Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion.
Summary: Hikari learns not everyone lost in wars are soldiers. Contains harsh language.
"You filthy fucking piece of shit!!"
Suzahara Touji pulled his bloody fist back and again sent it into the face of the boy he was fighting. It was a glancing blow, his knuckles striking a sharp cheek bone. It was already swollen and discolored. He punched it again, and the boy went lax in his grip, slipping to the dusty ground.
It was a clean and clear day, no clouds in the sky to obscure the endless azure of the heavens or the shining magnificence of the fiery sun. Beautiful, especially considering what happened just a week prior. The day when that colossus attacked the city and the emergency shelters were used for the first time. The day when, for all intents and purposes, Touji's world had ended.
He paid no heed to the sizable crowd that had gathered in the windows of the school around him, dozens of eyes watching the fight with anxiety, with joy, with disgust, with excitement. He ignored the catcalls, the shouts, the pleas for mercy. No quarter had been given, none would be asked. There was nothing anyone could say to stop him.
He picked the boy up again, and then knocked him down. The boy, his gentle curving face, his chocolate hair, his deep cobalt eyes, all were lost under purpling bruises and blood sprouting up from splits across his face. He was smaller than Touji; the fight was entirely one-sided. Nothing but weak hands and thin arms vainly trying to shield a soft and vulnerable body.
Dust flew into the air as he was knocked down to the earth, a frenzied whirlwind. Touji picked him up again.
Where Touji gave no notice to the crowd around him, it inevitably drew the attention of another. Horaki Hikari never took her responsibilities as class 2-A's representative lightly. It was an honor bestowed upon her in recognition of her grades and maturity. It was a pity her peers did not share her astute mind, or her ethics, but she was not there to judge. She was to enforce the school's rules, and guide her fellow students by example. She never thought otherwise, and while it did swell her head at times, she forbid herself from overstepping her boundaries or abusing her power.
But she knew when to exact her authority. Every day it seemed someone dared to copy work under her watch, or skip class, or eat during a lecture, or, as today, pick a fight. Fighting was something Hikari never understood. She realized humans were the home of certain undeniable aggressions and conflicting emotions, but to resort to actual physical violence was beyond her. She couldn't imagine hating someone so much as to inflict pain upon their body. Even to wish hurt on another human being confounded her.
But then again boys were of, well, a lower mental capacity than girls. Not that she was sexist. Just realistic. She had plenty of experience regarding the inner workings of the male mind. Thought precipitated action, and as a class representative, she was witness to plenty of stupid actions by boys. Fighting, she had to admit, was near the top of the list.
She followed the sounds of raucous shouting and the disorganized line of students to the south courtyard. She ignored the crowds: even she couldn't order a mob this size to disperse. Where were all the teachers?
Hikari broke into the dazzling sunlight, and surprised herself by not being surprised when her eyes fell on Suzahara Touji beating the daylights out of the new transfer student. The operator of the robot, she corrected herself. She had seen the commotion earlier, but her main concern was restoring order to the class, not gawking at a teenage robot jockey. She actually found it a little depressing, that in the face of such a shocking occurrence happening right under her nose, she immediately fell into her class rep mode, almost without thought. But it was a part of who she was.
Just like it was a part of Touji to jump to conclusions without all the facts, or make enemies over matters in his imagination. Hikari had carefully observed him hassling the robot operator, and had thought nothing would come of it. Just Suzahara giving the new kid a little trouble. She never thought he'd actually be kicking him in the ribs ten minutes later.
"Suzahara-kun!" Hikari shouted from across the courtyard. "Stop it right this instant!"
Touji did not stop.
As she strode out from the school, mustering every ounce of authority she had in her tiny body, the crowd gradually quieted. Like a silent wave crashing in her wake, the rest of the student body watching fell steadily hushed. Hikari let herself feel proud, that she alone was enough to calm the teeming mob.
As she got closer to the scene of the fight, she realized it wasn't her presence that silenced the throng of students. It was the fight itself.
Touji's fists were red. Not just a little splattering on his knuckles; his entire hands were bloody. There was crimson speckled on his track suit sleeves, red on his running shoes and climbing up his legs. This… this was no fight. It was a maiming.
