AN: Ah… Hello! Yes! This is indeed, something else. Let's take the basic premise of Third Impact, similar to ST, but aside from that basic premise, let's have another take on what might've been. Kinda dark... pretty dark, so yeah, read under your own risk.

I own nothing.

Note: This is a pilot, no clue where this is going right now. Just... jumped into existence Monday morning. So let's imagine...

You're walkin' down a horror corridor
It's almost four in the mornin' and you're in a
Nightmare, it's horrible, right there's the coroner
Waiting for ya to turn the corner so he can corner ya
You're a goner, he's onto ya

Out the corner of his cornea, he just saw ya run
All you want is to rest 'cause you can't run anymore, you're done
All he wants is to kill you in front of an audience
While everybody is watching in the party, applauding it


Chapter One: 3 a.m.

Neo-Tokyo 02. 3.27a.m. 2022

There was a puncturing feeling in the back of his leg, and another, clearer one, right where he supposed his left lung was located that twisted every time he took a step or breathed in too deep. He'd seen the gash on his thigh, seen the pink muscle mass turn crimson after the knife had been removed, and had watched with a sense of detached wonder and awe as blood gushed out like a fountain. His shirt was wet, and for once not with water, alcohol or vomit. The material clung to his skin and felt glued to it at places, and in the space between his ribcage and navel another oversized needle pressed hard. The bright lights above the sidewalk fizzled and disappeared, jumping in and out of focus with his every movement. His feet moved unevenly, but then again they had gotten used to it during the past seven years.

Ikari Shinji smiled wistfully as every last drop of energy washed off his body in a single breath, his body convulsing in a heap of tremors and almost falling stiffly on the pavement. Was he really so weak?

He wobbled, shoulder pressing against the cold concrete wall to his right, and slid down to the ground with a damp noise as scarlet spittle dribbled from his mouth with every haggard breath. The night was clear, cloudless, but with all the luster of the city he couldn't see a single star; barely anything other than the tainted half-moon was discernible. Pity, he thought with ironic resentment. Stars would've been nice for a last night. Or a cigarette. A cigarette would be nice.

He did have the latter at least, so with the hand not holding back the warm liquid on his stomach Shinji searched for the pack in his jacket and extracted the uncooperative cancer stick. The empty pack dropped from his numb fingers, but there was no lighter in it as usual. No lighter at all, not in his pants or his other pockets. Must've fallen out at some point, as it normally happens. He turned overtired eyes to the left side of his body, where the blood had already stained through both his shirt and jacket. Guess this is it, then, he mused distractedly. Having waited for this moment for so long, he found it oddly… anticlimactic, with the lack of stars to view his passing.

Someone walked by him, in a rush as they would be at such an hour, but he asked the question as loud as he could anyway, croaking when a heave left a metallic taste in his mouth.

"G-Got a light?"

The stranger paused, regarding him from his peripheral vision with coool, distanced eyes. He probably looked like a homeless man; that aside, he stank of all hells of booze and tobacco, and the gentleman standing before him was dressed in a suit, apparently an expensive one at that. It was very late, and the man looked tired enough to be on his way home from work. After a second's consideration, and against all of Shinji's expectations, a lighter magically appeared in the man's right hand. The stranger extended the lighter to him without a word, and suddenly the world made sense once more for a few valuable seconds.

Bloodied fingers retrieved the engraved black lighter, alerting the man.

"Thanks," Shinji rasped, disregarding the dribble of crimson froth that escaped his mouth when he spoke. "The last of the night… happy… birthday to me…"

"Young man, are you alright?" the man asked, seemingly concerned. A hand pressed against his shoulder, faint and cold. He couldn't feel most of his body anymore, but the lighter still found its way to the cigarette. Now that was muscle memory. "Are y-sir?! Are-you're bleeding! You're bleeding all over the floor! You need help!"

The scent of burning tobacco invaded Shinji's nostrils once more while he dully admired the lighter and closed it with a resounding clap. Help? Nah, I need some stars, maybe another drink… He sighed contently and let his lead loll against the wall. The hand holding back the bleeding on his stomach fell, letting more precious fluid permeate his ruined clothes.

The lighter fell from his hand. Another drink, huh… Cigarette in his mouth, Shinji smiled and inhaled a lungful of nicotine-induced smoke, only to cough it back up with blood sprinkling on his lips. Was he breathing still? How deep did the wound in his back have to be for him to feel a familiar sensation of lack of air? So familiar it hurts… he thought, and took another painful toke; it drifted into the night sky, like his misery, like his life. The emptiness which for two whole years had consumed him was finally dissipating; at last, he would reunite with himself.

The gentleman who had offered the nice lighter screamed into his phone, desperate, and a moment later moved from bellowing at the streets to pressing a cold hand on Shinji's clothes to try and stop the incessant bleeding. It almost made him laugh. If you knew who I was, would you still help me? Do you have any idea of what I've done? The hand pressed harder against him, making something rumble in his battered stomach. Maybe you had a sister, a brother, a mother, and I killed them. Maybe you had a son I couldn't save, or a daughter, you idiot. Just… let me die... His voice was too numb to produce anything short of a whimper, let alone articulate a single word to voice his discomfort with the man's misplaced concern.

A spasm shook him, alerting the man even more. He felt it coming, a blob of blood trying to escape his insides, so he put all his efforts into moving his right arm and retrieving the cigarette before the second spasm made him vomit the blood out. He wheezed, lower lip dribbling while the disgusting puddle of half-coagulated blood rested comfortably on his pants, until he managed a painful breath and put the cigarette back in his mouth. He inhaled again, losing the ability to understand whatever it was the man was screaming at his face. Good thing at that, it was almost time. He would die, at last, and the senseless ranting was off-putting to the celebratory mood of the evening.

Funny how time stops when you're about to die, Shinji mused idly. And on my birthday too… I wonder… if Father felt this same calm when I bit him in half… Another toke, a long one, to make sure he got a good last use of his damaged left lung, and he coughed it back up with more blood. Still, he stubbornly inhaled more of the accursed nicotine.

He had only started smoking because Kaji had done it, ironically enough, and damn it why not try to emulate the ladies-man in every way possible, even surpass him where the love for addictive substances was concerned? Nothing to lose there, no Asuka left to impress anymore, so fuck it, right? Never mind that Kaji had stopped smoking three years ago, never mind that Kaji only ever gave him that pity-filled, sorrowful look whenever he laid eyes on the waste of space named Ikari Shinji. And yet whenever Shinji thought of the man he had brought back from the dead at a dearly personal cost, to his dismay and joy, another face jumped into Shinji's memories, distorted as they were.

Asuka's blue eyes washed over him one last time, making a queer sense of peace climb into his awareness for whatever reason. Not the girlish version carved in his memory, but the picture he'd seen in that magazine the day before. Maybe she had married, or had a good relationship with a real man who could carry the burden of her trauma.

Hopefully Asuka was happy out there, away from him, being beautiful and independent. It had been a good day, all in all. On good days he often thought of her, so why not tonight? He'd left the restaurant early, as he would on Saturdays, had gone to his favorite low-life canteen and consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol, cocaine and tobacco while the crowd cheered for him and gave him celebratory drinks, then had exited said place without getting into a fist-fight for once and had somehow kept an innocent girl from being raped and/or probably murdered. It had been a good day.

Yeah, Shinji thought as the cigarette fell from parted lips and extinguished its flame in the small, red puddle under him. He smiled at the light bulbs above, sight darkening without his consent.

It's a good day to die.

The faint sound of an ambulance nearby rattled around his brain, but it was swallowed down by the darkness. He slept, and knew no more.

The phone rang.

Normally, for her to be bothered on her days off after having just finished with her shift meant there was either a case no other general doctor cared or dared to take, a national emergency, or a call from a foreign country. Disregarding the first two, Asuka glared vehemently at the object in her nightstand that refused to stop making noise. Peachy, just when she had decided to turn in an early night so as to finally get her ass on a plane on the next day, destiny somehow intervened and flicked her carefully laid plans into the pyre. A painful knife twisted in her gut when she happened to remembered the date, but she picked up the phone nonetheless.

The number was one she recognized instantly, so more annoyance and a heavy coldness slowly made themselves known in her mind and stomach. She yanked the charging cable out and pushed the button hard enough to make the plastic give out an almost imperceptible crack. It was that day, again, and she had not mustered up the courage to send the carefully prepared package which now rested on her night-stand, again.

"Hello," she said curtly, already speaking Japanese. "What?"

"Excuse me Miss Sohryu, you have a call from-"

"Katsuragi, I know. Put her through already, I want to get back to sleep."

"Y-Yes of course, Ma'm. Just a second." There was click, and suddenly a change in the communication. Misato only ever called when drunk, tired, or when there was some sort of serious disturbance with Shinji, so when Asuka heard the sobbing on the other side of the line, Asuka knew something was seriously amiss.

"What happened?" she asked without a second thought. "Misato, what's wrong?"

