You Can (Not) Run Away
"Quite remarkable, isn't it?" a smooth, manly voice spoke. "Two-for-two already, and he just barely arrived."
"Pfft, beginner's luck," a young female voice scoffed with a haughty tone. "Just wait until they get to see what a real pilot can do."
The man ran his hand along his unshaven chin, brushing against the dash of ungroomed hair just as he brushed off his young ward's immaturity.
"And just when is this boat finally going to get to Japan?" she continued impatiently.
"Excited to meet this new prodigy, are you?" the man smirked in return. "Sounds like you could use a boyfriend your age..."
He loved the girl in an unconventional way, as if she her relation to him were more of a younger sibling rather than anything romantically although they had no true familial relation. Logically, it made sense that if any opportunity came along to distract her from constantly barraging him with inappropriate affection, he would take it wholeheartedly.
"No way!" she squealed, instantly changing her demeanor and wrapping herself around his arm as they walked down one of the ship's many hallways. "You know you're the only one for me, Kaji," she said dreamily. "That new pilot's just a boy, not a man like you!"
Kaji sighed in defeat. He took another sip of his disappointingly bland coffee as the girl only seemed to tighten her hold around him, as if he were some sort of stuffed teddy bear meant to comfort her. And supposing that the redheaded girl suddenly developed an attraction to stuffed animals.
Alcohol was a scarcity to bring on these missions, and he certainly regretted it.
"It's been forever, but I finally did it!" Kensuke proclaimed as he displayed his newest achievement. "The new RZ-2000, a real improvement over my last camera that was taken away by NERV!"
"Uh-huh," Shinji spoke as he ate his lunch, barely attempting to feign interest. He looked over in Rei's direction where she sat uninterested in anyone else's affairs and chose to look out the window. She never appeared to eat lunch, as any other day. Sometimes she would read instead of partaking in conversations like the other students.
"This baby's fully-loaded with 3.6x optical zoom…"
"20.2 megapixels with dedicated COS sensor…"
"Hey, Shinji, why're ya looking over at Ayanami so much? You checkin' her out?" Toji prodded with a grin.
"Fully adjustable aperture settings…" Kensuke rambled without realizing that he lost his audience.
"You know, checking out her silky thighs…" Toji continued.
"Those naughty bits…
"I just can't wait to fill 'er up!"
"It-it's not like that!" Shinji retaliated. "I-I don't care about those things!"
"Hey, you might not find this so interesting but you don't have to be so rude about it!"
"Face it Ikari, I caught you staring at her."
"Well… I just… thought she looked lonely over there."
"Wait, my camera?"
Toji rolled his eyes. "Not your camera, dumbass. We're talking about Rei."
"Oh," he said, slightly disappointed.
"She never brings her own lunch and she never talks to anyone," Shinji wistfully noted.
"Yeah, she's kinda weird," Toji commented as he gave Shinji a nudge. "Must be a pilot thing, huh?"
"I guess so," he spoke, disinterestedly. "Maybe."
"Synch ratio holding at a steady 52%," Maya stated, her eyes not once turning from the numbers dancing across her computer screen.
"Try pushing it a little bit more, I think he can take it," Ritsuko responded.
"Right. Plug depth descending at 0.34."
"Shinji," Ritsuko spoke into a microphone, "how are you feeling?"
"Fine," Shinji replied. His eyes were closed, his breathing steadied in a calming pace that he had practiced for nearly two months since he was summoned to NERV. "I think I can do a little more."
"Roger. Now at 0.635."
"And what's he at now?"
"Excellent," Ritsuko said as she scribbled away on her clipboard. "That'll do for now. Very good work today, Shinji."
"Thank you," he responded, admittedly a bit proud of his accomplishment.
After exiting from the plug, Shinji headed to the locker room to begin the tenuous task of changing his clothes. He had gotten used to having to change himself despite his impairment over the past years, although the effort had been made much more difficult since he had to discard his skin-tight plugsuit that was often drenched with an unpleasing layer of LCL.
