AN: Yay! New chappie! I felt a little bad after leaving this poor story to starve out for seven years, so I've decided to be not such a shitty parent and give this a bit of continuation! Hope it doesn't suck!
Chapter 3: Coming In From the Cold
At times, the halls of the vessel felt more like a confinement than anything else; she strode towards her quarters barely sparing a glance to the crew members. The only thing she'd see in their eyes would be either that faked respect filled with uncertainty, or perhaps some misguided anger would cloud through their gazes now that she had taken it upon herself to ensure their prisoner did not die of infection of starved himself to an early grave. Indeed, many of them enjoyed the new sport of watching Shinji squirm, it was probably the closest they would get to an actual victory against NERV, and so she allowed them to bask in their false sense of accomplishment.
Her hands felt dirty even while covered by the Plugsuit, the sickness had already spread out and was making her nauseated. One hand had struck him and held his mouth open while the other pushed food down into him; an unnecessary slap and an elbow to his forehead weighed down heavily in her mind for whatever stupid reason. A good shower and some time with her consoles would suffice to sharpen her mind back into the state needed for battle. Only there was no battle, not in the coming days, only the cold realization that she'd have to spend many a day with the brat in tow. Like he's my responsibility or something, like I give a damn…
The doors to her quarters came into view, yet before she could find some level of solace with her WonderSwan and some much required silence, an arm extended and momentarily blocked her advance. Asuka took a deep, measured breath, and allowed the full intensity of her glare to focus on the smug little smile before her.
"Hi there, Princess." Mari said, smirk widening with that infuriating look that told Asuka the girl knew and understood things she did not. "That was really nice of you. Puppy boy was not looking so good."
"What the hell are you talking about?" The redhead bit back, almost baring her teeth at her copilot. She pushed the arm down, only to have it resume its position a second afterwards, still blocking her way. "What's the big idea, Four Eyes? Let me through, I want to get some rest." Hatred, annoyance and the strange heaviness in her gut boiled over her gaze, making the bespectacled female blink and realize just how foul her mood was.
The brown-haired pilot moved away in flash; the button squeaked in protest as she basically punched through it to open the doors and walk inside. "You know," the other's girl's voice halted her in her steps. "Even if it was nice of you to give him that stuff, you overdid it a little bit with that slap, or that elbow." With her back turned, Asuka still felt the disapproval shine in Mari's green eyes. "You might have been a bit too harsh with that wound."
"It was infected to the point of leaking pus," Asuka retaliated with a bitter undertone. The recollection of how ugly the festering wound had looked under her hold only increased the unease consuming her chest cavity with every passing second. "Got the brat to wake up, so what's the problem?"
"I suppose there isn't one," Mari retorted with the carefree tone she had grown accustomed to, which meant she was accepting defeat. Good. "You didn't look too pleased to do it."
"Who would be pleased to clean a child's booboo because he's too dumb to do it himself?" Her chest felt tight, the air felt scalding in her lungs; no longer did she wish to think on what she had seen in that cage, no longer did she want to remember Shinji's bloodied face and the cut on his forehead. Her hands curled into fists. "Got anything else to say, Four Eyes?"
Some seconds of blessed silence passed, yet just as she was about to walk into her quarters and close herself off from the word for a few hours, Manikami's voice cut through her mind frame like a knife. "Still angry at him about that, huh?" she stated more than asked. "Maybe you should tell him, I don't know. Might help. Are you going to hurt him more, now that you're being dropped off?"
A single blood-shot, hate filled cerulean iris whipped in Mari's direction; Asuka's eye narrowed. "Go to hell."
The door hissed closed.
Quick and expert hands decompressed and peeled off the Plugsuit in a hurry. She paid no mind to the eyepatch whatsoever, simply climbed into the shower, and allowed the cold water to wash off the nonexistent grime from her frame. She scraped at the skin of her palms and knuckles to dispel the sensation of blood in between her fingertips, of the sensation of the boy's pulse under her hold. After a thorough rinsing of her hair, Asuka picked the used-up, stained and foul smelling suit, throwing it in the waste basket. I don't intend to wear that one ever again, they can have it burned for all I care, she thought while changing into some more comfortable clothes, enraged, and collapsed on her cot with a grunt.
Not a full minute passed and she was already pressing the buttons of her console and going through the motions of winning a game she had played thousands of times. The sounds the tiny device produced began to ease her mind after the third consecutive win; the hollowness in her chest faded whilst her tired eye focused only on the display before her. This was a particular favorite; just her in a ship against a coming maelstrom of enemies attacking all at once, with no back-up or a chance to retreat. The only way to win was to destroy the enemy completely. Her eye narrowed, they were coming faster than she recalled them doing in that particular level, the ships were bigger and more difficult to destroy. Her eyelid itched.
The buttons were pushed more violently than before, yet however much she tried the speed of her ship would not suffice. Her attacks were insufficient, the enemy was beginning to swarm her, how come? This was a strategy that had worked marvelously before, why was she so slow? Anger was almost permanent in her being, helping her negate and stifle any and all other emotions that ever threatened to surface. She was angry then, very much so, so why the hell was she losing? Maybe I'm just tired, pondered the Second Child, and scratched away at her eye. Just before the redhead could focus her attention back on the game and destroy the bothersome legion coming her way, the black hat resting by her thigh came to view.
The damn thing, while being comfortable enough to wear, was a tad too large and baggy for her taste. It did wonders against the cold, nonetheless. Her gaze softened without Asuka ever realizing it when the small blue roundel came into view. Not missing a single beat, the pilot's hands moved automatically without her even bothering to view the screen. If she tried hard enough, the sound of the Entry Plug collapsing around her as Unit 01 bit into it could drown out any and all other sounds in her vicinity. The memory was branded into her brain just as the sickness that made her inhuman was permanently scorched into her other eye. And yet, there she sat, gazing at the tiny blue, white and red roundel and recalling a Bento Box from forever ago.
The anger subsided once more, to her dismay, and the hollowness crawled its way back to her awareness. He left, fought against me, knocked me down, and hit me. And he… the little brat, chose to do nothing… nothing, that time. And now he asked me to kill him. Little shit. I should've… The elbow to his forehead could have been potentially dangerous, even fatal, considering how little control of her own strength she'd had in that particular moment. It had gotten a bit too close to his temple, a few inches more to the left and the brat would have been knocked out cold. The second slap had felt a tad unnecessary. She had gripped the wound and squeezed with no other wish than to make Shinji feel pain. Punched him in the gut, almost choked him with food.
The WonderSwan beeped loudly. WIN! GO TO NEXT LEVEL Y/N
Yeah, great win. She sighed and continued to destroy enemy ships, this time having little to no trouble obliterating them in a clean, orderly fashion. Flawless victory. Now I don't even have an EVA to pilot, gotta wait for a stupid month or more. And how very nice of Misato to simply say 'let's dump the brat in the village and see if he dies of exposure there instead of in my ship.' How very thoughtful, such an incredibly solid plan.
Nobody expected anyone but Shinji to take care of Shinji. There were limited resources, every person in the village fulfilled a role, nobody had time to spare on the idiot who had almost completely destroyed the world twice. In the state he was currently in, the possibility of him wandering off, getting lost and simply starving out in the outskirts of the fields felt quite real. Not that she cared, not in the slightest. Her interest with him being alive was simply a responsibility to make him pay for his wrongdoings, a desire to show him, to his face, what damage he had perpetrated. Perhaps, the little bastard would wake up then and make a proper choice for once in his miserable life.
She crushed the following level, and the next, and the final one with minimal difficulty, switched the game in a fluid motion and went about collecting treasures and killing foes. The dead look in Shinji's eyes told her he had already seen the result of said wrongdoings, and as someone who had been manipulated and used as a weapon her entire life, there was a sickening sense of understanding there, when she allowed herself to think on the boy's actions. Make him desperate, make him break, point him in a direction where salvation is possible, at least make him think salvation is in the direction you're pointing at. After a few minutes the console beeped and she went to the next level, massacring foes in a quick, mechanized fashion. Tell him do this, do that, and everything goes away. And you do it nicely, something the stupid brat doesn't even know. Who am I kidding? What reason did anybody in this ship give the idiot to stay here?
