A/N: I made a few artistic changes and tried to give this storie some volume. I hope you like the revision.
When She smiles
Shinji was greatly surprised when the car came to a stop in front of the large red brick building. He had enjoyed the ride there. It had provided him with the rare opportunity of not thinking about anything. As the wind flew past the windshield of the red convertible and gently ruffled his hair, his mind was blank. He watched the painted lines on the highway as they disappeared beneath the car. In the back of his mind, he realized that had the car not been occupying two lanes this wouldn't have occurred. But in his presents state of consciousness all he could do was wonder what happened to the lines when they left his sight.
In short, Shinji was completely out of it. He did not notice when the car traveled onto the exit ramp, taking the turn at a dangerous speed. He didn't even bat an eye when the car slowed to a reasonable speed that only exceeded the speed limit by 15 miles per hour. But somewhere along the line they had arrived at their destination and Misato's words snapped him out of his reprieve.
"We're here," she said softly as if not to raise the dead.
"Oh," was all he could mange to say as she turned to face him in the passenger seat. Shinji himself straitened up in his seat, but did not raise his head to meet her gaze. He wasn't avoiding her. He was just avoiding her eyes. It was better for both of them that way.
Misato sighed. It seemed like she sighed a lot these days. It was strange to see her not in a state of artificial alcohol-induced cheer, despite the fact that she'd been sober for a month now. Shinji silently wondered if sighing was a symptom of withdrawal.
"You know," said Misato, "You don't have to do this."
"I know," he said with his eyes on his feet. For the life of him he couldn't remember where he'd gotten that grass stain on his sneakers. It was an interesting question. At least interesting enough to distract him from the conversation.
"Are you sure you want to go?"
"Yeah. I'm sure," he said. His response was too fast for Misato's liking.
"You cried for hours last time Shinji."
He briefly looked up at her, but quickly looked back down.
"Is that wrong?" he asked. Misato was slightly taken aback.
"No… of course it's not. It's just hard to see you like that."
Misato wiped a stray strand of hair out of her face. It was clouding her vision. She needed to concentrate. He wouldn't like what she had to say.
"Maybe it's best if you didn't."
"Didn't what?" he asked with confusion clearly etched upon his face.
"Didn't see her."
"I have to see her. She needs me."
"She wouldn't want you to be unhappy because of her."
"She wants to see me. She misses me."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"I don't know." His hand was itching to grab the handle of the car door.
"You remember what happened last time?" she asked. "The Nurses had to drag you out of there."
Shinji's face darkened. He remembered what happened. He remembered it quite well.
"It was Nine-Fifty-Five."
"Visiting hours are over at Ten."
Misato sighed. This was turning out to be harder than she anticipated.
"I know that you care about her, but this is not healthy."
"She's getting better."
"Did the doctor's say that?"
"No," he admitted. "But I can tell. Last time she called me by my name and spoke to me the whole time."
Shinji's hand was on the handle.
"I can see you aren't going to change your mind. I won't hold you any longer."
"Thank you Misato," he said with a slight nod of his head. He finally opened the door and stepped out of the car. He couldn't help but notice the excessive length of the sidewalk leading up to the building. He wondered if it was to keep normal people away. Away from the place where they held her, where they held Asuka.
As Misato watched him walk off, she couldn't stop herself from whispering three words: "Don't get hurt."
"Hello Mr. Ikari," said a warm faced woman sitting behind the visitors' desk. She was smiling softly at Shinji, but he could tell she was a little nervous. His last visit had not ended well. The only things he remembered from the encounter was taking a swing at an orderly and Asuka smiling and waving as she said goodbye. After the incident he was taken to see the head administrative doctor of the institution. The doctor was a kindly old man who seemed very sympathetic to Shinji's plight. He was let off without any consequences, but that didn't mean the staff had forgotten what happened.
"Hello ma'am," Shinji said quietly keeping his head down.
"Are you here to see Miss Soryu again?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Shinji looking at the floor. It was hard to look anyone in the eye knowing what he'd done. It was even harder because he knew that given the chance he'd do it again. Without hesitation.
"I need you to sign this sheet and then you're free to see her."
"Ok," said Shinji as he picked up the pen. He wrote down the time and signed his name. He stared curiously at what he had just written. For the second he was lost in thought. The nurse took notice of his hesitation.