By the time he completed this chore, Misato was waiting for him outside as she leaned against the wall with one foot propped up and the other keeping herself balanced and upright.
"Hey, ready to go?" she asked, kicking herself off. "We gotta pick up some food for tonight's dinner on the way home for when Rits comes over."
"Huh? Oh, right- I guess I forgot."
"I hope that doesn't mean you're not going to be cooking," Misato chided.
"Yeah, don't worry, I will," he said, remembering Ritsuko's dinnertime experience the first time she came over.
"So," Misato began as they continued their walk under the fluorescent lights of NERV's halls, "something on your mind? I heard you did well on your tests today; highest score you've gotten since your first battle."
"It's Rei, I guess."
"Oooh," Misato swooned, giving him a playful jostle- nearly sending him out of his wheelchair at that.
"Is there anything more I should know about, hmmm?"
"Misato…" Shinji exasperated, mildly annoyed at her remark.
"Ah- lighten up, Shinji. Just teasin' you; you're too easy to pick on."
Shinji sighed. "She just… during school she doesn't do much- or, uh, she doesn't really say much either. She just looks so… lonely."
"Well why don't you go talk to her? I thought you two got along?"
"Well, I guess. Sort of. We never really said too much, but I guess I didn't know what to expect when she came back to class. I still don't really know that much about her."
"Rei's a... nice girl," Ritsuko added as the three found themselves surrounding Misato's dining room table with well-prepared dinner arrangement strewn across its surface as an example of Shinji's fine cooking prowess. Pen Pen joyfully munched away at the grilled fish sitting his bowl- a much needed improvement over Misato's questionable curry and beer dinners. "Which reminds me," she chided herself, "I keep forgetting to give her new security card."
"I can do that, if you'd like," Shinji volunteered.
"Oh, you don't have to Shinji. I don't want to inconvenience you."
"No, no- it's fine. Not a big deal."
"Well alright, if you say so," she said, handing him Rei's security card.
Shinji reached over the table and pinched the plastic's edges. Her profile shot was an accurate representation of how she always acted: stoic and reserved. He stopped and stared at her picture, not realizing that the conversation had broken.
Ritsuko continued her thoughts before Misato's open mouth was able to pester him again about his fascination of Rei. "I guess it's just that she's a lot like your father, in some ways. She's not very adept at…"
"Huh?" Shinji asked, raising his head. "Adept at what?"
"Living, I guess," she pointed out as she took a delicate bite of roasted pork. "You know Misato, I'm pretty envious that you have Shinji around to cook these great meals. He's got some real talent for this."
Shinji blushed at the well-deserved compliment. "It's nothing really…"
Misato slammed down her third can of beer on the table. "Oh don't be so modest, Shinji- this stuff is great! Although, maybe you could try making some curry ramen someday…"
Ritsuko and Shinji collectively (and quietly) gagged at the reminder of Misato's abnormal food creations.
"Hey, maybe after the Angels you could work as a chef!" she continued, imagining him in a white apron and chef's hat while he grasped a spatula and knife in each of his hands in a heroic pose. "Speaking of which, what are you planning to do once this is over?"
"I don't know, I haven't really thought about it much. I don't know I should go live with my teacher again… I don't know if he wants me back."
"Well you always have a home here, Shinji. Me, you, and Pen Pen of course," she said, grabbing her feathered companion from the ground and cuddling him so aggressively that he'd almost rather be eating instant food again.
"I'm sure she appreciates not eat that rehydrated sewer paste she calls food everyday too," Ritsuko joked.
"Listen Shinji," she continued, ignoring her colleague's outburst, "don't let one bad roommate ruin the experience here for you."
"But I've gotten used to it?"
"He's right, Ritsuko," Misato dismissed, waving a recently-emptied can of beer, "besides, me and him get along great! I'd say it's pretty great here at Casa de Katsuragi!"