Her eye drifted back to the hat. The emptiness returned with a drowning vengeance and made breathing difficult. Was this how guilt felt? And why on Earth would she feel guilty of anything in the first place?
After crushing another level she turned off the console and threw it near the hat and jacket resting by her feet. Shinji had a fever, a festering wound devouring the flesh around his forearm, a wound that should not exist at all. True, his inaction had hurt her in ways that could not yet be described or voiced out, but hurting him back produced nothing more than the dreadful disgust and an unbearable weight in her chest. The expected bliss or feeling of retaliation never manifested, like her expectations with life in general, they went about unfulfilled. Just when she thought she had grasped at something, just when it felt as though she would be vindicated, everything turned into blood, dust and ashes.
What was it to her if Shinji lived or died, anyway? Why did it hurt to think about him… not existing?
Her thoughts drifted to simpler times, to a visit an the aquarium and a Bento Box, and soon enough, Asuka fell asleep. It lasted it's typical hour or two.
The burning in his forehead was the first sensation that welcomed the Third Child back into awareness. His body felt drained and heavy, the stinging of his arm which had been blessedly muffled for days on end burned next. With a groan, he realized at some point in the night the half-healed scab close to his temple had opened, and stuck to the material of the stiff pillow he had been given. He hissed when the fabric was ripped away and a tiny new trail of blood began to descend down his face.
Shinji's eyes caught a glimpse of the white gauze covering the better part of his forearm while his right palm moved to stop the slight bleeding. The small cut was throbbing with pain, and the tissue around it was slightly swollen from the way he had slammed his skull against the steel floor. Surprisingly enough, the nausea which had so permanently accompanied him ever since Kaworu's death was not completely overbearing.
Still alive... he thought lazily; a headache was blossoming both in the back of his skull and around the small cut, the wound on his forearm stung when he moved his hand and itched if he stayed still. His skin felt cold and clammy and he shivered lightly, even in the controlled environment. Before he could lay back down on the mattress and take the buds away from his ears, the familiar noise of the first meal of the day being delivered directed his attention to the gate.
"You will eat." Asuka growled in his memory, and Shinji felt himself frown at the plate. So I'm supposed to stay alive just so I can suffer and grovel until you're satisfied, right? With weakened, trembling legs and constant shakes of his body as it fought off the infection, he retrieved the tray, collapsed on the steel chair and pushed the tasteless pastes into his mouth. The nausea returned, but he continued to eat, only taking small breaks to drink water. It had surely been a figment of his imagination, a slip of his damaged consciousness. He had not slept for days, after all; whatever he had heard had been obviously produced by exhaustion.
Her voice… changed. He pushed the clear-colored bar into his mouth and forced his jaw to chew on it, recalling the ghastly sensation of the redhead's palm pushing food down his throat. I thought I heard something… something different. Like her voice was… shaking. Pff, yeah right. The last of the bland bars disappeared; the empty tray stared at him from across his lap and the feeling of a rock sitting inside his guts kept the massive nausea at bay for the time of being. He confirmed the red dot on the camera was still active, sighed, and placed the tray on the floor.
Soap. Shower. A place where… the sky is blue. His mind was hazy. Thinking on anything was difficult and trying to digest reality, especially his current situation and the events which had led him to it, was physically painful to him, yet the comfortable escape of shock and disconnection had been robbed from him altogether. Once again, his cobalt eyes drifted to the bandages around his arm; a mixture of warmth and bitter spite mingled in his being as the vague memories of Asuka cleaning and dressing the infected cut came back in droplets. The pain had escalated, slowly at first and then became so acute that it had roused him from whatever state he had been in, and still as he stared at the bar of soap and toothpaste it was difficult to force himself into moving.
When had the thought of showering become such a difficult and exhausting task?
The state of his gown was deplorable. He noticed how the stains of blood, snot, saliva and vomit now decorated the plain cloth and exuded a foul smell. Had he been so far gone that even such a stench had arisen not a single response in him? He scrunched up his nose in distaste, took the bar of soap in hand and sprung into the shower without a second thought, ignoring the constant tremors of his body or the fact that he had not yet seen a towel in the room. The water was cold, stank of chlorine and felt chilling to his sweated skin. He shivered under the stream, teeth chattering, and forced his left arm up to keep the bandages from getting wet as his right hand cleansed away at the grime of the past days.
Once his body had been properly scrubbed, Shinji made certain to thoroughly wash the cut on his forehead to the best of his abilities; the welt on his forehead was about the only place in his body where the cold water was not causing endless shakes. Despite the chilling temperature of the water he still felt half-awake, not truly there, somehow disentangled from the world and his own body. The vague sensations of pain and discomfort, hunger, thirst and the strange shakes were more acute, almost rooting him to the little cage and the cold steel floor under his naked feet.
Something beeped on his left and suddenly a towel and a proper change of clothes composed of undergarments, a pair of black trousers, shoes and a white shirt were presented to him. For a while he stood there, water dripping off his body as tremors ran all through his body; only when the bandage began to moisten did he remember he was supposed to dry himself off and dress. At every passing second the discomfort became more acute, he realized there was an ache that went all the way into his bones, a feeling of constant heat clashing with the cold his skin registered with every passing second. His forehead throbbed with pain, his arm burned and itched and drove needles of pain up and down his forearm; he was especially careful to not move or interfere with the bandages to the best of his capabilities and once he was dressed, sat back down on the cot and stared at the floor, lost in thought.
I think I might be sick, the realization came minutes after he sat down; the room's temperature made him shiver despite him being fully clothed and dry. There was no blanket or cover on the cot, nothing to help him ease the chill, so Shinji brought his legs close to his chest and curled into himself. After a few minutes of hugging his legs, the boy was able to bring the constant shaking to some semblance of control and reached over to the SDAT. Track 27 began to play, its soothing melody drowning out the sound of Kaworu's body exploding, or the horrible sound of Asuka's Entry Plug being crushed under his teeth. Entire cities destroyed, a massive desert stained crimson due to his stupid desire to, for once, just once, save one person.
"…But my head made headstrong… by the head of the Almighty. We forward in this generation… triumphantly… Won't you help to sing? These songs of freedom… 'cause all I ever had… Redemption Songs… Redemption songs…"
His eyes wandered over to where the dictionary sat. Asuka had… brought him that dictionary; the Second Child, the person who by all means had every right to hate him and every little thing about him had not only bothered to bring that dictionary to him. The batteries in his SDAT, the toothpaste and toothbrush, the soap, the bandages around his forearm, they were all… precious, in some strange way.
Ignoring the pain that flared all over his forearm, Shinji picked up the heavy book and began to look for the marked pages; a strangled chuckle made its way out of his throat when he first noticed the bright red bookmarks decorating the R section of the book. A bright marker had been indiscriminately used around the word he was looking for, with bold letters drawn in plain Kanji which said 'here, you idiot. That's the word.' Despite feeling detached, cold and miserable, Shinji's gaze fondly went over the words Asuka had written many times; his thumb caressed the imprint her pen had left on the paper. Asuka's actions confused him; she seemed happy enough to despise and hurt him. Why had she bothered to make him eat, then? Why has she bothered to rinse out the infection in the cut around his wrist?
He read through the definition four times before the words began to settle in his brain.
'Redemption: re·demp·tion; 1. The action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. 2. The action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. 3: The act of making something better or more acceptable. Legal definition: the act, process, or fact of redeeming.'
The third definition bounced through his head again and again, overshadowing the memory of his stupidity at picking up the spears, fighting Asuka and almost ending the world. The act of… making something better, or more acceptable. How was he to ever make the Second's Child's rightful wrath better? How was he to ever make existing in the desolated wasteland that was the world any more acceptable? What power did he possess to revert such ominous, absolute damage? Oblivion and nothingness felt so much more achievable than the ridiculous hope of mending his mistakes… there was no point in dreaming of impossible things, anymore. Not after Kaworu, not after his foolishness had cost the world so much, yet again.
"Your punishment must be more severe."
