Chapter 5: A Matchmaker's Challenge
Toji stirred in the hospital bed. To say he didn't feel very good was an understatement. His head was still aching as if it had been squished before, his arm and leg felt numb as if they weren't even there.
As he slowly opened his eyes, he saw the blurred vision of a brunette angel sitting at his side.
"Class rep?" he asked hoarsely, but it was loud enough to get her attention.
"Oh!" she jerked up in surprise. "Su-Suzuhara..."
He smiled weakly, as she tried to hide her reddening face. But then his face grew serious again. "W-what happened?"
Surprised, Hikari looked up again. "You mean you don't remember?"
"Do you... really want to know?"
He turned back to her with a puzzled expression on his face. "Was it that bad?"
"Well, you know, it began when Shinji..."
Asuka stood in the doorframe of the now empty room. Not that there ever had been much in it.
She couldn't believe it. That twerp was actually leaving! And just because of that! How pathetic...
Oh well, fine for her. At least she would be the unquestioned number one pilot again. No one would doubt anymore that she was the best, the greatest fighter against the Angels.
But why did it feel like she forgot something? That everything that was important to her was slipping out of her reach? That she would let go the last chance she had to achieve happiness?
She jerked up, as the realization hit her. Without further thinking, she hurried to get to the shortest way to the station as fast as her feet would carry her. She wouldn't let this determine her destiny.
Shinji stood alone on the departure platform. He had made his decision to leave, but that didn't save him from doubts. He didn't want to leave everyone behind, not after he felt welcome for once. But he knew that he couldn't stay any longer. After these last events, how could he look directly in anyone's eyes any longer? Not that he ever really could, but still...
He sighed sadly. He hadn't even been able to muster enough will to tell everyone goodbye. And maybe it was best this way. After all, it had been hard enough with Misato, after she had driven him to the station and tried to convince him to stay. But he had made his decision...
Asuka was the only one else who knew that and when he would go, but she hadn't appeared for a last farewell. But that wasn't unexpected; even somewhat alarming if it would have been otherwise. It just wouldn't have been like her at all. And, at least to himself, he had to admit that he had no idea how he would have reacted in that case.
A quick, tapping sound suddenly caught his attention. Though it wasn't unknown, a little panic rose inside him. Only slowly he dared to turn around.
The panting redhead had her eyes cast down, standing still for a second to recover from her run. Then she suddenly advanced, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt. "Y-you... you can't... l-leave me now..."
Shinji's eyes widened. "A-Asuka...?"
Her grip became painfully firm and she glared angrily at him. "Not as long as I have to carry your stupid name! Once this divorcement is through, you can get lost to wherever you want!"
"I see..." the boy mumbled with sagging shoulders. But then he let out a deep sigh, as he remembered why he did this at all. "It's just... I can't stay here anymore... Not after what happened with the last EVA..."
"Oh geez," Asuka groaned. "It's not like he was a friend of yours or something."
"But that kid, he..."
"He what? He was just a crazy freak that wanted to show of with his 'superior' EVA and 'supernatural' powers. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought that he was some kind of Angel or something. Seriously, that guy had a few too many screws loose. Worst was that he was trying to hit on me and the rest of the female crew, even while we were fighting against him!"
"But they say... he... will suffer aftereffects..."
"Huh? They just said that he seemed to have lost his ability to think in coherent sentences. But actually, I have some doubts that he ever could..."
"OH GEEZ, YOU JUST MADE HIM FALL DOWN AND HE CRIED LIKE A BABY! Hell, even the Angel was too ashamed taking over such a wuss. What do you think why it shot the plug out and activated the self-destruction!"
" 'But' nothing!" Asuka cut him off, grabbed his wrist and tugged him behind as she turned to leave. "Now come on already!"
Seeing that he didn't have much of a chance anyway, Shinji decided to just give in to his fate quietly.
"Ahh! School! What a great time in life. The time when love blossoms for the first time; innocent and pure..."
"Innocent and pure? The statistics of underage pregnancies are telling something else..."
"Silence, Nonbeliever! You're not here to question me!"
