That evening Kikuchi, again in the Langley's white BMW, took the couple to the mansion of Asuka's schoolmate. Shinji was wearing the brand-name jacket and pants Asuka bought for him, while she wore the red gown that she picked out for herself. Her hair was done up this time, held in the back with a bright red bow.
As they got out of the car Shinji looked at Asuka and studied how different she looked dressed up and with makeup. To him she looked much older and didn't at all seem like the girl he knew. Asuka noticed his stare as they walked up the mansion steps.
“What are you looking at?”
“Aren't you a little young to be wearing stockings like those?” he said. She was wearing decorative black fishnets along with four-inch heels, which gave her a very mature look.
Miffed at his comment, Asuka said nothing but immediately spiked his foot with the heel of her pump. Shinji bit his lip trying to keep from screaming out in pain. Ignoring him, Asuka finished walking up the mansion steps and rang the doorbell. Answering the door was a blond-haired girl also wearing an evening gown who looked about twenty years of age.
“Hilde!” the two went into an embrace.
“Why didn't you tell us you were back?” Hilde asked Asuka. “We got the news from the grapevine you had come home.”
“Oh, it was sort of a last-minute thing...”
“And look what you brought with you!” her classmate said as she saw Shinji hobble up the steps. Asuka quickly grabbed him and wrapped her arm around him as they walked inside.
Inside the house both of them were mobbed by a throng of young adults, embracing and chatting with Asuka as well as doting on Shinji. Several of the young women all surrounded him making all sorts of compliments, and trying to speak to him in German, English, or very bad Japanese. Shinji was quite embarrassed at all of the attention and tried to find Asuka in the crowd. She was busy going from acquaintance to acquaintance and slowly made her way to a large living room not far from the foyer.
Unlike the Langley house this mansion was built and decorated in an ultra-modern style, with glass window and solid white and black floors and wall paneling, the sort of thing many envision when they hear the words “modern German design.” Shinji looked behind him and saw Kikuchi enter through the door, and he was equally mugged by the young women fawning over the handsome, tall Japanese man and asking him questions.
He searched for Asuka and found her in the living room some distance away. There she was standing in front of another boy wearing a dark suit, tall and with neat blonde hair. Unlike the others he looked more their own age, about fourteen. She smiled at the boy and flirted with him, giving him charming looks while she playfully pulled at the lapels on the boy's jacket. Shinji could see that they had an animated discussion but couldn't hear what was said above the din of the crowd around him. After a minute, Asuka excused herself and jogged back over to where Shinji was standing.
“Come here,” she said, grabbing his hand. “There's someone I want you to meet.” Asuka dragged Shinji by the arm to meet the boy in the living room. Once they reached him, she did the introductions.
“Gunther, this is Shinji Ikari.”
“Greetings, Shinji Ikari. Welcome to Germany” The boy spoke to him in perfect Japanese. He offered him his hand and when Shinji took it, he gripped it tightly.
“Nice to meet you,” Shinji replied, somewhat sheepishly. Asuka narrowed her glance at him for a bit but then went right back to charm-mode.
“Is he a pilot?” Gunther asked Asuka in German.
“He's the Third Child,” she replied. “I wouldn't make him angry if I were you.”
Gunther's eyebrows were raised in surprise. “Well,” he looked at Shinji with a smirk, “your reputation precedes you.” Shinji face blushed as his descent into embarrassment grew deeper. The boy continued his discussion with Asuka in German. “Now that the Alliance has taken over NERV, are you still piloting?”
“Yes,” she said. “I didn't fight all those Angels just to have some assholes bring on Third Impact anyway. They've got big payback coming.”
“Not everyone sees the Alliance as any improvement over the UN” the boy mused, “but knowing you I 'm confident you'll be up for a fight any time the chance comes.” He then turned to Shinji and spoke to him. “You should know, you've succeeded where many have failed. This little kafer has proven so difficult to catch but there she is now in your hands. Best take care of her, lest she fly away again.”
Shinji's face was now deep red. “I-I-I'll do my best!” he stammered.