"H-He's… Asuka…" Another sob, a heavier one. The pit of Asuka's stomach turned to ice. No. No, not on this day.

"What happened? Tell me already," she demanded while she rose out of bed without realizing it. Something was very wrong, Misato had not cried over the phone for nearly two years, not to her at least, not since she had stopped answering her distress calls, escaped, and Shinji had started getting "better".

Heavy intakes of breath filtered though the line, frantic in nature and ill-suited for a woman of Misato's caliber. "He's… being operated o-on right now… someone stabbed him, m-m-many times… Asuka… they're not sure if he's-"

"Send a plane for me," Asuka demanded. The suitcase she kept ready in her closet was out from the moment Misato had said 'He'. "Do it now, I'm on my way. Where are the wounds, what's his current status?"

"A-Asuka… God… there was so much blood… I-I'm scared, the doctors-"

"Misato," she interrupted as calmly as possible. "Settle down. Send a plane for me and tell me where his injuries are. I'll do what I can as soon as I land."

"I-I already did," Misato sobbed into the line, trying to breathe. "It's from NERV Germany, a VTOL… should be there any minute…"

"Good." Asuka looked out the window. There it was, landing in the spacious backyard her bastard father had been only too happy to provide. "What are his injuries, Misato?"

"He-he's… Asuka… he was dying when they…when they brought him in… I…" More heavy breathing, a drink of something, and then Misato sounded a bit clearer. "Punctured left lung, stab wound in his leg, another in his side… and in his stomach…" Something very nasty crawled up and died in Asuka's belly. The stomach bled a lot; such a lesion alone was dangerous, but when she added a punctured lung and heavy bleeding from the thigh, the imminent threat of death was clear. "I… b-broken ribs… two I think…"

"Okay." She was climbing into the VTOL without really realizing it. She had automatically put a shirt and some pants on, and there was an ID in her hand and both a suitcase and the package in the other. She never noticed what the man in the VTOL said, never realized when she sat down. "Okay, have they stabilized him?"

"T-They're trying to… he… he lost a lot of blood… a… liter and a half… maybe more…"

"Shit." Asuka said, glaring out the window. More than a liter and half? Bad, bad, really bad. Too much, far too much blood to consider, too much damage. "Shit."

"A-Asuka…? Is h-he, is he gon-"

"No," she cut in before the former Sub-Commander of NERV could utter the words she dreaded. Not with NERV's advancements in medicine, not with the serum, not where he was concerned. "No. He has a strong heart. He won't die, not from something like this." Her mind was mush, scrambled and distorted, yet out of nowhere hot, scalding anger consumed her as the memory of a similar call two years before came to memory. "Who did this to him?" she demanded and repeated without realizing it; her fingers clutched the seat until the knuckles turned white. "I want them dead. Dead." Along with the fright, rage was stirring as well. She wanted the blood of the person who had done it, who had touched him.

Him. Shinji. Her Shinji. The Shinji she had been preparing for over seven years to save.

"H-He got into… a fight. Tried to save some girl, some teenager, from a g-gang. They… he beat up three of them but… but they stabbed him from behind… and that idiot just kept f-f-fighting… the girl ran away. Li-little shit, he saved her damn life and she c-couldn't even call an ambulance… d-damn it!" More drinking, heavy drinking. The kind of drinking Misato hadn't done in years; not since the baby had been born, the kind of drinking Shinji did nowadays.

"What happened to the others? The ones he beat up, the one who stabbed him?" She asked coldly. Her body was numb, her mind sharpened; images of what she would come across once the hospital doors opened flashed through her head, what she would find once she cleaned up the wounds and inspected them ran in and out of focus.

"I… I have them…" Misato answered, still drinking heavily. "I… I'll kill them. I'll kill them all." Despite the ominous seriousness of the situation, Asuka chuckled darkly. Of course Misato would kill them first, this time at least. "Asuka," she whispered, stern, cold, and broken. She sounded far older than Asuka had ever heard her speak before. "You need to come here… if he dies… You both need to make amends before… damn it…" There was a sudden bellow behind Misato, and the line went dead.

A small, almost imperceptible part of her mind told Asuka that it was all futile as she sat and glared out the VTOL's window; her quick traveling to Japan, her apparent interest in Shinji's survival, her future efforts in trying to keep his internal organs together. By the time she got there the doctors would most likely be done with the surgery. Besides, even if she was a medical prodigy who could slow down or avert death altogether with her hands, she was still just twenty-two years of age and had very limited experience, regardless of how perfect the operations had been. On top of everything, she doubted Shinji would want her to touch him.

Asuka bit her lip, unable to stop her mind from returning to the last time she had seen him. I pushed him, she mused heavily with something akin to anguish gnawing at her consciousness. I pushed him off that elevated street and left him to die, after he took care of me for so long, after he saved me. I told him he was nothing more than a pathetic, perverted excuse for a human being, the lowest of the low. I laughed at him, I... betrayed him. She tasted blood when the memory of his swollen face came to mind, eyes bulged and lip cut, sprawled on the floor and breathing shallowly while laying in the ruins of a broken table. His arm had bent at an unnatural angle, blood had sprouted from his mouth, abdomen and leg, and after she was done she had run, escaping like a wimp and leaving him to die.

She had not talked to him in seven years. Seven years in which the scars of her fight with the EVA Series had vanished, seven years in which her red eye had turned blue again. Seven years she had devoted to the treatment of her own trauma and pain, and the foolish task of saving others as of late. Seven long years had passed, in which the boy she had once known had let himself fall into the abyss of alcohol, drugs and violence to numb himself and forget he was the Third Child, bringer of death.

He always wrote to Asuka on her birthday, sending her a gift along with a letter she was too much of a petty human to open, all except for this year. Shame deeper than anything she had ever known, deeper than the memory of her Synch Ratio falling to zero, deeper than the memories of being disemboweled alive, kept her from touching the room where all his gifts were stored.

Her leg jittered up and down as her anxiety increased. It would take hours for her to reach Japan, hours in which Shinji could very well be dead and her last words to him would always remain the disgusting bile she had spewed on the day she'd left. Shinji's different, Misato had told her, over and over again, first coldly, full of spite, and then in forms of pleading whispers. Even Kaji had tried, and she had turned a blind eye and deaf ears to it all. She had not been ready, then.

He's hurting Asuka, so much. I can't… I can't control him anymore. I can't just sit and watch him self-destruct... He won't stay on the program, won't get clean... He was in the ER last week, almost died of an overdose... He was in the hospital again, got into a fight with some people in a bar. He's drunk more than he's sober... We found him in a sewer, half-dead. He was beaten… abused... He doesn't speak to me anymore, Asuka...

He's taken up a cooking course, Asuka, I feel like he's finally getting better. He has a job now, works as a cook, I think he's happy. He's still, you know… using… but a lot less these days. Asuka, I'm worried, he won't call anymore, won't pick up the phone. Please come home. Please, Asuka, he needs you.

Misato had truly tried to reach him, but Shinji was too far gone. He had been too far gone for years, ever since Third Impact. If Asuka focused hard enough, the screams of pure agony and helplessness as he slept and his nightmares consumed everything came back with tremendous clarity. She'd known all along she had known that the worst thing she could possibly do to him was to leave, to show absolute indifference like she'd done during Third Impact.

It had brought her a sickening sense of satisfaction during the first months, to know he was suffering, and yet as time flew by and she matured and overcame her own trauma, Asuka realized Shinji's burden was something beyond anything she could fathom. She had chosen to ignore it, ignore him altogether and let him simmer in the pool of self-hatred and horror his mind had been reduced to after witnessing the end of the world, while she created a fake life for herself as far from him as possible, half a world away.

She failed to realize when exactly, but she fell asleep at some point, dreaming of breakfast full of toast and miso soup, fish, and Shinji's smiling face.


It welcomed him back once more into the land of the living, to Shinji's great dismay, extracting a dissatisfied grunt from a worn-out, damaged chest. He felt severely hung-over, his body drained of all strength, and his bones felt like they were made of napalm. It hurt to breathe, hurt to think. He refused to open his eyes, knowing well what sort of surprise awaited once he roused; there would be a parade of men and women in white coats prodding his body, asking stupid questions and demanding he give them every detail about a night he was only too keen to forget. Shit, he thought, distracted. It was such a good day to die, I should've never asked for a light. Shit.


The thought itself was laughable. His fixation with the dreaded cancer sticks had been the cause of his salvation. It was ridiculous, stupid even, that cigarettes were the reason he was still breathing, somewhat. He had suffered from a punctured lung before, once when he was young, so the sensation in his back was nothing new. Something was stinging around his ribcage, rubbing painfully against his insides when his chest expanded or contracted. A tube had been stuck down his throat to help him breathe, he discovered, and removed only hours before he awakened.

The numbness returned with a vengeance, taking away the slight joy of having seen that boy in the school uniform standing next to the light. Once more, Lilith had chosen to let him simmer a bit more in despair before she took whatever he had become and devoured it. Had Rei returned at all, perhaps she could have helped him end it. She had always understood him, but Rei had never come back, had abandoned and betrayed him just like everyone else. Just like… her.

