A/N: I am going to tell you this right now, this story involves POV switching between Rei and Asuka in some scenes, and there is no good way to format it on this site. I'm doing what I can; bold denotes Asuka's POV, normal text is Rei's. Seriously, though, for a better experience, I'd go read this on AO3 or Bulbagarden. Thanks.
Rei's gaze remained locked on her student visa's portrait, just as it had been for the past few dozen miles of this seemingly-eternal flight. She'd bothered to force a smile onto her face when they took the picture; she still wasn't entirely sure why.
Her crimson eyes - the eyes at least one of her classmates back home would refer to as "creepy" or "vampire-like" seemingly every day - eventually shifted towards the papers lying beside her visa on the tray table. She skimmed the top page's contents for what felt like the fiftieth time since takeoff, a welcoming letter from the man whose family she'd be spending the next six months with. "Welcoming" seemed to be the goal, at least; the whole thing came off as rather insincere to her.
"We are more than honored to be hosting you for the duration of your stay," it read. Felt more like a press release than anything.
Perhaps she was being too negative. Her parents may have gone through the process of setting all of this up with minimal input from her, as they often tended to, but half a year in Unova - somewhere she hadn't been since elementary school - surely had some upsides.
For one, she was heading to Nimbasa; in a city of its size, finding things that catered to even her narrow scope of interests seemed like a question of not if, but when. The diverse range of Pokemon native to the region contained several that intrigued her, as well... in fact, she'd made a list of specific species to watch for. It had to have been in that stack of papers somewhere...
...ah, there it was. Beheeyem, Golurk, Reuniclus, Klinklang... all Pokemon that shared a similar character. Artificial. Alien. Outsiders. Well, no one could say she didn't have a type.
She caught a flash in her peripheral vision, tilting her head a bit to the left to find a second pair of eyes - yellow irises on yellow sclera, obviously cybernetic - staring back at her. At this point, given how inseparable they were, she wouldn't have ruled out the possibility of Zee being able to read her thoughts.
"Zee, you shouldn't be out right now," she quietly scolded, setting her headphones down on the tray. "As much as I wish you could be... the attendants said it would be dangerous. I apologize, but... hm?"
Just as suddenly as he'd popped out of his ball, the Porygon-Z's attention had quickly shifted away from her in favor of the list - particularly the bottom. Pointing a stubby, sky-blue arm at the final entry, referred to by Rei as simply "#649," he let out a quick string of confused-sounding beeps.
"That? Based on what I know... it is a prehistoric Pokemon that had been revived, but... radically altered by whoever did so." It was just a shame she could barely scrape up enough info about it to fill a few bullet points... believed to be Bug- and Steel-type, unconfirmed reports of a large cannon on its back...
...right. Plasma created it... they still exist, don't they?
The few friends she had back home were bugging her about it for weeks. Constant warnings to stay on her guard, avoid people with black masks, that sort of thing. Admittedly, it was difficult to blame them - the crisis involving Galactic still lingered in the back of Sinnohan's minds, and the regrouped Plasma seemed just as ruthless, if not moreso.
And yet, here she was on her way to spend half a year in the region they were terrorizing.
Rei sunk back into her seat, exhaling a long sigh as she reached to scratch Zee's belly - where one would theoretically be, at least. "I... imagine we should be able to deal with them, provided it ever comes to that. You, Banette, Rotom... plus all the Fire-types that she has..."
...what was her name again? It was hard to forget what Rei had learned about her host family's only daughter - she was an immensely skilled Fire-type specialist, one whose buzz had reverberated all the way to Sinnoh. The problem was that even after going over all those papers she had dozens of times over, she still hadn't managed to memorize her name... it was something Japanese, wasn't it? Aya, Atsuko... Asu-
"Excuse me? Miss?"
Rei's heart nearly burst clean out of her chest, while Zee made an immediate return to his ball... fortunately, the one responsible for her new "quickest heart attack" world record was merely one of the flight attendants. "I-I apologize for... that, " Rei stammered out with a tinge of embarrassment. "I was... trying to remember something."
"Oh, don't worry, I totally get it! I just wanted to ask if you could put your seatbelt on and close your tray; we're going to be landing very soon."
"I... I will do that, then. Thank you."
The attendant beamed, then headed off - probably to give the same spiel to everyone in first class. Rei, still recovering from shock, returned to her reclined position once her seatbelt was buckled, put her headphones back on, and gazed towards her window.