"You mean, of course, having poor Shinji clean up after you?" Ritsuko snorted. "If I recall back to our college days, you and Kaji were always at his place instead of that pigsty yours…"
Misato gagged on a sip of her next drink. "THAT MAN'S MORE OF A PIG THAN I COULD EVER BE!" she suddenly erupted, spewing droplets of beer and saliva across the table.
"Hey," Shinji softly interjected while turning his head, "who's this 'Kaji'?"
"A jerk, that's what!" Misato exclaimed. "Just a plain and simple two-timing, slimy piece of…" she mumbled.
"-he's an old 'friend' of Katsuragi's," Ritsuko calmly answered. "The three of us went to college together, actually. It's been ages since we all met up…" she reminisced.
"And for good reason," Misato huffed.
"You say that, but…"
"-but nothing. It's all in the past now. He can rot for all I care."
Ritsuko chuckled and rested back in her chair, feeling accomplished that she successfully stoked the temperamental flames of the Misato-furnace.
A muffled buzz sounded off as Shinji again released his finger from the doorbell.
Still no answer, nor any audible movement approaching the metal door. The entire apartment complex was built in an older, run-down part of Tokyo-3, somewhere far from the demolished remains left by the Angel attacks. Still, construction efforts caused noise pollution to the area, creating a nuisance more frequent and bothersome than the Japanese cicada- certainly something people would tend to avoid when establishing living quarters.
Still, it was strange why Rei appeared to choose a place like this.
The outdoor hallways to her apartment were clean, at least- something that Shinji and his wheelchair were certainly thankful for. Regardless, obvious chips and scratches spread across the concrete of the building, and exposed wiring was frequent amongst the rusted metal.
Envelopes and other mail items were hopelessly jammed into Rei's mail slot, some newer ones being discarded to the ground with the assumption that the mailperson eventually gave up.
'One last time,' Shinji thought to himself.
He curled his hand and gently knocked on the door. To his surprise, it swung slightly forward as a result. He pushed the door open slightly further, taking a curious peek into the darkened apartment.
"Hey, uh- Rei?" he called from the entrance. "It's me, Shinji Ikari. Ritsuko wanted me to deliver something to you."
His words were met by an eerie silence. He pushed the door open even further, met by stacks of more unread mail. It was almost like Misato's apartment, in that regard. Of course, save for the usual booming response of a partially-drunk guardian/NERV captain.
He bent over from his wheelchair and arranged the items as best he could. Although he wasn't trying to be nosey, he could not help but notice that none of the mail seemed important, mostly just random advertisements and other bits of garbage. It was almost no wonder she didn't seem to bother with checking the mail, although a bit of cleanup shouldn't be completely disregarded.
He set the newly-arranged messages on a nearby counter, quickly finding himself in what appeared to be a tiny kitchen, even by Japanese standards. Curiosity seemed to get the better of him as he realized that this was the dwelling of Rei, the pilot of Evangelion Unit 00 that he essentially knew nothing about. He bumped into the slightly elevated floor, quickly remembering that not all genkans were completely wheelchair-accessible like Misato's renovated apartment.
Applying a bit of force, he managed to pull himself over the small ledge and further into what appeared to essentially be just a single room, primarily occupied by a filthy bed with a rusted metal frame, a small refrigerator, a brown dresser, and a lonely metal chair that sat in the middle. Bloodied white bandages were strewn across nearly all the bed as well as piling up in small trash can aside some random bits of debris.
The only source of light came from the partially obscured windows that were lackadaisically covered by thin drapes that fell to the cold metal floor. The ceiling was in disrepair, to mirror the rest of the apartment.
Shinji was taken back at the living quarters. He partially expected a little more to it, something a bit more maintained- at least something not this destitute. He found it appalling, as someone accustomed to any sort of decent establishment would.