Yeah, I suppose so, he pondered, playing with the small music player as he rewound track 27 over and over again. Without Unit 01 he was no threat, and neither was he any good. What could he possibly offer to the world if it was not his ability to destroy it? Maybe after my father gets his wish, and everything is gone, then maybe I can… what? Rest? Would I? That eye-patch, it was evidently his doing or, better said, his absolute lack of any action whatsoever which had caused it. Living the rest of his days with that added weight to his shoulders felt unnaturally taxing; never mind that he had almost destroyed everything and everyone twice, he had condemned Asuka to a life filled with… what?
He chuckled and shook his head in derision. There was nothing he knew of her life, not a thing, not after so many years which had felt like nothing short of a flash to him. One moment he was pulling Rei out of that Angel, the next… he was sitting on that cold chair with lights pressing into his retinas and burning through his eyelids. There were so many questions he wanted to ask and felt impossibly unable to formulate, so much to atone for, so much he desperately wanted to know, so much he wanted to erase.
Shinji sighed, picked up the glass of water next to his bed and emptied it. The red dot never stopped blinking, not for a second, neither did the chill which dug all the way onto his being. With no true idea of how much of the unease of his body was due to disease and how much could be attributed to fatigue, the boy pressed his back against the metal wall. Was it also his fault that Asuka did not seem to age as years went by? Probably, he thought, and hugged his legs tighter. The curse of EVA… the curse of Shinji, you mean. The blood of Unit 03 felt hot against his palms, he felt the Entry Plug give away and be crushed under his jaw. Rei had been there, in his arms. How come she was gone, now?
The wound around his wrist flared.
"You can call me Asuka, and I'll call you Baka-Shinji."
"Do something already, Baka-Shinji!"
The first memory came back easily enough; if he closed his eyes and tired hard enough Misato's apartment and the slight warmth of Asuka's body next to his was so easy to remember. The second one, however, he had no clue of where and how he had heard those words, or why they forced a sudden fire to arise in his chest whenever they manifested. A sense of urgency, the sensation of wrath boiling out of his chest, the need to act, to do something for once and then… nothingness, silence and uncertainty.
A place where the sky is blue, pondered the Third Child as his features descended into a light frown. I suppose that became a novelty as well, after my… after I almost ended the world. Being caught inside his mind, with the world as little else than background noise was vastly preferable to the array of unwanted emotions and overall physical ailment both his body and mind seemed overeager to provide. A place where the sky was blue... a world where the sky was blue. I wonder if that would be enough… to earn my permission.
Reality shifted in and out of focus; every now and then he felt the cot disappear and the backrest of the Entry Plug press against him. A shower of crimson, the realization that he had so majorly messed things up that it had taken all of WUNDER's efforts to halt the next Apocalypse; it became almost impossible to escape. Why had Asuka robbed him of the last possible solace available, why had she taken him away from that frozen state of non-feeling?
My punishment must be… more severe, recalled the Third Child. His fingers pressed rewind, stop, then play automatically. The fever receded to a degree; the sting of his arm dulled to a certain extent. With no clue whatsoever of how much time had passed or how long he was to wait until the next meal, Shinji noticed there were other words marked up in the dictionary aside from the two that composed the song he had been listening to on a loop for the past few days. He decided to go over each and every word she had marked.
'Anger. Choice. Doubt. Fear. Inaction. Maim. Mature. Negligence. Painful. Redemption. Retribution. Resentment. Sol-'
He turned away his eyes and pretended the word was not glaring at him, marked in bright yellow. He read through the next words 'Song. Torment. Waste. Wither,' and felt his heart sink with every definition read. It felt as though she was giving him a message, and not at all a hopeful nor a comforting one; whatever had had once been there was evidently gone and forgotten, it had withered away with time and finished rotting with his latest acts of stupidity. The one word he had first tried to avoid came alive in his brain, refusing to be ignored. Shinji sighed as his fingers traced through the pages; the letters felt like knives, they clung into his very soul and threatened to reduce him to a sniveling mess all over again.
"Solitude," he muttered to the empty cell. At last something he could understand and relate to even in the slightest of ways. Such a shame… he was fourteen years too late. If his punishment was to live on, it certainly felt agonizing. Shinji clutched the book closer to himself and remembered he was also to brush his teeth and eat whenever food was presented. The heavy, worn out surface and damaged pages kept the memory of Kaworu at bay for the time of being.
Batteries for his SDAT, a dictionary, toothpaste and a toothbrush, soap; Asuka had even bothered to clean up the infection clinging to his arm. For the first time in his life, he was holding… gifts… given to him without reason or justification. All of the sudden, Shinji felt irrationally attached to them, vowing to himself to keep them close no matter what.
"I don't have time to think about nonsense like this," Misato stated without turning. "You have your orders. If he at any point behaves suspiciously, immobilize him. If he tries to get back in the WUNDER, taze him. What about any of this is unclear to you, Major?"
Her crossed arms tightened, glare turning deadly on the purple head in front of her. "The prisoner's as harmful as a squirrel at this point. He's nursing a considerable fever and went about four days without eating," she allowed the small silence to stretch inside the woman's small office/quarters. So much bitterness, so much hatred; the aura in the room was more stifling than the one in her own bedroom, the permanent discomfort and stress Misato exuded was impossible to miss or escape from. "And now you want me to electrocute him."
"Should the mission in Paris succeed, it will take no less than a month to have both Units armed and ready for combat," she watched the older woman produce a bottle of whatever cheap alcohol the villagers managed to ferment off their rice harvest, take a hefty drink as she went over the digitalized maps in front of her. "Who knows what can happen. Keep an eye on him, or don't. In the end it doesn't really matter. Should he become a problem let me know, and I'll end it." She produced the DSS trigger from her jacket to emphasize her point. Asuka felt sick to her stomach and felt the ring around her own neck burn. "Have I made myself clear, Pilot?"
"Crystal," she growled back and turned away, heading for the door. At times like he current one she wondered where exactly the jolly drunk she had first gotten to interact with in the early days of the War had gone to. The eye-patch reminder her that right after her initial defeat and subsequent infection by the Ninth Angel, the world had stopped making sense. "Whatever you say. See you in a month, I suppose. Try not to die."
A shrug of the woman's stiff shoulders was the closest she got to an actual reaction. "Get some actual food in you," Misato said in a quieter, almost regretful tone. "Take a breath… go spend some time with Kensuke and Hikari. I don't… I'm not sure what's going to happen if and when NERV decides to activate Unit 13 again."
The portentous warning rang heavy in the already dense air of the foul-smelling quarters; it reeked of dirty clothes and spilled sake. It would seem the timer had been set and already ticking. "Like I can taste anything anymore," she ground out angrily, arms going to her sides as her hands curled into fits. "Good luck."
The sarcasm in her voice was as heavy as the gloom ambient in the secluded space.
"Asuka." The woman's words froze her in her steps; for once in years she registered some level of instability in Misato's voice. "Take care of yourself, and… sigh… if you can, take care of him."
"It's not my job to mommy stupid brats, go get him a babysitter or a mother if you want that," was her clipped, bitten response. "Whatever happens, happens. Do you want me to change his clothes and wipe his ass, too? Because I'm not doing that."
Unbeknownst to her, a small, knowing smile drew itself on Misato's lips. "Those cuffs, you put them on a little bit too tight, you know. He sat with them on his wrists for about a day and a half." The smirk widened. "Try not to kill my prisoner in the following weeks, will you?"
The redhead shook her head, chuckling despite the acrimonious atmosphere of the room. "No promises," she responded as the door opened. "You're planning on using him again, aren't you?"
"If it comes down to it, maybe," Asuka recognized the sound of the beverage being consumed in heavy gulps behind her back. "You have your orders. He's a prisoner, not a guest. Protocol is expected…" Again, for the second time in a day, for the second time in years, Misato's voice broke. "Just put the tazer at minimum… if it comes down to it."
"Like the idiot's ever going to voluntarily set foot on this damn ship ever again," with another shake of her head, Asuka readjusted the hat resting on her head and pushed her fists deep into the jacket pockets.