Shinji wondered how long he had slept, and whether he should thank the man in the suit or seek him out and shoot him in the head. Surrendering to another day in the world of the living he so very despised, he struggled to open his eyes. Light blinded him at first, making his head explode in powerful aches.

"Ow," he muttered, coughing. An invisible blade stabbed him in the back again, stealing his ability to draw breath for a second. "Same old stupid ceiling…" His hands were uncooperative, unwilling to move so much as an inch to cover the bothersome source of his pain. If he tried to stand, and reopened what he assumed were deep wounds, would he bleed out before the doctors had a chance to steal his glory? He wondered if there was a knife anywhere in the damned hospital room, so he could drag himself to the tub and end it at last. "Same old… same old…"

"You're awake."

He smelled her before he saw the movement on his left, before she spoke. Fruit. She had always preferred fruity shampoo, something that smelled fresh and clean. A mixture between a chuckle and a cough made its way out of his hoarse throat. "Guess you're back to finish the job, huh? Or… maybe I am dead. Heh," he managed to rasp. "You always were kind of diligent about your work, be it piloting, medicine… or murder."

She stiffened at his words. He recognized the red hair; unbending posture, tall and proud figure and more accentuated female curves from the corner of his eyes. He saw her stance slump a second afterwards, her shoulders drop, and raised an amused eyebrow.

"Shinji," she said, strangely relieved.

"That's my name," he answered in turn while trying to grin. "Don't wear it out... will ya?"

She did not turn. Shinji easily recognized the stiffness of her spine as stress and annoyance the moment he spoke. "You shouldn't be speaking. You need to regain your strength."

"And you shouldn't be here," he retorted with ease. "Unless you mean to kill me, I'd ask you to please leave me alone."

Anger. So easy to draw it out of her, even after so long. He had always had a knack for making her hate him. It seemed every word he spoke upset her, honest or not, so Shinji simply enjoyed the way her back stiffened once more and the way she spun around, narrowed blue eyes staring at him in ire.

"You're an idiot," she hissed through gritted teeth. Shinji found himself surprised to see the rims of her eyes red and her face flushed, like she had been crying. "You almost died four days ago, did you know that? You've been laying here like a vegetable, getting fed through a tube and getting foreign blood because you barely had anything left when they admitted you! Are you stupid or something?! Getting stabbed four times and walking?!" Her body was shaking, barely able to hold off… whatever it was she was restraining herself from doing.

Tears? For me? Shit, I must really be dead, Shinji though dispassionately while his bored gaze tore through the fuming redhead. If this is hell then the devil sure is resourceful. "Four days?" he said instead. Turning to examine his deplorable state, Shinji discovered the delicious, dull sensation of morphine running through his veins. "I thought I felt a punctured… hmm… lung," he rasped between coughs. "I'm thirsty."

Asuka angrily grabbed a glass from what Shinji supposed was a nightstand by his bed and wordlessly offered it to him, giving him a chance to catch a glimpse of her right arm. As he greedily drank the offered water, a queer satisfaction ran through his body. The scar faded, he mused, feeling the dull ache of broken ribs while the water dribbled down his chin. Good, at least she won't bitch at me for it anymore. He had made a deal with Lilith, after all.

Once his thirst was quenched, Shinji let his head fall back on the pillow, staring at the ceiling.

"You're an idiot." Asuka muttered again. He had all but forgotten her presence; whatever drugs they were pumping into his body to make it heal faster had him on a strange new high he had not yet experienced. Alas, he cared very little for her presence anymore; should she try to strangle him or worse, he would not fight back. "You've said that before," he answered in a dead tone. She probably had never heard him use it, not that he hadn't tried to speak with her for seven fucking years. "Stuck in this bed for days on end… Put me out of my misery, why don't you?"

He didn't see it, but Shinji felt the intensity of her glare trying to melt the skin off his face. "Is that what you wanted, to die alone bleeding out in an alley, drunk as fuck and dead because of an ungrateful little bitch who didn't even bother to call an ambulance for you?! On your birthday?! Goddamnit Shinji, what the hell happened to you?!"

Her screams had affected him so much in his younger years, but after so many fights, so much pain, so many sleepless nights with nothing but the memory of Unit 02's head rotting outside the Geofront and her grunts as she died, the phantom pain on his arms and his limbs and his insides when the nightmares began, nothing but the gaping pit that Third Impact had left, Shinji found he cared little for her outbursts now.

He managed a shrug, and bit down on his lip to keep the sting of pain to himself. "It was a good day to die," was all he said, not looking at her. His jaw hurt; he'd been punched a few times in the fight, if he remembered correctly. Punched, stabbed, left to die alone; it sounded so familiar to him it almost made him laugh aloud.

After a few seconds of silence, he added "You didn't call an ambulance either, remember?"

Asuka recoiled as though he'd slammed a fist in her stomach. He suppressed a bitter smile with brutal force, then shrugged again and let it split up his parched lips. "The lowest of the low doesn't deserve an ambulance. You should've published that, maybe sent a memo to the whole damn country, heh… hehe… that way that idiot would've known better than to help me."

The rage started to radiate from her in waves after the initial shock of his words wore off, and yet Shinji found himself strangely unaffected. Seven years, seven years he had tried to reach her, to have her speak to him, but now that she was standing beside him the need he had felt all that time was strangely absent. He only felt sick, and numb. A dead man who somehow breathed, it was all he was, all he had been for years. He had gone numb, and boy did that not feel much better than muddling through the myriad of terribly dark emotions his bleeding chest had to offer?

"Is that what you want?" said Asuka, shaking with fury and derailing his thoughts. "To die?! Why don't you just do it yourself, then?!"

Had he had the energy to shrug again, he would have. Speaking was starting to hurt. "I'm a coward, remember?" Shinji answered, still refusing to acknowledge her presence. "Too much of a coward to put a bullet through my head, but hey, maybe once I'm out of here I'll manage another overdose, and maybe this time nobody will bother to look for me. I guess smoking's out of the question with this twice-fucked lung, but there's always alcohol. Cocaine. Heroin, now that's something I haven't tried in a while. Morphine would do, too, but it's so expensive…"

He tried to imagine her shocked and outraged expression, not bothering to tilt his head her way. "Don't act surprised; Misato told you, didn't she?" He laughed, or tried to, succeeding only in making the agony around his body more acute. When he spoke, his voice was dark, filled with bitterness and heavy with sarcasm even as he tried not to cough constantly. "She told everyone, hell, she even tried an intervention. Twice! Ikari Shinji, substance-dependant; the Great, Invincible Third Child, a simple junkie. Shit, I'm a drug addict, but I have some self-respect, you know? I won't be paraded around my country like a freak. I'll wear my cross like armor, so it can never be used to hurt me. I'll nail myself to it, and bleed out alone."

A strange feeling rose from him as the last words left his mouth. He ran out of air, suddenly remembering he was basically down to one lung now, and gasped for a second before a wet cough tore through his chest. Blood sprinkled on the sheets, on his face and chin when another cough, and then yet another made Shinji remember he had sustained serious wounds. The metallic taste in his mouth probably meant a punctured stomach, the blood coming from his nose meant internal hemorrhaging in his useless left lung. Bah, he thought lazily. They must have me hooked on some pretty sweet new serum for me to be alive. NERV's guinea pig to the end, yeah?

From the corner of his eye, he managed to see Asuka rooted to the spot with a strange, shocked look on her face that he had never seen before. He paid it no mind, choosing to try and get his right arm to function. A shaky, scarred mass of knuckles crashed unceremoniously against his mouth not a moment after; Shinji tried to wipe the crimson sprinkles off his face and succeeded only in removing the tube meant to provide his futile respiratory system with generous oxygen to keep it from collapsing.

He never saw Asuka move, but he felt her fingers expertly grab for the tube while her other hand cleaned his nostrils with a small piece of gauze. Her cold and steady hands were a shock to him, so much so that he almost bit of one of her fingers out of instinct. Where the hell did that even come from? he mused, almost asleep. The smell of disinfectant made him dizzy. Had he not been so strongly sedated, he would have surely jumped from the bed upon feeling her touch him, or at the very least slapped her hand away. A part of him very desperately wished to do little else than bite off a chunk of her skin and have her hit him, have her behave in a remotely familiar way.

"Thanks, I guess," Shinji rasped once she was finished; he was even blinking slowly, but sleeping had not been a useful escape for the last seven years. Don't… want to go there… yet…

"Shut up," Asuka snapped, almost too quietly for him to hear. "It's normal, you haven't used your lungs normally in four days, there's some blood bound to be on the alveolus, and don't even get me started on your sto-"

"Lung," Shinji interrupted. The world was starting to fade.

"What?" Her voice sounded more distant, even when she felt him close in on him like he was prey and she a hungry lion. "What did you say?"