Hiroya lowered his binoculars and sighed, what almost caused him to fall from the branch he was sitting on. "That reminds me," he said to the woman in front of him who was watching the schoolyard with utmost interest, "why exactly am I here, spying on a bunch of teenagers? People will think we're some kind of perverts if they see us! Not to mention that I have some work to do!"
"And that's just what you're doing right now..." Saori told him, without stopping her 'observation'.
"Are you or are you not in function of a notary in the case of the Ikaris?"
"Buut... then it's your task to oversee the whole procedure of the counseling."
"Buuuut... this is a part of my counseling methods, as I gather any information and take every action that might help saving the marriage."
"And that includes hiding on a tree?"
Buuuuuuut... the young counselor simply ignored his remark.
"Aww, just look at that pigtailed friend of Mrs Ikari; she's always looking to Mr Ikari's friend in the tracksuit. Ah, if I was young again and had time... It's been a while since I hooked up a couple, instead of just holding them together. That had at least been a challenge now and then..."
"How is that more of a challenge?"
"Are you questioning a professional?"
Hiroya rolled his eyes. "No, no, I wouldn't dare to..." he muttered with a sarcastic undertone.
Saori however seemed to take that more personal than he had intended. She glared at him, a revived fighting-spirit flaring in her eyes. "You think it would be too much of a challenge for me, don't you?"
Hiroya blinked dumbfounded. "Uhm... no... I just..."
"Fine! I accept!"
"To prove that I still have the spirit! I'll play Cupid for a couple here!"
"I thought we were here to do our jobs?" the lawyer mumbled under his breath, but she obviously heard it anyway.
"That's the good thing about being your own boss: You can combine the fun with the work! We'll just use these friends of them and thus can still have a look on the Ikaris."
Hiroya wanted to object, but then just shook his head and sighed, knowing that he wouldn't be able to dissuade her anyway. "Then tell me, Cupido, where's your bow and arrow?"
She flashed him another one of these spine-shivering grins. "What is said? 'The pen is mightier than the sword' or the arrow in this case..."
"I can't believe you wanted to leave without even telling us!"
Shinji cowered some more under the angry glares of his friends. "I'm sorry," he mumbled weakly. "I just don't like sad goodbyes..."
"Geez, to think that I'm once actually thankful that you married that demon," Toji droned on, either ignoring or not even noticing him talking. "If you react this drastically with something like that happening to a complete stranger, I don't really want to know how you'd react if something would happen to one of us!"
"Not like there'll ever be a chance for it..." Kensuke muttered sadly and sighed, earning him an odd look from his friends.
"Sometimes I think you would even give your arm and leg to pilot one of these monsters." Toji shuddered. "I'll happily refrain from ever putting a foot inside one of them again."
"Can't we just drop this topic and eat?" Shinji suggested quietly.
Fortunately for him, the diversion worked wonders, at least with Toji. "Ah! Yes, food!" he exclaimed gleefully and started to roam in his bag for his meal. "Good thing that I don't need the poison that they sell here anymore since my sister's back from hospital."
"Don't tell me you just cared for your sister so much, because she's making your lunch..."
"Hmm? Did you say somethi...? Oh, wait..." he cut himself off as found the bento-box he was searching for. But his face dropped as he pulled the colorful case out. "Oh damn! I must've accidentally taken my sister's new one..."
Kensuke curiously took a look at it. "Ah, yes, I've heard of those. They seem quite popular nowadays."
"Huh?" Shinji's interest was now stirred as well, and he leaned up to get a glance on the bright yellow box. A little rainbow was on the upper left side, a well known red half-leaf under it. In the background there were little SD-Caricatures of the three EVAs. And in the front, standing victorious on a beaten SD-Version of the third Angel, was a small man with beard and sunglasses, flashing a V-sign...
"What was that scream?" Hikari asked concerned. "Do you think something's happened to Ikari?"
"Pht!" Asuka snarled, demonstratively not even looking up to the source of the frantic sound. "He always screams like a girl. Maybe he accidentally squished a bug and now he's blaming himself for it the whole day."