She walked into the hallway and went about collecting their prisoner; the small window for an unsuspected drop off was drawing near. The thought of being back in the village produced nothing in her but more frustration; she could very well provide assistance in any way possible during the mission to Paris, but instead their trusted commander in chief had chosen to give her some vacation time after years and years of being at the ready. What a freaking joke, she thought while striding towards the cell, incensed. Get some real food in me, stupid hag. Like she doesn't know food doesn't taste anymore. Like she doesn't know I'd prefer to do literally anything other than go back to the village. Awesome, now I get a month of people staring at me like I'm a freak. I get a month of making sure that stupid little brat doesn't kill himself, or that the stupid Rei clone doesn't dissolve into nothing. Awesome. Fantastic.
Many of the crew members were displeased with the latest update on their prisoner; the fun little show of watching him suffer was about to get cancelled and their wishes for violent, tasteless retaliation were to be left unfulfilled. To her knowledge not a single one of them had had the chance to direct their anger directly into the Third Child's feeble physique. None had been granted the opportunity to express their frustrations, none but her; the very recollection of elbowing him or punching him in the gut made her want to wash her hands. She had waited more than a decade for a chance to express her frustration and when the occasion had arisen, the aftermath had left her feeling empty and repulsed.
She recognized the steps nearing her own and groaned in advance. "What do you want, Four-Eyes?"
"You don't have to be so cold!" A pair of slender arms went over her neck as Mari held her in a loose hug; Asuka did not even bother to remove her hands from her jacket pockets or stop walking for that matter. "This might be the last time we talk, you know," green eyes narrowed knowingly at her as they moved through the ship and the redhead refused to reciprocate the hug in the slightest.
"Pff, as if I'd ever get so lucky," retorted the Second Child with a frown and a shrug. "It's not an overly impossible mission, you'll manage just fine." Her eye narrowed when she recalled the pitiful state of her Unit 02 and the fact that she would be in the company of the culprit of said damage for the better part of her day. "Just try to conserve your ammo and be at firing distance, they're not impossible concepts to grasp, even for a four-eyed nutcase like you."
"Ohh, a vote of confidence from the Princess!" said the girl, clutching her tighter and almost forcing them both to trip. "Don't worry, I won't let you down! It's weird not to work as a team, wouldn't you say?"
"Whatever. Sure, a team. Gonna be weird, I suppose." she grumbled. Both female pilots stopped walking; to their right was the gate of Shinji's cell. Pity, how she had arrived at the damn cage so quickly, or how the hours had passed without her noticing. "For what it's worth, don't die."
"I won't," with a final tug Mari blessedly uncoiled from her frame and stood a few feet away. She noticed the girl's gaze fixed on the metallic door with sadness dancing in her eyes. "He's been through a lot, you know."
The comment earned her nothing but a snarl and managed to reignite the anger in Asuka's core with frightening efficiency. "Yeah, poor little brat, been through a lot almost blowing all of us to shit twice, poor little thing, been through a lot leaving with the enemy like an idiot and fighting against me. Yeah," her fists tightened within the jacket. "Poor little Shinji."
"That time, not too long ago," Mari mentioned as she turned and starting walking away. "After fourteen years of not even a spike in activity, Unit 01 broke free and destroyed that Angel." The redhead's frown deepened; she did not want to recall that particular event in the slightest. "I bet he's… pretty lonely, Princess." Out of the corner of her eye, the Second Child noticed the other girl's shoulders slacken to a degree. "I think you of all people can understand what that does to someone. Take care, please."
Before she could articulate a biting, resentful comment the other girl sprinted away, flashing the knowing little smirk she detested so much along with a peace sign as she moved towards her station and prepared for deployment. She growled low in her throat; Four-Eyes' parting words had cut a bit too deeply, and now besides anger she now felt a sour taste in her mouth and a gaping hole in her chest. God damn it… It had been foolish to mark that particular word in the dictionary, as well. If Shinji ever dared to pity her, she would be more than willing to castigate his foolishness with violence, regardless of how sick it made her feel afterwards.
Asuka checked the clock on her new suit; the Plugsuit was her uniform and whilst on the vessel she felt naked without it. Half an hour until dropoff, she mused, took a deep breath to ease the wrath corroding her thoughts and pressed her ID card on the door, already expecting the worst as it opened with a hiss.
In a vast contrast of her expectations Shinji sat on cell's small cot fully dressed, elbows on his knees and head low, staring at the ground with a somehow not so disconnected expression as the day prior. He held the SDAT with both hands while the dictionary rested on his lap, closed. She was surprised to see the little buds not stuck to his ears for once; the redhead walked into the cell and strode towards the prisoner until the distance between them all but vanished. The annoyance started to build up as the seconds passed and he stayed there, immobile. Just as she was about to kick his leg to get a reaction, Shinji spoke.
"Hey, Asuka," he whispered, almost imperceptibly. The cut on his forehead had been washed and dried, leaving the reddish and jagged wound obscured by his hair to an extent. "I guess we're… going, now?"
"Get up. There's not a lot of time." She bit back as her glare settled on his head. "As soon as we land you'll get that disgusting cut looked after again. Move."
Half-expecting to be forced to drag him once more, Asuka was a bit surprised to see the Third Child nod slightly and lift himself off the cot. He was not looking as gaunt anymore, she noticed, and felt a strange sense of satisfaction upon seeing two empty trays near the metallic chair. If she had to guess the fever was very much present but milder, he looked solid enough on his feet to walk unassisted and in enough of a frame of mind to understand words and commands. Wonder how long that's going to last, she pondered sarcastically.
The backpack she had been carrying was presented to the idiot. "Put that stuff in here," ordered the female pilot, and felt a pang of self-disgust arise when she realized what she had to do next. It did not help matters at all to see a light frown obscure Shinji's features at the thought of parting with the book and his little music box. "You can keep that stupid black thing in your pocket. Put the book in here, you can have it after we land. Don't waste my time, move."
It made the Major feel uncomfortable and dissatisfied to see him look over at the stupid dictionary with some sense of fondness, as though the stupid book meant anything at all, before he delicately placed it in the bag and stored away the SDAT. Rage boiled deep in her belly, for once not directed at him or her enemies, Four-Eyes or Misato. The very sight of the bandages on Shinji's arm made her sick to her stomach; she swallowed down whatever strange emotions were faintly bubbling through her anger and closed the bag. "Your hands," ground out the young woman through gritted teeth. "You know the drill, you're a prisoner. I have to cuff you."
Wordlessly he extended both arms, hands curled into half-fists with the palms facing up as she had instructed. This time around she was careful to set the metal rings as loosely as possible and brutally suppressed a strange urge to… apologize… when Shinji grimaced in pain as the cuff rubbed against the healing wound. The cracking of the Entry Plug around her always served as a fueling agent to drown out feelings she did not care to deal with, so why did its efficiency wane that particular day as her covered hands grazed over the bandages?
This is ridiculous, he's barely even able to get up. What, he's gonna run all the way to Unit 01 now, when he's barely able to stand on his own damn feet? Just thinking about Misato's latest command made her shake her head in derision; she honestly expected her to electrocute the Third Child if he somehow voluntarily stepped back in the vessel. "Let's go."
She did not wait for a reply, the redhead started walking towards the exit, hands back in her jacket pockets and glare firmly set in place. They were to walk a small distance to the one of the WUNDER's hangars, take a smaller vessel and reach the village in less than an hour. It was a tricky, difficult operation and should not even be considered. The ship's resources were about to be replenished if the mission in Paris succeeded, after all, and the meager amounts Shinji consumed represented closed to nothing for their stock. Something told her Misato was taking the chance for more obvious reasons, completely unrelated to their rations or the energy it took to keep the Third Child alive in his sad little cell.
He's in danger here, Asuka pondered lazily as she walked through the halls and saw the incensed, hateful glares the crew members directed at Shinji. He walked a few steps behind her; Asuka's eye moved left and right, registering cold indifference, anger, hatred and the desire for bloody retaliation. At some point, someone's bound to get the security codes for the cell and do something stupid. Any more time spent here will only increase the chances of it happening.