"Remember when I shoved you out of the… way of that car and then you pushed me… and ran?" His tone was ice, hardened and frigid, emotionless beyond anything she had heard from him in years. "I fell on that table, you know, the one that knocked two of my ribs in?" Shinji whispered while he nodded off. It took an unnatural effort to force his head in her direction. "My body broke that table, and a splinter of my own… stupid… rib, a big one I was told, made itself a comfortable home in my left lung. I was down to 60% use of it before this… guess I'm down to one now…"

The world fell out of focus, but this time there was no rewarding feeling taking away the misery of his chest, no sense of poetic justice and sweet victory against Lilith and his parents. He'd sleep, yes. And then he would wake up, and be forced to live another day. "Shit," he grated, voice rough. "I'll have to quit smoking… that really was… my last cigarette, huh…?"

He slept.

The nightmares, the memories were right there, waiting, as always.

Asuka could not tear her eyes away from his sleeping figure. Every time Shinji took a shallow breath and wheezed ever so slightly her heart would hammer like a drum against a chest which for so long had been still. He would flinch in his sleep, even sedated, frown, turn his head in anger and fear, whimper, and sometimes cry out in desperate, muted horror. Despite all of her training, despite the many times she had been faced with horrid images of damaged, bleeding bodies, her hands still shook as she inspected his chart and checked his bandages.

Even while working on a patient she was deadly calm, focused on the task at hand and shutting every single emotion out of her brain. The memories, the pain, the images of him smiling despite everything they had gone through, the sensation of his eyes desperately clinging to her naked form, the pleas of his half-dead voice coming out of the phone, they would all disappear. Saving a life was so simple in her brain, and twice, twice she had left him to die.

Karma's a bitch, huh, her pride commented with glee, making Asuka feel sick to her stomach. Like some bruises and stabs are anything close to being dismembered. A few years before she would've bothered to argue, but she felt so tired all of the sudden, and so ashamed. Do you know he has the same nightmares? she asked her pride instead. Do you know he wakes up screaming almost every day? Do you know he has visions of other people's trauma running through his head like a broken record? Did you take into consideration that he medicates, drinks and drugs himself numb just to sleep peacefully for a few hours? Are you not seeing him whimper as he sleeps, sedated by morphine? Her heart was beating so hard she could hear her own pulse crushing and shutting out all of the outside noise.

Her pride was silent. Guess you did, huh. Now shut the fuck up, I need to make sure he's breathing. Only the beeping of his heart monitor and the sound of her raging heart were left, engulfing Asuka in a cloud of uncertainty.

In reality, she had been ashamed for years; so engrossed in the image of herself running away from him after he had saved her life again, so mired in her own sense of worthlessness and obsession with her work, so shocked, even then, to close her eyes and see clearly how he extended his hand to her and pleaded for her. For her. Unable to put aside the pain, the trauma, insecurity and hate behind, she had hidden it, used it to fuel every other aspect of her life, and starve out the shame.

All of his presents, his letters, his phone calls; they were stored safely and neatly in a place where even dust barely managed to enter, or recorded on the same hard drive where her work was saved. Every time she had attempted to open one, the image of a redheaded girl screaming at him in the middle of the street, hitting his face and then shoving him in a feat of blind rage came to greet the now grown woman. Her fingers would freeze, her stomach would flip and lurch, the taste of bile would rise to her throat and then the gift would be carried and placed in the safe place with more care and tenderness than she'd ever shown him.

Shinji had never stopped trying.

Without something to give him reason, however, he had slowly decayed into a mess of scars, scratches, puncture wounds, injection marks on his arms, damage to his lungs and cold, deadly eyes. There had been hardly anybody but her who could have done something to prevent it. Nevertheless, she had fled at the first opportunity and not looked back, stricken by a fear so great and deep it had been the new fuel to guide her pathetic existence, now that her pride was crushed under years of introspection, pain and realization. The young man lying on the bed, barely breathing, had demons in his head only she could fathom, accept or understand.

She had not. Out of spite, out of fear, out of habit, what did it matter at that point, anymore? Shinji was dying; if not his body, then his soul, his personality, his sense of self. The alcohol had released his suppressed rage and aggression, the marijuana his deep trauma and sense of worthlessness, the cocaine had helped him feel strong and invincible, even for a few seconds. The heroin had shut out the voices, if only for a while. The prescription drugs had halted the visions and hallucinations, which allowed him to function on a daily basis.

I could've taken all of that away, and he would've taken out all this poison inside me just by being there, she mused, and unconsciously took a hold of his hand. Shinji's knuckles were swollen and misshapen from knuckle push-ups and constant blunt trauma to his bones. His fingers were calloused and heavy, but his hand was still warm. His eyes are cold, though.

They really were. It had taken Asuka a few seconds to realize just how far gone he was, just how much damage his own mind had done to him. Such pain, it could have never be healed by Misato, or a shrink, or therapy of any kind; only empathy from someone like him would have meant anything at all. But he had gotten none of that, and his soul had bled out and hardened like stone. It had broken her heart to realize the boy who worried himself every year to send her something was fading. He was agonizing, even if his body was still breathing shallowly.

Sorry, she thought, barking a mirthless chuckle. I'm sorry, Shinji. I didn't mean to push you like that, I never meant those words, even after all that happened. I wanted to help you… so bad… but I was scared, and I was angry and I ran away and I'm so fucking sorry it hurts just thinking about it, it makes me want to rip out my own damn lung and put it in your chest, if only to regress some of the damage I did to you all these years. She was giggling, but tears were running down her face and Asuka's chest felt like magma. It won't mean a damn thing if I say that now, will it? I let it be too late, and now… now you're…

"Still here, huh?" a grating voice uttered from the bed. She could not raise her head to meet his eyes, could not bear the pain of seeing no emotion toward her at all. "Why… are you touching me?" He coughed lightly, and her expert ear caught no sign of blood in his respiratory system for the moment. "Thought I disgusted you, being a… drug addict and… all that, so…" The heavy hand twitched in her hold, as if to yank itself out of her grasp; Shinji barely had any strength in him, however. "What's all... this about?"

Say it, her mind whispered furiously, pushing her own lips into motion. Spit it out, you coward. Asuka took a shaky breath, and finally lifted her tear-stained face to him. She saw the ice cold melt in seconds and a sliver of what she knew to be concern shine in his eyes. For some reason, it brought life back to her dead chest. "Shinji," she managed, sniffling. "I've always known about the drugs. I… use some of them, too," she admitted, tightening her grip. "Does it… mean anything at all if I… if I say I'm sorry?"

Just as quickly as it came, that concern disappeared and the curtain of Shinji's dead soul shone in his cobalt stare. "So that's… it," he muttered. "You… feel bad, huh? Well…" Blissfully for her, he looked up at the ceiling. "I forgive you for leaving me out in the street to bleed out. It's not like you owed me anything, you know. 's not like… I don't deserve to be left to die, so… if you hearing it will stop this charade, then fine." He sighed with obvious discomfort. "I forgive you. Now you can go back… to your great life. I won't… bother you with my stupid presents anymore. Heh." Even when it pained him to do so, he chuckled. "You probably just throw them… in the trash, right? Like those love letters from school." He began to laugh, punctuated by coughing.

Dead. He sounded dead, Asuka realized. His voice, though playful and somewhat charming in a way it had never been in his youth, lacked any actual sentiment behind it. The act was good though, good enough to fool his workmates, the inner circle of the run-down bar Misato had mentioned in a drunken tirade, and their former guardian of all people. She found herself questioning the intelligence of every person who knew him, unable to grasp how the immense, unbearable suffering and anger Shinji harbored was clear as day to her.

"This is what you've been doing," she whispered, her heart constricting painfully when Shinji yanked his fingers away from hers as though they burned. How long, she wondered, how many nights had he longed to hold her hand? How long had she dreamed of it? And now, he couldn't stand her touch. "You've mastered the act of being Kaji. Whatever happened to Shinji?"

He stared off at the ceiling with the cold look in his eyes which made him look so much like his father that it scared her, blinking a few times, mulling over his words. "He's dead," Shinji replied, smiling with fake mirth. "He died about… two years ago. A tragic thing, really. Poor boy, all alone, drugged up in an alley, beaten to a pulp. Stabbed. Probably molested, as well. And you know the best part? He didn't even feel it. He was so far gone by that time… Ah… When I woke up in the hospital that day, I knew he was just… gone."

The worst part about everything Shinji had just said was the tone of his voice, Asuka decided. Gone was the biting sarcasm, leaving nothing but a gravelly tone devoid of emotion and warmth. She recalled that particular phone call as well, quite vividly, and remembered leaving her practice to demand the phone number of mercenaries from her deadbeat father. People were underground right now because of what had transpired that night, and yet she had not mustered up the courage to drag her uncooperative feet to his side.

Asuka had been the first person to acknowledge his existence after Third Impact, even while detesting him. She wondered where the boy crying on top of her had gone after she had abandoned him, and realized the answer was buried deep in the eyes of the man who lay in bed and now seemed unable to stand the very sight of her. During the first weeks back she recalled vividly her own conviction that Shinji would love anyone just so long as they loved him back.

