The Blue Rose

Chapter 2: Welcoming Party

After the harmonics test the two boys changed back into their school clothes and met briefly with members of the American technical crew that had come with them to Japan. They then hopped a train from NERV, eventually finding their way to the Officers apartments a few minutes later, this time having better directions than with the school.

"Well, I think this is the place," said Vance, as he rang the apartment doorbell. The door opened and there was Misato, dressed in a baby tee and cutoff shorts, beer can in hand. She was definitely letting it all hang out. "Hi there! Come on in, boys!"

"Tadaima!" said Patrick in his very best Japanese pronunciation.

"Okaeri Nasai!" responded Misato cheerfully. "Very good! So your Japanese is coming on well!"

"It's still very difficult!" said Patrick. "I don't know how I'm going to survive being in school here!"

"It's okay! Everyone knows that you're only here for the training exercise, so they'll cut you a lot of slack," replied Misato. "Besides, I'm sure the cultural exchange will be beneficial to all!"

Asuka was also there in the apartment, and certainly had a difference of opinion on that topic. "Oh, right! Let me tell you guys from experience," she said. "Japanese schools suck! I've seen both kinds, so I should know!" Like Misato, Asuka was wearing just a tee shirt and cutoffs.

"Asuka! Please!" Misato scolded. Shinji heard the commotion from his room and then came out to greet the boys. Shinji was also just wearing a t-shirt and shorts. "Hello! Was it easy for you to find our apartment?" he asked them.

"No trouble," said Patrick. "So, this is your landlord, huh?" He gestured to Misato.

"Yeah, we live in a crowded house here," Shinji sighed. Vance was more positive. "I don't know. Living with two cute babes could certainly give me inspiration!"

¨Don't expect anything like that from wimpy boy here!" said Asuka snidely.

¨Still," Vance continued, "the scenery is kind of ni-"

Vance managed to pull his eyes away from the two ladies enough to notice the absolute trash heap that actually was Misato's apartment. There were piles of beer and coffee cans lying around, plus sake bottles, pizza and Pocky boxes, unwashed silverware, old newspapers, and something that looked like old fish bones in a paper box on the floor.

...ce."

Vance whispered to Patrick "Geez, I thought Japanese were all neat and clean. This place is a garbage disposal!"

Misato couldn't help but overhear them. "Oh, please don't mind us! Besides, we don't get company often here." The doorbell rang again, and Misato escaped the unpleasant topic to open the front door.

Two more boys from the school had arrived, who both performed a deeply respectful bow and spoke in loud, booming voices. "Greetings, Major Ma'am!"

"Suzuhara, Aida!" Misato said with a grin. "Come on in!" Kensuke Aida immediately spotted the two Americans. "Hey, it's the new guys!"

Patrick and Vance recognized Kensuke as the one who had started filming them as they had arrived in class that morning. "And you are?" Vance asked.

Shinji did the introductions. "This is Toji and Kensuke, our classmates from Class 2-A."

"Howdy!" said Toji. Kensuke let his curiosity get the best of him. "Is it true that you're EVA pilots?"

Patrick was clearly surprised, looking at Shinji while pointing to Kensuke. "How'd he know? I thought that was, like, a secret?" Shinji was not at all surprised. "Kensuke knows a lot of things. He's a natural snoop."

"More like a natural otaku," Toji chimed in.

"Oh, so you like anime, huh?" asked Vance.

"Anime? That is strictly Pre-Second Impact," replied Kensuke as he straightened his glasses. "Oh, no. If I want conflict I much prefer the real-life kind. "

Shinji clarified it for Vance. "He's a military otaku."

"Oh, really?" said Vance. "Boring!" Asuka interjected from the table, sipping her cola.

Toji was not so quite enamored with his friend's hobby either. "Yeah, the kind who knows the difference between an VSTOL Osprey A and a VSTOL Osprey G, as he was just explaining to me on the way over here for the last half an hour."

