softly.
"It doesn't matter," he said earnestly. "I don't blame you at all, Asuka. If anything, it's my fault for letting you go out there."
Asuka shook her head no, just happy that she had told him the truth--and that he wasn't angry with her. The world seemed to brighten up, then darkened again as she realized he was leaving tomorrow.
Shinji was having similar thoughts. If only he didn't have to leave... He glanced at Asuka again and saw her looking sad again, despite her earlier smile. He was going to miss her so much.
He leaned closer, advancing slowly, ready to plant a soft kiss on her temple. Asuka didn't notice, still deep in thought... there were now only a few inches between his lips and her head--he could see the moonlight glistening on each hair--but she hadn't moved--
Asuka jumped, giving Shinji a faceful of hair. "What was that?"
"What?" Shinji asked, suddenly afraid he'd hurt her although he hadn't even touched her.
"That." Asuka pointed to the dark woods, and sure enough, a soft rustle followed. "Can we go inside?"
"Of course." They hurried inside, Shinji lingering on the doorstep to glance backwards.
The woods were now silent.
= = = = = = =
The words escaped Keiichi's lips as a muffled, whispered scream.
"Sorry," the younger brother apologized, but drew only a frustrated sigh from his companion.
Keichii, several years older, stepped a bit closer, cleverly avoiding any twigs that were liable to snap. He reached out and pulled aside a branch, revealing the glowing lights of Misato-san's house. "They've gone inside," he muttered. "Nice job, Makoto."
"I can't see--"
But what Makoto couldn't see, they never did find out. More crackling leaves made both of them jump and alerted them to the presence of a third person.
"What do you think you're doing?!"
"RUN!" Keichii yelled, and the two set off at a run towards their home, Kimie chasing at their heels.
= = = = = = =
"Goodnight," she replied softly. She wanted to know what time he would be leaving the next day, but perhaps that would be too direct.
Shinji concentrated on her sapphire blue eyes, then looked away. "I'll miss you," he said at last, then quickly added, "Hopefully I'll see you again soon."
I'll miss you too.
The words welled up in Asuka's throat but she choked them back, not yet ready to say them to him. Instead she nodded, looked at him for what seemed like an eternity before blushing and disappearing into her room. The door slid shut behind her.
Shinji, on the other hand, found paper and pencil and roughly scribbled a few words in Japanese, then shoved the note under Misato's door.
Asuka wasn't in the mood to shower or even brush her teeth. She turned off the light and crawled into bed, trying to block Shinji's face out of her mind.
Perhaps I should have just told him.
stealthily, she crept out of bed and slid open the door. But Shinji was already
gone, his snores clearly audible from the living room. Asuka shut the door
again and returned to bed.
= = = = = = =
Misato jumped awake at the alarm, then punched the sleep button. Why the hell is it ringing now? It's still dark out!
Shinji. He's going to be late!
Misato jumped out of bed and stumbled towards the doorway. Her left foot landed on the note Shinji had left; when she tried to walk, the paper slid across the carpet and she fell, hitting her head against the wooden door.
I'll kill whoever put that there, she grumbled.
fumbled in the darkness for a table lamp--when the room was sufficiently
illuminated, she held the note close to her eyes. It read:
Don't wake Asuka.
Misato figured that she was probably awake from the blaring alarm clock and the unnaturally loud sound her head had caused when it made contact with the door, but after she dressed and went into the hallway, she could hear no sound from Asuka's room.
"Misato-san." Shinji was already dressed, his bags packed and ready. "I made breakfast."
Misato stumbled to the table, still unstable on her feet, sat down, and began to wolf down the food. Exactly twelve minutes later the fork fell from her hand and the former Major made her way outside, feeling a bit better now.
It was still night outside, various stars blinking in the dark sky. An owl hooted in the trees and Misato shivered. Even after watching Angels disemboweled on a near-daily basis, she did not like the idea of birds that tore other animals to bits before eating them. She lowered herself into the driver's side of the car and closed her eyes while Shinji loaded his bags into the back.
They hardly spoke all the way, mainly because Misato was half asleep and Shinji just hoped that they wouldn't hit something along the way.
"What?" Shinji asked, startled at the string of incomprehensible words. Misato pulled into a parking spot, yawned, and repeated, "You really like her, don't you?"
Shinji flushed. Misato smiled. "Sorry, didn't mean to embarrass you."
"I thought I might write to her," Shinji started shyly, "but I didn't know the address." He reached into the back of the car and began pulling out his bags.
Misato waited patiently while Shinji produced a pen and paper, then scribbled down her address. "She'll be glad to hear from you, I know," she said quietly. "Take care, Shin-chan."
Shinji nodded. "You too." He slammed the car door shut. "Misato-san, thank you for everything."
Misato smiled. It was suddenly very hard to let Shinji go, and she regretted not having spent more time with him in the days he was here. The harsh words she had spoken to him while Asuka was in the hospital--if she had bothered to acknowledge him at all--came back to hurt her.
"Come back to us soon, Shinji."
Shinji nodded and glanced at his watch, tilting it in order to catch the moonlight. "I've got to go," he said. "Bye, Misato."
He's all big and grownup now, a businessman, Misato thought proudly. Shinji Ikari walked with his back straight, one bag hanging over his shoulder and the other sliding along smoothly on wheels, the handle in his other hand. Upon reaching the door he turned around and waved one last time, then disappeared into the airport.
came back to her car and fell fast asleep then and there, cramped in the
= = = = = = =
was the luckiest of the three that day. When she woke, the sun was up, and light
was streaming in through her window. What was not so pleasant, however, was the
dry, bitter taste in her mouth. She crawled up from her cot on the floor and
noticed a piece of paper on the floor. It was in Misato's hand.
Dropped Shinji off at airport. Gone back to sleep.
He's really gone.
The thought made Asuka want to crawl back into bed--and she would have done so had a small glint of gold beside her bed not caught her attention. She gasped in surprise--it was a gold locket, in the shape of a tiny heart--and had her name cut across it diagonally, the letters in cursive. Beneath it was a note.
I picked this up a few days ago. I thought you would like it.
Asuka read it once, twice, and then again before flipping it over, hoping for some more words from him. There were none. She held the locket up to the light again.
"Liar," she whispered. "You didn't just pick this up." Her name testified to the fact that he had specially ordered it--and furthermore, that he cared for her.
The clasp was intricate and nothing like Asuka had ever seen before. One end was cut to look like a maple leaf, while the other had a loop that could be opened. The end with the maple leaf was slid through and the loop closed. The maple leaf would then keep the chain from sliding out, ensuring that the two ends stayed together.
Asuka place it around her white neck and ran to the window. Outside a group of children were running and chasing a ball, when one of them stopped and pointed to the sky.
"Airplane!" he yelled.
Asuka followed his gaze and saw the elegant shape gliding through the sky.
Shinji's on that plane, thinking of me now.
Author's notes: Added a bit of romance... well, maybe more like a lot of it. And I have to apologize for the terrible description of the clasp on Shinji's locket; I have a similar necklace but don't know how to describe it. Anyway, drop me a review... thanks so much to everyone who's done so!