Ritsuko knows, you can’t pummel a moral flat with your fists. Instead, you exploit someone’s scruples that like of a sculptor at a spinning clay machine. You place the scruple in the center of the machine. You spin it so fast it can’t appreciate the speed at which its moving. You caress it at both sides, making it feel safe and secure. You softly strangle it, delicately forcing a bottleneck shape with the gentle pads of your fingers. Handle with care. Guide and hold.
Behind her, the conversation between Misato and Tokita-san of Jet Alone Industries continues apace. It’s less a discussion and more an herky-jerky escalation of tensions, two humans too certain of their own egos, running ahead of common sense. She knows that Tokita-san has both deep pockets and friends in the right places. He’s the wrong sort of man to insult. She had explained all of this to Misato. But Misato proceeds with her bickering anyhow, her fists balled, leaning hard into a male sort of confidence Tokita-san could appreciate. The problem with Misato is that she hates the idea of a man with power over her. Men in her circle of relations have always invariably been diminutive, servile, pliant. She hates when Ritsuko tells her: “This is politics.”
“Call me later,” Gendo says, and hangs up the phone. He tilts his chin at Ritsuko’s fussy expression behind his desk, seated in his chair. The king of his citadel. The master of his donjon. The Commander very much values his defensive posturing. Of building buffers between you and the enemy. A long time ago, this was something Ritsuko had admired about him. Maybe she still does.
She says nothing to him in immediate reply, silently stepping towards his desk.
“I need to speak to you.” she demands, waspish. Her wounds are still smarting from her meeting with SEELE. The way Gendo had pawned her, bargained and traded her, as though she were mere collateral. She had done well to avoid that kind of indignity. She went boldly where none of his other co-conspirators had been before, even Fuyutsuki sensei.
“I - I won’t be reduced by you, Ikari.” Ritsuko barks out the words, sounding less confident than she would’ve liked. She sounds rehearsed, like a stock character practicing her lines before the show. Gendo frowns.
“Of course,” he replies.
“I won’t be disrespected.” She tries again. Gendo is quiet, his mouth drawn in a flat line that refuses to curve. Ritsuko tracks something cruel and petty swimming inside her gut and she fishes it out into the open.
“This request of yours - must I need to strip naked again?” She tracks his face, desperately scanning for the indignity of her words to register in his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth, anything. She scouts him for quiet shock, a disingenuous apology, embarrassment. The least he could do was have the delicatesse to look embarrassed. But it’s no use - he is a glass pane. The most he does is shake his head, dismissive.
“You drag out your grudges, Akagi-hakase.”
“Maybe that’s true. I learned from the very best.” Ritsuko balls a fist inside the pocket of her lab coat. The subtleties of her comment probably escaped him. Or maybe not - maybe he paraded her mother out like a heifer on a chain collar, too.
“You’re still upset.” Gendo says, and sighs, as though she were one last inconvenience on his way to a hot meal and a warm bed.
“Yes, Ikari. It was humiliation. Everything you had me endure was humiliation.”
Even now, she can’t read his imperturbable expression. He’s shrouded and still, and his eyes are dark, and there lies a path fraught with uncertain danger. Ritsuko watches him watch her, resisting the urge to yell, or slap him into wakefulness.
Then, suddenly and without further warning, Gendo whisks his jacket off in one fell swoop, standing out of his chair. He unclasps the triangle tongue of his belt. He disarms himself, the bored plop of his gun, as he plants it and the shoulder holster down on his desk. He continues to undress, systematically, all the while he watches her. Waiting for a reaction.
“Wha- What are you doing?” Ritsuko inhales incredulously, and takes one step back. It’s no use. She can’t help but advertise her shock and confusion.
“I’m removing my clothes. A measure for measure.”
“What? That’s not the same!” Ritsuko’s voice hitches and catches in her throat like a teenaged boy struggling through the ups and downs of puberty. Instinctively, she crosses her arms across her chest as she watches him peel his shoes off one by one. She is no stranger to the impersonal, fastidious way the Commander undresses. But this time, it’s different, and the acridness once again finds her voice. “Do you think this is funny?”
“Not even remotely.” He drops his underwear and he is naked before her. In lieu of a bow, Gendo slams his palms against the smooth plain of his desk. His face remains challenging and cold. Many miles away and remote from it all. There’s no humiliation in this for him. That much is evident. Rather, he is humiliating her. Again.
“No. Stop this madness. Get dressed,” Ritsuko registers her fear, her voice again sounding both too high and too low, thin and quaking. Confidence is a disloyal chaperone. It isn’t fair how her palms slick wet with her own sweat, how servile she looks as she cradles her hand as if injured. She feels like a caged animal who is only now acknowledging its predicament. It doesn't cohere. She takes a deep breath and backs away for the door. He has a funny way of making everyone his son, readily wound-able and out of their depth.
Kaji had always been a skilled liar. He always had a knack for aggrandizement, embroidery, and poetry. His lies spread smooth like a gambler’s sleight of hand or a knife to buttery toast. The trick was confidence, brandished featherlight and trivially. Outright making shit up; he was good at that.