Vance took the bait. "You mean between standard and SEAD anti-radar Wild Osprey combat tilt-rotors?"

Kensuke was positively overjoyed when he heard Vance. "You know that? Wow, the MV-22G's only a prototype, so not many know that!"

"Well, we got to see one fly in Nevada at NERV-2," said Vance.

Kensuke's eyes opened wide. "You saw it fly!?"

"And on a combat exercise," Vance continued. "They are pretty cool compared to the base-model Osprey."

"That's so cool!" Kensuke exclaimed. "What else did you see?"

"Well..." Vance was a bit puzzled by Aida's interest, but figured it was good PR for the visit to engage him a bit. He soon found himself backed into a corner of Misato's apartment now being virtually pummeled with questions about all sorts of military hardware from a hyper-active Kensuke. Watching all of this from the kitchen table were Patrick, Asuka, and Shinji, all of them sitting and drinking sodas while Misato was close by fussing with the microwave. Asuka looked wistfully at Kensuke's hyperactive inquisition of his new best friend. "I think Kensuke's in love."

Patrick explained it to the others. "Vance is sort of into those things too. His dad's a big naval officer and he heads the security division of NERV-2."

"And I heard your father's the scientific director?" asked Misato, who had overheard him.

"That's true."

"It must be a lot of pressure to deal with." She looked at Shinji as she said that. Shinji just looked away sheepishly.

"It can be some of the time." Patrick continued. "Actually I don't have much contact with him as we're in separate divisions." Misato renewed her focus on the microwave in front of her. "Anyway, now's not the time for talking about work. I've made something for us all!" The microwave made a "ding" sound when it finished and removing it from the inside, Misato showed the kids a platter of perhaps the finest in microwaveable instant Japanese cuisine. The food, if it could still be called that, was unfortunately too much for Patrick's senses. "Oh, well, that looks…"

Asuka stated the obvious, referring to the unappetizing mess now in front of them. "Just say it! She's a horrible cook! She'd starve without a microwave!"

"Asuka! Like you can do any better?" Misato retorted.

"At least I stick to what I'm good at!" she shot back.

Patrick looked at Shinji, who had a bored look on his face while watching Misato and Asuka argue further with each other. "Let me guess," he asked Shinji. "You probably do the cooking around here?"

"Yeah, more of it," he replied. "Given whom I live with."

"It must take a lot of patience," Patrick observed. Shinji just looked at him. "You don't know the half of it." Behind them, a door slid open and something walked out.

Patrick ignored the noise and the girls bickering, and resolved himself to not upsetting his hosts, even if that meant eating the steaming mess that was supposed to be dinner. "Well, I guess we just make the best of ...WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?" Patrick nearly jumped out of the chair when he saw what appeared to be a penguin walk over to the kitchen and nibble on some leftover fish inside of a paper box on the floor.

"Oh, you've found PenPen!" said Misato cheerfully.

"PENPEN?" Patrick yelled. "You have a PET penguin?"

"Yes, Yes. He's just another houseguest! Here, PenPen!" Misato bent over and fed PenPen a bowl containing a yellow liquid, which he took to with relish.

Oh geez, what the hell have I walked into here? Patrick thought to himself. I think Second Impact affected Japan more than they said.

The doorbell rang again. This time Shinji went to open the door, and in walked another student, which Patrick vaguely recognized as Class 2-A's student representative. She was holding several shopping bags. "Hi, everyone!"

Misato was surprised. "Hikari-chan! What are you doing here?"

"Class Rep!" called out Toji, as he broke away from Kensuke's interrogation of Vance and moved quickly to the door to bring himself immediately closer to Hikari.

The girl introduced herself to the two Americans in a somewhat bashful manner. "Hi there. I'm Hikari Horaki, I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself earlier." She handed one of the bags she was carrying to Misato.

"Nice to meet you," said Patrick. Vance, still being interrogated by Kensuke in the corner, just waved at her.