"You do know where it is, right?" she asked sounding more concerned than Shinji would have liked. He admired her kindness despite the uneasiness she obviously felt.
"Six doors down the hall to the left?"
"Yep, that's it," said the nurse. Then as Shinji turned to leave she said, "I hope it goes well for you this time."
Shinji stopped walking, but continued to stare at the floor. After a moment he continued on his way, but not before mumbling out a soft, "Thank you Ma'am."
While walking through the empty halls of the mental hospital, he couldn't help but notice how clean and organized everything was. It was a reflection of how his dream home would be: neat and tidy. He couldn't suppress the feeling that he would fit in well here. A shudder ran up his spine. It wasn't the first time that he had thought he might belong in such a place. He was slightly disturbed by the loud manner in which his footsteps echoed through the hall and it was no small relief when he found himself outside of Asuka's door. He quickly opened the door and stepped inside.
Asuka's room was simplistic in its design. There was a small twin-sized bed in the corner of the room and a wooden dresser for her keep her clothes in. The walls were bare. The doctors had wanted to keep things as scarce as possible for fear that she might hurt herself. They realized that a girl with her education could still manage to do so, but figured it'd be best not to make it easy for her.
But these things were not on Shinji's mind as he entered the room. His attention was divided between two individuals: Asuka and the girl who held Asuka in her lap. The girl was no older than 15, yet she was burdened with the responsibility of taking care of Asuka. It was a hard task for a girl of her age and Shinji admired her for it. He admired everything about the girl and was saddened that she had to live in such a place as this.
"Nice to see you again, Shinji," said the girl in a cheerful tone. "Asuka has missed you a lot."
"I missed her too," said Shinji. "It's also good to see you."
"Have a seat," said the girl patting a spot next to her on the bed. "Asuka would have offered you one, but she's been so rude these days, haven't you?"
Asuka, however, did not seem to have an opinion on the matter. She sat quietly in the girl's lap and smiled brightly at the wall.
"She's not rude at all," said Shinji shifting uncomfortably on the bed. He wished that it had been pushed up to the wall so that he'd have something to lean his back against. Leaning always made him feel more stable.
"Oh you're just being polite, she's being very rude. Always has been."
"I never minded."
"That's very nice of you to say," said the girl. "Asuka you should thank Shinji for being so kind."
"It's ok. You're embarrassing me." He didn't bother to hide his blush. The girl would have known anyways. She'd always been too smart for him.
Silence fell among the three occupants of the room and Shinji found he could not figure out what to say. Every time he had visited in the past the girl had been the guiding force of conversation. Luckily she did not disappoint.
"So what brings you to our humble abode this evening?" Shinji found it eerie that the girl never smiled. Her voice was always cheery, but a smile never reached her face. Asuka on the other hand seemed to be the exact opposite. Asuka was always smiling, but in all the time he'd visited the two of them she'd never said a word to him. The girl did all the talking for the both of them.
"I'm here to see you… both of you," he added quietly.
"You're so kind now. Asuka says you used to be quite selfish. But she's very happy to see you now, aren't you?"
With a little coaxing from the girl, Asuka nodded.
Shinji smiled lightly. He was glad to be wanted.
"How have you been doing?" he asked chancing a glance at the girl beside him.
"Asuka's been a little grouchy lately, but nothing I can't handle. She doesn't like being held in this place. She doesn't like it at all."
"But how have you been doing."
"Oh me? I'm well. I don't mind staying here," she said with a shrug of her shoulder. "I just feel bad for poor little Asuka, that's all."
Shinji didn't know what to say to this. He kicked at the air with his dangling feet. It seemed he never knew what to say to this girl. He decided to change the direction of the conversation.
"Have the nurses been treating you well?"
"I don't like them very much. They're not nice like you, Shinji."
This statement made Shinji quite concerned. He'd heard stories about institutions such as these. Most of those tales were not pretty.
"Have they done anything to you?" he asked. It was a question fueled by fear that quickly turned to quiet anger. When he spoke next, his voice was barely above a whisper. "They haven't touched you, have they? I swear if they harm you…"
"Calm down Shinji," she said with a chuckle. It was amazing how she could laugh so lightly without smiling. "They've treated me just fine."