In the state he was in, the boy probably only felt half of the pulsing hatred and anger clouding the hallways. Thankfully enough not a single member of the WUNDER had bothered to say a thing. Sakura had been too busy with the preparations for the mission in France, so not even Suzuhara's little sister had had a chance to say whatever it is she wanted to communicate to him. Good riddance, she thought, breathing a slight sigh of relief when the hangar came into view. Her eye turned back to confirm the idiot was still walking behind her, head bowed, bound hands in front of him and eyes fixed on the ground. And now I'm stuck with this damn brat. Some vacation you gave me, Misato.
Once they both stopped at the hangar's gate Asuka noticed him shiver from head to toe for the third time, and growled low in her throat. The temperature was descending indeed, and once the hangar's gates opened the cold wind was going to hit them directly and all the brat was wearing was a very thin white shirt which would do absolutely nothing to keep the cold air from getting into his lungs and worsening his already compromised health. God damn it.
She noticed Midori standing to their right, occasionally stealing heated glances at the boy in cuffs; she had a quite comfortable looking military jacket slung across her shoulder, one she could most definitely have replaced in the ship. Asuka turned to the Third Child and pointed to the bound hands. "Hurry it up, the ship's almost ready."
The cuffs were removed in a haste; she wanted nothing else than to toss them as physically away from her as possible. The seemingly harmless object arose nothing but nausea and wrath in her being. As she retrieved them, Asuka felt Shinji's heated skin under her covered palm and grumbled. "Stupid brat," she muttered while unzipping her jacket. Before the male pilot could grasp what was happening the redhead had already covered his shivering form with the red garment. "Do I have to freaking put it on you, too?"
It annoyed her how he seemed to wake from a lucid dream, blinking heavily, and then gazed at the damn thing like it was a precious gift before he nodded and pushed his arms into the sleeves. Asuka rolled her eyes. "God damn you wasting my damn time, you idiot." She yanked the jacket's edges in her direction and closed the zipper all the way up to his throat, covering the DSS choker.
"Weather's about to get really cold in here," she growled at him, frowning and doing her best to avoid looking at his slightly disconnected gaze. "And with that stupid fever your idiocy just brought about, ugh…" The inflammation and cut around his forehead came into view; she removed the cap and forcefully placed on the boy's head, almost smacking him with her palm. She made sure the bruise was well covered under the cap's soft material. "There. Don't you dare puke all over my jacket, and you better not let that cap fly off, you hear me?"
Once the boy had produced that slow, detached nod of his the Second Child turned and marched over to the pink-haired crew member. She placed one hand on her hip and pointed towards the woman's coat. "I'm going to need that." Stated the Major with authority, and tried her best not to smirk when the woman's expression became scandalized. "Come on, hurry up! It's about to get freaking cold in here!"
"Why should that be my problem, Major?" Kitamaki snapped back and held the green garment closer to her chest. "You shouldn't have given your own stuff to the prisoner then!"
Rolling her eye in slight frustration, Asuka wasted no more time and ripped the jacket off the woman's hold before she could react or further protest. "You can get a replacement in the main hall. Where I'm going, even clothes are limited so stop your whining. Get the ship's gate open and start the engines. We have a window of nineteen minutes starting now."
Her penetrating glare most likely silenced the woman's next complaint and without giving her much of a choice to retaliate or further protest, she had already turned her back and was putting the jacket on as she walked. Shinji was beginning to look more and more disconnected, so instead of dealing with his slow reactions, Asuka grasped his uninjured wrist, hoisted the duffle bag on her shoulder and began to hastily walk towards the smaller VTOL designated to deliver both them and much needed medical supplies to the village.
The hangar gate opened and a gust of frigid wind threw her hair into disarray; the Major had been half-expecting to permanently part with the stupid hat as it was to most likely fly off Shinji's head, releasing her of the illogical attachment to the garment at long last. The boy's left hand flew over to it, however, keeping it in place as she dragged them both along. They climbed on the VTOL just as the wind began to pick up; the little brat almost tripped over his own feet as they went up the steps. Once aboard she almost pushed him into his seat and went to the opposite side of the vessel, sitting as far away from him as possible.
"Strap yourself to your seat." Came the biting command as she walked away. "Otherwise you'll end up splattered all over the ship." And stop playing with the roundels, you idiot. She noticed how after obeying her orders and securing the straps around his body in a mechanic fashion, Shinji's hand occasionally went up to the cap, specifically to the two pins stuck to it. Even with his eyes half-focused and glazed, his fingertips would trace over the biggest one and make the unease in her belly turn into the anger she was so familiar with. Whatever, the brat stopped shaking so I guess there's that. How nice of him to get freaking sick on top of everything else.
Having spent almost five days without eating and barely drinking, the wound she had provided and its decay under infection were just a part of his current state. Only a day before had the Third Child begun to speak and respond, and even then, strapped to his seat and occasionally making sure the cap did not fall off his head he looked unwell enough to most likely fall into another catatonic state at any given moment. There was evidence of the damage from the near Third Impact almost everywhere in the village; life was difficult but possible, achievable with enough hard work.
His weak little mind is probably going to crack like an egg after he's seen a thing or two. The thought did not sit well with her; the more the idiot's mental state decayed the more useless he'd become, and she truly had no desire to keep him from starving himself or dying in some stupid way. What did she expect to get from him? What sort of punishment was she referring to? Literally anything other than blindly doing what he's told and majorly messing up the world every time he doesn't, literally anything other than that would be a good start. Pff, fat chance of that. Look at him. What a waste, I should've just let him rot in that cage. Take a breath. Yeah right, Misato. Now I get to walk around dragging this freaking brat around like I'm what, a service dog or something?! All because the idiot chose to go and blow the world to he- what the hell is so damn fascinating about a pin, idiot?!
Asuka had been on the verge of getting up and retrieving the cap when the VTOL began to move and the sound of the engines consumed everything else. Shinji stopped playing with the pins at long last and instead focused on keeping the cap in place once more; the wind was quite unforgiving in the area they were to descend, so turbulence was expected. Soon enough the aircraft was swinging and shaking, metal wailed but held in place whilst the descent began. There was no turning back now. She was to spend a month or more secluded in the damned village and had the wonderful company of the boy whose inaction had cost her an eye, years of her life, a curse on her body and a miserable, rage-filled existence.
A second large tremor shook the ship and she watched the Third Child hold onto both the seat and the cap for dear life. You're overthinking this, she decided, and turned away to observe how the sky ever so slowly changed from crimson to a light blue. You ordered him to not let the stupid cap fly off, and like the good little boy he is, he's doing what he's told. Well, I guess it's better than him not moving at all. Need to keep that stupid fever under control, I don't have the patience to deal with Suzuhara right now.
The memory of the last battle was still very present in her mind, the rage and sense of betrayal deep-rooted in her chest reignited to an extent when she recalled the massive damage Unit 02 had suffered. She tried to stay angry, tried to deny everything else, but even through the jacket the white material of the bandages was glaring at her and reminding her how that cut had been produced in the first place, or how she had waited four days to open the cell gate and see if the idiot was still breathing. Left with nothing but her thoughts and the buzzing of the engines, Asuka crossed her arms and wondered why, exactly, she had given him her cap and jacket in the first place.
Shinji, for his part, realized that not only was reality starting to make some semblance of sense once more, his senses were returning in droplets. The sensations of cold, heat and illness were now quite perceptible, his very bones ached due to the infection and he felt constantly exhausted and feeble. He had been on the verge of dropping into a fit of tremors before Asuka… the jacket had still been warm as she placed it around him. Feeling such warmth had caught him completely off guard, and just as he was about to ask why she would ever do something for someone she wanted dead or punished, the cap had been pushed on his head.
Strawberries… His sense of smell had apparently also decided to manifest; he breathed in with every turbulence and was transported back to that night; it probably felt like an eternity ago for Asuka, yet for him the memory was as fresh as his recollection of taking out of the thrice-damned Angel. The scent was almost the same as that night. LCL and strawberries mingled with something he did not quite identify, yet familiar all the same; the boy chose to ignore the pain coming from his wrist and kept the left hand holding the cap firmly in place. I'd… like to see those pins. Had he been able to smile, he would have; the red one with the skull was particularly interesting. The red and the eyepatch had not gone unnoticed, after all; his ability to perceive and process thoughts was also coming back.