"Well, if you think so..." the brunette mumbled, not entirely conceived, but decided to change the topic anyway. "So how was your counseling session? We didn't really had time to talk this morning, since you were so late. Almost too late, I may add..."
Asuka held her hands up in defense. "You can thank the First for that. She had pulled another one of her little 'stunts'."
"Ayanami and stunts? Wha...? Oh my!" Hikari suddenly gasped, as she noticed a bright white bandage where Asuka's wedding ring had been just yesterday. "W-what happened with your finger?"
"Oh that?" Asuka shrugged. "Just something I should have done much earlier."
"Don't tell me you really cut...?!"
"Of course not..." the redhead explained. "I just covered the bane from curious eyes! Still better they think I'm hurt than... that..."
"Aren't you a bit... what was it called...?" Hikari tapped her chin. "Paranoid?"
"Paranoid? Paranoid?! Me?" Asuka shook her head wildly. "Nonono, I'm not paranoid. This is a long trained instinct. Someone like me, who is constantly followed by so many perverts, learns to notice if someone is watching you." Asuka eyed slightly over her shoulder. Several students were on the yard, but in the direction she looked were only two empty benches, a small trash can, some trees... and a particular group of three boys. "And I'm sure they're staring at us!"
"It doesn't seem so," the class rep mused. "They were always just talking, when I loo... eh..." She trailed of, lowering her head to hide her reddening cheeks.
Fortunately for Hikari, Asuka seemed to ignore her anyway, fuming in anger. "I'm sure of it! At least two pairs of eyes keep resting on me! I would bet..." She cut herself off mid-sentence, as her view fell on the white bandage around her finger. "No, rather no more bets for a while..."
"Let's see... those two would be Toji Suzuhara and Hikari Horaki, respectively best friends of Mr. and Mrs. Ikari..."
"I don't even want to know where you had these files up here all the time..."
"A good marriage counselor is prepared for everything!"
"I said: I don't want to know! This gives me enough headache as it is..."
"Now, let me check their timetable..."
"Their timetable? Geez, you really don't leave anything to chance, do you?"
"Phht. Chance and destiny are much too lazy in my opinion. Things go much faster when you take them in your own hands."
"Whoa! That almost sounded much too serious for this f... eh... situation."
Saori ignored his remark. "Ah, very good, they have PE soon," she exclaimed, after scanning the timetable. "Listen, once they start changing, you'll go down, hide somewhere and once they're on the sports field, you'll sneak into the boys' locker room and put the letter to the clothes of that boy!"
"What? Why should I do that?"
"Well, someone has to keep an eye on the Ikaris..."
'For whatever reason...' Hiroya mentally added.
"...and I really can't go into a boys' locker room, can I?"
"Why not just put it in his locker?" he inquired. "That would be much easier anyway. And how am I supposed to know what his stuff is?"
"You will know when the time comes..."
Hiroya sighed. As lawyer, he just didn't get paid enough for this...
No one was in sight. The floor was clear. And he had an urge to whistle a song from some spy-movie. Just like it was supposed to be right?
Hiroya shook his head in disbelieve. He was actually 'infiltrating' a school! To deliver love-letters!
If he would have known that several years ago, he wouldn't have wasted all the time in his small, lonely room to study law he would have taken a job as mailman instead.
'Now, where is that locker room, so I can get over with this?' he wondered. 'Wait, haven't I been in this corridor already?'
He stopped abruptly. He couldn't be lost in a school, could he? Not again...
'DAMN! Why does everything in a public building always have to look the same?!'
Fortunately, a good lawyer always went prepared to a mission!
Well, actually it had been Saori who gave him the map that he now unfolded.
'Now let's see... I came from that corner, so when I go to the end of this corridor, the stairs up one floor and then to the left... '
Studying the map while walking, he forgot the most important lesson for studying maps while walking: Don't do it!
It took not even half a minute until he bumped into something rather big. Startled, Hiroya dropped the paper.
"Oh, eh, sorry," he quickly excused to the blue-haired girl in front of him, who seemed strangely unaffected.
To be exact, she seemed to completely ignore him and continued to load plates from the racks at the wall onto the trolley before her, the moment she had regained her balance.