"Su… Suzahara-kun!" Hikari exclaimed, outraged. "What on earth do you think you're doing? Good… good God! Stop it! Stop it right now, Suzahara-kun!" Never before had she wanted to swear so badly at someone.
He halted the attack briefly, and threw a fury laced glare over his shoulder.
"He killed her!" Touji screamed.
"Who? What are you talking about?"
"My sister's dead! Azumi's dead!"
Hikari staggered backwards, feeling the breath leave her body. Little Suzahara Azumi, Touji's pride and joy, the girl with the deep brown eyes, the girl who loved her brother like he was a shining superhero…
"He killed her! Him and that fucking robot!" Touji roared, tears running down his face. He lifted his foot up, then ground it into Shinji's ribs. "Well?" he asked the boy under his heel. "Where's your fancy robot now? Not so tough when you can't step on little girls, are you?"
Touji kicked Shinji in the face. Shinji coughed up a red tooth.
"Stop it!" Hikari shrieked. "You'll kill him!"
"That's the idea." He drove his heel down on Shinji's windpipe. He began to sputter for breath. He opened his mouth for air, and all Hikari saw was blood. She spun on her heel towards the boy watching behind her.
"Aida, do something!"
The bespectacled boy looked away, cringing. Hikari stared at him, not believing this was happening. Kensuke always softened Suzahara. The freckled boy never let things get out of hand. Sure, Touji was a fighter and a jock, but as long as he had his friends nothing bad would ever—
"Suzahara!" she screamed. "Touji!!"
Hikari did not know what possessed her in that moment. She felt something break inside her. She knew Touji was angry, but seeing him willingly try and take a human life pushed her towards action that was normally unthinkable to her.
She dove from behind at his midsection, wrapping her thin arms around his stomach, which felt like steel to her. She pulled with all the might she had in her fourteen year old body. Touji didn't budge an inch.
"Stop it!" she screamed, feeling hysterical. "You can't kill him!"
Touji bared his teeth.
Hikari let go of him, and used her tiny fists to hit his back. Nothing was working. She felt angry and confused and sympathetic and tired and old and weak. In a moment of brave panic she ducked under his arm and faced him. And she slapped him. Hard. The nail on her middle finger broke in half, but she barely felt it. She was looking into Touji's face, his eyes, desperately trying to find him beneath all his fury and rage and sadness. She tried to find the boy who always bought two lunches. The boy who hated art class. The boy who never turned down a bet. The boy who loved his little sister more than anything else on the planet.
He pushed her away.
Hikari fell backwards, landing on her bottom. She felt like he had just struck her. The entire situation caught up with her all at once. Touji, the fight, the transfer student, the battle, the death of little Azumi, the fight, the edge of chaos the world was teetering upon… she covered her eyes and began to cry.
Touji jammed his eyes shut, facing the sky. His jaw was set, a trap, and his bloody fists clenched at his sides. With a sound like a dying sigh he lifted his foot from Shinji's neck and the boy gasped for breath.
"Stop crying," Touji bit out. "You got nothing to cry about. So shut the hell up." He spun on her when she did not comply. "Shut up!"
Hikari sniffled, wiping her eyes. She stood up hugging herself. Touji glanced away, then turned back to the boy.
"What's your name?" he growled.
"… Shinji," he barely managed through a sob.
"Fuck you, Shinji." Touji spit on his face, turned, and walked away.
The alarm sounded thirteen minutes after Ayanami and two men in black suits carried Shinji away. Hikari had only heard it once before, on the day of the first attack. When Touji's sister died, she reminded herself. Somehow, even knowing that, she couldn't completely hate Shinji. If he hadn't been there, if he hadn't fought, so many more could have been killed too.
It was close to hate, the feeling he conjured up for her: it was irrational, it was a gut reaction, it disregarded reason and logic. Hate always did. But Hikari had nearly no experience with that emotion. The closest was the injustice she felt after her mother died. It was true she had been in a few fights, nothing but verbal barbs, and the slothful behavior of some of her classmates ruffled her feathers, but to comprehend the fury she saw in Touji today… that was beyond her. She hoped it always would be.
She was sitting on a mat in a small group of girls in one of the shelters, half-heartedly playing hearts to pass the time. It struck her as slightly ridiculous, a card game after she nearly witnessed a murder, and during a battle involving things from those cartoon shows her little sister Nozomi watched. Giant robots… she couldn't even begin to imagine it. Both the reality of something so fantastic, and that anyone would bother to build one. What was wrong with tanks and airplanes? A robot seemed so… science fiction. What possible purpose could it serve, beyond looking neat?
