“How are you, Asuka?” She’s talking to me, Asuka realized. I can’t recall her starting a conversation with anyone. Does this mean that something is wrong? “I’m doing very well, Rei,” the red-haired girl answered. “I’ve got my studies to worry about and that dependent penguin to look after. But how are you doing?” Rei thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know,” she confessed glumly. “Sure you do. You know how you’re feeling. I’ll show you. How are you doing in school?” “Very well.” “How are you feeling physically?” “Healthy.” “Have you made any new friends?” “No.” “What do you do after school?” “I swim.” “…That’s it?” “I eat. I sleep.” She’s not okay, Asuka decided. Just like so many of us weren’t. After the defeat of the last Angel, NERV had disbanded, since it was no longer necessary. Shinji had disappeared completely, no word to anyone. Katsuragi and Kaji had drowned when they’d foolishly attempted to explore an underwater cave together. Maya had been found dead in her apartment, and no cause of death had ever been determined. Gendo had been murdered; the killer was still unknown. Ritsuko had attempted suicide and was in a mental hospital. Asuka didn’t know what had happened to any other former NERV employees, except herself and Rei. We’re the survivors, Asuka thought. But for how long? “Listen, Wonder Girl, you’ve got to make some friends.” “How?” At least she didn’t ask me why, Asuka noted. That’s progress. “You just have to be nice; be yourself. It all starts with talking to people. You can talk about swimming, or school, or people you know, or what your plans are…a little conversation leads to a lot of friendship.” “My…plans?” “Yeah, you know. Your intentions-what you’ll do when you’re through with school.” The blue-haired girl gave Asuka a blank stare. “I’ll give you examples. I plan to work with autistic children and try to find a way to beat the disorder. My friend Kanji will become a computer programmer. My friend Ozuni is going to be a fashion designer. How about you, Rei?” “I am an Eva pilot.” “But that’s over with. You have to accept it. What will you do?” “I am uncertain.” Asuka shook her head. “No one is ever certain, Wonder Girl. Take a guess. What do you want to do?” “I was designed to fight Angels. There is nothing else for me to do.” “You’re wrong, Rei. You are a human being like any of us. You are smart and very hard working. You could be anything. You must have something that interests you.” Come on, she pleaded silently. I don’t want to lose you too. “Songs.” “There you go,” the red-haired girl said with relief. “You could be a singer. Your voice is se-soothing and you look very cute.” I almost said sexy, Asuka chided herself in dismay. Why? “I’m interested in writing songs,” Rei clarified. “You are? Let me see something you’ve written.” Rei balked. “I can’t-I-I don’t want to waste your time. What if they’re not any good?” “Come on, please? I promise I won’t say anything mean. I’m curious and I’d love to help you if I can.” Rei opened her backpack and pulled out a worn blue notebook. She flipped through it, scanning. She said nothing, but Asuka knew she was looking for a song she considered worthy. She decided to take matters-and the songbook-in her own hands. With blurring speed, she snatched the book from Rei’s relaxed grasp. “Hey!” Rei protested. She reached for her songs, but Asuka held them out of her range. “I just want to see one or two. I’ll give them right back. Don’t you trust me by now, Wonder Girl?” Rei blushed but she lowered her hands to her sides. “Hurry, please,” she requested. “No titles?” Asuka asked in bewilderment. “All I see is numbers. You ought to give them titles, Rei. Oh, this one looks promising…” The blue-eyed, energetic girl flew through the page. “One more,” she said absently and thumbed through the faded book. She read another song. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Asuka jibed as she returned the book to Rei. “You write very well.” Rei looked at the floor. “No, I don’t,” she mumbled. “Yes, you do. You don’t know how to handle praise, though. I really liked the two I read. But…they’re so sad; they’re so cold.” “Cold?” “I can’t explain very well, I’m afraid. But I am impressed. And I think I could give you a few tips, if I had the time. Your style…it’s-I don’t know! It’s…” “…Could you come to my apartment and help me, Asuka?” A breakthrough! I’ve found something she enjoys, Asuka congratulated herself. A smile spread across her face. “I would be honored to help you, Rei,” the blue-eyed girl accepted warmly. “When shall I meet you?” “Um…8:00, if it is convenient?” “Perfect.” Asuka rang the door buzzer to Rei’s apartment at 7:50. She nervously smoothed her hair while she waited for her red-eyed friend to answer the door. Asuka had taken nearly an hour to get ready for this meeting. After hunting in her closet, she’d found a lavender dress with long, frilly sleeves, a high neckline, and an embroidered hem that reached to a few cm above her knees. She’d also dabbed on a subtle, breezy perfume (for its calming effect.) On her way over to Rei’s place, she’d picked up a bouquet of daisies, lilies, and peonies (to brighten the room.) On impulse, she’d removed one lily and used it to keep her fiery red hair tucked behind her left ear (so it didn’t get in her eyes.) She’d also brought two giant homemade cinnamon buns (in case Rei hadn’t eaten yet.) Yes, it’s all got a reason, Asuka assured herself. It’s not like I’m on a date or anything. That’s why I need to settle down. No reason to be excited. I’m helping a friend. Rei opened the door and she paused a moment before inviting Asuka into the apartment. Had Asuka imagined the brief smile on Rei’s lips? “Come in, Asuka,” Rei greeted. Asuka immediately noticed that Rei was wearing her school uniform and she could guess what reason the blue-haired girl had for doing so. She glanced quickly around her friend’s small apartment. There was nothing on the walls. The floors were bare wood. There were one mattress, one chair, one desk, and three lamps. Sparse was not the word for Rei’s dwelling. Asuka felt an overwhelming desire to teach her friend-to give her aid. She didn’t want to crush Rei with advice and helpful tips, so she decided to start with the songs, as she’d promised. That would provide a purpose; it would be Rei’s motivation. “Asuka…you look…nice,” the former pilot complimented the red-haired girl. Asuka’s cheeks darkened drastically at the remark. “Um, th-thanks, Wonder Girl,” Asuka haltingly replied. “I brought you some flowers and cinnamon rolls.” “I am grateful,” Rei said simply. “Don’t mention it. Now let’s get started on those songs, okay? Where do you want to work?” “Here.” “Here? You have no table and only one chair. If we’re going to write, we have to be comfortable.” “We do?” “Yeah. This could be a great location with some work, but it’s definitely not suitable yet. We’ll get it there. But for right now, we should work on your songs. So let’s go to this café I know and we’ll start there. Come on, Rei; my car’s outside.” The redhead grabbed the timid girl’s elbow and hustled her out the door. Asuka loved driving fast, and she was always in complete control. I’m enjoying this ride, Rei realized. Asuka’s a great driver. That’s probably part of the reason she piloted an Eva. “Okay!” Asuka bubbled as she jumped out of the car. “Let’s go.” “Asuka, aren’t we at your apartment?” “Yes. We’ve got to get you changed out of that school outfit and into something fit for public wear.” The bounding redhead pulled her companion through the building and up to her apartment. “My uniform is not allowed?” Reid asked with disbelief. Asuka unlocked the door. “I’m sure that other people would let you wear it. I won’t. Now then, the closet…you’re almost my size, Wonder Girl. Hmm…I have got way too many cute dresses. That’s a very good thing, by the way. Go ahead; pick something you like.” Rei was confused and apprehensive. She’d never worn anything like what she saw hanging before her. Asuka’s closet resembled a wild rainbow made of fabric. More perplexing was Rei’s understanding that Asuka had suddenly become a friend. Not just a fellow student or a former colleague-she was the first friend that Rei had ever had. Rei wouldn’t let her friend down. She picked a yellow, short-sleeved dress with white and blue stripes and a pleated skirt. “Not bad,” Asuka commented. “It’s one of my favorites. Put it on, we’ll see how you look.” Asuka’s face turned maroon as Rei quickly began changing right in