“I'm sure you will. Now I'll leave you both alone. Please take care, Asuka-chan. So nice to meet you, Shinji Ikari.” The boy quietly embraced Asuka, shook Shinji's hand again, and then left them as he went to go speak to someone else. After the perfect boy left Shinji let out a sigh of relief. Asuka gave him an annoyed look again.
“What?” he said.
She sighed. “Never mind.” She then took him by the arm again to go mingle in the crowd.
After about an hour Shinji was quite exhausted with the meeting and greeting and conversing in languages that either he or the other party didn't understand. Breaking fee of the living room he walked to the house's balcony, which overlooked the city lights and bustling streets of Central Berlin. He breathed in deeply and worked to get himself somewhere back to normal, standing on the railing and watching the city life as it moved vibrantly. He was there for perhaps ten minutes when Asuka found him.
“There you are!” she said. “I've been looking all over for you. I was afraid you got locked in the bathroom or something.”
He turned to face her. “No, I...I just wanted a breather.”
Asuka walked up right next to him. “Don't tell me you're still bothered with Gunther.”
“Who is he, anyway?” Shinji asked. “He knew about EVA!”
“Gunther was my sparring partner at Third Branch. I'd train against him for martial arts and such. Don't worry, he knows about the whole thing.”
“Oh,” Shinji replied, feeling a little easier. “What's a kafer?”
“Kafer is a German word that has a double meaning: either pretty girl, or cockroach. Take your pick.” Shinji smiled a little but didn't laugh. Asuka's face was still serious and she got to the heart of the matter. “Why, did you think he was like a boyfriend or something?”
“Well, I didn't know really and...”
“If you call forcing someone to buy you cake after you beat them in a match, I suppose that we dated. But it wasn't serious or anything!” The boy again sighed a relief, but Asuka playfully nudged him in the ribs. “Hey, stand up for yourself a little more out there! I picked you, not him!”
“Sorry,” Shinii said.
“No need to apologize. You're just being stupid as usual.”
“Um, I did have a question?”
“Are all of your friends older? Gunther's the only one that's your age.”
“I was in university the last three years,” she said. “Of course they're a bit older.”
“Do they know about EVA, too?”
“No. To them I was just this incredibly cute, incredibly brilliant little girl!” she said with a mock smile Shinji laughed at that.
Asuka snuggled up a little closer to him at the railing. “Alright, I know you don't deal well with situations like this,” she said apologetically. “Tomorrow I'll make it up to you. I'll take you someplace pretty, just the two of us. OK?” She smiled at him and he smiled back, and together they both looked over the balcony and watched the city lights below them. Thinking to himself however, Shinji couldn’t shake one thought: that somehow Gunther reminded him so very much of Kaworu Nagisa.
At 8:00 o'clock the two children boarded a helicopter and flew about twenty minutes from the Liberator to a small tropical island not far from the fleet. The island looked no bigger than a couple of miles across, with one side lined with sandy beaches and the other populated with palm trees and a little village that could be seen from the air. An old shinto shrine was on top of the highest hill.
The helicopter landed on the beach and was approached by a squad of Alliance marines who had landed previously to secure the area. The two children hopped out of the side door, with Patrick carrying a small cooler and backpack. After they were clear one of the marines banged on the pilot's door and gave a thumbs-up sign, and the helicopter quickly took off.
The squad leader, a young sergeant who looked Asian but spoke perfect English, told the two pilots that they had already swept the beach clear and that the two could go where they liked on the shoreline. If they wanted to, they could also visit the village on the other side. Today there was some sort of local festival, so they could go to the village in the afternoon after having fun at the beach. The marines would escort them in town from a distance and then take them back to the ship at sundown. After being sure the teenagers understood everything the squad leader presented Patrick with a satellite radio for his use, and then the squad spread out to the rest of the treeline that lined the shore. Within a couple of minutes the dozen soldiers who were protecting them were plainly out of sight.
Patrick laid a couple of towels on the sandy beach and unfurled a large umbrella, which he then stabbed into the thick sand. Rei took a look around her, gazing at the ocean waves crashing on the shoreline. She wore her white hat along with a white mesh cover up, while Patrick wore camouflage swim trunks and a red and white t-shirt with the ship's logo.
