You Can (Not) Run Away

Chapter 3:

Twelve black monoliths floated in a circle around a partially-shadowed figure. Each were inscribed with bright red lettering and a corresponding number written in a highly-contrasting red color as well as the words "SOUND ONLY" written just below.

"Ikari, we have come to the understanding that you gave that toy of yours to your one son," SEELE 02 remarked.

"Indeed, and there should be no worry," Gendo Ikari coolly reassured. "The boy is well under my control."

A different voice chimed in. "And what of his medical records? Are you saying we should not be concerned about the boy's ability to pilot?"

"I can assure you that the situation is not being mistreated. The Third Child's piloting will not be hindered by this inconvenience, and your scenario will still continue."

The communications came to brief halt, silenced by a gentle whirring of distant machinery.

SEELE 01 was the first to speak up again. "The Fourth Angel has appeared," he stated, "just as the Scrolls have indicated. Alert your organization, Commander Ikari, you are dismissed to your toy. We shall continue this conversation another time."

One-by-one the monoliths disappeared into the darkness, the red illumination lost in the shadows of the darkened conference room.

Toji stretched his legs across the lightly-padded flooring of the emergency shelters. He strung his shoes around his neck, flexing his unveiled toes as they breathed in the 'fresh' air of the underground. He leaned back with the weight of body collapsed through his palms which propped him upright as his eyes were lost in a pensive gaze.

Beside him, Kensuke sat cross-legged and in his usual position: hunched over a video-camera as he rifled through his recordings as he determined what to delete.

Shinji wasn't there, obviously, as he was actually the one fighting the Angel as the famed pilot of that thing they called Evangelion. Toji curled his fingers against the flooring and anxiously fidgeted his legs as he did so. The conversation he shared with Hikari on the basketball courts- why did she care about him so much anyway? Was it just her being protective about him? Everyone around Shinji seemed to be that way, always looking out for the kid in the wheelchair- Toji presumed.

"Can you believe this?" Kensuke audibly muttered.

Toji snapped forward out of his stupor. "Believe what?" he asked.

"We're missing all the action!" the Aida boy exclaimed. "The government won't show any of the battle to us civilians! This is news censorship! An incredible historic event is taking place and I can't believe I'm missing out!"

"So? What're you doing to do about it? You're not seriously thinking about sneaking out!"

"I gotta see the battle! It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance!" he exaggerated. "If we let this opportunity escape us, we may lose it forever!"

"You're going to get killed out there if you go," Toji cautiously observed.

"Who's to say the risk isn't the same here in shelters? Just please help me unlock the gate!" Kensuke pleaded with a quieter voice. "Besides, don't you think we should be out there supporting Shinji on the front lines?"

Toji groaned. He knew his military-geek friend wasn't going to stop with his incessant begging. "Fine," he sighed.

Kensuke cheered, and the two boys rose from their meager seating arrangement and found their way to Hikari's station.

"Class Rep," Toji nagged, "we both gotta use the bathroom."

Hikari raised her eyebrow. "Fine, but you really should've gone before this."

Toji shrugged it off in his 'cool-guy' manner and led the way to the bathrooms with Kensuke eagerly tailing him.

"The Fourth Angel would show up while Commander Ikari's away," Misato noted. "It's a lot sooner than expected."

"The last time they gave us fifteen years," Makoto Hyuga commented, "the break's gotten shorter this time around."

"They never care about our situation, do they? They're the kind we women hate the most," Misato responded with a cheeky attitude.

Above, on the view-screen in the command center, an energetic barrage of explosions harmlessly tickled the surface of the demonic Fourth Angel; some sort of crude representation of an oceanic creature, composed of mauve skin, a false set of eyes along where a head would be, and an array of arthropodal limbs, akin to some sort of scorpion's which enclosed its underbelly.

"It's a waste of the taxpayer's money," Sub-Commander Fuyutski smugly observed.

Shigeru Aoba rotated his chair around to address the supervising official. "The committee is demand we dispatch an Evangelion again."