front of her. Of course, the girls had changed and even showered together often when they had been Eva pilots, but this was somehow a bit removed from that. Asuka didn’t know why she was embarrassed, so she grew flustered, too. She had to notice how well-defined Rei’s muscles were, and how nicely formed her chest was, though Rei’s breasts were smaller than Asuka’s. Rei moved with absolute grace, too; the play of her sinews and tendons underneath her pale skin seemed to pull at Asuka’s mind and lure her toward…strange feelings. Asuka shook her head, then looked away. Then she looked back, since Rei would notice if she was looking away from her and she would ask questions-embarrassing questions. Asuka wasn’t sure she had real answers anyway. Rei zipped the back of the dress and looked to Asuka for approval. Asuka smiled. “It’s really flattering; you really look great. Those shoes, though…let me see your feet…” Rei let Asuka compare the size of their feet. “Mine would be too big for you,” Asuka stated. “I guess you can wear your school shoes now. They don’t really work with the dress, but they don’t clash either. We’ll deal with your footwear problems later. What else, though? Your ears aren’t pierced, so that’s out. A necklace won’t go well with that dress, either. Ah, I’ve got it.” She opened her jewelry box and removed two sterling silver bracelets. Rubies and garnets flashed on the thin metal bands. “One on each wrist,” Asuka said as she fastened the silver hoops around Rei’s forearms. “Look at yourself, Rei. You’re beautiful.” Rei flushed at the praise. She looked in Asuka’s floor-to-ceiling mirror. She knew it was her reflection, but she believed it only marginally. The girl in the mirror was someone she’d never seen before, but someone she liked. “Asuka…” she whispered. “I-thank you.” “What’re friends for? C’mon, cutie-“ I just called her cutie! What’s wrong with me? “-let’s go to the café now.” Maybe Rei hadn’t noticed her little slip. Or maybe she had; her face sported a bashful smile. The two friends left the apartment and headed for the café. When they got to the café, Asuka guided Rei over to her usual booth and sat next to her on the vinyl bench. Asuka ordered her habitual black coffee. After some awkward consideration, Rei asked for the same. She doesn’t know what she likes, Asuka realized. She took her cue from me. I’d better be careful about what I do and say. Asuka persuaded Rei to take out her notebook and the two girls began poring over Rei’s material. “This is great stuff; I like it more all the time. Here, with this first one, can’t you think of a suitable title?” “How about, ‘My Thoughts and Feelings?’” Rei said, her large, ruby eyes blinking. “Good-but that’s what all of these are. Try to be more specific-can you?” “’My Sadness at Victory?’” Rei tried. Asuka had started to daydream, bathing herself in Rei’s intense, depthless eyes. She vaguely noticed that Rei was waiting for something. “…Or is that not good?” Rei stammered. “N-no! No, it’s very good,” Asuka replied, silently berating herself. Why can’t I concentrate on helping my friend? I feel so confused…or perhaps euphoric. Maybe I’m just telling myself I’m confused. “I’ll tell you what, Wonder Girl, let’s forget the titles for right now. Content is the most important thing when it comes to songs.” Asuka put on a businesslike manner. “Content…is most important,” Rei repeated. “What do you mean?” “It’s impossible to overstate any emotion that’s strong enough to inspire songwriting. Are you with me?” Rei’s short blue hair bounced as she nodded. “Sadness, grief, sorrow, and disappointment are good emotional basis-es? Basees? Basi?” Rei giggled. It was a completely unexpected sound for both girls. Asuka spoke without thinking. “You’ve got a pretty laugh, Rei. I wish I heard it more.” Asuka pinned Rei with her bright blue eyes. Rei’s cheeks turned rosy pink. Asuka became marginally aware that she was slowly leaning toward Rei. She quickly sat up straight, now blushing as well. The coffees arrived an instant later, and Asuka was thankful for the rescue. Rei sipped her coffee. “You were saying that sorrow is a good emotional basis…” “Ah yes,” Asuka remembered. “Sorrow works, but that seems to be just about all you’ve got here. There are