As Patrick finished setting up their “camp” Rei removed her hat and dropped it on the towel. Then with both hands removed her cover-up, revealing a white one-piece bathing suit that Patrick thought fit her petite figure just fine.
Smiling to himself as he looked at her, Patrick thought I get to watch her wear that... all day.
Rei turned around as Patrick removed his own t-shirt and grabbed a plastic bottle from the backpack. “What do we do now,” she asked him.
“I guess we go exploring. Did you put on sunscreen?”
“I applied some before we left the ship.”
“Do you want to put on a little more?” He showed her the bottle. Rei quickly snatched it from his hands and started to apply a light coat all over herself as Patrick watched. As she finished applying Patrick asked her “What about your back?”
“My back?” she said, and then realized what he meant. “Oh.”
“If you don't mind,” he said, and she gave him back the bottle and turned her back towards him. Patrick applied a little sunscreen to his hands and very gently spread it all over the skin of her back. Trying not to indulge himself too much, he noticed how incredibly soft her skin actually was. “Done. My turn.” Patrick then applied lotion to himself and at the last stage handed the bottle Rei and turned around. She methodically applied a thin, even coat to his entire backside, her hands gently running down his back. Saying nothing, she dropped the bottle on the towel when she finished and the both of them started to walk towards the beach.
The admiral had billed the beach as a “beautiful slice of earth” and it did not disappoint. Seemingly untouched by man, the sandy beach was pristine and the water was amazingly clear, so clear that as they stood in the ocean they could both see three feet down onto the sandy bottom.
The two of them walked around the beach for a while, wading into the cold ocean water and taking in the sights and sounds. About a hundred yards ahead of them was a rocky outcropping and Patrick suggested to Rei that they both go there next. She agreed and they walked to the rocky portion and saw a myriad of tide pools. Looking into the little pools in the outcropping they could see a wide selection of sealife living in and out of the rocks. Muscles, seastars, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and a variety of other creatures were there and both of them spent the rest of the morning exploring the little ecosystem.
Patrick watched Rei as she gently touched an anemone's tentacles, then backed her hand off slightly as one stung her. “Are you OK?” he asked. She nodded and then continued to study the creatures from a safer distance.
“They look alien,” Patrick commented.
“They're quite interesting,” Rei said. “They clone for reproduction.”
She turned her attention to a starfish that was close by. Rei was reluctant to touch it at first but Patrick picked it up himself and held it while she gently caressed the arms, feeling the cyllia underneath. He watched her smile a little as she felt the movement of the seastar. Without saying anything she gently took the seastar in her own hands and then felt the arms slowly wrap around her own fingers.
“He likes you,” Patrick commended.
“I like him too,” she said. “But I should probably let him go.” Rei dipped her hand into a tide pool and slid off the seastar from her hand.
They spent another hour in and out of the tide pools exploring and interactive with all of the sea life. Patrick noticed that Rei's serious face had disappeared, being replaced with one that was childlike in amazement. They would both go from tide pool to tide pool, pointing out things to each other and occasionally picking up something to show the other. In one pool Rei spotted several hermit crabs and they had fun poking them and gently moving them around to see how they walked and hid inside their shells.
The boy could see how Rei's eyes grew wider at each wonder she saw. Smiling and hopping around the rocks, she was even a bit playful as they interacted with all of the small creatures. In that morning Patrick thought that he had never seen her as relaxed and happy as she was now.
After a while Patrick suggested that they go back to the “camp” for lunch. They walked back slowly, enjoying the scenery and feeling of warm sand underneath their feet. Returning to where they laid out the towels and umbrella, they both sat down as Patrick unpacked their lunch from the basket they had brought with them.
The two of them enjoyed tea sandwiches made for them by the ship's stewards, washing them down with iced lemon tea from a thermos. Once they finished eating the two pilots sat for a while and watched the ocean as the waves gently crashed on the beach every few seconds. Rei was silent, leaning against her knees and just watching the waves. Patrick didn't speak to her but just sat on the towels, keeping one eye on the ocean and one on her.
She turned to face him. “Forrestal-kun?”