Guilt and anguish were already boiling inside his ribcage, making his gut feel empty and hollow, and the sheer weight of his foolishness was crushing his shoulders. Asuka's glare never receded either; at least caught inside his own mind, the feeling of her wrath and disgust had not been so overly penetrating.
The flight felt longer than the two hours it took to reach the ground; the silence stretched, making the redhead's anger spike and Shinji's misery expand into his consciousness.
Once the aircraft landed Asuka wasted no time in instructing him to get up, and just as the Third Child was on his feet she grabbed onto his uninjured hand and pushed him out the VTOL with a bit too much force, almost forcing Shinji to fall flat on his face. The anger was not letting her act, or rather… whatever she was trying to stifle with the anger was ever so slowly refusing to be denied. She picked both the backpack and a much heavier package filled with medical supplies and jumped off the airship in a rush.
For the Third Child the push brought the world back into focus; he recognized green grass under his feet and clean air entering his lungs; the VTOL took off merely seconds after they departed and drew his eyes to the sky. It was… blue, like Asuka had said. "What… where am I…?"
"Somewhere that doesn't stink of blood," elucidated the Second Child and pushed her fisted hands into the large military coat. "Told you the sky would be blue, didn't I? This is a place where the Lilim can live without a respirator mask. Let's go, I want to get out of this suit."
"The…" Shinji started, pushing his hands in her direction. The unease jumped at her throat in seconds; why the hell was the rage waning? "The cuffs?"
It had not gotten unnoticed by her that even with the jacket and cap on, Shinji still shivered from time to time, or how he had almost panicked when the VTOL's gate had opened. He's gonna need antibiotics for the next two or three days, she recognized. The stupid cuffs felt unnaturally heavy inside her bag. "What for?" she pointed towards the nearest standing structure in their vicinity; a small wooden house standing just where a path meandered over to the village. "You can barely stand, what danger are you to anyone like this? Now move, brat. And give me back my cap, we've landed."
"Right…" she all but snatched it from his hold once he offered the black garment back and placed it on her head in a fluid motion. "Your… your jacket." Shinji was about to reach for the zipper when she slapped the hand away and positioned herself behind him, pushing him in the house's direction.
"Keep the damn thing," came the cavernous growl. Without the hum of the WUNDER or the ominous noise of the VTOL's engines the trepidation and defeat in the boy's tone were overbearingly loud in her ears. "You probably sweated all over it, anyways. I don't want it anymore."
They walked in silence, Asuka strode ahead and occasionally glared back at him to ensure he was still moving along. Luckily enough the house was a short distance away and in less than five minutes she was pushing the door open and shoving the idiot inside.
"Ikari! Long time no see!"
Shinji blinked, and gaped at the tall, dark skinned man dressed in a doctor's coat before him. "T-Toji? You… You're alive?"
Toji's eyes softened almost immediately once he noticed the slight hollowness in Shinji's cheek, the rings under his eyes and the way he shook every now and then. Even so, for someone who had just seen a person he had thought was dead, the young man's eyes were strangely empty. "You don't remember, do you?" Still, he felt quite happy to see some actual shock and surprise shine in his old friend's features. "We actually met a few days ago, but I guess… yeah. It's okay."
"This all looks heartwarming and beautifully pathetic, but can we move this along?" Asuka snapped from where she stood, back pressed against the door and her eye fixed in the window. "Your brat friend has a fever and an infected cut on his left arm, near the wrist." She shrugged in forced nonchalance. "Can you get on that, Suzuhara?"
In a reminiscent of their younger years, Toji gave her a deadpan glare and motioned for Shinji to sit on the wooden chair located next to his small desk. "Nice to see you too, Shikinami. Sure… whatever you say, Major. And may I inquire as to how he got that cut? He certainly didn't have it when he first arrived some days ago. Oh, no need to take off the jacket, Shinji. It's rather chilly today, so just roll up the sleeve and let me see."
Thinking of the wound made her nauseated, so the Second Child chose to turn away and shrug. "I'm not the brat's mother. How should I know how he got the stupid cut?" she replied, much harsher than intended. I'm so angry at so many things at once that I can't even think straight. "Just get it over with."
"Aye, aye," the eldest Suzuhara busied himself with cutting the gauze and analyzing the jagged edges of the wound. Somebody had scrubbed every trace of pus away with brutal efficiency. "Well, it certainly looks like it was quite a nasty infection, but seems to be healing well enough right now. I'll clean and redress it, maybe after another day or two there won't be any need to bandage it, anymore."
Asuka shrugged, stole a glance at the Third Child and upon noticing he was still gaping at the fact that Toji was alive, refocused her gaze on the window. "Here, some stuff." The heavy bag fell heavily on the floor next to the village physician. "Lots of that crap Ritsuko came up with."
Toji nodded without looking either at her or the bag. He prepared the necessary items to cleanse the wound and offered Shinji an apologetic glance. "This might sting a bit, Ikari."
Damn, he mused, and set on the task as quickly and efficiently as possible. He's really not fully there yet, is he? Damn, Ikari. I can't even begin to imagine… He noticed how slowly Shinji had nodded at him and how very little he was reacting to the pain. This was festering horribly to give him this level of a fever. He's also thin, and paler than I remember. "Something cut through the skin, metallic if I had to guess. What happened to his forehead?"
"The brat had a hissy fit and started banging his head against the floor," elucidated the female pilot in a clipped tone. "Nothing broken, no infection. I thought I said to hurry this up. I feel like I haven't had a proper shower in months."
"Almost done." The cut was covered in thin gauze after he was satisfied with the overall state of it. "How are you feeling, Shinji? That welt sure looks like it hurts."
"I'm… fine. T-Toji," Well, at least he's looking a bit livelier, now. That has to count for something. The reality of seeing him turned into an adult when the last time they had seen each other they had all been Shinji's age was probably a very hard pill to swallow. "Is… I mean… your sister, and Hikari, a-and Kensuke. D-Did I-"
"All alive and accounted for, Shinji," he patted the boy's shoulder once the wound was properly redressed. "You look like you need a hot meal and some rest. Hey, Major." Pointing at one of the closet drawers as he gently tended to the surface of the cut on Shinji's forehead, Toji sighed. It was hard to see Shinji so… miserable. The look in his eyes reminded him of the redhead a bit too much. "There's a couple of those instant soups we retrieved the other day on the top right drawer. You know where the antibiotics are, so take enough for three days."
"Let the brat take his own god damned medicine. Do I look like a babysitter to you?" Asuka opened the door and stepped outside without another word. Yeah, that's about the exact reaction I was expecting. You never disappoint, do you, Shikinami? With another sigh, the man rose from the chair and started rummaging through the drawers to extract the precious rations and hand them over to the Third Child.
It did not go unnoticed by him just whose jacket Shinji was wearing. "Here, Ikari. Take one of these twice a day and you'll be back on your feet in no time. Don't worry about anything but getting better right now, there'll be time to talk soon enough."
Shinji nodded faintly, moving the jacket's hem just enough to let Toji catch a glimpse of the DSS collar hiding underneath. He frowned in distaste, pressed the small packages against the young man's chest. "Make sure to mix these with hot water. Might not taste too well, but it'll replenish you." This time around, the former jock placed both hands on his old friend's shoulders and squeezed as reassuringly as he knew how. "You're not doing so well, are you?"
"I… don't think so," Shinji chose to stare at ground, feeling the relief of knowing his friends of all had somehow survived. He recalled… light blue hair and red eyes, an absolute lack of recognition, a stranger wearing a familiar face. "Uhm… do you… know where Rei is, Toji?"
"Huh?" it took a few seconds for the doctor to relate the name to a face. "Oh, the girl from the Ayanami Series, right." The mysterious girl had been placed under Hikari's care some days before; as far as he could see she was everything but a blank canvas, certainly more than some poor human made to obey. "She's been staying with us for some days, now. She's fine, you can check on her tomorrow if you want. Now," I'd really like to just give you a hug, Shinji, and tell you everything's going to be okay. "Let's not make the Major wait, hmm? She might tear both our heads off if we do."
