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blood sea fragrance

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They strip down on deck, each standing in a small tin basin, and pass a bucket of water between themselves. The wind has a stangnant warmth to it, but fine red dust gives them gooseflesh, and they rub their knees, their calves, trying to clean all their creases. After so much time spent in plugsuits, basking in LCL and dead air, being in nothing but their skin feels new, like a fresh change of clothes, like their own cells are linen. Mari admires the sight of her own veins; Asuka itches her ashy elbows.

For Asuka, the air is as tense as it is thick. "Damn it, Misato," she grumbles, "I'm busting my ass out here to get people on board this tub and she hasn't even gotten the plumbing working yet." She's no fan of a sponge bath without a sponge. The ruddy sky beats down on them, and Mari flicks water at it while Asuka talks. "She keeps saying, 'We'll meet the deadline! Wunder will fly!' but have you seen the backlog of neglected necessities? It's massive."

"Yeah, I've seen it," Mari says, pushing her hair back from her forehead and baring her hairline. The water smells rusty, and she wrinkles her nose when she washes her face. "But I think she works best under pressure, you know?" It's a casual splutter, and Asuka rolls her eyes at how Mari tries to speak while she's still splashing water on her cheeks. "Like the kind of thing where you say, 'Cap! This is it! We're really fucked this time!' That's when she shines."

"I guess. Hand me the bucket."

"Sure, sure."

They finish their washing mostly in silence. Mari likes to watch Asuka try to wash her hair, and wants to help paw the dust away. Her discolored battle scars contrast nicely with the rusty shade that's all around, Mari thinks. Very cool. Asuka has prominent tendons, and even though she's not said anything yet, her joints are rigid in a way that tells she knows she's being watched. Mari smiles, because that's the best part. It gives Asuka a patchy flush on her face that wanders all the way down to the jut of her collarbone. Everything sounds fluid and metallic and Mari can tell that the atmosphere's getting a little too stifling for Asuka, who shifts restlessly in her basin. She wants to throw the bucket at Mari's face and Mari knows it.

"For God's sake!" Asuka finally grouses. The red sea below slaps at the sides of the Wunder while Mari laughs against her wrist. "Getting a good eyeful, you four-eyed freak? Are you enjoying yourself over there? Better keep your hands where I can see 'em!"

Mari's laughter sounds almost like a cackle, and this time Asuka really does throw the bucket at her, since it's empty. It whistles in the air and Mari catches it, chest heaving with her mirth. "I'm not wearing my glasses, Princess," she says with plenty of cheek. "That's the best censorship you could ask for. Hey, don't be mad, I think you look great."

"May God strike you blind, just to finish the job," Asuka says darkly, with only a little real venom. "Wash your hair so we can manage to spend five minutes without reeking. When we smell like death warmed over, it lowers crew morale. The green kids around here are all big babies."

"Well that's no fun at all," Mari says, but she obliges. She thinks it would be nice to scrub Asuka's hair with kiwi shampoo and nuzzle against her scalp. "But it's true that we deserve only the finest perfumes, my lady," she coos, and Asuka just clucks her tongue.

They're wringing their hair out when Sakura peeks around the corner to find them. "Excuse me!" she says, and rounds the corner fully, bearing two folded towels. "The Captain asked to see if you were finished now. She wanted me to tell you that your plugsuits have been cleaned and you've got some tests to do after you put them on." Mari makes a delighted sound and practically dives for the offered towel, meowing her thanks to Sakura, who takes it in stride by mostly ignoring it. "They're waiting for you in your bunks," she says, and folds her hands behind her back while the two pilots rub at their heads.

"That's great. Can you get these basins back to the rest of the water that needs to be purified?" Asuka's wrapping the towel around herself, tucking it under her arms, smoothing it down over her hips until she's satisfied it won't unravel and fall off.

"Yeah, I can do that. Oh! Hey, guess what? Midori-chan let me in on a secret she heard; they might dole out razors to use once we get the showers working. Exciting, right?" Sakura clutches at the hem of her dress and laughs a little, both at herself and her situation. "Everyone's working so hard to get the Wunder going... For everyone's sakes, we're really going to do it... It's going to be a miracle."

Asuka is grim; Mari watches the corners of her mouth drop. She makes to leave, bare feet smacking the metal floor, but sets her hand on Sakura's shoulder as she passes. Her one eye stares nowhere but forward. "It's not a miracle," she says, "it's just how hard the Lilin try to live."

Sakura and Mari watch her walk away, pink-toned underneath the color of the sky. "I guess she's right," Sakura says on a thin sigh. "I hope I didn't make her angry. Why don't you go with her, Makinami-san? I'll get your dirty clothing to the laundry."

"Ahhhh, Sakura-chan, if anyone's a miracle of the universe, it's you."

"You say those things so leisurely, Makinami-san."

"Can't be helped," Mari says with her mellow sort of cheer, and wraps her towel around herself as Asuka had. "Since it's true. Thanks, about the laundry. Ah~ What a great bride you'll be." She sighs, and stretches her hands up high in the air, shaking her wet hair. "See, Asuka won't be a good one at all. Well, that's all right, though. I wouldn't want her to go gently, that's why she's my favorite." While she crouches, retrieving her glasses from by her basin, she tucks her smile behind her knees. "Anyway, we've still got time."

"You know," Sakura says, as she folds Mari's dirty knickers, "I really hope that we do."