He approached the miniature refrigerator, apparently forgetting the politeness of respecting one's privacy thanks to his unwavering sense of curiosity. He pried it open, finding only nothing but dried foods that need not be stored in a cold environment. It did not manner anyway, as the fridge barely seemed to be outputting any coldness. At least there wasn't any meat to go bad, he quietly remarked.
A glimmer of light caught the corner of his eye, leading him to close the barely-functioning box and approach the source. A pair of men's glasses rested atop the dresser amongst a glass and several types of mysterious pills, the package of which seemingly not available. The one lens had been cracked, and the frames appeared to have been bent back into their original shape after going through some sort of disfiguration.
"These can't be Rei's…" he quietly spoke.
The bizarre familiarity of the spectacles peaked his interest further, prompting him to try them on for himself. His vision quickly turned blurry, as expected. The glasses fit him surprisingly well, even to the point that if he needed to wear a pair, these would not need to be adjusted accordingly.
Behind him, a door shut with a click. He turned around still with the glasses obscuring his vision. A blurry image of a blue-haired girl with extremely pale and overexposed skin appeared in his sight. A brown bath towel draped around her shoulders, barely providing a sense of decency to her nude body.
Shinji choked on his words, failing to find the right thing to say being the intruder to someone else's home. "Rei! I- uh…"
'The shower wasn't even turned on, was it?'
His words were cut off as the visage of her was quickly enlarged as she strode over to him and ripped off the well-fitting lenses. Shinji blinked twice back into reality, getting a better look at the person in front of him. He recoiled like he did in the hospital the first time properly meeting her, quickly diverting his gaze elsewhere while still blocking the dresser.
"I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean to intrude! It's just that Ritsuko- and the mail- and there was the glasses-"
Rei completely ignored his comments, instead giving priority to returning the glasses to where they belonged. She reached past him, inadvertently leaning over him and grazing her partially breast against his opened, defensive palm. Shinji blushed a fiery red hue after realizing what he just felt.
Meanwhile, Rei nonchalantly began dressing herself, as if the awkward encounter had never occurred in the first place.
"It's just that- uh, the- uh," Shinji hopelessly stammered. His hand seemed to have a mind of its own, folding and unfolding without any thought.
He gulped. "Card! Here, yours. Ritsuko asked me to deliver this- it's your new security ID."
He held out the card by the time she slipped on her shoes, still trying to distract his eyesight elsewhere without realizing that she was fully-clothed. She swiped the care away from him, hardly even acknowledging whatever updated information was present.
"I'm sorry, this- it's my fault. Your door was open and your mail was a mess so I thought I'd just rearrange it for you- I didn't realize that you were home or anything."
He peeked through his fingers to see if she had been listening, hopefully to find that she had accepted his lackluster apology. Contrarily, she was gone- the only evidence that she had been there being her bath towel that lay discarded on the bed.
He pulled out his cellphone- the one that Misato gave to him when he first moved in with her. It was seldom-used, as he never had a need to call or text anyone in particular. Anytime he went out with Toji or Kensuke, they would usually walk him home instead of having to call and get Misato. It was time for him to depart, as the clock indicated, and he had no desire to be late for a synch test.
He left in a hurry, not before taking another look at the glasses. Even in its crooked reflection, he could only see his own visage staring back at him.
"Did you hear the big news?"
"What big news?"
"My dad says that they've completed work on the new Eva Unit!"
"I don't think I heard anything about that," Shinji replied.
"They say that it was built in NERV's base in Germany, and they've already chosen a pilot and everything!" Kensuke exclaimed.
"Are they bringing the Eva here?"
"That's what I heard! I can't wait to meet another pilot- not only that, but a German pilot! That's sooo cool, I bet he knows all about German military strategies!"
"How would you know that?"
"Because I got some intel that this one's been training for a while, so he must be really good!"
"I wonder why they didn't bring him here to pilot instead of me."
"Does it matter? You've already killed two Angels! That's more than either Ayanami or the other pilot."
"Well, I guess you're right."
"Aren't I though?" Kensuke smirked. "Give yourself a bit of credit, Ikari, you're the real hero!"