"They're more obnoxious than the Angels!" Misato quirked. "I'd have mobilized even if they hadn't asked!"

Kensuke sprinted with exceptional speed that even Toji, a considerably athletic person, found it laborious to keep up with him as they raced up the stone steps of the woody-hilltop. They breezed through the entrance of the wooden torii as they took the final steps onto the plateau which overlooked the grand panorama of Tokyo-3.

That was when they saw it, the gargantuan beast that single-handedly evacuated the entirety of city's citizens to their shelters. It was understandably so, as its size easily transcended beyond the heights of any skyscraper, even as it appeared with a hunch near its 'neck'.

Kensuke quickly positioned his video-camera at an optimal viewing angle and looked through the lens. "Cool! All my efforts really paid off!" he giddily exclaimed. "I've been waiting for this moment all my life!"

Toji would not admit it, but he was scared. He was terrified, actually. He had never seen such enormous capacity before, save for those old movies about giant monsters attacking Tokyo. No, this was a real threat, nothing of those found in fiction. He stood, gazing into the lifeless 'eyes' of the abomination, the surreal unusualness of the moment pulling him from reality.

The screeching sound of metal scraping against more metal shook the ground, like a massive train was traveling at top-speed through the empty streets as if it were a car speeding along an empty highway. A military-style, smooth-faced building that lacked windows slid open one of its sides to reveal an equally-enormous, metallic titan painted with polished purple and vibrant green highlights.

'This is it! That must be him!'

"There it is!" Kensuke shouted for him. "The Evangelion! That's Shinji!"

The mecha turned its enormous head upwards as if it were awakened from a deep slumber as it held onto a large version of some sort of futuristic military-grade rifle. The Angel was standing right before the building it entered from, just across the other side and blind to its sudden appearance.

The Evangelion swung around with great speed and dexterity and fired a deafening bullet storm at the Angel. A cloud of smoke quickly rose, covering the flashes of light caused by the miniature explosions that the gun's ammunition caused.

There was a pause in the attack as the Eva seemed to hesitate, believing that the target was already subdued. Two neon, pinkish-purple whips violently shot out from the smoke at an alarming speed, slicing through the building like a hot knife through a slab of butter, causing Unit 01 to collapse to the ground by reflex. The tip of the gun was also caught by the Angel's attack, rendering it useless.

Nearby, another military-type building opened to reveal more gigantic armaments, but the Evangelion failed to budge from its defeated sitting position.

"C'mon, Shinji! Get up!" Kensuke hopelessly prodded to his friend in the Eva. "I think you must've really messed him up back there!"

Toji curled his hands into fists and his eyebrows scrunched together in irritation. "Oh shut up!" he shouted.

The Suzuhara boy turned back to the ongoing battle right as Eva Unit 01 dodged another flurry of whip-attacks sent by the Fourth Angel. One by one did the surrounding edifices seem to crumble as the Evangelion barely evaded each incursion until the thick cable unwillingly detached from the back like an active plug being yanked from an electrical outlet.

Before Toji and Kensuke could register the organic weaponry wrapping itself around the Eva's leg, a blur of purple and green was flung into the sky right above where they were standing. They screamed in pure terror as the robot dropped from the heavens, instantaneously descending toward their position. The ensuing earthquake was worse than any Toji had experienced before, especially far worse than any of the natural ones that would infrequently rumble Japan's landscape.

He opened his eyes and brought his head out of his hands to find himself and Kensuke lodged between two purple logs. The smell… what was that? It smelled of iron, something familiar… no, he could recognize it from the times he had picked fights with older kids or he was hit in the face during basketball games. It was the smell of blood, and judging by his condition as well as Kensuke's, it was not coming from either of them- it was coming from the Evangelion. But why did a robot smell of blood…?

The two boys trembled in fear as they looked up to the head of the giant that nearly crushed them- into the eyes of the boy who was the third member of their trio as they silently pleaded for survival.

