Source: geocities.com/seele_hq/Archive

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Asuka had returned to her crossword puzzles. By producing at least four 
crosswords per day, she was assured of enough income to survive on: 
food, utilities, clothes for Kyoko, and a new dictionary when she 
fancied one. Shinji's long-delayed arrival had cut into her schedule, 
but not derailed it. In fact, turning the idea over in her mind, there 
was some kind of inspiration in his arrival. Perhaps she could take some 
of those quaint images the Japanese associated with love and work them 
into a puzzle. That would be an interesting challenge! One worthy of the 
mind of Sohryu Asuka Langley, to be sure.

The first word she would use would be "sakura", naturally. But, did 
"cherry blossom" have an appropriate translation in German? Her editor 
might not like her using the original Japanese, that meddlesome old 
fool...too much of Asuka's time was spent rewriting to get around those 
changes her editor said were "called for". Ridiculous!

"Mama, Mama, they're comin' back inshide!"

"I hear them, dear. Don't worry, they won't hurt you."

It would be like that senile fellow to object to the original Japanese. 
Well, there were other words to be used. "Parasol" was certainly one. 
And then there were flower blossoms. Maybe...maybe she could do a 
crossword around flowers only indigenous to Japan! That would be hard, 
and truly worth her effort!

"Um...Asuka-chan?"

Wait. Not Shinji's, that voice. Asuka turned and looked back towards the 
stairs. Shinji and that friend of his Touji were there, for sure, but it 
was Hikari who had spoken. Hikari glanced nervously at Shinji. Then, in 
a bright and happy voice, said "Would you like a job with NERV?"

"Eh?"

"Would you like to go back to work for NERV? They'd really, really like 
to have you around. Right, boys?" Shinji and Touji nodded eagerly. 
"Right, NERV really wants to have you in particular back. In fact, as 
soon as possible! Today, even!"

Asuka set down her pen and turned her chair around to face them. "Did 
you lot come out here today just to make me a job offer? Is that all?"

"Who, us? Why no!" Hikari tried as best as she could to laugh at the 
idea. She had the sensation that her skin was actually crawling off of 
her bones. "No, we're here to see you, of course, but we heard about 
this job, and it seemed just perfect for you! We couldn't resist telling 
you!"

Hikari signaled Shinji to come forward. He was glancing at a small piece 
of paper clutched in one hand. "There's a fellow in the Materials 
Sciences Division of NERV, called Dr. Joseph Morgan...and he needs 
someone to help him work on the EVA exoskeletons. He's looking for 
someone with an advanced degree in physics, someone who could work 
whatever hours she wanted...you and I are still technically with NERV, 
so you'd be a shoo-in for the job." His speech provoked no reaction from 
Asuka. Before his courage had a chance to wither, he pressed on. "You 
and Kyoko could come with us back to Nuremberg. The interview might be 
as early as tomorrow. There's plenty of housing at the NERV facilities 
for a short stay. Then, when you get the job, the two of you would get 
to go to Zurich, which is maybe someplace you've never been, but they 
still speak German, and so..."

If she was listening anymore, Asuka showed no signs of it. She was 
slouched back in her chair, resting her elbow on the arm and staring off 
into space. Kyoko had disengaged herself from the newcomers and was 
leafing through a coffee table book on the floor, humming a tuneless 
melody to herself.

A few moments passed. Asuka broke the uncertain silence. "You're not 
going to Switzerland with me, are you, Shinji?"

"Uh.." Shinji stammered, blushing, "no. I've got a job in Hokkaido, you 
know."

"Oh." Asuka swallowed. "What do you do there?"

"I'm an advertiser. I've been doing it for almost a year now."

He'd long put aside his middle-school memories of life with Asuka; then, 
in a strange room in a foreign country, he watched her searching her own 
heart, and those memories began to revivify, to burn. When her eyes 
stared at him with the ocean of her soul raging in their depths, the 
memories came. Good times, bad times...but most of all, times when he 
had been afraid of her presence. Her physical beauty, her physical 
force, the fear of unknown that came from being a 14-year-old boy around 
a 14-year-old girl. He was afraid of her again: he knew her heart, she 
knew his, what was she preparing to say?

"You're too busy to come to Switzerland with me, aren't you?"

He was scared, because there were only two answers he could give. One 
was a lie, a sweet lie that could lead him halfway across the world. It 
could take him to the bed of a beautiful, brilliant young woman. It 
could give him a beautiful daughter, just beginning her life and her 
learning. It could get him known in the uppermost circles of science, 
and possibly society. And the only alternative was the simple truth, a 
truth that--beyond a doubt--would break his own heart, and that of a 
girl he had grown up beside.

The only thing he could think of was the smile of the Seventeenth Angel, 
Nagisa Kaworu.

"I can't come with you," Ikari Shinji said. "But if you go, Kyoko can be 
with you. It wouldn't be too much trouble to get a bonus out of NERV to 
help you relocate. She can come with you. She'll learn French in school, 
too. Kyoko-chan?"

She looked up from her book. "Yesh?"

"Kyoko-chan," Shinji said to her, getting down on his knees to look her 
in the face, "how would you like to live with your mother in a whole new 
part of the world? You could make new friends and study fun things in 
school. Would you like that?"