"Who am I talking to right now, then?" Asuka asked, dreading the answer. If Shinji was dead, then his feelings for her were as well, and their bond, whatever it had been, would dissolve. The magical day in which she'd show up in his front door, scowling deeply with every one of his gifts in tow was drifting further away. The afternoon they'd spend crying, screaming, fighting and making up for years of neglect and pain began to dissipate. Opening those gifts with him as he explained the meaning of each… the dream was dying inside her, taking along her very soul with it.

This Shinji had little to no interest in loving, nor being loved by anyone at all. He had relinquished his existence to one of appearance, oblivion, and inebriation so as to drown out his own pain, since it was too much to bear.

Back in their young days he had scarcely mustered up the courage to look her in the eyes. After their clash during the Seventh's training the strength in him had been systematically sucked out through trauma and pain. As Asuka sat beside the bandaged visage of Shinji, she discovered he held no particular interest in looking at her at all. He didn't care about anything, because his soul was dying and dragging both his body and mind into the endless abyss.

"I'm what remains," Shinji answered at last. "Now please, leave me be. You've tortured me enough with your presence as it is. If you're not here to kill me, or yell at me, or ridicule me, what the hell are you here for? Can I just not rot away in peace? Or does it give you a strange sort of pleasure, to watch your tormentor in such a frail state? I get it, you despise me. You have every right to, and you-" his words were interrupted by panting and more coughs, "-you do not have… to ever apologize… to me."

Later, she thought, when she was alone in his room, there would be time enough to analyze with ferocious scrutiny every word he had said, and the possible reasons behind them. At the current moment however, her heart felt too heavy, her breath too constricted, to even articulate a biting remark. She realized, with tears threatening to spill from her eyes, that he hated her. He hated everything and everyone; it was how he had survived. He had killed almost every aspect of himself with drugs and self-hatred, and had then flooded his wounded soul with rage. The drugs had found a way to soothe the unyielding wrath, and give him the time to develop this elaborate persona he presented to the world.

"I would kill that little bitch you saved with my bare hands if I could, because she doesn't deserve someone like you bleeding for her," Asuka found herself confessing without warning. "I know you don't believe me, and that's okay. I wouldn't believe me either." She scoffed at the idea of even trying to wrinkle the wrapping of his gifts. "I've never thrown away a present you sent, or a letter, they're all… accounted for. I used to hate the way you made me feel, I used to be disgusted by the memory of what you did in that hospital room, I used to yell at you and strangle you and demand the stupidest things from you, I would blatantly lie to your face and tell you I hated you. And you knew that. Still, you saved my life without even thinking about it. You tried to save that girl before you even knew what you were doing."

She got up, face inching so close to his that the marks of all those unnamed knuckles, elbows and feet became clear around both of Shinji's cheekbones. She glared into his frigid cobalt eyes, but he did not move, barely reacting at all besides a curious raised eyebrow. He truly held no major attachment to life at all, and yet behind that impermeable wall of hatred, sadness and agony, Asuka caught a glimpse of him. They were still connected. There was still a chance; her dream was not forsaken. "You can bullshit the whole wide world with this act, Third," she whispered, scowl softening. "But I know you're not dead. You're still you, and I'm going to help you back up. That's a promise, Shinji."

He offered a macabre smirk in return, one which looked almost unnatural on his features. "Well," Shinji answered, amused. "Good luck, Second Child."

His connection with her was the last thing anchoring Shinji's soul to his body, she realized, and his wrath was so very desperately trying to cut it off. Stupid, she thought with a strange sense of glee. You can never cut this. I've prepared for this moment for seven years. Now, it's time. She kissed his forehead, ignoring the bestial snarl he produced and the horrible glare that came alive in his eyes. She ignored how he pried himself away from her lips, even in such a state.

"Don't worry, Shinji," Asuka told him, heading for the door. "I'm here now. And I'm going to save you."

She also ignored the raging, deranged laughter mixed with wheezing coughs which followed her way out.

There was one memory she detested above all things; an image which terrified her far more than the recollection of Adam rising or of Lilith stealing her soul. No, Misato had seen far worse once; she had seen the result of Shinji's trauma and hidden rage. Sitting next to him as the young man drew shallow breaths and recovered from the second intervention, one which Asuka had orchestrated and directed, Misato remembered red eyes, bright as blood on a sunny day, staring at her soul and leering.

Shinji had torn out the windpipe of a man with his own teeth once, killed three others with a knife and some broken glass shards. The last one he had almost eaten alive, gouging out his eyes, tearing his lower abdomen open, yanking the man's entrails out, and finally ripping out his throat and chewing on it. Misato had found him; she had been the first one on the scene thanks to the tracker she'd sneaked into his jacket the day before. She had seen him and stifled a horrified scream, appalled by the bestial visage on the young man, frozen in shock upon realizing that he looked exactly like Unit 01 had when emerging from Leliel.

"They had it coming," was all he had said with a twisted snarl on his face, as drool and slime dripped down his chin and the police officers cuffed him with evident fear in their eyes. "They just had it coming."

Years before, people had tried to kill both him and Asuka. He had pushed the then broken down girl out of the way and gotten shot in the leg, only to then be pushed from a two-story height onto a wooden table. Asuka had wanted to die, he had refused to let them make her dream come true, and had paid for it with a lung.

Misato had never gotten around to investigating whether the men he had killed had been the perpetrators of the attempt, or the men who had… abused him. Either way, Shinji -or whatever remained of him- had never shown a trace of regret and even smirked when the people he had murdered were mentioned.

"Hmm… now you're here."

The rasping whimper came from her right, startling Misato.

"I'm drugged up again," Shinji stated matter-of-factly as he shifted in his bed. "That means Asuka dearest got to open me up like a turkey. How… fun."

The way he spoke nowadays never failed to drive a shudder down Misato's back. Shinji, her dearest boy, sounded almost as cold as his father had. "Do you want me to go?" she asked, not daring a glance at his stony gaze.

"Do I have a say in it?" he retorted. A drunken hand clumsily took a hold of the glass of water to his left and brought the precious liquid to his lips. Droplets fell on his gown as the water cascaded down his chin. "If I had a say in anything, I'd have told you all to let me die instead of letting Asuka touch me."

Misato found herself responding with honest anger fueling her chest. "You keep pretending you hate her. You love to play this character now, this persona you've created. You say you hate her, and yet you send her a present every year. You can't stand anybody insulting her in your presence. The same goes for Rei, God rest her soul, and the same goes for me." Taking a hold of his calloused hand, Misato prayed for a crack, a nick in the impenetrable armor the former Third Child guarded himself with. "Why, Shinji?"

Perhaps it was due to the drugs, or Shinji's depleted state, but she caught a glimpse of honest grief and agony in his eye. "You all…" Panting, the once shy boy directed those deadly eyes in her direction. "Betrayed me, all of you…" he rasped in return, quickly losing consciousness. "Just want… to die…"

The statement alone made Misato, a hardened warrior, bite down on her lip and stifle another sob, just as Shinji's consciousness faded and the typical twitching of his nightmares began.

She wondered who this was, this person laying in bed and breathing shallowly through knife wounds and lacerations in his body. She knew that Shinji, in his pain, truly did want to die, and the only reason he had not yet taken his own life was simply because he refused to die before Rei came back from Instrumentality. Or at least that was what he had told them during the last intervention.

Drug addicts are experts in manipulation and lies, the psychiatrist's words rumbled in the back of her brain, forcing a disgruntled huff out her nostrils. They will say and do anything to get their next fix. That was certainly true, except Shinji never had to worry about getting drugs, or even having to lie to get them. He was widely recognized as the very first person to reject Instrumentality and unlock the souls of mankind from the ocean of LCL. Any substance, both legal and illegal, was in his reach and it had been so for years.

Misato recalled how the way Shinji so casually spoke of the many drugs he took on a daily basis had almost been enough to turn Asuka's skin pale, regardless of whether she considered herself a functioning addict or not.

"Hmm, let's see," Shinji's dead voice had echoed in the tape. "Well, I sleep like shit every day, so you'll understand if I drink plenty of coffee in the morning. A Xanax or two to drive away the headache and nausea, a couple Panadols with about ten drops of Clonazepam to reduce the tremors in my hands enough to cook, then a joint to mellow me out before work." Two Xanax and that much Clonazepam would be just about enough to medicate a bodybuilder, and it was only his breakfast. "I get kind of itchy after nine, so I'll take a Nuplazid to stop the visions, then smoke another joint to get through the day. How many Valiums did I take yesterday? I think it was three, barely enough to keep me from freaking out before I reach my apartment. Then… maybe a little vodka, rum, or whatever's strong and available. A joint to mellow me out, some sleeping pills and a few beers. This is on a good day."

On a good day.