The Angel approached, sending its two strings of organic weaponry at the Eva. Toji spat out the dirt that entered his mouth when the Evangelion rushed its hands away from around the boys to catch the electric tentacles in its 'bare' hands. He and Kensuke stared in an uncomfortable mixture of shock, awe, and fright pure, white energy sparkled in front of their unshielded eyes.

"Why isn't he attacking back?" Toji shouted.

"Maybe he can't move because we're down here!" Kensuke answered regretfully. "He can't because of us!"

Toji looked back at the Evangelion, thinking about what Kensuke had said. Shinji was stuck, and if he would get up and move, they would be flattened in the following action. He could do it so easily, and perhaps even out of necessity. This 'Angel' as they called it was powerful, more powerful than Shinji in his Eva. Two lives would mean nothing to the entire world, just another sacrifice for the greater good- a small price to pay for victory.

So why would Shinji not move? It was because he wouldn't do it, Toji reminded himself. He had known the new kid for a short amount of time, and even a jock like himself could recognize that Shinji wouldn't be able to forsake the lives of two others.

Before long, the back of the Evangelion split apart with precise organization and an elongated white pill shot out of its exposed machinery. A mechanical yet familiar voice blared over the speakers.

"You two! Get in! Now!"

It was Misato, as they quickly discovered, the buxom guardian that the two longed for! It was unfortunate for them that this time she was clearly in not in the mood for ambiguous flirtation, and neither were Toji and Kensuke. They hastily obeyed her commands, and climbed up some sort of fold-up ladder that descended from the pill marked "Unit 01".

As they entered, Toji could feel the sensation of a warm liquid as it began to fill the rest of the plug. He pinched his nose as the fluids raced up to his lips, and beside him he could hear Kensuke complaining about his camera getting ruined by the strange, water-like substance.

The plug lit up, and Toji and Kensuke quickly realized that they could actually breathe in this blood-smelling water. More so did they realize that they could hear the struggling sounds coming from Shinji who was dressed in some sort of skin-tight, blue and white jumpsuit and sitting in some sort of pilot's chair with his gloved hands tightly wound around two control yolks as if he were some sort of jet pilot with two joysticks.

Toji looked up at the screen which Shinji's focus was fixated upon, finding himself face-to-face to the Angel's underbelly. Once he saw the Evangelion's grasp of the whips did he finally notice that his hands were giving off some sort of faint, tingling sensation as if minor jolts of electricity were scurrying across his palms.

He looked back at his crippled friend, his hands violently shaking the control yolks as he appeared to be taking the brunt of the pain. Shinji bared his teeth as he held in the pain and yanked the handles back then forcefully slamming them forward, sending the floating Angel off him and back in the direction of the city.

The view rose, ascending to a vague approximation of sixty meters in the air. The tingling sensation in his hands stopped, but a very faint burn lingered.

"Retreat!" Misato's voice erupted through the entry plug. "Get out of there! Utilize Recovery Route 34 and retreat to the east side of the mountain!"

Toji looked over the cockpit's chair at the pilot, whose dark brown hair had cast a shadow over his sad blue eyes. He kept his head low, seemingly unconfident and unsure- the exact opposite of any sort of hero they portrayed in movies and television. A lump formed in Toji's throat as he looked at the downcast Shinji, and he couldn't help but feel guilty that his actions had caused this.

"Shinji," Kensuke started as he lowered his now-defunct camera, "didn't she say to retreat? We should probably get out of here!"

The glasses-wearing boy's words apparently fell upon deaf ears as Shinji braced his hands back onto his controls. He gripped them with ferocious intent and pressed a button to unsheathe a knife from his left shoulder-pylon. Toji noticed Shinji's head slowly raise, his eyes revealing him to be in some sort of bizarre, alienated trance.

"Obey my orders, Shinji!" Misato shouted out again. "You've got to retreat! Shinji!"

The glowing orange timer at the side of the viewing panel of the entry plug ticked to one minute, letting out an alarming beeping noise and changing the color to a daring red hue. Shinji wailed in some sort of beastly battle cry as he charged down the hill. It was almost like he was a feral beast breaking out of its unwanted cage and lashing out at its captors.