Kaji was also good at planning ahead. He liked the idea of choreography, the conceptual footwork required to be at three steps ahead of a potential misadventure, to brain away possible disasters ahead of time. (He enjoyed choreographing the dance and song to Israfel’s defeat. No one had thanked him, of course. But that was okay.) When he was a young child, he would delight in family vacations, or rather, the preparation necessary to ensure their success. He would arm himself with a pen and paper and devise contingency plans in case there would be rain. At least three steps ahead. Bandages. Food. Water. He’d present his parents with a list of absolutely required, non-negotiable, indispensable supplies: first aid, pain medication, extra diapers, pre-packaged food, blankets, bottled water, a twelve-pack of socks for each family member, some hunting knives, and a box of matches. Just in case. His mother would smile and coo, and pretend to pack whatever superfluous item he’d thought to include. Maybe he learned to lie from his mother. The easy way she reassured him everything on his agenda was accounted for, when behind closed doors, she probably laughed with his father as they pitched his list into the trashcan.
Of course, that would be ridiculous. His mother has nothing to do with the ease with which he lies.
Misato presses an errant file binder into his hand as she whizzes past him in the halls of NERV. “Go congratulate Shinji-kun. He got the highest synchronization score for the third time this week. Maybe think about taking him out to dinner.”
“Not you?” he says, neck swiveling to follow her rapidly departing form. He was out of uniform, the top button of his shirt undone, the hideously crumpled he wears loosened around his neck, still knotted.
“I have to go run some errands.”
“Errands. What if I’d rather take you out to dinner?” There’s a sanguinity to how he asks.
“Not a chance,” she snaps. “Go,” she says.
And then, he’s toddling after her footsteps, an echo of shoe soles down the hall. “How’s the saying? Quid pro quo? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours? If I do you a favor, you owe me. It’s the oldest currency in the world.”
“What sort of back scratching are you talking about?” Even as her back’s turned, Kaji knows, she can still sense that badgering spark in his eyes, how bright in the blue.
“Ah, you get me.”
“A second chance makes the man work harder,” Kaji laughs to himself as he’s forced to skip a step in an effort to keep abreast with her. He makes it sound so deceptively easy, too. Let’s do this impossible thing. I’ll do this impossible thing, and you get to have this other equally impossible thing.
In the same way she can sense the glint in his eyes, he can sense her eyes rolling into the back of her head.
“You can find Shinji-kun just down that hall.” She is so ready to shake him off like one flicks a piece of lint off their shoulder, so much that Kaji already feels himself shrinking down to cosmically small proportions. “Maybe you can talk to him about whatever men do.”
“For just one night. It doesn’t have to be fancy.”
“I don’t deserve fancy?” Misato scoffs coldly as she rounds a corner, losing him because he lets himself be lost.
He was completely and utterly tired of lying. Anyone could see that.
A month later, he parks his car in her apartment lot. They had tried the dinner thing. It went just fine. The stick in PARK, the flashing red P, serves as their only source of light in the darkened car. The light barely reaches them, but he can read the quiet frown that creases her face. He wonders if his own face has become as familiar and known to her as hers was to him, because he has her memorized. Misato slouches back against her seat.
He says it out loud - “Sorry. I’m just a little tired today,” - sitting there in the car beside her. And then, he feels it, Katsuragi’s fingers on his. Moreover, she doesn’t move her hand, rather, she moves upward, to wrap her fingers loosely around his wrist. That sort of touch, that flash of momentum, was unforgivable coming from her. But it’s easier to kiss her than to try to explain why. Kaji leans forward and presses his lips against hers, slightly off-center. He almost wishes that she not react, that she purse her lips closed, hopes that she’s bored, bored with him. To that end, he pulls back before she has the chance to even so much as reciprocate.
Misato is a glass pane, but her fists are balled, and she whispers through gritted teeth. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Sorry.” He says again, and then he’s kissing her. Again.
Their kiss begins slow but hurriedly progresses into something more filthy, so fast they can’t appreciate the speed at which its moving. It’s like he’s a teenager all over again - an ill-considered makeout in the front seat of the car, windows rolled halfway down, sloppy and careless, but intending every second last longer than it ultimately does.
The third time he kissed her Misato knew they were going to have sex. Call it onna no chokkan. It is merely the wherewithal to plan ahead. A few more weeks come to pass before it actually happens, but when it does, when she finally has him inside her, she thinks about how easy it is to ensnare a man, how easy they are to enthrall, how all you have to do is press your body alongside theirs, hold onto them the way you’re supposed to clutch close the things that matter, how you just have to apply enough friction to make their back arch, how you’re supposed to say their name at least twice, how you’re supposed to make them think you won’t let go. Promise them some great reward. Even though she is relatively inexperienced in matters of love, and even though Kaji is her first and only, Misato is confident she has the secret code that alone governs men and women’s relationships. In this way he is emblematic of all the men that came before him and all the men that will inevitably follow him. He is simply the mensch.