"Oh," was all he could say. He was embarrassed that he had gotten so worked up over nothing.
"But I am concerned with how they treat Asuka."
"What do you mean?"
The girl leaned in conspiratorially, an act which forced Asuka (who had been sitting in the girl's lap the whole time) to bend forward awkwardly. She then proceeded to talk in a light whisper.
"Some of the guards have been very mean to Asuka."
"How so?" asked Shinji in a similar tone of voice.
"They call her mean names, like 'Barbie' and 'Raggedy Ann' right in front of her face. It's like they don't even care if she can hear them."
Shinji was silent, but the girl pressed on.
"They even refuse to feed her. I've been sharing my food with her all this time. The poor thing's loosing weight. Isn't that horrible?"
Shinji didn't trust himself to speak. He knew that if he opened his mouth he would say the wrong thing and the girl would hate him again. It would be just like his first visit. That had not went well at all. It wasn't until well after she was done yelling at him and pushing him violently out the door that he realized what he had done wrong.
The girl noticed his reluctance in answering.
"It is horrible, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Shinji quietly. It was the only safe thing for him to say.
"I'm sorry I didn't hear you. Could you repeat that?"
Shinji hung his head.
"Yes… it's horrible."
The girl's face lightened considerably.
"I knew you'd understand Shinji. You're so very nice."
Shinji only nodded as he cast a glance at Asuka. She smiled at him. He did not smile back.
"I heard one of the doctors saying the most horrible thing. They were talking about taking Asuka away. Can you believe it?"
"No," said Shinji much quicker this time. He was a slow learner, but that didn't mean he wasn't learning.
"Well they were. The doctor said, 'it's time we take that doll away'. You can imagine how distraught Asuka was. She hates dolls."
Shinji nodded silently.
"I won't let them take her away Shinji. I know she can be mean and I know she's not a nice person… but I'm all she has."
It was true. In this place Asuka and the girl were everything to each other. Shinji understood this, but he hated it. For a while there was nothing he could think to say to the girl. Her world was on verge of shattering and she knew it. But maybe… just maybe…
"Maybe… it would be okay," said Shinji hopefully.
"What do you mean?" asked the girl.
"Well maybe… it would help Asuka if the doctors took care of her for a little while."
"You can be so ignorant sometimes, Shinji!" she said hitting him lightly on the arm. The girl's response reminded Shinji so much of old times that he almost forgot where they were. He almost forgot why she was there.
"Asuka needs me," said the girl, kicking his memory back into gear. "Those doctors won't take care of her. No one else has ever taken care of her. It's my job. No one else cares."
Shinji was disheartened at her words, but hope is a resilient thing. If it has to go down it goes down swinging.
"What… what if I took care of her?" asked Shinji so quietly it was surprising that the girl even heard him.
"You're so sweet Shinji," said the girl. "It's really nice of you, but I couldn't let you do that."
"I'd take good care of her. I'd treat her like she deserves to be treated."
"I don't doubt you Shinji. It's her that I'm worried about. Asuka is a very bad girl sometimes. She can be very mean and very selfish. She likes you very much, but she'd only hurt you Shinji. Asuka always hurts people. Especially nice people like you."
Hope threw its last punch: a sloppy hook to the left.
"I wouldn't mind. I like Asuka too. I wouldn't mind being hurt a little."
Hope never had a chance.
"Thank you, but no thank you Shinji. She's my responsibility now. I'm just glad that you come and see her every now and then. It really brightens up her day."
Shinji hung his head and looked down at the floor. It was a plain white tiled floor. He shook silently as he struggled to keep his emotions under control. It wasn't right for her to say things like that to him. Things that would have meant so much in the past.
"Asuka did tell me one thing you could do for her. She'd tell you herself, but she's just too shy to ask. It's funny how rude she is to everyone when she's really so shy inside."
"What is it?" asked Shinji eagerly looking up from the ground. He casually wiped at his eyes knowing that it was futile. She always was too smart for him.
"She wants you… to hold her. Just until she falls asleep."
Shinji swallowed hard. He wondered what the nurses would think if they saw what he was about to do. They already thought he was crazy. Maybe this would solidify that view. Against his better judgment he decided to comply with Asuka's request. It was the least he could do.