Nimbasa certainly seemed to have earned the "Shining City" nickname, at least.
Gottverdammt, she was not looking forward to this.
She watched Nimbasa's outskirts fly past through her passenger-side window, a row of seemingly nothing but hotels. Some looked alright. Most looked like the kind of places that'd probably ended up name-dropped in a true crime podcast at least once. To think, this was the first taste so many foreign tourists got of Unova. Good enough a warning as any not to get their hopes up, she supposed.
"Why would she even want to come here?" she muttered to herself, brushing stray strands of her auburn bangs out of her vision. She could've gone to Kalos, Fiore... somewhere an exchange student would actually want to go. Why Unova?
"Asuka, are you still complaining about this?"
Probably could've gotten a nicer host family in the deal, too. "If you didn't want me complaining, maybe you should've asked me how I'd feel about having to play tour guide for some girl I've never met," fired back Asuka, looking over towards her father in the driver's seat. "I've got the Monotype Shootout coming up next week; why can't I focus on that instead?"
Asuka's father - a stoic man, something that only served to irritate her even more - merely shrugged, refusing to take his eyes off the road for even a second. "Well, this is the first I'm hearing of it. If anything, this is on you for making tournament appearances at inopportune-"
"I set this one up months ago! You seriously don't remember that we had a whole conversation about how much this stupid thing'd get in my way?!" Asuka balled her hand into a fist; at this point, it was either that he didn't remember or simply didn't care. "Hell, this is barely even about me... how the hell do you expect to explain Mom's whole-"
"We'll deal with that when the time comes," her father curtly cut in. "Believe me, I'm just as concerned for her as you are... but for the time being, it'd be best not to have our guest worrying about her as well."
Asuka's eyebrow twitched, but she bit her tongue before she could blurt out anything. So they were just gonna hide Mom from her, then? What if she found out on her own? Aside from that... why were they even going ahead with this whole exchange student charade if they were going to have to hide her in one of the guest rooms?
It all made her wonder how concerned her father really was.
Sinking deeper into the leather seat, Asuka let out a sorrowful sigh. "Is... is Mom gonna be alright, at least? Do we know exactly... what's goin' on with her?"
Her father remained silent for a moment, and when he did speak up, she was able to make out the faintest hint of worry in his voice. "Judging by all the information they've gathered, they believe her condition is most likely the result of overexposure to UB-01... which does make sense, given its parasitic nature. On a physical level, she's fine, but her mental faculties... they've been severely affected."
Asuka dwelled on those last two words for a moment. Severely affected. Her mother had been lying in bed muttering incomprehensible gibberish for weeks... "severely affected" felt like an understatement, and an insulting one at that. She'd gone from having someone she could talk to about anything to someone who didn't even seem to acknowledge her presence. She could barely believe it was the same woman.
"...she's gonna get better, though, right? Like... she has to, eventually."
Hesitation was the very last thing Asuka wanted from her father; unfortunately, that'd be what she got. "Well, she's... hm..." His voice trailed off as he reached to stroke his chin. "...I'm certain that something will be figured out eventually. We are talking about the Dimensional Research Institute, after all... but at the moment, nothing can be done about Kyoko's mental state."
That was more or less what she expected to hear. Still cut just as deep. The thought of Mom spending the rest of her life in a catatonic state... sure, they had some of Unova's brightest minds working on a cure. They'd come up with something. They had to. But what if they didn't?
At this point, Asuka was starting to welcome having an exchange student around. She'd at least be a decent distraction.
It didn't even register to her that they'd arrived at the airport until her father's Mercedes pulled into a parking space. When he then proceeded to shut off the engine and begin climbing out, Asuka tilted her head. "Wait, aren't we just... gonna pick her up outside?"
"I figured we could give Ms. Ayanami a warmer welcome than that, so I told her to meet us at the Flight 810 memorial. Come on, we shouldn't keep her waiting too long."
Probably should've parked a bit closer, then. "Alright, fine... if you insist."
"In memory of those lost aboard... Volare Airways Flight 810."
Rei looked up from the memorial plaque and studied the statue it was attached to - a bronze likeness of an Unfezant, its wings majestically spread wide above the airport's terminal. Impressive as it was, she couldn't help but wonder why they'd decided to memorialize the victims of a plane crash with... the likeness of a Flying-type.