"I figured Katsuragi-san probably destroyed dinner," continued Hikari, "so I brought some stuff from home."

Misato started to go through the bag, pulling out several neatly arranged bento-boxes. "Some stuff? Hikari, you probably spent hours on this!"

"Well," Hikari looked around sheepishly, "I don't think it would be good for the Americans to have a bad impression of us, would it?" Misato said nothing but blushed bright red in embarrassment. Hikari turned to Toji. "Here, Suzahara-kun, please give me a hand." She handed him the other three bags she was carrying.

"How come I gotta hold this?" Toji said, trying to sound tough.

Hikari ignored the protest. "Because you're just standing there not doing anything." Shinji laughed a little at the comment. Asuka on the other hand, was starting to get rather impatient. "Hey, getting hungry here!" she shouted.

"If you're getting hungry come and help me clean the kitchen," replied Hikari.

"Not my department! Get Cinderella-Boy to do it!" Asuka motioned to Shinji.

Shinji sighed. "It's okay, I'll get on it," and walked over to the kitchen. Patrick joined him. "Here, I'll help out, too."

Finally the entire group got to feasting on Hikari's culinary creations, which Patrick thought were actually quite good. "Well, that was much better than I expected," said Patrick, trying not to think about Misato's first attempt at dinner. "What was that noodle stuff?"

Hikari was nothing but proud. "That's Yakisoba! You've never had that?"

"Sorry, we don't get much selection in America," said Patrick while he finished his last bite. "It's mostly teriyaki this and sushi that. Not much in between."

"That's what I had heard," replied Hikari, "So I tried to get some more local dishes."

"Then how come you didn't fix okonomiyaki?" butted in Toji.

Hikari scowled. "Because the Major's place is already a disaster and it's always a mess to make that!"

"But that's the best local dish!" he whined.

"We're not in Kansai, Suzahara," she retorted.

Patrick was confused. "What are they talking about?" he asked Misato.

"It's a regional food that's mostly from Osaka," she explained. "Sort of like Japanese pancakes."

"I really miss American food," Asuka pined. "You can't get a steak here to save your life!"

"No beef cows means no steak, unless you pay 20,000 yen for it," said Misato.

"That's 200 dollars!" exclaimed Patrick.

Asuka knew it. "Yeah, I really miss a good steak," she sighed. "You guys are so lucky with American food every day!"

The doorbell rang yet again. Shinji went to open the door and a tall handsome Japanese man with long hair and about three days growth of beard appeared in front. "Hello." Asuka's face suddenly brightened up. "Kaji-san!" she exclaimed as she jumped up from the table and ran towards the door. Misato was clearly annoyed at the uninvited guest. "Well, who asked you to come by?"

Kaji calmly explained himself as he found Asuka suddenly wrapping her arm around his. "Sorry, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop by to see the two newcomers."

Vance recognized him at once and stood up from the coffee table. "Oh, Hi! Mr. Kaji!" Patrick felt out of the loop and turned to his friend. "You know him?"

"Yeah," said Vance. "He stopped in America at our house in Maine a few months ago, before you came on board."

Kaji spoke to the two Americans. "I have to say I was a little surprised to find out you two would be coming. Anyway, I've got some things in the car that I need to bring up. Can I get a hand?"

"Oh, I'll help you!" offered Asuka excitedly.

"No, Asuka, it's okay. They're actually kind of heavy." Kaji tried to wave her off but she was undeterred. "Oh, I can do it! Believe me, it's no trouble!"

"Please don't strain yourself, Asuka-chan," said Kaji. "I think that Vance here needs the workout after so much traveling. Besides, he's the biggest guy here other than myself."

"Awww!" she protested.

"It's okay. I don't mind," said Vance.

"Come on down then. Please excuse us everyone." Kaji opened the door and the two of them walked outside, then shut the door behind them. Patrick watched Vance leave with Kaji then turned to Shinji as Asuka joined them again at the kitchen table. "So where's Rei?" Patrick asked. "Wasn't she invited?"

