Somewhere to Hide – Chapter 1 – Last Boy, at the Edge of His Dreams

November 17th, 2016. Tenryu Ward, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The tail end of the Southern Japanese Alps surrounded the hamlet. The leaves on the trees were changing color for the first time in over a decade. The autumn air was crisp and chilly, another sign of the seasons returning to a land that, for 16 years, had been stuck in an eternal summer. Third Impact had upended many things, but it also served as a much-needed reset of the ecosystem.

Most of the locals had some experience with the winter, the hamlet's population, like most of rural Japan, being fairly old. Mr. Suzuki, their neighbor, had proclaimed that they had to hurry with the harvest as the first freeze would be coming soon. Something about the air smelling a specific way. Asuka didn't believe that old folk nonsense. She didn't mind the cold. While Germany had lost its winters following the Second Impact, there was still a colder season, which might have been called autumn in the past. The return of winter to Japan made the long-sleeved shirts she had taken to wearing more bearable. Shinji had complained a few times; well, as much of a complaint as the former Third Child could muster.

"Amagi, that's enough for today. Let's get some rest and finish the rest tomorrow. I'm sure the men will want some food when they're done with their labor. So, you should go make some food for young Mr. Ayanami."

For a moment, Mrs. Suzuki's words didn't register. Asuka was still getting used to her new name. It had been her idea to use fake names to avoid their identity being discovered and the potential consequences therein. They'd agreed to keep their first names to avoid making a mistake, but Shinji, being the idiot he was, decided to go with Ayanami for a last name. She didn't really hate the girl and even understood why, now that she knew of her relationship with her roommate, but it was still a stupid idea.

"Shinji does the cooking; I can keep going until he's done," she replied. While that was true, she mostly wanted to keep busy. Keeping busy kept her from having to think about some things she'd rather not.

"Nonsense! He's working hard and deserves a nice meal when he gets home. I can teach you how to cook a good hearty meal. You might be a pretty-looking young woman, but food is how you catch a good husband," the octogenarian replied.

Keep calm, Asuka. Don't kill the old lady. It'll just make your life harder, she thought to herself. She'd been repeating that mantra since moving here, or rather, since the Suzukis had come back.

"I… I'm 17. It's a bit early for that. But I'll think about it." Another one of her brilliant ideas, changing their age. She had hoped that it would prevent them from being taken into child custody. But it turned out that the government had bigger things to worry about than rehousing teenagers living alone. They paid Asuka and Shinji a small stipend so they wouldn't starve too badly and called it a day.

"By the way, I know it's none of my business, but did something happen to you two in Tokyo-III?"

"What…what do you mean?"

"My husband mentioned some news about Tokyo-III this morning, and apparently, your friend froze up and started mumbling apologies and other things while holding his head. It reminded him of some people after Second Impact," Mrs. Suzuki said.

Oh god, not again, she thought in annoyance. Every so often, usually after hearing about the situation in the greater Tokyo-III area, he would start closing up, becoming like a robot. It creeped her out. She had to get out of this before she tried to pry more information out of her.

"I… We saw…a lot of people die. Friends. Shinji took it hard. I…I think I'll try and go cook something now. I'll… see you tomorrow," she said hurriedly before starting the short walk home, leaving a befuddled old woman behind her.

Asuka was sitting at the kitchen table when she heard the door open. She had been home for an hour already, trying to think of how to approach him without going off like she usually did. It wasn't something that came easily to her. She was already a mess herself; dealing with someone else's, especially Shinji's, was not something she knew how to do.

She saw Shinji enter the kitchen carrying a bag of the daikon they had been harvesting. Just as she feared, he had that face.

"Did you guys finish?" she asked, trying to see if she'd get an answer.

"No," was his only reply. He put the bag on the counter before starting to empty it; his movements were very mechanical. It really creeped her out when he acted that way.

"Did something happen today?" she ventured.

"No, I'm fine," he replied in his monotone voice.

He had spent the first few weeks after the beach incident speaking like that. Short sentences, always only in response to a question, said in that awful flat tone. It reminded her of the First. She blew up at him multiple times during that time. He started getting better after people started coming back; they even managed conversations typical of people their age. But whenever he heard any news whatsoever about the consequences of…that thing, he would revert to this state. She even went as far as destroying the radio after he spent 4 days sitting next to it in some kind of trance.

"Suzuki told me all about it, so don't try to deny it," she said.

Shinji flinched as if struck. "I SAID I'M FINE," he yelled.


He froze. She had him exactly where she wanted him.

"We've been living together long enough, so stop it with your 'I'm fine' crap," she snapped, imitating him mockingly.

Shinji didn't reply, instead turning away from her and started taking out ingredients from the fridge. Asuka narrowed her eyes. He was trying to avoid a confrontation with her.

"I'm going to make dinner. It'll be ready in 30 minutes," he said quietly, not looking at her.

There was nothing Shinji did that annoyed her more.

"Stop running away and look at me when I'm talking to you, idiot! I can't hear when you mumble!" she yelled while grabbing his shoulder. The surprise made him drop the bottle of soy sauce he was holding on her foot.