The tendrils punctured through the Evangelion's stomach area, sending major feedback to its pilot and muted ones to its passengers. Toji winced in the pain and rubbed his hand across his chest to ensure there was no actual object that pierced him.

Shinji let out his bloodcurdling shriek as he held the brunt of the stabbings and lunged for the Angel. He aimed the knife he wielded toward the glowing sphere that radiated mystical crimson brilliance, which presented itself as some sort of cryptic power source.

The weapon broke the surface, entering the orb and causing the entire cockpit to rumble. The plug was completely reddened by the low-power light and the shining of the core itself, and incredible amounts of sparks flew across the Evangelion's face like a welder getting an up-close view of their work.

The tendrils squirmed through the Eva like a pair of snakes trying to slither through narrow mouse holes, sending while shocks through its cabin. A different female voice began counting down at the thirty second mark, apparently for the time that Evangelion had remaining. Not once during this time had Shinji stopped his screaming, to Toji's and Kensuke's disbelief.

Right before the countdown came to an end, the crack which the knife had entered in the Angel's core grew, splitting it open like a piece of glass. The red glow disappeared as the Evangelion's power supply dwindled, eventually darkening the entire plug. The Angel was dead, and the only sound that remained was Shinji's pathetic whimper as he held back choked tears with his hands still firmly pressed against the controls.

Toji was at a loss for words although his mouth hung open as if he meant to say something. The guilt that festered in him before only grew at this point as he was unable to find the right thing to say. It was apparent that Kensuke was too far in shock as well, judging by his similar reaction. It was not long before the rescue team had opened the hatch, finding the three boys frozen in place.

They hastily removed Shinji from the entry plug, settling him into a wheelchair and draping him with a towel to dry off the excess orange liquid that was dripping off his plugsuit. Toji took a hesitant step forward as they pushed him away, extending his hand out and opening his mouth as if he was meant to say something. It was too late, however, as the NERV workers were swift and efficient in their task, and the wheelchair-bound boy was already gone.

Days after the fight

"So Misato, how's our little pilot doing?" Ritsuko asked, not attempting to look up from the glowing lights of the computer screen.

"He's still in bed," Misato answered softly.

"Do you think he's still willing to pilot?"

"I'm not sure," she said tentatively. "Piloting Eva… I don't think he likes it anymore."

"Doesn't he?"

"He can walk in it, but now every time he gets in Eva it only brings him pain. I can't imagine putting that much on a fourteen-year-old kid."

"We don't have any other option. These kids are the only ones who can pilot Eva."

"But why, Rits? Why them?" Misato questioned.

Ritsuko's eyes stayed glued to the image of the bandaged and scarcely-dressed Rei Ayanami as a multi-colored grid of lights hovered over her body.

"It's just the way it is…"

Shinji emptied his catheter into the toilet.

God, how he despised it.

It was disgusting, some reminder that he was never going to be normal.

The only part of it that was bearable was the fact that he had been used to it for so long that he grew accustomed to its presence.

He looked into the mirror, examining the sad reflection that greeted him. His eyes were hardly open and small bags formed underneath. How long had it been since the last Angel arrived? Three days, maybe? No, not that long. Maybe two. Or maybe even four. He didn't know anymore; the days seemed to blend together.

After washing up, he headed back to his bedroom. He gripped onto the bed cover and haphazardly pulled himself onto the mattress, leaving his flaccid legs to awkwardly slope off to one side. He never even bothered with the sheets which were already underneath his weight and too bothersome to adjust anyway. Shinji turned his head to the alarm clock's red glow. It was just past seven in the morning, as redundantly notified by the light that trickled through his blinds.

He was dressed in his customary sleeping attire, as he had not bothered to go through the annoying process of getting changed. Why should he anyway? He was not going anywhere, not even if he tried. He remembered the words of Misato's lecture that came to him after his fight with the Fourth Angel and how she was incredibly irritated with him- the first time she had been since he had moved in.