What was a good day to him, anyway? Misato wondered when had been the last time Shinji had felt any sort of joy whatsoever, but then the terrifying image of him chewing on somebody's neck came to mind. Perhaps a moment in which he was free to unleash the blinding rage which erupted constantly from his chest was the closest thing to joy he had, after numbing himself to the point of near-death on a daily basis. When had been the last time Shinji had kissed a girl, or taken one out on a date? When had been the last time he had done anything normal at all?

"Betrayed you…" Misato repeated, with the remains of alcohol coursing through her veins. "I guess we did, huh, Shin-chan? We all moved on, or tried to, and you… you were all alone…"

Misato wondered idly if Asuka had slept at all, after finishing her revising, redressing and improvements on Shinji's stitches. She had demanded the key to Shinji's apartment and had marched away, not even bothering to wave a goodbye to her former, heavily hung-over guardian. She had told Misato, with a voice of steel and the drive which had for so long identified her, that she was the one who would rescue Shinji, so she needn't worry so much and instead could leave things to her.

Yes, absolutely, there was plenty of logic and insight there.

Sure, Asuka and Shinji had not killed each other after Third Impact, yet they had barely interacted at all. Any efforts the then shell-shocked Shinji had pursued with silent diligence had been met with cold, calculated, biting remarks and insults which made him flinch as though hit by debris. After the incident, Asuka had opted to push Shinji off the elevated road, since she had not given him permission to save her life, nor take a bullet to the leg in the process. Then a second bullet had penetrated his lower abdomen, just as Asuka's hands touched his chest and made him lose balance. Two bullet wounds from a deranged returnee, and two broken ribs, along with heavy damage to his lungs, spinal column and skull.

I still remember it like it happened yesterday. The paramedics told me he was whispering her name, over and over again, and apologizing.Her molars ground with repressed anger; she had never gotten her revenge on Asuka. Misato had filled the would-be-assassin's body with lead and serrated steel, bled him out like a pig and had forced him to tell her about any other plots targeting her young charges.

In her pursuit of gang members, politicians and normal people, Asuka had escaped her clutches and fled back to Germany in a VTOL. How possible is it, Asuka, oh Great Doctor, oh Great Pilot Supreme, that a little schoolboy crush would be sufficient to draw Shinji out the darkness? You really believe you can just come back and pretend like you never left? Take over everything like you took over Shinji's time and attention when I opened my house to you?!

Asuka had long since rejected any and all interactions with her. She had always accused Misato of never paying the slightest sliver of attention or care to her, instead gravitating exclusively towards Shinji and leaving Asuka to cry out alone. She's damn right about that. I am a shitty person, and a shitty guardian… but Asuka… Shinji's chest had been covered with bandages like this before, and it had not been the result of a bullet. You are shittier than I could ever be, you little idiot. Always bitching about Shinji when he runs away, and you did exactly that for years. I hope you enjoy the work of art that he's become.

In seven years, Shinji had collected a distasteful collection of scars and wounds. At first, after Asuka left, he had maintained a semblance of self-control and sanity, however frail it had been. But after the first unanswered calls, and a threat directly from the mouth of Asuka's father, Shinji had begun to… wither. At sixteen, he had gotten blackout drunk for the very first time, had tried marijuana, cocaine and booze on the same night, and gotten hooked on every substance instantly. The fighting and violence came soon after. He was very good with violence.

Misato shifted her weight on the chair and stared at Shinji with something akin to soreness. Taking a gulp of water from her own plastic cup, Misato sighed in dejection. You can be… so nasty when you're angry, Shinji. Touji, Kensuke… Hikari… you scared them all off. You even threatened Kaji, and fought him. You would've attacked me without a second thought as well. You'll fight anybody when you're drunk and high on coke, anybody who'd badmouth the woman you swear to despise beyond all things. The same person who betrayed you in Instrumentality, Shinji? Why is that?

Shinji was good in street fights, his bestial instincts and reflexes allowing him to roll with the punches and dispatch most of his opponents with brutal efficiency, unless they ganged up on him and attacked four or five at a time. Even in such situations, Shinji would bite, claw and kick his way to either victory or unconsciousness. Ironically enough, he ended up gaining the respect of his assailants, who would in turn fill him up with more alcohol and drugs and laugh about little nothings with the Third Child. The destructive cycle continued almost every Saturday, so knife wounds, puncture marks, dislocated or broken fingers, cracked knuckles and facial trauma were a part of Shinji's weekend routine.

"I've seen this before, in experienced karatekas," the doctor had said to both her and Asuka, handling over the x-ray sheet to them. "Look at the knuckles on the left hand, yes, these three. It's quite easy to see the fusion of the bones though bone callouses. This is produced by consistent micro-fractures to the bone structure, but this level… it's as if he hits that hand against a concrete wall every day."

The knuckle bones had been turned to a hard paste meant to slam against faces or hard structures, and if Kaji was to be believed, a simple punch from Shinji carried sufficient steam to crack an eye socket or a cheekbone on impact. Misato had never expected Shinji to offer so much resistance against a wizened soldier and agent, and yet he had been on the verge of biting down on Kaji's neck and tearing out his respiratory system in one bite.

Her brown eye drew over to the visible scarring on the side of Shinji's left bicep, where bandages and intubation covered half of the letters of a word.

ELITE, it currently read.

Under any other context, the letters would have had a powerful meaning, a sign of Shinji's survival after all the agony and loneliness he had suffered, yet the word was incomplete. It was neither a tattoo nor some form of brand; it was a scar. He had carved the word into his skin with a knife, letter by letter, slice by slice, so as to always carry with him the mark of his failure.


"It's not like it's the red goo's fault, ya know?" Shinji had slurred after Misato had first taken notice of the rapidly festering wound on his upper arm. "It's not like I tried to climb on it, or yelled at my mother to move. Nah… I just sat there and listened as she died. Then when she asked me about it, this is all I could muster. So… here we are… he he, hahahaha!"

Back in his childhood and youngster years, Shinji had very rarely smiled at all; to see the curves of his mouth tilt upwards was almost impossible. After his seventeenth birthday, however, the realization that Asuka would never return sank in, and Shinji's downright spiral deepened greatly. He rarely smiled still, but he laughed with no actual mirth behind it, cackling endlessly when drunk with an eerie expression on his face.

"'s three o'clock in t' mornin'," Shinji slurred in English while his body twitched every now and then, sedated and most likely remembering some party or song. "p't m' key in the door… bodies layin' all over t'floor… don't remember how they got th're… guess I must've killed th'm… killed them…"

His words made Misato shudder, but as quick as they had come the small tremors dissipated, and Shinji's erratic breathing turned a bit calmer.

The beeping of the hospital room and the sound of two people breathing were about the only noises in the ward after Shinji finished whispering and continued to quietly whimper. Soon Misato would have to leave; it was getting very late, she was about to kill seven people, and she had yet to put her daughter to bed. Fresh blood would be dripping her hands once again, but Misato found herself not caring. The bastards who had tried to capture the teenage girl belonged to a renowned gang who kidnapped, raped, and butchered both girls and boys to later sell their organs to the highest bidder. The ungrateful little bitch had no clue how close she'd come to a horrible death had it not been for Shinji.

Misato's eyes grew heavy. She wanted to grab a hold of Shinji's bandaged hand and squeeze it, whisper to him that everything would be alright, that she'd care for him now and he'd get better. He's listened to it so many times before, her mind offered with dejection, eyes glued to the tiny scratches and scars that covered his fingers. Yeah, sure, you'll follow him around like some little sister for the first week or so, then you'll go home to your family and your baby girl and forget all about him for a month. The next time you try to contact him, he'll have abandoned whatever program you crammed him into, and he'll spit on the ground at your feet to let you know just how much your empty promises and words mean to him.

"We all moved on…" she whispered sourly, bitterness dripping off her tone. "Why… why do you have to make it so hard…?"

A faint chuckle escaped Shinji's wounded chest and forced Misato's lips shut, eyes now wide as saucers. Had he heard her speak? The very thought of it brought a deep feeling of shame which blossomed in her gut. Shinji chuckled mirthlessly some more, mixing in coughs with wet wheezes and actual laughter. "I know, right…?" he rasped, licking dry lips. "Such a pain in your ass… these many years. Ah… might as well just let me rot and go back to little Rei, don't ya think? You wouldn't want… her being near me now, would you?"

The tone of his voice was smooth, a tender whisper if ever there was one, but his eyes told a completely different story. Get the hell out of my room, you lying bitch. Stop pretending to give a damn. Your act makes me sick. It was almost as though she could read past every line without even meaning to. "Junkie-Shinji… Stupid-Shinji… is a terrible example for your precious treasure. We want… to shelter her as much… as possible… don't we?" You have a new model now, a real child to take care of. Go and be everything you weren't to me. You and your daughter can both go to hell.

"Wouldn't you like to see her?" Misato asked, feigning innocence. Perhaps, she pleaded to the iniverse, perhaps he had not listened, had been too far gone with the meds and the tranquilizers and the serum to hear her terrible words. "She'd be happy to visit you. Maybe… if you take her out to the park then you'll see, Shinji, you'll see th-"

"Spare me," Shinji grated, disgust now evident in his voice. "As if your dear… husband… would ever let me near… your treasured child."