"Asuka…" Shinji muttered as he rose to his feet, eyes glued to the man's worn out shoes. A sudden weight lifted off his shoulders when he heard the stranger wearing Rei's face was still alive, yet the moment lasted close to nothing when he recalled the redhead's glare. "She hates me, doesn't she?"
Jeez, man. She's standing outside this door, you know, pondered the former athlete with a small smile. "I don't think so, no." He chose to answer with honesty, and felt strangely compelled to take Shinji to his home instead of letting him go with Asuka. There was so much he wanted to say to him, so much he wished to hear from him, and yet he had very little time, and almost no chance to do so. There was no time for little white lies. Toji's hand grasped the door handle. "She was the one who cleaned that cut, wasn't she? Give it some time, Shinji. Get yourself better, and then maybe try to talk to her about it."
Right, talk to her… Speaking at all was difficult; he wanted nothing more than to never speak or be heard from again, he wanted to disappear and be forgotten. Alas, he had a penance to complete, so Shinji nodded and made his way to the door. He almost laughed at the very idea of speaking to the Major in hopes of clearing the air between them. It would most certainly be easier to make the sky blue again than to speak to Asuka. "Thank you… for… thank you, Toji."
"Don't worry about it," Just as he walked out the door, Toji noticed something shine on Shinji's neck as the sun's fading sunlight clashed against it. Heh, look at that. A few of Asuka's crimson tresses were trapped on the boy's skin, just around his nape and shoulders. "Remember to eat and replenish your strength, Shinji. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Uhm… sure. Thank you." Unsure of what else to say or do, Shinji bowed. Whatever emotion was dancing in the elder Suzuhara's eyes made his chest hurt, so he opted to just stare at the ground and wonder why, exactly, he was being allowed to walk unbound and unchained, or why Asuka had bothered to bring him to the man's… whatever the house was and have the wound cleaned and redressed. I don't think I even remember… how I got that cut in the first place. "Please say hi to Hokari-san for me."
"I will, don't worry. Remember, Shinji; one pill twice a day and plenty of water. Try not to get the bandages wet, either. Oh, and try to add a little salt to those instant so-"
"Save the chitter chatter for another day, Suzuhara," Asuka cut in all of the sudden, took a firm hold of Shinji's right wrist and began to drag him away before heh could say goodbye to the Third Child. "KenKen home?" she demanded more than asked as she walked away.
"Nah, he's out in the city collecting some materials he needed for… ah, right." Touji shook his head and chuckled; the girl was already out of earshot by the time he tried to answer her inquiry. Somehow, the sight of both EVA pilots brought a strange sense of peace to his heart; in a world filled with ruin and struggle, it felt good to hope again. "There it goes, the married couple… heh."
"She hates me, doesn't she?"
"Nah," he said to the fading sun and to Shinji's retreated back, watching them walk away until they disappeared behind a small hill. "I think it might actually be the other way around, Ikari."
"Finally," she pushed the door open, minding to take a look at the Entry Plug sitting outside the small house before she dragged Shinji inside and breathed a sigh of actual relief. "You'll sleep over there," Asuka pointed at a spot near the small table in the house's living room. "I need a shower. There's water near the sink, blue bottles are the ones you can drink."
The house was not particularly large, but it was comfortable enough and it was the closest thing to a home she knew aside from the Entry Plug itself; boxes filled with pieces of machinery and objects Kensuke had collected over the years decorated the walls and corners. The weight hanging from her shoulder reminded Asuka of two elements in the backpack she no longer cared to carry; she opened the zipper and pushed the dictionary on Shinji's chest. Stupid brat was just standing there anyways, let him do something productive for once.
The boy's hands gripped onto the heavy book in a reaction quicker than any she had seen since he had moved to keep the cap in place earlier that day. His motor functions seemed to also be returning little by little. "Uhm… thank you, Asuka." Hearing those words from him made her frown deepen; even after letting him rot for days, he was showing gratitude for a meaningless book and some spare batteries. "I… Touji said to…" he produced the small packages from his pant pocket. "Is there… a kitchen?"
"Gas stove on our left, single burner. There's not a lot of gas, try not to burn the house down." She turned her back and walked over to one of two available rooms in the house to collect some much needed clothes and lock herself in the bathroom. For once in so many years, she felt uncomfortable inside the small house. "Do whatever, just nothing stupid. Brat."
The slam of the restroom door brought Shinji back to reality; he was still standing there, holding the white package in his hand, barely breathing. Gas stove… on my left. He set about boiling some of the water in a pan he found next to the stove after placing the book on the table. A tremor shook his body, much less extreme than the ones he had been having earlier, yet he still almost dropped the pan. The house looked nice enough, albeit a bit too full of boxes and what he assumed were pieces of electronics strewn about. Pour the package into the boiling water… salt. Touji said to add salt.
He hesitated to look for anything in the house; if he moved something or placed it in an improper place the female pilot was sure to let him know about it. Regardless of the heavy burden of having to somehow mend the mistakes which had caused her so much pain, he was starting to feel incredibly uncomfortable in her presence, so he opted not to look for salt and simply limit himself to mixing the strange powder once the water began to boil.
Slowly but surely, as he used a wooden spoon to ensure whatever concoction he was preparing did not go up in flames, Shinji relaxed. It was the first time in too long that he simply cooked; there was no piloting, no EVAs, no Apocalypse, there was no Father glaring down at him like he was a tool or an insect, there was no Misato willing to blow his head off. Even Asuka's permanent glare faded off his tired mind for a few precious seconds. After finding two bowls sitting to his right and realizing there was a faint, spicy smell coming off the pan Shinji's stomach grumbled. He was starting to feel hunger and thirst more acutely than before.
The… soup tasted of nothing he could identify, just an almost imperceptible aftertaste of ginger and what felt like an imitation of chicken stew, yet he still gulped it down along with the antibiotic when Asuka's words rang loud in his brain. He was supposed to eat and take care of himself, supposed to survive and pay his penance, whatever it meant. Making sure to pour a more generous portion in the second bowl and covering it with a small plate after laying it on the table, Shinji all but collapsed. The jacket kept him warm after he practically fell on a small futon placed on the floor; it drove away the shakes as night descended and the air became colder. He opened the dictionary to find the next word, rewound the SDAT and tried to focus on the words printed in the page.
'Inaction. In·ac·tion: 1. Failure to do anything that might provide a solution to a problem. 2. Lack of action when some is expected or appropriate. 3. Lack of action or activity.'
"Inaction," he whispered to the empty living room, head lolling to the side. "Failure to do anything that might… sigh… provide a solution to a problem…" His lids closed a few moments afterwards as fatigue won over. Shinji fell to his side, clutching the book close to his chest and was awarded a second dreamless slumber.
Asuka found him lying on the futon and breathing deep and levelly. She spent as much time as possible in the bathroom and after dressing into a shirt, shorts and the military coat she had collected, she took the bowl resting on the table and emptied in a few gulps.
"Bah," she grumbled, glaring down at the empty pan and the white package lying next to it. "It's all water in the end."
Intent on playing with her console until either the sun rose or tiredness dragged her to a restless slumber, the redhead almost walked by the small note and box lying by the table. Kensuke's quick handwriting had her squinting at the kanji.
'Hey, Shikinami! Sorry I couldn't be here, had to go find some pieces for the water pumps that broke a week ago. Found something before I ran into you some days ago, you might want to take a look! Take care. Kensuke.'
The box contained an old, damaged cellphone with a broken screen where apparently a single file was stored. Sure, whatever. Let's see what can be so exciting about a stupid video. She took a seat on one of two available chairs, crossed her legs and pressed play on the device; the mere contact of her finger had the entire thing squeaking in protest. This thing is about to freaking disintegrate in my palm. What the hell was he think-
"If it wasn't for Commander Ikari's decision, you could've been killed!"
The desperation and fear in Maya's voice brought her attention to the feed; Asuka's eye widened. The video was badly filmed and continued to move as though whoever had recorded it was running or moving constantly, yet the figure of Unit 01 standing on top of the Geofront was unmistakable.
"That has nothing to do with it!" Shinji's voice was also unmistakable even badly amplified through the cracked and beaten speaker. What… what am I watching, right now?
