I remember the day I woke up, days after the world had ended. I remember the animal relief, my body reveling in its inexplicable survival. It was only my mind that had revolted, panicked by a final memory of things having gone horribly wrong. And then my gaze had settled on her, and even before I could remember who she was, I'd smiled. And then I'd closed my eyes, and a name had floated in the descending darkness.
I recall the urgency of those days, our frantic eagerness to discover how much of the world had been given back to us. Every day new people were found. They say the Children were found. They also say the Seele took them. Strange that after yet another apocalypse, the old conspiracies endured. The Seele took the Children, and I haven't seen them since.
I remember the day Kaji returned. It was months after I'd woken up, and reconstruction efforts were well underway. I remember how the world had stopped—how it had shriveled and contracted to the shape of a single man. I hadn't realized until then how violent happiness could be. How it could bludgeon you senseless until you woke up only to find it gone.
For a month we were inseparable. For a month he kept my despair over the lost Children at bay. For a month I lived in an endless moment, impervious to the losses of the past and the anxieties of the future. Only Ritsuko had seen what was coming, though she didn't tell me until long after it had ceased to matter.
I remember the exact moment it happened. I'd woken up to find him staring at me. The sadness in his eyes broke my heart before he opened his mouth.
Don't go, Kaji, I whispered.
I can't stay, Misato. He hasn't stopped. He never will.
We're alive! I sobbed. The world ended and we're still alive. Isn't that enough?
He got up and dressed silently. Before he left, he turned to me and said:
I love you, Misato.
A year would pass before I would see him again.
It was Ritsuko who kept me sane during those long and difficult months. We were all that remained of each other's world. I'd lost the Children. She'd lost the Evas. For a while it felt as if we'd gone back to our university days. There was just her, just me; just her work, just my work.
At the end of every week we would go to the bar. She always ended up taking me home, though she never said a word of complaint. For countless weeks, hers was the last face I'd see before oblivion claimed me. And even when I couldn't remember who she was, I'd smile. Then I'd close my eyes and hear a whisper in the descending darkness.
If she was grieving for anything, she kept it from me. She seemed different from before, though perhaps the world ending can change people just a bit.
Still, she was kinder to me than I deserved. I was a fool and a drunk and no one saw it as clearly as she did. But she stayed by me until the insanity passed, and that was something no one else had ever done.
It happened on a Saturday evening, while we were drinking at her apartment.
She was sitting on the floor: legs stretched flat, head thrown back, the fingers of one hand curled elegantly around a wineglass. It struck me then how beautiful she was—how alcohol never dissipated anything about her, least of all her looks.
On an impulse, I'd leaned over and kissed her.
The softness of her lips had shocked me.
She'd only looked back at me with an eyebrow raised. Classic Ritsuko. Nothing ever surprised her.
What was that supposed to be? She'd asked me neutrally.
I shrugged through the haze of alcohol. A kiss.
That wasn't a kiss, she said. Then she'd leaned over and covered my mouth with hers and kissed me with such sensuous abandon that my alcoholic fog dissipated.
Then she'd broken it off and looked at me lazily. That's a kiss.
I narrowed my eyes. In the next moment I had her pinned to the floor. And while I deliberated on what to do with her, she slipped an arm around my neck and kissed me again.
I looked at her.
She gazed at me levelly. You started it. You finish it.
We looked at each other. After a long, long moment, my hand reached out and tugged her scarf free.
Her skin tasted as sweet as her lips.
Misato, she whispered. That was the last word spoken for the rest of that night.
It shocked me at first that we became lovers so easily—that desire could be so fluid and adaptable. But it was easy—so, so easy—to want her once I'd started, and there was a naturalness in our being together.
Kaji was a thoughtful and consummate lover, but Ritsuko's lovemaking was more exquisite by far. Perhaps it had to do with her being a woman and a scientist at the same time. She knew where to go and what to do and did it with a finesse and delicacy that left me trembling for hours.
Do you think it's pathetic?
I looked at her lying naked in my rumpled bed sheets. She had no idea how beautiful she was, with her emerald eyes and her delicate cheekbones. Men would die to possess her. But there was only one man she had ever wanted.
I turned away from her.
Yes. We\'re absolutely pathetic.
At first we kept it to the weekends—to those spaces where our identities were least intact. But soon it became a game to see how much we could permit at the base, in her lab, in my office. We both knew our reputations. We both knew what we risked. It only added to the excitement.
I would watch her through the security cameras—watch her audience's rapt and admiring faces. She was a genius like no other, except perhaps her mother before her. The untouchable Doctor Akagi. Untouchable, that is, to everyone but me.
Doctor Akagi, could you come to my office please? She never gave me anything except the curtest of nods.
Five minutes later she would be at my door. She would have barely shut it before I'd have slammed her against the wall, my mouth on her neck and my fingers in her hair. She would laugh quietly. Be careful, Misato... But I knew she wanted me as badly as I wanted her—knew it in how her hands trembled when they were so steady in all else.
There was someone else who loved her. Someone who loved her from afar. Her name was Maya and she had loved Ritsuko for a long, long time.
It doesn't bother you, how she looks at you?
She barely looked up from her keyboard.
As long as it doesn't distract her from her work.
I turned away from her and rested my head on the cool metal of her desk.
You're a cold woman, Ritsuko.
She put her arms around me then and breathed into my ear.
Do you really believe that?
Her lips were warm against my earlobe. I shivered.
Doesn't matter if I do, I said, pulling her down for a kiss. As long as you disprove it.
I teased her about her coldness—the clinical detachment that set her apart—but it was the fire in her that terrified me. It showed in the greenness of her eyes—of a brilliance that not even her glasses could mute. The perfection of her beauty perpetually startled me. I'd known her for so long, but it had taken even longer for me to see her. Kaji had been beautiful too, but in a rough and offhand way. Ritsuko's loveliness pierced me, long after I thought I didn't have a heart left to stab.
There was a sacredness in being part of her world. Without her telling me, I knew I was the only one who'd ever invaded her spaces. I couldn't imagine her bringing Gendo to her flat. Whatever it was they'd shared would have been clinical and brutal, fit for a lab but not for a home.
Alone in her room, I would take in her crisp sheets, her ordered books, the austere expressiveness of the single vase on her shelf. All of it bore the mark of her sensitivity. It hurt me to see her soul on display—moved me that I was the only one besides her who'd ever seen it.
In those moments, it would me hit me that I couldn't live with her; that her ordered universe had room for everything else but me. Where could she fit me, with my alcohol-bordered sobriety? Where could she fit me, when I still carried all of my past and Kaji?
At bottom, beneath all of my fears, beneath all of the ghosts, I loved her. I loved her because I didn't have to be careful with her; didn't have to watch my own strength because I was confident of hers.
I never knew what she was thinking. She was as proud and inscrutable as her cats—which made her attentions all the more rewarding.
I often wondered what she was like in Gendo's bed.
I often hated the thought.
She was so self-contained, even when she slept—except for a single occasion, the memory of which haunts me to this day. Just once, while she slept, a dream stirred her and woke me. She smiled the slightest bit and said my name, the Misato rolling off her tongue like a caress. I froze beside her, frightened by what my name meant on her sleeping lips—and touched to my very core.
Neither of us were the other's first choice. Did that mean we were using each other?
Maybe so. But did it matter? In a world torn apart by madness, what did any of it matter?