Source: geocities.com/seele_hq/Archive

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Nighttime rain pelted Hokkaido. It was April, what once had been 
springtime, and the scent of rain in the newly-rebuilt city's downtown 
washed the air and the palate alike. People came out in spite of the 
rain, walking about the city center in search of entertainment and 
camaraderie.

A young couple walked together, arm in arm. She was dressed in a white 
overcoat buttoned to her neck. One hand kept the bright red handbag at 
her hip from slipping to and fro, the other held her umbrella up over 
their heads. He was dressed in a sportcoat and khaki pants. He was 
jingling the change in his pockets absently. Although they were both 
visitors to the city, he glanced about himself, ill at ease, while she 
walked with a determined step.

They stopped outside of a bar. She said to him, "This is the place 
Junko-san mentioned to me. Shall we give it a try?"

"Yeah, why not," he replied. "'Mark's 7'--is that the name of the 
proprietor or something?"

She nodded. "Junko-san said he was a foreigner." She listened to the 
noises from the inside for a moment, then added, "But it doesn't seem to 
be crowded."

The man looked at his watch. "It's only just now 19:00. We're early, 
so...probably nowhere on this whole street is crowded."

They fell silent, victims of their own indecision, before she asked him 
directly, "Shall we go in?"

"Yeah, why not," he said, repeating his earlier verdict. She shook the 
rain off the umbrella, then took his arm again. They walked inside.

The bar itself was almost painfully bright. The interior decoration 
consisted of white tables, white chairs, a white bar, mirrored walls and 
white incandescent lights. The couple's eyes were drawn to the only 
color in the bar. A row of bottles occupied a shelf behind where the 
barkeeper was serving drinks to a cluster of salarymen. They were 
talking easily in groups of three and four.

"Shall we find a table?" she asked, trying to make out where the chairs 
were in the white-on-white scheme. When she got no reply, she prodded 
him. "Touji?"

"I'll be damned," he said. "You know who I think that guy on the end is?"

He was clearly the hanger-on, the one taken along as an afterthought. He 
was dressed identically to his fellow workers in a dark suit. His dark 
brown hair was more ruffled than his companions'. Hunched over his 
drink, it looked as though he was holding on to the glass to keep from 
melting away and running onto the floor.

"Oh my goodness!" she gasped. "Shinji? Ikari Shinji? Is that really you?"

He turned at the sound of his name, putting to rest the question. His 
eyes, as blue as the sky at dawn, hadn't changed in half a decade. He 
turned and waved at them, smiling; started to get up; sat back down, 
glancing at his co-workers; and then once again turned to them. "Hikari! 
Touji!"

"Hi, Shinji!"

They had come into the bar proper. Shinji finally stood and bowed to 
them, and almost beaned his head against Hikari's shoulder as she 
embraced him. Glancing to Touji for help, he found himself being 
embraced by his long-lost best friend as well. After a moment's 
indecision, Shinji slipped his arms around them in return.

"Shinji, it's been so long now. Five years, hasn't it been?"

"Uh...we all lost track of things after high school. So yes, that's five 
years now. Huh." They broke their embrace, and Shinji straightened his 
necktie. "It doesn't seem that long, you know."

Touji and Hikari started leading him to a booth, and Shinji said over 
his shoulder, "Kacho, these are some old friends of mine, I'm sorry to 
leave you all." He sat down opposite them as Touji helped Hikari with 
her overcoat. "I don't get out much with the fellows from work...that 
reminds me, I heard on the Internet that your book's going to be 
translated and published abroad. Congratulations."

"Thank you," said Hikari. She was dressed in a lavender kimono with a 
purple floral pattern stenciled on it. Shinji half-remembered having 
seen it before, and wondered if it was a family heirloom. Hikari 
continued, "Have you had a chance to read it yet?"

"I'm afraid not, no."