Shrugging her shoulders, she glanced down at her phone to see the message she'd been waiting for - Mr. Langley had arrived at the airport and was on his way. Truth be told, she'd been wondering why he wasn't there waiting for her when her plane had landed... but a little more time to prepare herself before meeting with strangers was always appreciated.
And so, nibbling at the slice of pizza she'd gotten from one of the terminal shops (significantly better than any she'd had in Sinnoh), Rei turned back towards the memorial, continuing to read the names of the fallen.
At least until she heard a voice calling for her. And it sounded nothing like Mr. Langley's.
"Hey! Ayanami, that you over there?"
Asuka got her answer when the girl at the memorial looked in her direction and gave a feeble wave. Yeah, that's her. Weird-looking girl.
As she approached her, not giving her father a moment to catch up, Rei's features became clear. The sky-blue bob cut stood out a little, and her pale complexion made her look almost like a ghost among the sea of people passing through the terminal... but those were nothing compared to her eyes. Asuka had seen red eyes before, sure, but nothing like the piercing scarlet shade of this girl's. Almost felt like they were burning a hole right through her.
And this was who she was gonna be stuck with for six months. Wunderbar.
"So," Asuka started, finally reaching Rei with her arms crossed, "you're my state-assigned best friend 'til New Year's, huh?"
It was at least obvious that this was Mr. Langley's daughter; even if she didn't bother to introduce herself, the back-length red hair and face heavily dotted with freckles were enough to tip Rei off. To her disappointment, though, she seemed... abrasive.
"I-I am Rei Ayanami, if that is... what you are asking," she answered after a moment of hesitation. "And your name is... Asuka Langley?"
"Asuka Langley Soryu," the redhead harshly corrected, before letting out a sigh. Rei tilted her head a bit... she seemed to be in a poor mood, but the exact reason why was unclear. Had something happened before she'd gotten here? Was... she the reason why?
Well, things certainly hadn't started great. Hardly unexpected, given how hard Rei's personality clashed with hers... but Asuka figured it was probably best to at least try to give her guest a decent welcome. It beat getting her father pissed at her again, at least.
"L-look, sorry about that, today's been pretty rough on me... but yeah, I'm Asuka! Strongest Fire-type specialist in Unova!" With her confidence starting to flow back into her, she unfurled her arms and held a hand out towards Rei, firmly placing the other on her hip. "You should consider yourself lucky to have someone like me to show you around, y'know?"
The sudden shift in demeanor caught Rei a bit off-guard, but it seemed to be for the better, so she wasn't about to question it. Still, something about Asuka felt... intimidating. No matter what mood she was in, her fiery personality easily overpowered Rei's... and as admirable as that admittedly was, she really hoped not all Unovans were like this.
"I... suppose I should," she answered with a meek chuckle, reaching to accept Asuka's handshake. "Is Mr. Langley on his way?"
The redhead rolled her sapphire-blue eyes, and after a quick glance over her shoulder, responded, "He should be, but I don't know where the hell he ran off to... or if he's seriously just that slow. Believe me, I wanna get back to our house more than you probably want to."
Rei would've confirmed her suspicions, but ultimately backed off, feeling it wasn't worth the risk of earning Asuka's ire again. "Have you... tried calling him?"
"Eh, not that big of a deal. I'll just text him and tell him we started headin' back to the car, how's that sound?"
Asuka had already spent more than enough time waiting around in this airport; the last thing she was about to do was stand around so her father could give Rei his pre-rehearsed welcome speech. She imagined Rei probably didn't look forward to that, either.
Indeed, Rei breathed an internal sigh of relief at Asuka's suggestion, even as abrupt a decision as it was. One night might not have been much in the grand scheme of things, but the more time she had to get acclimated, the better.
"That sounds fine to me... feel free to lead the way." She waited a moment for Asuka to begin walking before grabbing her luggage and following along... which, conveniently, was when she remembered a question she'd been meaning to ask. "Excuse me... Asuka?"
The redhead didn't even bother to look up from her phone. "Yeah, what's up?"
"When does the semester begin, again?"
"September 2nd, why?"
"Because... today is the first of July, is it not? Why did they send me here... so early?"
Asuka stopped in her tracks for a moment, before finally prying her eyes away from her phone and looking towards Rei. She appeared rather displeased. "Y'know, I'm still trying to figure that one out myself."