"Ok," he said as he scooped Asuka into his arms.
The girl watched in wonder. She stared at the two of them with a look that was so childish it was almost comical. But Shinji didn't quite feel like laughing.
"She wants you to rock her. Could you rock her until she falls asleep?"
The girl looked on with longing, as he obliged. When she spoke again her voice was filled with excitement and something like disbelief.
"I've never seen her look so happy. She's very peaceful now Shinji. She wants me to thank you for her."
"You're welcome," said Shinji awkwardly as he looked down at Asuka's smiling face. He couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness that had hit him the moment he took Asuka into his arms.
Shinji continued to rock Asuka to sleep for quite some time. It honestly felt like an eternity to the boy, but he never stopped. Relief washed over him, when the girl spoke again.
"You're so nice Shinji. So very, very nice. Why do you keep coming here to see us? You should be out with other nice people having a nice time."
For once in his life, Shinji knew exactly what he needed to do.
He looked the girl in the eyes and said, "I came here because I love you, Asuka."
"She loves you too," said the girl, effectively crushing his spirits.
As hard as it was, Shinji kept himself under control. He wanted her to understand. He needed her to know.
"Asuka's not the only one I love," said Shinji once again forcing himself to meet the girl's eyes. It was not an easy task.
"That's sweet, Shinji. That's very, very sweet."
Her answer gave him some encouragement but he couldn't help but notice that she had not said those three words back. Still, he was content to know that she cared.
"Don't be silly Shinji, Asuka's asleep."
"I know we've asked a lot of you since you've been here, but there's one more thing I'd like for you to do?"
"What is it?"
"I don't know if I should ask…" said the girl timidly. "Asuka wouldn't like it. She can be so selfish sometimes, so very, very selfish. But do you think… maybe it's okay if I'm selfish this time too?"
"It's okay," said Shinji without a second thought. It was all the encouragement the girl needed.
"Would it be okay… if you held me for a while too?"
It was harder for Shinji in that moment. He wanted to scream. He wanted cry. He wanted to run. But he steadied himself because he needed to hold it in for the girl. He nodded to her silently.
She carefully removed Asuka from Shinji's lap and gently laid her next to him on the bed. Shinji then leaned his back up against the headboard with his legs spread apart upon the mattress. The girl sat between his legs and leaned the back of her head upon his chest. She then grabbed his hands and wrapped his arms around her middle.
It was definitely an awkward moment for Shinji. He'd never been so close to anyone in all of his adolescent life. But there was something about her warmth and presence that was calming to him. Even though a voice in his head was telling him this was a bad idea, he couldn't find it in himself to move.
"This is very nice Shinji," said the girl. Her voice was somehow softer now. Less formal. "If it wasn't for Asuka I could stay like this forever."
Hearing her say such a thing brought Shinji to the edge. When he looked down at Asuka's forever-smiling face he was slightly pushed over. His body began to shake outside of his control. His vision blurred. He wanted so desperately to hold in the tears, but there was nothing he could do. It was just too much. She was too much.
"Why are you crying, Shinji?"
He shook his head. There was no answer he could give that she would understand.
"You shouldn't cry… Asuka is very sad when you cry."
He struggled for a while, but finally brought his voice under some semblance of control. It still shook as he talked.
"But Asuka is asleep."
The girl thought about this for a while, but soon came up with the appropriate response.
"It makes me sad to see you cry too."
This statement caused Shinji to cry harder, wetting the girl's hair with his tears.
She can't say that now. It's not fair. This isn't fair.
"Please stop," she said. "If you keep crying you'll wake Asuka up and, she'll be very mad if she sees us like this."
With much effort Shinji managed to bring himself back under control. His tears ceased to flow, but his breathing was heavy and he still shook a little bit.
"That's better," said the girl. "But if Asuka was awake she still would not be pleased."
"Why not?" he asked with a quiver in his voice.
"She'd want you to smile. It makes her so happy to see you smile."
"But Asuka's still asleep," said Shinji slowly as he still attempted to catch his breath.
"That's okay," said the girl. "I'm happy when you smile too."