"I'm not really, I'm just the guy they put in the Eva."
"Pfft, have it your way. Hey, have you seen Toji?"
"No, he left as soon as the lunch bell rang."
"Huh. He doesn't usually take this long getting something from the cafeteria. Maybe he's really hungry today?"
Shinji nodded in agreement and continued picking at his lunch. Sunlight basked the two boys with a gentle warmth. Kensuke sat on the windowsill, occasionally kicking his legs to pass the time. Shinji of course sat against the edge of a nearby desk, appreciating the relaxing break between classes.
"Excuse me, Pilot Ikari," came a familiar stoic voice.
Only a select few people called him by his more formal workplace name, and certainly no one used that while school was in session. He turned around, finding himself greeted by Rei Ayanami of all people, her unnaturally pale skin reflecting the light almost as if it were a mirror.
"Rei?" Shinji asked in confusion.
She extended her reach to him and opened her palm.
"I believe this is yours."
Shinji's eyes slightly widened in surprise. "My phone?" he asked while patting himself down, not realizing that it had gone missing in the first place. "How did you get that?"
"I have arrived at the conclusion that you left it at my apartment yesterday."
"Whoa!" Kensuke exclaimed. "What were you doing at Ayanami's house yesterday, Ikari?"
"I was just delivering her NERV security card," he responded, sounding slightly annoyed. "Thank you for returning this Rei, I don't know what kind of punishment Misato would've given me if she found out I lost this. Is… is there anything I can do for you in return?"
"No, I don't require anything."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she replied before calmly returning to her seat.
Shinji's eyes followed her back until she sat back at her desk and pulled out another one of the books in her collection with no food in sight- a familiar and recognizable view of Rei Ayanami during lunchtime.
"Hey," Kensuke said, interrupting the silence, "isn't that Toji sitting outside? What's he doing out there- oh man! I think he's eating lunch with the class rep! Shinji, are you seeing this?"
"Hm?" he said, snapping out of his thoughts. "Those two? I guess I never really thought about them being together so much."
Kensuke placed his hands against the glass pane. "Man, we've been betrayed, and who knew it would be by her!" Unsurprisingly, his new camera came out shortly after.
"Shouldn't you at least give them a little privacy?"
"I'm just getting evidence of that traitor! And it gives me something to put on here since we haven't had an Angel attack for a while. Since they took my last camera, I've got nothing! It's terrible!"
"It isn't so terrible that we haven't gotten attacked."
"You're right, but Evas and Angels are soooo cool…"
Shinji sighed and rested his head on his palm and his eyes skirted back in Rei's direction. She didn't seem to mind the Angels. Or anything, actually. For one to be so calm and collected during such tense times seemed an enigma to Shinji. He glimpsed down to his other hand, the realization that he was still grasping his phone suddenly flooding back to him. A simple act to return his item- but a thoughtful one at least.
"Ahhhhh…" Misato lethargically yawned as she entered the kitchen in her slightly indecent sleepwear. "Mornin' Shinji..."
The delightful aromas of an early-morning breakfast permeated across the thin walls of the apartment, captivating even the most tiresome beings and coaxing them out of the bed. Misato navigated around the feeding penguin toward the coffeemaker- the few kitchen appliances that she was an expert in using.
"Good morning, Misato," Shinji replied as he handed her a cup of steaming coffee without much thought. Black- just how she liked it.
"Mm?" Misato perked, slightly more awakened. "You seem on top of things this morning."
"Just figured I'd have an early start today."
"Well," she said, taking her seat at the table. "that makes one of us."
She leaned back, embracing the delightful warmth of the beverage.
"Hey, I just remembered," she continued, "Eva Unit 02's finishing touches have been-"
"Completed?" Shinji interrupted. "I heard from Kensuke."
Misato blinked. He actually was on top on things today.
"Yeah, so next week I'll be picking up it and the pilot. Wanna join me? You can bring him and Toji if you want."