She had a right to be mad at him. He disobeyed her direct orders. Why did he anyway? He didn't really know the answer himself. If he retreated, what would that have accomplished? The Angel would have won, probably caught up with him and taken him by surprise. Or it would have destroyed the city. Did it matter? No, it didn't. The Angel was defeated, and that was all that mattered, right…?

Angels. That's what it was all about. They were the reason he was brought to the city- the reason he almost had some sort of purpose. They were the reason Eva existed, and by extent the reason he could walk again. Part of him just wanted it to be over. The pain he felt in Eva, the pain he caused to others. That part of him wanted to run away- run far away. Away from the pain and grief, just anywhere that wasn't here.

But he knew he couldn't. What difference would it make? He would just end up where he was now. It didn't matter. Nothing did. He looked over at his beloved S-DAT resting at the opposite end of his bed near his feet, much too far away for him to muster his strength to retrieve it.

"Shinji, wake up! How long are you going to be avoiding school?" Misato's voice came from behind his bedroom door, interrupting his conflictions. "It's been three days now."

He heard her, albeit it was a bit muffled. What was he to respond? A large part of him refused to go to school, although the rational side recognized that his already meager grades would only further tumble.

"Shinji," Misato called again. "Shinji?"

A sliver of light crept into the bedroom as Misato peeked inside. Shinji reacted to the sudden entrance of the light by rolling over as best he could, turning his back to his guardian as she took a step inside.

"Shinji," she began, "are you just going to lie around in bed all day? Unit 01's already completed repaired. You're the pilot, are you just going to leave it sitting there?"

Shinji frowned, although Misato would not be able to see it.

What did Unit 01 mean to him anyway? Unit 01 gave him something- something he had longed for so desperately. But piloting it… fighting the Angels… why did it have to hurt so much? Toji's sister was hurt. He felt like he betrayed some sort of unspoken trust between his friend. It was his fault. He had training. If only he had been more-

Shinji's thoughts were cut short by the sound of the soft chime of the doorbell.

"Just a minute!" Misato shouted down the hallway. She turned back to Shinji's limp form which still had not bothered to even spare her a glance.

Toji gulped. It had been days since the last time he and Kensuke saw Shinji, and the sad image of him whimpering at his controls was still fresh in his mind. He knew he needed to apologize, but the opportunity slipped through the grasp of his fingers each time. He first tried calling, but apparently neither he nor Misato were home at the time of his attempt. There was no second time. Beside him, Kensuke patiently awaited the arrival of Shinji's guardian.

The door slid open, revealing the woman herself dressed in her classic NERV attire made apparent by her short red jacket that suited her so well.

"Hi, you two," she greeted as she adjusted her hastily-prepared outfit.

"Uh- hi, Miss Misato!" Toji stumbled, bringing his feet together and straightening his posture. "I-is Shinji ready to go back to school…?"

Kensuke shot him a strange look as he noted his friend's awkward reintroduction.

"Shinji's… not feeling not feeling well today," she hesitantly answered.

"Oh," Toji dismayed.

"Why don't you come back another time?"

"… right."

Misato sent to boys off, giving her best attempt at a smile and a friendly wave goodbye.

"That was Toji and Kensuke right then," she said to Shinji after she walked back to the entrance of his room. "I told them to come back again another time."

She drifted back out into the hallway. "I… thought I should let you know that. They're worried about you too, you know," she said. She slid the door shut, the faint traces of light barely visible through the bottom and top cracks.

Rain pattered against the windows, each individual droplet streaking down the side of the window pane. The sun was well-hidden behind layers of overlapping dark gray, not a trace leftover. The fields were soaked, along with the running tracks and basketball courts being flooded with water.

"Hey, didya notice?" Kensuke prodded Toji, as he glanced over to the other side of the classroom. "Ayanami's back!"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. What's up with those bandages?"