"Uhm... excuse me?"
Finally he got her attention, as she turned her red eyes at him and awaited his question with a blank stare.
'Kids these days,' he thought shuddering. 'Starting earlier and earlier.'
"Uh... Am I near the changing rooms or where...?"
"This is the cafeteria," the girl said with an equally blank voice. "The changing rooms are located on the floor below. But I would advise you to stay away from there. Ikari is known for her... radical acts against males who watch her and her classmates while they are changing their clothes."
' "Ikari", "her"? Must be "our" Mrs Ikari...' Hiroya sighed inwardly.
"Oh, don't worry, I'm a bit old to peek on teenagers, don't you think?"
"The janitor was even older than you. It did not save him from his fate, though."
'An old, perverted janitor peeking on teens? Has the world become one big clichι?'
"Ehm, well, okay, I'll... just be going then..." he stammered and tried to sneak away.
"Mr Matsura," the creepy girl spoke up, causing him to stop. "May I ask for your assistance?"
"Y-you know my name?"
"I read it."
Hiroya grimaced, far from being satisfied with her answer, as he stared at the girl who still loaded the small wagon. "You're not talking very much, do you?"
He sighed in defeat. "Well, what can I do for you then?" he asked in hope that it wouldn't take too much time or work.
"I am not able to reach the dishes in the upper shelf and it would consume more time if I would have to search for a proper object to step on for compensating my lack of size."
"A simple 'Could you get me those?' would have been sufficient," the lawyer mumbled under his breath, as he cleaned the highest row from the plates. "What do you need all this for anyway?"
"I am planning to perform a German wedding tradition called 'Polterabend' for Ikari and... Ikari."
"Polterabend?" Hiroya scratched his head while trying to remember what he knew about wedding traditions which he mostly was told (or rather pestered) about by a certain counselor. "Doesn't that take place at the evening before the wedding?" he asked bewildered, but she seemed to ignore his objection. "Besides, this stuff is made of plastic. Isn't the point of the Polterabend to smash the stuff?"
"I am not allowed to destroy properties of the school."
"Oh, whatever," he shrugged, as he put the last plates on one of the by now quite high and dangerously swaying stacks. "But I'm afraid I really have to go now." Not wanting to stay longer than necessary with the freaky girl, Hiroya rushed to the nearest exit of the cafeteria. But then he turned around a last time and raised his finger. "And remember: Drugs are bad!"
Rei just stared after him, as he went.
Toji had been the most athletic student in his class since quite a long time. Some people said it was the only thing he was good in and they might even be right with that. But at least he was usually still fit enough to jog quickly to the changing rooms, while all others could only slowly and wheezing crawl behind. And the sooner he got back, the more free time he had.
Pondering what he could do with the few extra minutes, he suddenly bumped into a man hurrying away from the changing rooms.
"Oh, not again," the stranger whined.
"Sorry, Mister," Toji tried to his best to show some manners. "Didn't notice ya..."
The guy didn't really seem to care though. "Ah, it's okay. I'm just in a hurry," he explained and was already continuing his way.
At first Toji just wanted to shrug it off, but then a thought hit him. "Hey, you're not the new janitor are you?" he called after the man.
The addressed one stopped abruptly and gave him a look that showed a mixture between questioning and the fear of the answer to that question. But after franticly shaking his head, he eventually hurried out of Toji's sight.
After seeing him running away, the jock scratched his head. "I just wanted to know if he finally fixed the lights," he mumbled shrugging.
As he finally entered the changing room, stumbling over someone's bag in the semi-dark, he noticed something odd on his place.
There was a letter with his other stuff.
This was strange, he didn't remember writing one. Or had his father told him to mail it and he had forgotten about that? No, this didn't seem like the usual letters his father wrote, so much he could see in the bit light the small window provided. At least Toji couldn't remember him drawing little hearts on them. Those made it seem rather like some misplaced love letter. But why would there be a small "to Toji" (encircled by even more hearts) written on it? The only other Toji he knew was this Tanaka of class 3-B, who was not only even more of a geek than Kensuke, but also so... full figured that he had been excused from PE, which made it unlikely that someone would mistake them.
