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."