The image of Kaji and Shinji meeting face to face once more brought nothing but dread to Misato's chest, which was already constricted in so many different directions. If she had betrayed him, then in Shinji's mind Kaji had betrayed Asuka not once, but twice or thrice already by abandoning her and letting her run rampant and unguided alone in Germany. Shinji despised the Kaji to his core, and had already tried to kill him on one occasion.

"Do give… little Rei… my sincerest greeting," Shinji added sarcastically. "I'll be sure to… send her a nice present this year. You can tell her it was… from Asuka… hehe, haha…"

I know you'd prefer it if I was dead. So just leave me alone, and I will be in no time.

The unspoken words sent a powerful shiver down her spine.

"Why would you even…" Shinji continued after a few heartbeats. "Call her… huh? Did you know… I've been calling... for years? Years." He spat the word with obvious disdain. "And now,... suddenly you call, and she's magically here. I'm sorry, but that's… fucked up. If she was going to be here, might as well be for my funeral, not for… its foreplay… haha…"

This time Misato could not keep the anger from her voice, nor did she want to in the first place. "She had a plane ticket bought for June the 4th, Mister Know-It-All. She was going to come here and surprise you on your birthday, and then her bastard father found and packed her full of work for the next three days, just so she'd miss the plane, and the chance." There was only a tiny bit of a lie in there, the part about Asuka's father, but everything else had been true.

It was o true, in fact, that Shinji fell into a solemn silence, cold blue eyes now addressed to the ceiling. Misato watched his jaw tighten, the flaring of the nostrils, the way his hands curled up into fists and squeezed the sheets with vehemence. He was furious, yet was unsure towards whom the fury should be directed. If Misato was a betting woman, and she was, she'd put all her money on Asuka, and himself.

"Yeah," Shinji managed at last, after what felt like a short eternity in the small, quiet room. "I'll believe that as much as I believe you, oh, Great Guardian of the Unguarded."

Sarcasm; the typical response from him as of late. When his list of biting rebukes was running empty, Shinji would conjure up the dark sarcasm developed after he had turned eighteen and try to offend whoever he spoke with at the time enough to either instigate a fight, or make that person get fed up with him and leave. Permanently. He had tried that technique with her a number of times, to no avail.

"I bet she was planning it and stuff, right? A big surprise party for Baka-Shinji, mass murderer and genocidal maniac, right?"

He had stopped panting, Misato noticed. He had stopped coughing, which meant plenty of adrenaline was now running through his bloodstream, a clear sign that he was not simply angry anymore, he was furious and insulted. Shinji actually lifted himself off the bed, evidently causing agony to his still-healing wounds, and spat out a pinkish glob of coagulated blood and spittle next to Misato's left shoe.

This time, there was no need to read between the lines. "Fuck you," he snarled, glaring at her with misdirected hatred. "Get out of my room, Misato. And don't come back again. I'm done with you. I'm done with everyone." Exhausted limbs gave out and Shinji collapsed back into the mattress, snarl still present in his features.

"That's a pity," Misato responded while rising from the seat. Asuka had the right of it, strangely enough. There was a glimmer, only clear when he was raging or seething, of the person he had been before, crying out for help so hard it sounded like deranged screams in her mind. "Because we're not done with you. She's not done with you. And you're not done with her either. I called her because the two of you have unfinished business, and it will kill you both if one of you stubborn, blind, stupid brats doesn't do something about it. So tough luck, stud, because I'll use every little bit of influence I've got left to literally handcuff you two together until you sort your shit out."

"Did you know," Shinji answered instantly, with a fake, lopsided smile which looked nothing short of repugnant in his snarling face. "That I tried to kill her, Misato?"

"Yeah, yeah, big whoop," replied Misato, waving off his statement as though it meant nothing. "She almost killed you that one time, too. So you're even now. And I know that no matter how much you want to, you'll never put your hands on her, will you? Look me in the eye and tell me you'll hurt Asuka. Come on, lie to me."

Shinji would have loved to scream at her, to yell and spit pure venom into her face, to laugh at the absurdity of her logic and crush any and all hopes she had of rescuing the frail little brat he had once been. Just as he was about to bellow that, yes, of course he would put his hands on Asuka and strangle her properly this time, he stopped. Some unknown force closed his jaw with such force that the teeth in his mouth almost cracked.

Never, whispered the boy he had long since left for dead. I would never hurt her, never put these dirty, junkie hands on her. I wouldn't dare to think about hurting her in any way.

"Yeah," Misato nodded before departing. "You have no problem saying it to me, but you can't even bring yourself to lie about her, can you? See you around, Shin-chan. I know you don't believe it, but I do love you. Very much so." Her eyes tenderly locked with his furious, incredulous ones. "Get well soon, honey."

The door closed. Shinji sat there and brooded in silence whilst his molars ground with rage.

"God damn you…" he muttered, lower lip quivering and jaw hurting from the pressure once he was alone. "God damn you… you little coward."

Had there been any strength in him at all, Shinji would've risen from the bed and trashed his room in a fit of blind rage; he would have taken every pill he could find afterwards, to see if he could actually overdose inside the hospital before the nurses sedated him or the security detail tazed him. But he had nothing left, not even enough strength to haul his own damn body to the bathroom and slash his wrists open, let alone hit anything or even tip something over. If only he was not such a pathetic wimp, he'd have ended the ache long, long before.

"You little fucking c-coward…"

Asuka's here, the annoying little voice boomed from inside his head, to which Shinji answered by shaking it until the pain became blinding, and still… he could faintly recognize the words. She's here! She came! Asuka came back! Yes! I get to see her again!

"Shut up," he mumbled, almost blind with fury. "Shut up, you good for nothing little shit. So what if she's here? It doesn't change anything. We're in this together, you and I, and it's about to go underwater, remember? Not even she can save this sinking ship."

Baka! His own younger voice barked back, making him blink. Asuka said she'd save us! She promised! Do you really think someone as pathetic as you can even try to stop her from doing anything she sets her mind to?! Damn, you really are an idiot.

Idly wishing to have some level of control over the many drugs being pumped into his system, Shinji sighed dejectedly, and felt the many invisible blades stab him again all at once. "Pff, yeah right," he muttered with heavy eyelids, not noticing how he sounded much, much younger than he actually was. "Yeah… right…"

He hated himself for many, many reasons. They ran from the most basic thing to very detailed, small particularities he discovered and subsequently despised. One of the simplest ones was, after all, how imagining Asuka's smiling face in that magazine managed to calm the eternal anxiety that corroded his chest. Better than any pill, better than any drug, just picturing how her body would feel next to his, were they ever to lay down together, was enough to stop the tremors, the shaking and the hallucinations. Just imagining her flashing that smile at his miserable self quelled the thirst for substances to an extent.

It never stopped the nightmares, though. Nothing ever stopped the nightmares.

Tokyo 02. Living district. Ikari Shinji's Apartment. 2.58am. Day Five after Initial Incident

Of course she had been with men. Other men. Different men, not many, but others that were not him. She had shared intimacy with a German, a Japanese, a Latino, hell, she had even let herself take an American to bed during one particularly drunken night. It never failed to make her sick in the morning, guilty for unfathomable reasons, force a sickness from her belly which would convert the ecstasy into feelings of deep repulsion and nausea. It felt wrong, in her brain, in her body, in her soul, to lay with any man whose name was not Ikari Shinji.

The most pathetic part of it all was that the closest she'd ever gotten to actually sleeping with him was him strangling her and her shoving him to what could've been his death. Regardless of how ludicrous it seemed, her body never lied. She needed to be heavily drunk just to simply lower her defenses enough to let herself be touched. And then, during the act on many an occasion, she had demanded… violence. Pain, intermingled with physical pleasure, mostly managed to obscure that queer sensation of guilt corroding the very essence of what she was.

And what was she, now?

Sohryu Asuka Langley, great war hero, child soldier, captain in the German military, doctor, surgeon extraordinaire at twenty-two years of age, was a great personality both in her nation and the world over. People everywhere saw her as the one warrior who had chosen to stand her ground to the very end, defying SEELE, NERV and Ikari Gendou in her last act of rebellious fury; a powerful soul, the first human other than the Commander's son to exit Instrumentality. Her peers respected her and gave her plenty of professional distance, wary of her intellect and temper. She excelled in every little thing she set her mind to, and to others it was a clear sign of strength, character and diligence.

Bullshit.She spat the bitter taste out of her mouth, swallowing a large gulp of Shinji's rum and letting it burn all the way down to her stomach. I only excel because I focus obsessively on literally anything other than my own damn thoughts. That shrink had always had the right of it, however little Asuka was willing to accept the man's insight and advice. Having my hands in somebody's ribcage takes away the thoughts for a while. Books, manuals, techniques, procedures, anything; I'll take anything and focus on it rather than focus on… that…

The spear came down from the heavens, as though sent by God himself, splitting her arm in two with a wet sound. Hands, fingers pressing into her belly, rabid molars grinding her innards into paste, her liver being chewed on as she lay there, helpless. Her last word had been his name, the name of the boy who never came to her rescue.