"But it's the truth!" The Evangelion stomped on the pyramid's tip and even the ground under whoever was recording the video shook.
"Didn't I say that has nothing to do with it!?" It was by far the most furious she had ever heard Shinji's voice become; she had honestly believed it was impossible for him to be so incensed. "My father… he tried to kill Asuka… with my own hands!"
"What…" she said out loud. The video was stopped and she stole a furtive glance at the still sleeping form of the Third Child. Her legs carried her over to the leftmost corner of the house, where the noise of the video was as far from him as possible.
Unit 01 stepped on the Geofront again, and again, and again. "Why?! WHY?! Why, damn it!? You don't understand anything, Father! I was a fool to believe in you!" It felt as though Shinji was absolutely willing and determined to… destroy the pyramid under his feet. "You should just go and lose someone important to you too, father! Then you'll understand!"
The image was suddenly blurred and the video ended just as abruptly as it began. What did he… what did he just say? She watched and listened intently to every word a second time, unconsciously walking closer to where the boy slept. Someone important to you…
For the first time ever since Unit 01's sudden awakening, Asuka's eye gazed upon Shinji devoid of any anger or resentment. He was still holding onto the dictionary and shivered every few minutes; she picked the blanket resting in the bedroom she normally slept in and covered him with it before the actions registered in her brain. Why did it matter to her at all if he was cold or not, after all?
"You should just go and lose someone important to you, too!" The WonderSwan lay on the table, forgotten for the time being as it rested next to her cap. The blue of the smaller roundel glistened under the faint light of the screen.
Unbearable pain around his midsection and leg forced his eyes open; this was the second time he had expected never to wake back up, however, the pain refused to disappear and leave him be. Perhaps the Plug Suit's life support system and compression were the only reason he had not yet bled to death or died of shock, perhaps the experiences in piloting had forced his pain threshold to not even allow him to get into shock anymore.
The sky swam in and out of focus, every time the agony of his wounds forced his eyes open, he saw less and less blue as dark spots manifested in his vision. Even the breathtaking firmament was getting dark and blotted. How long had passed ever since the Entry Plug crashed on the building? Strange, that his decision to push Rei to the bottom of the cylindrical structure would keep her safe from harm. The long hair looked good on her, hopefully none of it had gotten stained with his blood.
Where… could she be…? Shinji wondered and coughed, letting his head lull to the left. There was a fleeting memory of Rei hurrying somewhere after saying some words to him that sounded more a low hum than anything else. Shinji coughed and wheezed, his right hand came to instinctively rest around the rod protruding out of his midsection in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding. What was the point? He had his permission, did he not?
So, do I now climb into the EVA and fight? He asked himself, recalling the last conversation he'd had with anyone who was not Asuka, Rei, Kaworu or his father. No. Yes. It's up to you, in the end. The voice responded with a low, calm undertone. But, I've been… I've been trying to find a way to help… to fight… for weeks. A smile, a sad, knowing smile was thrown his way; back then the scenery had been green and blue and brown and beautiful, a small piece of paradise in the midst of hell. Of course you have, you feel guilt. You want redemption. Even so close to death, he still recalled how his knees had dug deeper into his chest as he sat there, by the small lake with the stranger. I want to mend my mistakes. He remembered saying, almost in a whisper. Eyes filled with pain, suffering and understanding, a hand on his shoulder, a knowing smile yet again. The mistakes you have suffered for.
Without having the SDAT to hold, the fingers of his left hand shook and accidentally grazed against the pin stuck to his leg. However exhausted and near death he was, Shinji forced his aching fingers to work properly for what it felt like the last time and retrieved the small object, holding on to it with every bit of his fading strength. The small devil insignia was pressed against him, he held it close to his chest and smiled in between coughs and wheezes; the red, white and black decorating the object glistened ever so slightly against the filtering sunlight. He held it between the shaking fingers for a few heartbeats, trying to focus his fading vision in the small, cute pirate skull looking back at him.
Afraid his hands would drop the trinket as they had dropped the SDAT, he clutched the insignia and pressed it where his heart was still faintly beating, adamant on not parting from it at any point. Blood continued to trickle down, time passed, his breathing became slow and labored, and still he held onto the pin like his fading life depended on it. He had promised to bring it back, after all; whatever the cost, he'd deliver the trinket to its rightful owner.
Even when giving the small roundel back produced a deep sense of agony in his battered chest, he was glad to have carried it for as long as he had. It almost felt like… a part of her, one he would much rather never again do without. A strangled sob mixed with a cough forced his entire body to contort in absolute agony, so he focused all of his attention not on the blue sky, but on the small devil held in his palm. Did he really have to give it back? It would be nice to keep it, if only for a while more, maybe he could hold on to it until his life finished dripping away. The small insignia had provided solace and been the source of bravery and determination not too long ago. Had it been a gift? A keepsake? An amulet? It's cute… he pondered tiredly. His chest was light, for once; having said his peace and his truths to those he cared about, Shinji felt as ready as he would ever be to leave the world he had desperately tried to save.
Breathing was becoming too painful and his leg felt like it was on fire, imaginably if he stopped moving altogether the agony would dissipate at last. Twice already he had fallen asleep, twice had the pain ripped him from the well-earned rest which awaited in oblivion. With the last of his fading consciousness, Shinji wished that whatever he had managed to do had worked in some positive way; he had seen a blue sky after falling, the sun rising, the air fresh and devoid of the stench of blood. What do you want, Shinji? Asked the stranger in his memory. His hold on the roundel tightened.
I think I just want to… live. With… with Asuka, if that were ever possible, if she'd… let me. I want her to… forgive me. I want to make it up to her for not… for not being there. I want to read, and cook and... It's stupid. The same small, knowing smile shone bright in his memory. An invisible hand squeezed his uninjured shoulder. Doesn't sound stupid to me, sounds like a fine goal. if you keep trying, then… maybe you'll have it. These limes are pretty good, wouldn't you say so? Do you know what I dream of, at times? What keeps me going through this Hell? Heh, it's kind of dumb. Sometimes I simply wish for… heh…
"A world where everyone…" he wheezed as his thumb caressed the skull's eye-patch with fondness. "Can enjoy… a nice, cold glass of… lemonade…" A world where Asuka could taste the food of a Bento again, a world where Misato smiled. If he had achieved even that one, simple thing… then it had all been worth it.
He heard voices from afar, screams and commands; the sound of an explosion faintly rang in his ears. For the time being, he had stopped coughing up blood with every breath, yet every movement meant having the metal rod cruelly bite into his guts. Just as the nonexistent hand from his memory drew away a very real, warm and strong one curled against his shoulder. His fading hearing registered a faint gasp, he saw a flash of red in between the dark spots of his vision, and everything went quiet.
The roundel never fell from his grasp; he focused every last bit of his being into holding onto the small trinket against his chest. Someone was yelling far, far away. He had achieved some level of peace, at long last, and for once ever since crash landing on the building, the pain subsided and faded away.
AN: Yo! Hah! I felt really bad about this poor story to be honest, abandoned and isolated for seven fucking years, so I felt obliged to put up at least one more chappie of it before the release of 4.0. I'd love to promise yall I'll keep the chappies short, sort of 14k words and such, but the words ring hollow in my ears. As is usual, each chapter will probably be longer than the former until we reach the typical, episodic 40k words chapters.
Is Shinji ded? Gimme a sec, lemme ask (Turns back) "Yo! Is you ded?!"
Shin-chan coughs up blood. "Not… yet…"
(Shrugs) Well, there ya go. Not yet.
I'm liking the way this story is going so far so I'll probably be coming back to it for more updates as time passes. Other projects such as the Epilogue for Scar Tissue and the next episode of Relapse might take more importance. Honestly, though, writing this story comes quite naturally and almost feels like a break from my other stuff so yeah. I'll try to regularly update, somehow.
Special thanks and shoutout to my mofockers from the AsuShin Trash Discord channel for helping me so much and keeping my ass inspired to write! Love yall!
Now, I thank you all for your time and for reading this little baby! Let's see where this goes! Any thoughts, suggestions and everything else are welcome! Thanks so much for reading! Love to you all, my friends! Remember to stay healthy! Remember to love!