Finally he opened the envelope; squinting, to read the lines on the paper.
For long I have been watching you in secret, always hoping you would notice me too. But my patience is not as everlasting as my passion for you; I cannot wait any longer to confess my feelings. So, please, meet me to a picnic under the big tree after school. There, I hope, we can build the foundation to a blissful future together.
I'm waiting for you,
Your Secret Admirer]
Toji didn't know what to think. A secret admirer? And she (given that it was a 'she') wanted to meet him?
To a picnic?
Hiroya panted heavily as he reached the tree, glad that he was finally out of that hellhole. 'Labyrinths of corridors, freaky kids, and perverted REALLY perverted janitors Now I remember why I never liked public schools...'
"You sure took your time!" was the 'friendly' greeting as he climbed back up to their hiding place in the tree's crown. "PE's already over and they're back changing again! Now I'll have to see how I get the message to that Horaki girl. Not even to think of preparing the romantic picnic."
"Hey, it's not that easy to get through that maze in there; this was actually quite fast! Not to mention..."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever!" Saori cut him off. "Now keep an eye at the second of the small windows to the left, while I go and do what I can to undo your sabotage of our bet!"
"Sabotage? Bet?!?" Hiroya shook his head in disbelieve and put up his binoculars. He really didn't felt like arguing now, so he just did what he was told to. "So what is there behind that win..." He trailed off, his eyes widening, as he realized the nature of the appointed 'target'. "The girls' changing room?!?"
The shock of this revelation let him loose his balance, causing him to slip backwards from the branch. In panic, he barely managed to catch it with his feet, hanging head downwards like a bat a bat that was afraid of heights. Hiroya could merely suppress a scream as he saw his binocular slip out of his hand and take its way, hundreds of meters (actually it had been not even four), down.
"PULL ME UP! PULL ME UP!"
"You've lost my binoculars!"
"CAN WE DISCUSS THIS LATER? THIS IS NOT A PLACE I LIKE TO 'HANG AROUND', YOU KNOW??"
"But maybe they're broken now! Do you now how expensive these things of such quality are?"
"I BUY YOU A NEW ONE! TWO! AS MANY AS YOU WANT! JUST PULL ME UP!"
"Alright, alright," Saori agreed angrily and reached down to get a hold of his hand. "But be quiet now! It's a wonder that obviously nobody noticed your screaming yet!"
One could say about Toji what he want, but if there was something you could rely on, then that he was always on time. At least as long food was involved.
So, he chose just that moment to show up to the appointed place under the big tree. Obviously he was too early; his secret admirer was nowhere to be seen.
"Geez, I hope she didn't have problems with the picnic," he sighed, leaning against the tree. "The PE got me hungry..."
Letting his view wandering around in boredom, it didn't take long until it fell on a black, shiny object in the grass.
"Who lets such a fine binocular lying around?" he wondered, as he picked it up.
...just as he heard a crack of knuckles behind him.
He turned to be greeted a very angry Asuka and a not much less angry bunch of other girls from his class.
"I knew I felt someone peeking outside..."
Toji shifted his view nervously between the binocular and the mob of girls. He gulped...
"Oh, yes, I remember now..." Toji groaned. "After they've beaten me up, they've bound my arm and leg to the flagpole, raised me to its top and watched my head banging against it in the wind." He turned his head and smiled at the girl besides him. "But you, you believe me, don't you?"
"Actually..." Hikari whispered, casting her view down for a second.
'Is she trying to hide a blush? How cute...'
"I'M JUST HERE TO TELL YOU PERVERT THAT YOU'RE ON DUTY FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS!!"
Outside, two people watched the scene unfolding inside the hospital room.
"Well, I guess I've won..."
"You cheated..." Saori muttered annoyed.
"Hey, I was just doing my job until you..." Hiroya trailed off. Job? Wasn't there something...? "By the way, why exactly are we watching these two instead of the Ikaris...?"
Saori didn't answer immediately; she just kept her binoculars focused on the hospital room. "You cheated..."
Hiroya just sighed...