"You invited Miss Perfect? Oh, come on! That's just useless." Asuka was clearly annoyed.

"Asuka, she hardly ever comes here!" said Shinji. "Besides, I didn't really get a chance to invite her."

"How 'come?" Patrick asked.

"She took off after the Harmonics test," said Shinji.

"So she's the anti-social type?"

"No, she's the stuck-up 'I'm the First Children, get the hell out of my way type!'" Asuka blurted out. "I can't stand how she sucks up to Shinji's dad."

"You mean Commander Ikari?" Patrick asked.

"Well, she spends a lot of time with him," said Shinji.

Patrick was a bit puzzled. He looked at Shinji. "Is Rei your relative?"

"Uh, no!" Shinji said nervously. "Dad takes care of her though." Now Patrick was really puzzled after Shinji's answer. "But yet you don't know her very well..."

"I didn't live with my dad for a long time," said Shinji, still very nervous about the topic.

"Oh, so you're with your mom, then?"

"Here we go with the family drama," groaned Asuka. Shinji shot her an angry look. "No." Shinji suddenly got very withdrawn. "My mom's….gone."

Well, I know how that goes. "Oh, I see. I'm sorry." Patrick quickly tried to change the topic back. "Where does Rei go when she's not at school?"

"Nowhere," said Shinji. "She just spends the time at NERV."

"Doing what?" Patrick asked.

"God only knows!" Asuka growled.

"We really don't know," Shinji added. By this time, Asuka had lost her patience. "Look, Patrick, if you're thinking to go after The First, don't even waste your time! She's totally in her own world."

"Is she really like that?" Patrick wondered aloud. Shinji tried to explain further. "It's just that she's, well, awkward. She doesn't seem to have much in the way of social skills."

"She doesn't seem to have much in the way of a life!" Asuka cynically corrected.

"At least she talked to me," said Patrick. Both pilots were shocked to hear that from him. "She S-S-SPOKE to you?" stuttered Shinji. Asuka rolled her eyes. "Oh my God! The heavens fell! " Patrick wasn't sure what to make of the pilot's reactions. "Yeah, just like a sentence or two."

"You really mean like a word or two," said Asuka.

"Just like that," said Patrick. "I mean, she didn't seem very outgoing, but still..."

Asuka had enough of the subject of the First Child. "Oh, please! I don't want to hear it!" she longingly looked at the door and away from a now thoroughly confused Patrick. "When is Kaji going to come back? It's been so long..."

In the parking lot Mr. Kaji had two heavy boxes inside the trunk of his Porsche 911. Inside each box were two watermelons of unusually large size. He handed one box to Vance. "I didn't know you were an EVA pilot," Kaji said to him.

"We're not supposed to reveal our status." Vance was surprised at Kaji's inquiry but kept himself calm.

"But you're not identified by the Marduk Institute?"

"Oh, that," Vance replied. "I don't know anything about that. I just sit in the plug and do what they tell me."

Kaji had become very curious at that remark. "Why are you here, then?"

"It's for joint training with NERV, sort of getting our hunting skills sharp."

"When I saw you before back at your family home, you seemed pretty sharp already. Have you actually piloted for three years?" the agent asked.

"Yes, sort of," the boy told him. "Much of it was in the simulator, though, and not the actual EVA."

Kaji thought a moment to himself. "Now that you're here in Japan, the two of us should catch up a little bit. Maybe sometime later on we could talk."

"Sure."


Inside another apartment some distance away from the others Rei Ayanami lay quietly in her bed, still wearing her school uniform. In the darkness of the room She was thinking of what had happened that morning and of the foreign boy with the emerald green eyes and unkept hair who had spoken to her while she read in the hallway.

"H-Hello! How are you? I'm Patrick...Um...What's your name?"

Who is he? She wondered to herself. Why did you talk to ...me...?.

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