He backed away, scared. It was an automatic thing whenever she had any kind of reaction.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he stuttered erratically.

He said it. His good old automatic reply.

"Ugh, why do you always apologize for the smallest thing," she barked at him.

Whether it was from the pain in her foot or from Shinji's pitiful responses, she was becoming more and more angry. Part of her wanted to keep at it. Push him until he finally gave her what she wanted. At the same time, she knew from previous experience that it wouldn't work and would only make him close up even more. She chose to go with the latter.

"Why are you such a stubborn asshole whenever it's about important things. You drive me insane, Ikari," Asuka said in annoyance. She tried to bring her voice down a bit, but there was still more venom there than she'd hoped. Suddenly, she felt utterly exhausted. She'd had a long day and, more importantly, was tired of dealing with Shinji's bullshit.

"I'm going to bed. Go sulk for all I care. I lost my appetite looking at your pathetic, sad puppy face," she said, glaring at him before leaving the room.

It took five minutes for her attempt to fail. That was an improvement over the last time, but that was still a failure on her part. And she hated failing.

"I'm sorry" was the last thing she heard before reaching her room and unceremoniously dropping onto her bed.

She woke up shivering. The nightmares she was starting to get used to, but this cold was simply getting too uncomfortable for her to sleep in. It wasn't like they could afford a Kerosene heater with the small stipend the government paid them.

Her stomach decided it was the right time to remind her that she hadn't eaten. Getting out of bed, she noticed a tray with a bowl with some simple Oden and an onigiri.

She felt some satisfaction looking at the daikon they'd spent the past week harvesting, finally becoming something edible. On the tray, there was a note with the simple inscription 'sorry.'

Idiot, she thought before devouring the food. It was simple but fine enough, even cold.

"I guess I went a bit too hard on him again," she whispered into the darkness.

Deciding to check up on her roommate, she left her room, making the short trek to Shinji's room before stopping in front of it. She was debating whether to go in. They had that talk - if her monologuing at him could be called talking - so many times since coming back at that beach. Was it even worth having again?

Making up her mind, she slid open Shinji's door, only to see him sitting on top of his futon, holding his knees, looking outside. For a moment, she thought about turning around and going back; after all, she didn't plan on him being awake. That, however, was running away, and Asuka was done with running away. She grit her teeth and moved forward, sitting down next to him.

"Mind if I sit?"

Shinji's only reaction, if it could be called one, was a slight nod. He kept staring outside, his expression empty.

"Still the conversationalist, I see," she said sarcastically, sitting down next to the boy.

"You remember what I said after that angel that cried acid?"

"Yes, you said you didn't like the dark."

"Yeah. I still don't like it, but I don't mind it so much nowadays. I remember you said you liked it."

No response. Again.

Great conversation starter, Asuka, she thought to herself. She knew what she had to do. She had hoped that he would be the one to start the conversation, but evidently, her hopes were misplaced. He was still Shinji, after all.

"You know why I was angry at you today, right?" It came out a bit stronger than she'd hoped.

Another slight nod.

Some days, I'm not sure whether or not I want to smack him or hug him. He looks so pathetic, and it enrages me, but some of the things I've seen, it's messed up.

She had to think about her next words carefully. The last thing she wanted was for it to end up with her yelling at him.

"You're doing that thing again. Whenever someone brings up…anything about last year."

It wasn't like she enjoyed thinking about it, either. She had been carefully avoiding looking in the mirror, or at her arm, because of the scars. They reminded her of that moment.

"Shinji, I'm going to say that once, and only once. So shut up and listen." She paused for a moment, searching for the right words.

"I know you feel guilty about all of…this," she said, gesturing at the ever-fading band of red in the sky. "But, we're all here because of you as well. Even those annoying neighbors."

God, she couldn't believe she was about to say this.

"You're much stronger than you think, you know. You're a wimp but a strong one." Maybe stronger than me, she thought, as much as it pained her. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. The night air felt much colder against her skin than it did a few moments earlier. She drew her knees to her chest, trying to ignore the way her heart was hammering in her throat.

"And despite everything…you still decided to let people live."

They sat there saying nothing for a moment. Asuka stared straight ahead. Looking at Shinji felt difficult to do at the moment.

"Yeah, you've done pretty shitty things. You know it, I know it. I hate you for some of it. And…I know you hate yourself for it," she started.

Shinji looked down in shame. He seemed to shrivel just a little, his shoulders creeping up towards his ears and his spine curving down. He knew all too well what she was referring to. Asuka winced inwardly. God, she was fucking this all up. Self-hatred lanced through her like lightning, searing and ugly. Had she ever been this genuine in her life? She took a deep breath. She'd gotten this far. Too late to back down now.

"That's because…you're a good person." She bit her lip. "I mean it. I know you probably think I don't, but. You're a good person, Shinji. And you're probably the only person I could consider a friend, so I'm sticking around."

"But, Asuka -"

"Shush, let me finish." She was trying to find the right words. If she said the wrong thing, it would all be for nothing.