Asuka drank heavily, gulping down three large shots directly from the bottle. She panted, closed her eyes in a vain attempt to rid her vision of the EVA Series, and refocused them on the tainted moon above. Bakelite. She recalled the way Shinji uttered the word; a word which symbolized the greatest failure of his life, a word he had carved into his own skin with a kitchen knife. Unit 01 was covered in Bakelite, and his mother just sat there with him as I was being butchered. Then the bitch took her son on a field trip to make him lose his mind, and the world ended.

Asuka faintly recalled demanding entrance to Shinji's apartment in order to assess just how much work there was to do. Instead, upon discovering the many, many prescription medications, more than half an ounce of pure, Colombian cocaine, several bottles of alcohol, sleeping pills, marijuana, pain-killers and medication for schizophrenia, she had opted to steal a freshly opened bottle of rum. Now she was sitting on his balcony, drunk out her mind.

Flor… de… Caña She read the label lazily, almost drifting of to sleep from the task alone. She had scarcely closed her eyes after her arrival to Tokyo 3, afraid she'd see Shinji's wounded body in her dreams. Gran Reserva, huh? So you like the strong, the good shit, Shinji? Temptation was running wild in her overtired brain; there were so many substances to choose from in the small living space, so many options to shut away the fear, the memories and the anxiety, yet she stubbornly held onto alcohol. A junkie can't help another junkie lay off the stuff.Another large gulp cascaded down her throat, and this time she swallowed down the bitterness instead of spitting it out. If you plan on helping, Sohryu, you'll have to stay clean after all this is over. For good. Help him get clean, just as we planned. Lead by example. Just… help him… for once.

There was no evidence whatsoever to support the theory of a woman, or women, visiting Shinji's flat. There were no forgotten or discarded shirts, undergarments, a strand of hair or even the whiff of a perfume. It made her feel all the more dirty; perhaps, once he realized what she had been doing, the disgust in his eyes would be true and his hatred for her would be complete. She was prepared for such a scenario as well.

As expected of Shinji, the living space was limited yet spotless, with every little thing having its place and having only collected dust from the past five days. Asuka had glanced around his room, dining area, kitchen, and the miniature space with a television and couch. There weren't many pictures or decorations; a nicely-decorated photo of Misato, Kaji and their baby girl, one of them as pilots in their plug suits so very long ago, one of Rei which rested by his nightstand, one depicting him smiling awkwardly at the camera while he held some sort of award. The last one, sitting in his dining area, had what she assumed were his working partners clapping him on the back.

There was a photo of her, as well. Asuka had no clue who had taken it, or at what point in time between resurfacing from the ocean and leaving Japan it had happened, but it was of her younger years. She was wearing a sleeveless shirt which left the mark on her arm visible, her hair was loose, and she was looking at nothing in particular. In the photo she looked… at ease, almost pretty despite the redness of one eye and the scar above her eyebrow. Even now, her birthday was marked with vibrant red in Shinji's calendar.

For years she had ignored the calls, the gifts, and the shouts for help. Years; the word felt heavy and made her tongue feel leathery. Anybody's help would do, Shinji was just so much of a cowardly weasel that he'd grovel at the feet of anyone to acquire the slightest taste of human attention, desperate to have people acknowledge his existence and love anyone so long as they loved him in the slightest in return. For him, anybody would do; he had just opted to ask her in that particular moment because she was there, not because he held onto a particular desire to be helped by her at all.

Genius, aye? Asuka emptied the bottle and remorselessly threw it to the ground and enjoyed the sound of glass breaking. Everybody tried, literally fucking everybody, Sohryu. Everyone tried to help him. Misato almost drowned herself in coffee trying to keep tabs on him, Kaji almost reached the point of beating Shinji up from frustration and nearly got himself killed. Makoto, Shigeru, Maya… Touji, Kensuke. A shard of broken glass ever so slowly penetrated the walls of her damaged heart, making an old wound reopen. Hikari…

Shinji and Hikari had dated very briefly a few years prior to the incident. Just nigh on his second month of sobriety and after Touji and Hikari had had a temporary breakup, she and Shinji had started seeing each other. It made the blood in Asuka's veins boil, to think that Hikari of all people had already kissed him, and all she had done was steal one of his rum bottles. Regardless, there was no jealousy in her heart, especially none towards her once best friend; Shinji's relapse had been nothing short of terrifying, according to the former class representative. While Shinji had never so much as touched Hikari's hair, he had trashed his entire apartment on December the Sixth, threatened to carve the girl from neck to groin with a knife if she did not leave his sight in that instant, and had proceeded to consume enough drugs to put him in the ER not two hours afterwards.

The walls of Shinji's room were scratched and damaged, with clear evidence of violence all around; despite the fresh paint and clear efforts to discreetly mask the entry points of a knife, knuckles and God knew what else, they were clear to her trained eye. She had, after, all, done her fair share of 'redecorating' in her own empty, cold house.

Everybody had tried to help, but none had made a difference. So why, why on God's green Earth did she believe she could? I can't… stand it. I can't, not anymore. I'm done with it. I've been done with it since last year, and I've been giving myself shit excuses to keep being a coward.

Living by herself, pretending the Angel War had not happened, taking pills to sleep at night, sleeping around with random men and having them defile her, if only to forget. There were so many wounds left open since she'd left, so many lacerations which had long since grown infected and festered. Never had she asked why Shinji had tried to strangle her, and never had she asked why had he saved her life without a second thought. She had never even asked him why he bothered with the presents at all; she had never asked him anything about anything.

Let it be, the voice whispered, laughing with childish mirth. Let him rot. It's what we wanted, right? Right?! Let him rot! What are we even doing here, in this degenerate's house?! You might as well trash it, it's not like he'll care, or even notice, given how he's high off his mind all the freaking time! Let's go, let's leave! Let's go back home, back to where it doesn't hu-

"Shut up," she whispered in the dark, eyes shut tight and hands pressing against her ears. "Shut up, already. You don't run things, anymore. I do, and I will stay here and save him, no matter what."

Laughter, so much like what she had hurled in Shinji's direction many a time, reverberated inside her skull. She had laughed at him that one time when he had admitted he liked her, as in more than a friend, laughed in his face, sneered, slapped him and walked away.

Right, because he needs your help, and no one else's?

She nodded absently, hugging knees to her chest. Alone in the balcony with nothing short of the city's muffled sounds in the night, she felt very cold, and very much alone.

You don't know him anymore. Shinji… your Shinji… is dead. Dead. DEAD. You killed him, Asuka-chan. Remember that, when you left? When you left him to die without a care in the world? How you spent two years without even answering a phone? He's dead. You're trying to save a corpse.

"Maybe," she responded with a glint of silent determination in her undertone. What had she been before, if not a walking corpse? Had he not breathed life into her, when he had pushed her out of the way and gotten shot, stabbed and pummeled to the ground for his trouble?! Whatever light there was left in his eyes, it had died that day as she walked away and he bled, lying on that broken table and wheezing out her name, because he had given it to her.

There had been a sliver there, in his eyes, however. Resentment, hatred, and rage had come to greet her like an old friend. A very strange experience it had been, to stare deep into his eyes and see herself. Beneath the rage, she had caught a glimpse of guilt, pain, and so much guilt, so much of it the very memory felt like a blow to the head. Shinji was still alive, somewhere, deep down inside the dead stare of the man who lay in the hospital.

"And on my name, on my honor as Sohryu Asuka Langley," she slurred half-asleep while her feet dragged her down to his bed. "I'll save you… you'll see…"

She did not lie on his bed, but instead tripped on it and fell heavily on the mattress. Had the bed not been placed exactly where she fell, Asuka would have most likely cracked her skull on the floor. She inhaled deeply, filling her nostrils with his scent for the first time in seven years, and allowed the alcohol and exhaustion to lull her into a dreamless slumber. How she had missed this scent… it crawled all over her addled mind, engulfing the flame of anxiety and extinguishing it with a wave of calmness. Unbeknownst to her, the redhead smiled in her sleep.


To Be Continued...

AN: I… don't know what this is. Is this a story? No clue. A one-shot? No way. I don't even know if it's any good, or if it's going anywhere, but… it's there. It's in my brain, growing. Should it see other chapters, they too will in some way be inspired by Eminem's album Relapse, at the very least the title of each chapter and a tiny portion of the plot. Let me know, honestly, what you think of this! Should it continue? Should it be erased at once? Should it be worked on? Let me know!

I repeat, I have no idea where this came from, nor how it originated in my brain. It just did, it's not a sequel to Scar Tissue, nor is it related to ST in any way whatsoever. Just… popped into my head. R&R, my dear friends! Thank you for reading! I have half a mind to erase it, so if it's too similar to ST, tell me and it'llbe a goner.