“Did you ever go to see the ocean before today?”
“Just once,” he said. “I was very small. I went to go visit the beach with my mother.” She didn't reply, but just nodded and turned her attention back to the waves. Rei's question, however, had forced Patrick's attention on something that he had nearly forgotten. Not looking at her, he said to Rei “it was the last time I ever saw her.”
“Then the beach has significance for you.”
“I guess it does. It was so long ago that I barely remember anything, just walking on the sand and picking up shells. I could hear her voice, feel her hold my hand. But her face,” he paused for a moment, blinking his eyes and trying to recall the moment, “I can’t remember what it looked like.”
“Do you miss her?” Rei asked him.
“Every damn day,” Patrick replied. “I only saw her every so often. She would come to visit me in the mountains, and never together with my father. Usually she just visited in my uncle's place but that time she put me in the car and took me to the ocean. I guess,” Patrick said, more softly now, “she knew what was going to happen.”
Rei sat and listened as Patrick kept going, with a mournful tone in his voice. “Sometimes I wish I was like you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I wish I didn't have parents at all.”
“They gave you life.”
“Such as it is,” he said as he dug in the sand. “What's the point of putting a child in the world if you're not willing to take care of them yourselves.” As Patrick kept talking he dug in the sand and started to work on a mound next to his towel. “When I was in the mountains, all I wanted, all I could think of, was to just be with them again. Then one day my uncle told me my mom died and then, well, I didn't know what to do after that. I hoped that my dad would take me back after that but that never happened, just a lot of empty promises.” He patted the sand, working on the beginnings of a sand castle. “At least if I didn't have parents I wouldn't have the false hope of ever being with them again. Better to just cut it all off at once.”
Patrick silently patted down his mounds of sand, smoothing the walls and building up what was shaping up to be a very sloppy castle. “I'm sorry,” he told her. “You probably didn't want to hear that.”
He worked for a bit longer, not wanting to say anything further to Rei as the topic just dragged up too many bad feelings and he wanted to have fun with the girl, not whine to her. As he started to work on the largest of his mounds, Patrick noticed another set of hands was now helping him to smooth out the sand, as Rei knelt down and gently smoothed the castle wall with her hands. For the next few moments they worked together, as he dug up sand and created mounds and she would gently shape and slope it, making small pyramids out of each mound he created. Patrick noticed that as Rei worked silently her creations were very neat, with smooth walls and perfect angles at the base of the pyramids.
In about a half an hour they finished. What had started out as a messy sandcastle was transformed into a large pyramid and set of smaller ones. Not wanting to critique her work, Patrick had wondered why Rei made pyramids instead of castles with the sand, but on seeing the finished product he realized the answer: she had recreated Central Dogma in sand. He smiled a little at her innovation.
“That's NERV,” he pointed out.
“You said castle,” she replied. “I don't know castles, but I know this. The function is the same, is it not?”
“Very true,” Patrick said.
Rei looked at him directly. “You should appreciate where you come from, and who you come from. Life is always a gift, regardless of your circumstances.”
“It's hard to do sometimes,” Patrick replied.
“Many people went to a great deal of difficulty to ensure that you would exist, and that you would pilot EVA. Many more owe their very survival to the fulfillment of your existence. Can you not appreciate that?”
“I suppose. It's just that...”
She cut him off. “You still need to learn to listen, and not to hear.” She got up off the sand and slowly walked towards the beach.
Patrick thought to follow her but figured it was time to leave her alone, knowing that he may have just blown a challenge she had made to him without knowing what it was at first.
I suppose it was the wrong thing, suggesting to her it would be better not to have parents. Somewhere deep inside she misses that part of herself, the life and family experience that all of the rest of us have, however good or bad it is.
Rei never grew up, they just popped her out of some test tube and there she was. No parents, no family, no childhood. No connection to anything. Any way you slice it, that's got to suck.
The boy watched Rei as she stood without moving at the water's edge with her arms to her sides and just looked out over the ocean.
Rei, if that's what you're looking for, I'll do what I can to fill the gaps, give you the life you missed out on. Maybe if I can do that for you, then you'll...you'll let me be what I want to be for you. Would you?