"Great! I figured it sounds much more interesting than staying here all the time. Think of it like a little mini-vacation! It'll be a fun getaway."
Misato peaked around his shoulder to catch a glimpse at the food he was cooking.
"Making enough lunch for the rest of the week?"
"Nope, just enough for sharing," he replied.
"Here you go, Rei," Shinji happily offered. He extended his arms toward her, cradling a delicately wrapped bento- chopsticks included.
Rei blinked in surprise, her stoic visage crumbled by his unexpected offer of generosity.
"It's for you," he continued, "I guess I never really said 'thanks' for you returning my phone yesterday. It's the least that I can do."
"I- okay," she said, still taken back. She accepted his gift, unpacking its gently-packed contents. A matching pair of octopus sausages stared back at her when she removed the lid, packed together with a masterfully-arranged assortment of rice, fruit, and vegetables. She hesitated slightly, her reaction unsure and unprepared.
"Is-is something wrong?" Shinji asked.
"I'm sorry. I don't eat meat."
"Oh, then some miso soup, then?" he replied, removing a small thermos from his bag strapped to the back of his wheelchair. He untwisted the lid and poured her a generous cup of the still-warm Japanese soup and offered it to her instead.
She stared inside the tiny bowl, her reflection barely visible against the rich beige broth. Mushrooms, tofu chunks, and bits of green garnish indicated a lack of meat, prompting her starving stomach to take a curious sip. The soup flooded her taste buds like blissful waves of nectar, granting her a sensational new dimension of flavor she had never experienced before. She peeked back inside the bowl with reserved wonder, doubting the reality of the situation.
"It's… delicious," she quietly responded, a hint of emotion being displayed across her face.
Shinji warmly smiled, pleased by her reaction.
"Can you believe him?" Toji said from across the room without being heard by either of the two pilots. "Does he have a thing for Ayanami or what?"
"Geez, you're the one to talk! You're the one who blew us off to have lunch with the class rep!" Kensuke retorted.
A hint of redness illuminated on Toji's cheeks as he realized he was caught. "Hey man, it's-it's just that Hikari invited me! What was I supposed to do, turn her down? Ladies come at me all the time."
"Oh yeah? Then how come you used her first name? You've never used it before! And look here, the camera never lies!"
"Hey-! Mind your own business!" Toji barked.
"Hi, Toji," Hikari spoke sweetly as she approached the two. "Thank you for inviting me for lunch yesterday. I actually happened to make extra this morning… would… you like to join me again?"
"I knew it!" Kensuke wailed. "You two… all of you! I'm being left behind!"
"I'm glad you like it," Shinji responded, the background chatter ignored by either of them. "I couldn't help but notice that you don't eat lunch… and that you didn't have much at your home."
"I do not require much."
"But you have to eat something," he commented. "If you need any help… I-I'm here."
Rei hesitated, unsure of how to respond.
"… okay," she awkwardly responded. A pause in her words stopped her from continuing until the seldom-used words found themselves pulsing at her lips.
"… thank you."
Firstly I'd like to apologize for the wait. Secondly I'd like to say that Chapter 5 is actually 95% complete and will be posted within the next week. Thirdly, I'd like to say that this is not a Shinji x Rei fic, so if you're expecting that because of this chapter, then well tough toasties.
The reason this took so long was because I had other obligations (school, work, personal, etc.), so I sincerely apologize for contributing for the inactivity of this fandom. As mentioned before, Chapter 5 is very much close to completion and will be released very soon. I was pretty excited to finally get to write that chapter, so the ideas came pouring out.
I promise you, I intend to make changes to this storyline that differentiate it from the tv show, it's just that I have to follow the guidelines written by the show to make it feel more like an AU that follows the basic premise with one particular situation changed.
Anyway, if you're reading this, thanks for the read and I hoped you enjoyed it. Maybe you didn't, but just don't try to hurt my feelings over it. Because that would suck.