"Well, didn't Shinji mention that she got hurt in an accident involving Eva? That must be why she's like that! Call me crazy, but I think it's worth the risk to pilot one of those bad boys!"

"You idiot, you were already in one! Wasn't that enough? And is it really worth it to get hurt like that all the time?"

"They are the cutting edge of mankind's prowess," the geek ranted. "What I would give to actually pilot one…"

"There's no way I'm getting in one. They'd have to bribe me or something. It's all too stupid and dangerous."

"Well it's much more exciting than sitting by and doing nothing! C'mon, you gotta at least admit that!"

Toji rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, man."

And as on any other day, their elderly teacher meandered his way into the classroom, ready to initiate another tedious lecture. Toji peered over nonchalantly, catching a glimpse at the newly-returned, enigmatic student with the light blue hair.

Bandages wrapped around her that apparently remained from some prior accident. Regardless, she sat with her head in her available arm, hardly even paying any attention to whatever that day's lesson was going to be about. She stared through the window, although thanks to the gloomy weather, not much was to be seen. He silently remarked that Shinji also possessed his own injuries from fighting the Angels on top of his more obvious one. These pilots, they were the same age as him, weren't they? Regardless, they defended the city. They were out on the front lines, protecting everyone from the Angels. Shinji, although previously disadvantaged, still fought, even though it was less than a month since his arrival.

Toji admired that. Whether it was out of necessity or desire to pilot, Shinji persevered. He sighed. These pilots were indeed strange people…

The school day drifted to a conclusion, and most of the students eager to head home or to the arcade especially since the rain had cleared. On most normal days, Toji would fall into that category. Today, he had a mission. He headed down the staircase in front of the school, waving off Kensuke as he attended to clean-up duties.

He took a familiar route, one often chosen for his morning commute and often accompanied with another friend. Soon he found himself standing right outside the apartment building pressing the elevator's 'up' button. As the doors slid open, he quickly took his first step across the threshold, only to redact it just as quickly when he recognized the person standing inside.

Or rather, sitting inside.

Shinji looked up from his wheelchair, his hands already gripping wheels as he was ready to depart. The two shared a brief stare before Toji stepped back outside of the elevator in attempt to make room for Shinji as he exited. The standing boy noticed that behind his seat was some sort of duffle bag strapped to the back.

"Uh, hey! Shinji, I was just looking for you," Toji said, clearing his throat. "Look man, I'm sorry for what I did."

Shinji looked back to him curiously. "For-"

"-for tossing you around a few days ago," he interrupted. "I shouldn't have done it- I just couldn't control myself."

"… you had a right to do it. I couldn't control the Eva and your sister got hurt-"

"Hey, shut it!" Toji suddenly snapped back.

Shinji was slightly taken back, confused at the swift change in tone.

"It wasn't your fault, okay? I get it now! I guess I kinda knew that before but I couldn't admit it. I'm sorry, okay? Listen, the doctors say Sakura's gonna be fine… eventually. She's just gonna be the in the hospital for a while."

Shinji opened his mouth again, almost as if to say something.

"-you can hit me back, or something," Toji confessed. "I won't be satisfied until you do."

"I don't think I can-"

"Please," he said bending forward slightly in an open position to receive a punch. "I don't care if you'll forgive me, but I need it. I'm the one who deserves it for being such an ass."


"C'mon man, just do it already!"

Shinji paused and examined the tracksuit-wearing person before him. He balled his right hand and swung the same arm back in energetic preparation. His fist jolted forward in surprising rapidity, striking Toji's left cheek with a powerful right hook. He exhaled as he retracted his arm and Toji stepped back, cradling the injured side of his face with his hands and wincing at the pain.

"Huh. You got a pretty good hit," he noted and he held back the pain. "Thanks… I needed that."

Surprisingly, Toji smiled back at Shinji after he finished rubbing his cheek. "Hey, one more thing. I was going to go visit Sakura, and she doesn't get too many visitors. I was wondering… if you don't have anything to do… maybe you'd want to come with me to see her? I mean, if you're busy or something that'd be cool too, you don't have to go. She doesn't blame you or anything, I just figured she might want some company or whatever, you know?"