"Master!" shouted Touji to the bartender. "A bottle of sake, and make it 
the good stuff, if you would!" He smiled at Shinji. "Tonight is going to 
be a night to celebrate, Shinji. Five years, you know. So much has 
changed."

"Yeah, I notice you've got some kind of facial deformity."

"That's a moustache."

 "Are you sure?" said Shinji, smiling. "I think it's yeast from that 
homebrew beer you tried to make our senior year."

"Well, no, it isn't." Touji blushed as Hikari tried not to giggle. 
"Anyway, I haven't tried doing that in years. Hey, here's the drinks!"

The bartender set out a tray with a bottle of sake and three choko cups. 
Touji expertly filled each cup almost to the rim. They toasted their 
health and drank. The sake tasted dry in their mouths and left a warm 
burn in their bellies. Touji sighed. "Ah, you can taste the quality. 
That's good stuff. Hikari and me never spent money on good booze while 
we were at school."

"So you did go to college?" Shinji inquired. "I remember you went 
through a period there where you were talking about becoming a master 
carpenter or contractor, or something."

"Touji was studying French for a while," said Hikari, "and we're still 
trying to understand why. But he ended up with a degree in what they 
called 'biodynamics', which isn't biology but isn't physical education, 
either."

Touji nodded. "After everything my sister went through...I guess I'd 
just like to make other people's suffering easier. Right up until the 
end, she was a brave and happy little girl. I'll never know how she did 
it, but she did. Now that we've got a little money, I can begin studying 
for my license as a physical therapist."

"That's really good to hear. Good luck, Touji." Shinji turned his 
attention back to Hikari. "And you studied literature. I remember when 
your first book came out, I saved the review from the paper..."

"That?" Hikari said dismissively. "That was just a novella and some 
short stories I threw together while I was studying. Honestly, Shinji, 
this book is going to be my first real book. I planned it, I wrote it, 
and to me it feels like a real book should be. In my heart, this one is 
number one."

She stopped as Touji topped off her choko and they all drank. The mood 
was much more casual than it had been only a moment before, a result of 
the sake and the humor of its drinkers. Hikari stated, "You haven't told 
us about yourself, Shinji. So?"

"Eh? 'So' what?"

"So, did you and Asuka ever get together?"

It all came back to him, the memories like boiling LCL. The pain of that 
night--almost five years ago that evening, he realized--rose up within 
him. He couldn't hide his scowl from Touji and Hikari, but he could tell 
them a half-truth. "Sorry. I'd forgotten that 'So?' and your asking me 
about Asuka went hand in hand." They laughed at that, like he had hoped 
they would, and he hurried on. "Asuka and I haven't talked since she got 
her degree our senior year. She moved back to Germany then. I didn't 
write to her, and she didn't write to me. That was the end of that."

"Aw, how sad..."

Hikari was cut off by Touji. "Thank goodness. You two never would've 
made it."

"TOUJI!"

"It's true! It's true! After the UN took over from SEELE and NERV, Asuka 
and Shinji didn't have anything in common anymore. They couldn't even 
agree on whether pork or beef was better in stir fry, how could they 
have any kind of a real relationship?"

"Touji, as long as I've known you, you've never understood Sohryu Asuka 
Langley. Now, she really needed someone in her life, and Shinji has 
always been just the right person for her."

"Yeah. A human-shaped punching bag. That's what The Demon was looking 
for in a date."

"Touji, dear, please don't call her a demon. She is not a demon."

"Those weren't clips she'd wear in her hair, those were horns!"

"They were not horns."

"They were! Shinji, tell her those were horns."

Shinji smiled miserably. "Remember when the two of you called us the 
'Married Couple'? You are married, aren't you?"

"We're engaged," they said in unison.