many other emotions you can write about, like happiness, love, jealousy…” She stopped talking when she noticed that Rei looked confused. “I can’t write about those things,” the short-haired girl said. “I wouldn’t know what I was talking about.” “Rei…” Asuka lunged and hugged Rei without warning. She blinked back her tears. “I’m sorry, Rei,” she said simply. Rei had never been hugged, so she sat in her seat, looking lost. “Why are you sorry? It is not your responsibility to-“ “-Oh, rubbish! I should’ve cared more, even when we were just two pilots. But now that that’s over, now that I’m calling myself your friend, I-I just feel so awful!” “Asuka…” Rei had no idea what to say to her friend. She clumsily hugged Asuka back. For a few seconds, they stayed in near silence, holding each other, forgetting the existence of all else. Then Asuka released Rei. “Well, I can help you now,” Asuka sniffed. “I am going to show you what happiness is. You and I are going to have fun. Let me take you to the open market tomorrow.” “You are inviting me to accompany you?” “Yeah! Come on, say yes. You came here with me, right? You want to have fun with me, right?” Rei was thunderstruck. “I said I didn’t know how to write about happiness-it was true a few minutes ago. But now…I think…I think I feel…glad. I feel happy, Asuka!” The long-haired redhead blushed and beamed. “So you’ll come with me?” “Yes, I will.” “All right! And now that you know what happiness feels like, let’s write a song about that.” “Okay,” Rei agreed. The two new friends wrote four songs over the course of the next couple of hours; chatting, laughing, discussing experiences and correct language to use in the lyrics. Rei was having a good time, and she knew it. She looked disappointed when Asuka peered up at the wall clock in agitation. “Where has the time gone?” the blue-eyed girl asked rhetorically. “This place is going to close in ten minutes. We ought to go, Rei. Come on, I’ll drive you home.” The girls talked idly on the trip back to Rei’s apartment. Asuka pulled up near the building’s front door. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Wonder Girl? How’s 10:00 sound?” “Asuka.” The tone of Rei’s voice made Asuka shiver. She looked at Rei and found that it was hard to meet her eyes. Her mouth seemed reluctant to talk. Her mind was racing, but where it was going, Asuka wasn’t sure. “Yes?” she squeaked. “I had a great time. I’ve never had anyone pay me any attention before tonight.” Suddenly, her voice cracked, but she continued undaunted. “Thanks to you, I learned what fun is. You don’t know how much y-how much tonight meant to me.” Had Asuka heard correctly? Had Rei almost said, “…how much you mean to me?” She laughed off her friend’s gratitude nervously. “If I want to be your friend, I’ve got to act like it. And I will Rei. I promise I will.” “Thank you. 10:00 then.” Rei got out of the car and slipped quickly into her building. Asuka watched a moment after the red-eyed girl had disappeared. She put the car in gear and headed for home, noticing that she was shaking slightly. It wasn’t easy for Asuka to catch any rest that night. When she finally fell asleep, she had a strange dream. She stood between two beautiful ponds of shimmering, luminous red liquid. She dove into the right pond. The red liquid was soothing and warm: her worries rinsed away from her. She swam for a while, then tried the left pond. The red liquid was cool and exhilarating, inspiring her to do and live and dance and love. As she swam in the second pond, she noticed a channel that connected the two. She submerged and swam into the channel. This was where the two ponds met. Red met red, and produced an incredible light blue. This seemed natural to Asuka. The liquids combined, swirling through each other. While she was in this channel, she felt the combined power of the ponds, and it felt glorious, heavenly. She knew that she would have to leave the channel and take a breath, soon, but she hated the idea. Who decided that she needed to breathe, anyway? “You can breathe here,” a soft voice whispered to Asuka. “You don’t have to leave, ever.” But I’ll drown, Asuka thought. “Trust me,” the voice urged. Asuka did.
Onwards to Part 2
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