There was never a time in all his visits when Shinji wanted to break down more. His anxiety built up inside of him like a shaken can of cola, just waiting to explode. He knew that later, when he was in the safety of his room, he would let it out. He would lock the door and ignore Misato's pleas for entrance. He would cry for hours. Maybe days if he felt up to it. He would cry until the tears could never fall again. But right now, in this moment he held it in and smiled.
He smiled for the girl.
And for the first time he could remember, the girl smiled back.
Special Thanks to sedemihcrA for helping me put the finishing touches on this. I owe you one.
Author's Notes and Idiot Proofing:
Yeah, it's depressing. It's probably the saddest thing I've ever written. The inspiration came from nowhere. It was like one moment I was walking on campus and the next I had this idea in my head. But if I am to be completely honest after re-reading the story it reminded me a bit of the fourth chapter of "I Knew Him When" by Adam Kadom (I recommend it highly).
That's all I have for Author's Notes. It's time for the Idiot Proofing.
Now before you guys go calling me a jerk, I just want you to know that I consider none of my readers idiots... I just call them that because it amuses me. I seriously mean no offense by using the term, but I think it's pretty funny. So I'm going to do it anyways.
In reading this story, there are five levels of idiocy that I will address. If you fall somewhere inbetween, I recommend using the higher level of idiocy. Better to underestimate your self than hurt your self trying to comprehend something you can't. (I kid, I kid)
Idiot Level Zero (Too Smart for my good): Congratulations smart reader. You understood everything that's going on in the story. I don't have to explain the characters or the setting or what happened to Shinji during his first visit. You're the type of reader that makes my job easy, but slightly less fun. I can't insult you because you're too intelligent... smart alack.
Idiot Level One (Understandable Stupidity): Hey it's ok. You're really not that stupid. You're probably just missing some vital information. Maybe you haven't seen the whole series. I bet you're thinking, "there's definitely something more to this story than I understand." That's a good thing. An idiot who knows he's an idiot is much better off than one that does not. My advice to you is to look into Asuka's background information (particularly that which involves her family). Wikipedia is a good source for that if you don't have the DVDs readily at hand. Re-read the story. If you still don't understand what's going on then I don't mean to insult your intelligence, but you should probably move up an Idiot Level.
Idiot Level Two (Eh... I'm sure you're very athletic): So you still don't quite get it. It's not your fault. Your parents probably didn't read to you enough as a child. Just pay close attention and follow my directions and you'll get it. The girl is someone you know from the series. She is not an original character. (I'll give you a moment to let that information settle in... got it?... oh... a few more seconds then... Good). Now that you have that information look very closely at the dialogue in the story and also the descriptions used for Asuka. They are very important to understanding this story. Look particularly at the lines right before the girl asks Shinji to hold her. Isn't it interesting that he didn't notice Asuka was sleeping? Please tell me that's interesting... because if it isn't you'll have to move on to...
Idiot Level Three (Lost at Sea without a Compass): You poor lost thing... you still don't understand. And you're trying so hard. Well have no fear, I shall pilot your ship and point you in the right direction. But beware: the journey may blow your mind. Prepare yourself my friend, you are in for quite a shock. ASUKA IS NOT ASUKA! There I said it. The entity that has been called Asuka throughout this story is not Asuka. This raises so many questions: What is this thing we've been calling Asuka? Where is the real Asuka? Why is this crazy guy talking about ships and compasses? Well ignore that last question and pay close attention. Look at one line in the story... just one line. When Shinji says, "I love you Asuka." Who is he looking at? Who is he talking to? Come on... you can do this. I believe in you! But just incase you still don't understand...
Idiot Level Four (For the Criminaly Stupid... how are you reading this?): You very unfortunate person. Did your mother drop you on the head as a child? Do you live under high voltage power lines? Did you eat a rather large amount of lead-based paint chips in your infancy? I can't imagine how lost and confused you are in your own little world. May God have mercy on your soul. I'm going to break this down for you in terms you can't mistake.
Asuka is a Doll
The Girl is Asuka
Shinji is Shinji
If you don't get that then, I'm sorry because I've done all I can do for you. Seek professional help!
Remember... all that I've said, I've said in love... or jest... or in blatant disregard for your feelings. The point is, this story is pretty subtle so it's understandable if you didn't understand it (yes even you, Level Four Idiot). I hope I've clarified this for everyone once and for all. Thanks for reading.