Shinji was taken back by his offer. First, an apology and now this? Perhaps he really meant it…

"… okay," he questionably nodded.

"Eh- really? Great! She's been pretty bored in there all day and I'm sure she'd love some visitors. Hey, I just gotta make a quick stop before go, okay?"


Turns out that stop really meant a flower shop located on the route to the hospital which Toji quickly ducked inside, hoping to avoid anyone he knew other than Shinji. A few minutes later, he returned with a small arrangement of rose-pink cherry blossoms freshly trimmed and neatly tied together by the stems with a matching pink ribbon.

Just the sight of his tough-guy, athletic, top of the basketball roster friend holding such a dainty and perhaps demasculinizing object made Shinji to nearly fall out of his wheelchair.

"Sh-shut up!" Toji barked, swinging back into his usual persona. "You're a dead man if you tell anyone about these!"

Normally, Shinji would respect his friends' requests. That is, if he was able to hear them over his own laughter.

It wasn't before too long that they arrived at the hospital. Toji greeted the young secretary behind the desk and she responded back with a cheerful wave and head nod as they passed by. The two reached their designation after Toji skillfully navigated through the hallways, finding themselves right before the door of Room 210.

"Well, we're here," Toji stated before he gave the door a gentle knock.

"Come in!" came a young, squeaky voice from inside the room.

He entered, flowers in one hand and a cheerful attitude in the other.

"Toji!" Shinji heard the girl gleefully call out as he still sat outside by the entrance.

"Hey!" Toji greeted in return.

Shinji bit the inside of his bottom lip and tentatively entered the room. As expected, a little girl rested on the hospital bed. She was young, somewhere younger than eight years old. She had brown hair not dearly as darkened as her brother's and slightly lighter skin- although the Suzuhara facial attributes were still vaguely noticeable.

Her arm was bent into a cast that was suspended around her neck as was her leg that suspended to the ceiling. Regardless of these obvious signs of injury, she wore a sweet expression- an innocent one void of the malicious intentions of the world. In fact, it almost appeared as if her smile could convince someone that she was actually happy that she was admitted to the hospital.

"And you brought a friend! Hello!"

"Uh- hi!" Shinji awkwardly greeted.

"Sakura, this is Shinji," Toji introduced. "Uh, Shinji Ikari."

"Wow!" she cheered. "You're the one who saved the city in the giant robot, aren't you!"

"I, uh- I guess…"

"C'mon Ikari, no need to be modest!" Toji commended. "And that's twice now, remember Sakura?"

"You were so cool out there!"

"I- uh, thanks?" Shinji stammered. "I'm… I'm really sorry, I didn't mean this to happen to you."

"Nah, s'okay!" she grinned. "It was an accident, right? Accidents happen to all of us every now and then. Toji! You brought me flowers? They're so pretty~!"

Shinji sat, partially stunned by her response. That was it? It wasn't just that she so easily forgave him, but she had brushed it off like the accident was nothing!

"Yup! I know they're your favorite, kiddo," Toji smiled as he rustled her hair.

Shinji shared that smile. He had never seen this side of him before, and it was as if punching him indirectly punched the metaphorical wall between the two since the accident with the Third Angel.

It was refreshing- the most refreshing feeling he felt in a long, long time.



I've finally completed this chapter. It was a bit of a challenge, as it mostly focused in on Toji's perspective and the inner conflictions that he felt. Anyway, as always, I'd like to thank all you people who favorite, followed, reviewed, etc. Hell, even those that just gave this a read. I really appreciate it more than you might think, and I truly hope that you enjoy this little project I've been pissing out.

I have no promises on the rapidity of this story because these new few months are going to be pretty busy. I'm also reworking the outline I made for this story because I wasn't pleased with its original storyline, so hang tight.

Thanks for reading!

Now go read something better.

Maybe some Jojo.

Yeah, I think I'll do that, actually.