"We're a team. But you've let me down a few times."

Shinji looked at her. That wasn't something he expected her to say.

"And if you ever bring those circumstances up again, I will kill you," she said, raising her voice a little to emphasize. Then she subsided, knowing what she had to say next. The words stuck in her throat. Her grip on her legs was white-knuckled. If he rubbed her words in her face, she'd…she'd…she didn't know what she'd do, exactly, but it wouldn't be pretty. Asuka took a deep breath and dived in.

"I might have let you down too. A little. Once or twice."

She dared a glance at Shinji. He had turned his head towards her. Shock was written all over his features. He clearly didn't expect her to admit to any wrongdoing on her part. She decided to continue, before he managed to open his mouth and ruin everything.

"But we're a team. You and I against the world. Kicking asses." She was proud of that line. They'd been a poor team, which was not her fault in any way, but at least he didn't look so sad anymore.

"Well, daikon for now," she added with a strained chuckle.

Silence fell between them. Asuka's hands felt cold and clammy. She realized she was trembling a little. It was because of the cold. It had to be. She took a deep breath and then let it out, hoping that it wasn't too audible.

"I'm glad to have you as my friend, Asuka," Shinji said.

She looked at him and saw that he was smiling. It was very small, and a little wistful, but it reached his eyes and softened the wan haggard planes of his face. Asuka's heart skipped a beat. She couldn't remember the last time she saw him smile. Probably before Third Impact. A while before Third Impact.

She didn't realize until now how much she missed it.

"You'd better be," Asuka mumbled, her face heating up as she realized she was staring. "You're the only person in the whole world who gets the honor of being called my friend."

"What about Hikari? You spent a lot of time with her."

Asuka blinked. She hadn't really thought of the former class representative since coming back.

"Well, for all I know, she's still in there," she said while gesturing at the sky. "Plus, I've never been all that close to her," she said, shrugging. 'It's not like she could really understand anything,' she added in her head.

"Oh, I'm so-"

She decided to cut that word short with a jab to his ribs.


"Maybe we'd have gotten closer if your idiot father decided he didn't want to turn everyone into soup."

Shinji winced at the words. She knew his father was still a sore topic, but she was trying to make a point.

"Stupidity might run in your family, but at least you're not an evil idiot…for the most part. So stop worrying your stupid head with stupid thoughts and let the smarter person do the thinking for you." She flicked his forehead. Shinji winced.

"Ow, Asuka, geez," he grumbled, and then subsided into silence. He no longer looked quite like such an empty shell of a person. That's a start, I guess, she thought.

"It's hard, you know," he said after a few minutes. Asuka nodded.

"I try to tell myself that things are getting better, that I did the right thing."

"I just said that you did, idiot," she interjected.

"I know I did. I just… I just remember it all whenever it's mentioned. Then I can't help myself. Like whenever I see your scars, I remember your screams. What if I'd gotten there earlier?"

She couldn't help but rub her arm at the mention of it. She hated him for that; she knew he couldn't have done anything now, but she still felt like he'd let her down at the time.

"It wouldn't have changed the outcome, probably. The game was rigged from the start."

"You're right, I guess," he answered, smiling weakly.

"Of course I am! See, sometimes you can be not stupid. I like it when you're not stupid." Asuka smiled at him.

"And if you start feeling like that again, just tell me. I'll be happy to call you an idiot and give you a good smack," she said, giving him a light smack on the back of the head. "Gives me a good excuse to let my bitchiness out before I kill that nosy bitch next door."

Shinji chuckled.

"Now, if we're done with the mushy, mopey stuff, get in the futon; I'm cold and tired. And we have more daikon to deal with tomorrow." Shinji looked at her for a moment before understanding the implications.

"…in the futon?" he stammered.

"Yes. Futon. That thing you people call a bed."

"But, but, I only have one."

He was definitely getting flustered. It was too dark to see, but she'd have bet an entire year's stipend that he was blushing right now. That was nice. She liked it when he acted more like the old Shinji. It was less common than when they lived at Misato's place, but every so often, she could catch a glimpse of it.

"Don't get any ideas, Third," she said, glaring at him. There was no anger in it. "It's cold, idiot. Stupid Japanese houses don't have insulation, and it's near freezing, so we're just keeping warm," she said, turning away from him, wrapping half of the blanket around herself.

"Good night, idiot."

"Thank you, Asuka."

"You should thank me more; it's better than your apologizing," she mumbled before sleep claimed her.

Unbeknownst to Shinji, he had just entered into a permanent bed-sharing agreement.

Last Boy, At the Edge of His Dreams - End

Here we go. First chapter is out after an eternity in rewriting hell. First of all HUGE thanks to Zxanthe for the beta reading and corrections/improvements. Also thank you to Resuom for helping with some of the dialog.

As mentioned, the story mostly takes part in Tenryu ward in Hamamatsu, for an idea of the setting, you can look up these coordinates in Google Maps (34.947554, 137.834729). It's a beautiful area so, I definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance. The drive along the Tenryu river is really scenic. Shizuoka Prefecture shilling over. For now.