A/N: Yeah, yeah, I know it sucks. Sorry, but even though it took me who-knows-how-long, this crappy chapter is all I can offer now. Geez, I don't think I ever had to force a chapter out like this one. I actually had some parts finished right after the last one, but then a huge writer's block hit me and never really let go.
This chapter also marks the final turning point away from the original concept (which I actually barely remember anymore). Originally, it was supposed to go on as usual, with Angel-fight and Toji being the Fourth Children (with the difference that Asuka didn't have time to visit Kaji, so she wouldn't know the identity either, couldn't try to tell Shinji, just the moment she was attacked, thus wasn't taken by surprise by Bardiel, etc.). But as I said before, that wouldn't really fit the established mood, so it got reduced to a little (and granted, not very original) wink to our SI friends.
I don't know for sure that the "Polterabend" is a German-only tradition, but since I couldn't find a proper English equivalent to it, I kept the German term in this case. Don't hesitate to correct me if I'm wrong. I'm most likely not going to change it anytime soon, but at least you have the satisfaction of making me look even more stupid than I already am.
Oh, and of course Toji doesn't just think with his stomach. But some sacrifices had to be done that I could move on with the chapter... :P
No pre-readers this time either, I'm just happy that I got this thing finally out of my system.
Well, that's all I can think of now. Let's have a little...
!Omake! (Not really, but this scene wouldn't have fit very well if I had put it in directly)
"Geez, baka! What are you waiting for?" Asuka called to the boy who was running to catch up with her. "If you don't hurry up we'll be too late for our next counseling session!"
"It wasn't my fault that I had to clean up instead of Toji. If you girls wouldn't have been that hard to him, I would have been long ready..."
"He got what he deserved! Right?" she asked Hikari for affirmation, who nodded in synch with her.
"Well, it sure was a good show when they chased him around the school," Kensuke admitted, patting his camera. "This will get me a Number 1-spot in the 'funniest video'-rankings..."
"Hm, I remember asking Hikari to wait with me for a while, but... What the hell are you still doing here?" Asuka hissed at him.
"Oh, since I can't go to the arcade with Toji, I thought I could get some funny clips of you two at your counseling session..:"
The redheaded fury seemed ready to break his neck. "YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDD..."
She was abruptly cut off, when a trolley was suddenly pushed in their way.
"I see that Suzuhara is not able to attend," Rei spoke up before anyone else found their voice again at the sight of about every single plate and cup the school had, piled to huge stacks on the small wagon. "That is unfortunate, as the friends' presence is preferable. But it will be sufficient."
The question was silenced in the rumble of the clashing dishes on the ground, as the piles finally gave in to the gravity when Rei gave them a little push with her finger.
Everyone else stared unbelieving at the mess on the ground.
"The two of you will have to scavenge the broken pieces together to symbolize a good collaboration between you in the future," Rei instructed, holding two brooms to the couple, who seemed too baffled to care about taking them.
After a few seconds Shinji finally found his voice again. "Eh... Ayanami? There's nothing broken... Wouldn't it be much easier just to pick it up?"
Rei didn't reply. Instead she just intensified her stare and stood still.
"Aah... Just do it already!" Asuka eventually snapped, snatched on of the brooms and pushed it in Shinji's hand. "The First is obviously not letting us through till this mess is cleaned up, so hurry up that we can go!"
"B-but I thought, we're supposed to do that togeth..." Before he could finish the sentence, the second broom made a painful contact with his head. "Ouch!"
"Oh, you want me to help you?" a maliciously smirking Asuka asked with a bitter-sweet voice from its other end.
"Eh... M-maybe not!" Shinji exclaimed, starting to panic, and began quickly to shove the scrambled dishes to a heap. "I-I can do this alone!"
"Oh no, no, no..." Asuka shook her head. "As a good wife, I should help you when- and wherever I can..."
"AH! I am! I am!"
Kensuke just sighed, as he watched with the other two how Shinji whirled over the area, who received a 'nice little reminder to hurry up' every few seconds. "Oh man, and I don't have any battery for my camera left..."
Hikari just shook her head in disbelieve. "They really act like a married couple..."
Rei just smiled.ο»Ώ