Shinji nodded, but changed the subject. "I sent off applications for 
those colleges the councilor suggested to me. I got accepted at a 
couple. I picked one school in Kyoto because it was the first letter of 
acceptance to arrive. I can't...I can't really say I had a good time or 
a bad time there. My roommates and I got along well, they were mostly 
quiet types. One fellow was a classical guitarist, and I played a few 
shows with him, doing duets that I'd helped him write.

"I started taking psychology classes. Maybe I knew all along that I was 
a mess, and I wanted someone to help me, or maybe I just kind of fell 
into it. But there it was. Four years of my life, and I had a bachelor's 
degree in psychology. I liked it, I liked the work. I met interesting 
people and did some interesting things. I don't think I excelled at it 
or anything, but it was all right. No, no more for me, thank you, Touji.

"My senior year in college, I realized that I'd need to get a job sooner 
or later. So I went to a job fair on the campus. There was a company 
there...here, let me give you a card." Shinji passed a business card 
across the table to Hikari and Touji. "Obana Limited, it's just an 
advertising firm. Someone read the resume that I gave them and thought 
that an Evangelion pilot would make a good spokesman, for the company or 
one of our accounts. Well, I'm not very photogenic or anything, so that 
didn't work out. They gave me a position as a salaryman and transferred 
me up here to Hokkaido."

"What kind of work do you do now?" asked Hikari.

"Up until a few months ago, I was responsible for staring out of the 
window all day long and signing off on anything that landed on my desk. 
Then the company got a contract with a hot springs resort aimed at the 
elderly. Nobody in Tokyo wanted to be bothered with it, so they sent it 
to Hokkaido, where they dumped it on me."

"A hot springs," Touji burst in. "Shinji, not Hanagata Health Center?"

"Uh-huh."

"You mean to tell me," he said, "that YOU are the guy who came up with 
the opera-singing jellyfish?"

"I am," Shinji declared. "I even wrote the melody of the jingle."

"We are in the presence of genius!" Touji said. "Hikari, let's have a 
baby and name him Shinji. What do you say?"

Hikari laughed. "What if she's a girl?"

"We'll name her Jellyfish. Shinji, you're a genius. So what happened 
then?"

"Money talks," said Shinji. "I've started getting real projects now. In 
fact, just today I finished my work on the Kobe monorail system they're 
planning. I guess I'm a success as an advertiser. That's my story."

A moment of silence slipped by, then Hikari asked, "But you haven't kept 
in touch with anyone from before?"

"No, I haven't," Shinji replied. "Asuka moved to Germany after she got 
her degree from Kantou Daigakku. My father is still in prison at 
Nuremberg. I heard from Kensuke just before he started that intensive 
English class he was taking so he could join Captain Ibuki in New 
Amsterdam--did you meet Captain Ibuki, Hikari? You know her? Good. And 
Rei...I never learned what happened to her after the UN invasion. She 
could be anywhere, for all that I know. That's everyone I really knew."

Shinji finished off the last of his sake. Touji said, "Let's find them 
all."

"Eh?"

"Look at it this way, you two," he said. "Shinji, you just got done with 
your Kobe monorail thingamajig, and Hikari, honey, this was the last 
stop on the book tour. I haven't signed up for my physical therapy 
classes yet. Let's do it. Let's go find everyone."

Hikari started to say, "You're crazy, Touji," but when she tried to 
explain to herself why he was she couldn't figure out the reason. In 
fact, crazy though he may have been, he was right--it was the best time 
to renew old friendships. Across the table from her, Shinji's mind was 
working like Hikari's. Saving him the trouble of coming to his own 
conclusion, she said, "Yes. Let's do it."

"But...but..."

"Touji's right, Shinji," Hikari said to him. "You're still an Evangelion 
pilot. Tell your boss you need a week to get together with all the other 
pilots for a reunion. There'll be no problem."

"...I guess."

"And don't forget, when my next book comes out there will have to be a 
big advertising campaign. Didn't you say a moment ago how money talks?"

Shinji nodded, very slowly. He smiled. "I agree. Let's do it."