"Mama shays I don't have ta go ta school," Kyoko said defiantly.

"...but there's still snow! And there's lots of new friends you could 
meet, you like to meet new people, don't you?"

"Yeah!"

"There you are!" Shinji patted the little girl's head. "Asuka, 
Kyoko-chan can be with you instead of me. And you can be a good mother 
and make sure she gets a good education."

Hikari broke in. "I'm sure you'll do just fine, Asuka. Why don't you 
come with us to Nuremberg? We'll schedule an interview for you. Kyoko 
can come along."

"Plenty of room in our car," added Touji.

They fell silent as Asuka stood and started wandering around the room. 
Her steps were slow and measured. Her dry hands folded and bent round 
one another. She walked in front of her chair and back again; then past 
her desk, finally arriving at the window. She gazed down at the empty 
street below, almost longingly.

"Shinji..." Flutter crept into and out of her voice. "Why can't things 
be simple? Why can't you just say you love me? I'm angry with you, God 
knows I am. You aren't nice to me. You don't...you don't treat me with 
the same respect everybody else gives me. Touji's afraid of me, you know 
that? And Hikari thinks I'm her best friend. I'm smarter than the 
teachers no matter where I go. NERV needs me as a pilot. That's all 
fine. But you have to love me. It's like the laws of Physics. Metals 
expand when they're heated. I need the boy who lives with me to be in 
love with me.

"But you're NOT in love with me, are you? You think I'm just a big set 
of false impressions. Don't you understand, there's nothing wrong at all 
with trying to make people love you, or fear you. It's gotten me to 
where I am today. I am number one, I am Sohryu Asuka Langley!"

She jabbed an accusing finger in his direction, her voice still thin. 
"You don't kiss with me unless I tell you to. You don't do nice things 
for me because you want to. You compliment other girls, like Wonder 
Girl, and Misato. You don't take me on dates. In fact, you're no kind of 
boyfriend at all! You...you can disappear from me for so many years, and 
then make some kind of grand entrance, trying to save me from some 
imaginary dead-end life I'm leading. You can do that. But you know what?"

She took a menacing step towards him and declared, at the top of her 
voice, "Ikari Shinji, you can't ever, ever convince me you love me!"

"Asuka..."

Trembling with emotion, she dared to stare directly into his angel eyes.

"...I wish I could."

She stared at him, tried to analyze him, for almost a minute: his brown 
hair, his blue eyes, the cut of his suit, the way that his fists were 
clenched into tight balls and that Kyoko was moving to his side, staring 
at her mother with fear.

Asuka made some kind of a squealing noise from the very back of her 
throat. She tried to run through the three adults, but Touji caught her 
as she passed by him. She whirled on her heel, trying to break his grip. 
"Asuka, where d'you think you're going?" he asked sharply.

"Let me go, dummy! Let me go!"

Hikari took hold of Asuka's shoulders. "Asuka, what are you doing? Don't 
you want to come with us?"

"Of course I do! Of course I do! Of course." By the third time she had 
calmed down enough to look around for Kyoko. She took the child to her 
side protectively and draped her arms around Kyoko's shoulders. "Did you 
think I was going crazy or something? Of course we'll come with you. 
Yes. Let's go. Let's find your car. You said you had a car, didn't you? 
We can go to Nuremberg. Come along, Kyoko."

Kyoko, Asuka and Hikari walked hand in hand to the car while Touji and 
Shinji made small talk with each other. During the drive to Nuremberg, 
Hikari fed Kyoko cheese, bread and some big black grapes straight out of 
the grocery bag. Asuka stared out the window, sometimes at the window 
itself. Touji was concentrating on the road ahead of him, and Shinji 
decided that he had nothing to say. His tongue felt hollow in his mouth.

They reached Nuremberg in the middle of the afternoon, and were met by 
Lieberman on the prison grounds. He loaded Asuka and Kyoko into the back 
seat of a NERV truck. "Asuka," said Hikari through the window, "we'll 
come and visit you when you get the job."

"If I get the job," she replied dully.

"You'll get it, Asuka. I believe in you." Hikari blew Asuka a kiss 
through the window, and waved goodbye to Kyoko. The truck drove off with 
a moan a few moments later. Shinji felt his heart loosen as the truck 
became one with the daytime traffic. She wasn't an unknown anymore. 
Asuka had finally touched the Earth: hard, but not as hard has he had 
sometimes feared.

"So what's going to happen now?" Touji asked. "Asuka's going to get a 
psychiatric evaluation and therapy, but she's also going to get a real 
job?"

"The job's real enough," said Shinji. "That's what Kensuke told me. But 
Asuka won't have to go through therapy if she chooses not to. I really 
hope she does."

Hikari smiled at Shinji. "Don't worry about Asuka," she said 
reassuringly. "She's tougher than she looks right now, Shinji. I believe 
in her."

He replied very slowly. "I've...we've done all we can for her. I guess. 
It still doesn't seem like enough, but we're done."

Touji nodded. "Yeah. Come on, Shinji. You said Kensuke had a lead on 
where Rei is?"

Shinji brightened. "That's what he said. I'm looking forward to seeing 
her, a lot."