It was quiet. Logically, Hikari knew there was a battle outside, but she couldn't hear anything over the flowing chatter of the evacuees. No rumbling, no seismic thumps from giant robot feet, no shaking from weapon fire. It felt like recess. And people were treating it as such. She scanned the room; it was wide, sterile white and strangely oppressive. The lack of windows, the to-the-point construction and design, it all combined as if to say "you have to stay here and wait to live or wait to die."
Hikari shut her eyes. She didn't want to see everyone's smiling, oblivious faces. She didn't want to be here. She didn't want to think about what would happen to Touji. She didn't want to wonder if getting beaten so badly was affecting that robot boy.
She sighed. Everything felt dull. Even the hate for the small boy Shinji was barely discernable, like seeing something from far away on a hot day. She knew it was there, but it didn't feel like it was hers. Even the fear of death from giant robots was a trifle. Nothing was here for her, and it all—
She opened her eyes. The girl sitting across from her on the mat, Yuki, was glaring at her.
"It's your turn. It's been your turn. If you have a spade, put it down. Come on, we're playing a game here."
Hikari looked at her hand. She blinked at it. None of the symbols or numbers looked familiar. She selected a card at random, and placed it on top of the other three already on the floor. The girl on her left, Noriko, sighed and collected the cards, tucking them in a pile by her fat calf. She put another one down. It continued, and Hikari suddenly wondered what the hell the point was. She kept placing cards out, waiting until there were none left in her hand.
Yuki collected the entire deck soon enough, and began shuffling them like a professional dealer. She grinned and chatted happily with the other girls, about homework and parents and if they'd get back to school by lunch. Hikari gazed out over the crowd again. She looked for Aida, and did not find him. But she could not summon anything but fatigue regarding it. Idly, she strained her ears again for any sound of battle.
She didn't bother scanning the crowd for Suzahara. He was spirited away after the fight by large men in black, just like the boy, Shinji. But she couldn't imagine it was for the same reason. Touji was in
trouble, real trouble this time, and his patented puppy dog eyes wouldn't save him now. This might really be the end of the line for him this time. This might—
She turned back around.
"We're starting the next hand. God, you're so flakey today. Are you still thinking about that fight?"
"Well forget it already." Yuki shrugged and scoffed at the same time, like she always did, and tossed her long black hair. "They're boys, Hikari. It's what they do. They get in fights and beat each other stupid. Stupider. Don't worry so much about it."
"But it was on my watch," she protested weakly. "And—"
"And nothing. It was totally out of your control. You know how boys are. When they set their puny little minds on something, there's no talking them out of it. It's just the way they're programmed. So relax. I know how important your class rep title is. Don't worry. I'm sure the faculty won't hold you responsible. So don't worry." Yuki smiled, a gentle, close-mouthed reassuring smile. And then her eyes flitted down to the deck in her hands. "So come on. We playing or what?"
And Hikari played. She swallowed the rest of her emotions and played cards while Aida went missing and the world waged war outside the shelter walls. She played and did not tell Yuki she was wrong.
Because she hadn't been worried about her title. The thought of losing her position never entered her head. She had been upset because a tiny part of her, despite her attempts to stop Touji, despite her screams and cries and sobs… a part of her wanted that robot boy to die.
The funeral was held one week after the attack. Special consideration was given to the Suzahara family, particularly Suzahara Gen, the father, for he was losing both his children. Little Azumi, killed in the first battle of Tokyo-3, and Touji, shipped away to a juvenile detention center outside the city. NERV was, miraculously, not pursuing him to the full extent of the law. The how and why were never questioned, and Touji agreed to take his punishment like a man without any objections. His only request was that he stay long enough to pay his final respects to his sister. NERV did not allow him to.
Hikari did not get to say goodbye to Touji. The faint inkling of the crush she had left with him. The most she could do for him now was to see his sister off, since he could not.
The funeral took form so quickly in order to secret it away from the public eye. The sooner the girl was in the ground, the sooner the masses could forget about her. It took all of Hikari's resources and crocodile tears to wheedle where and when it was taking place from the appropriate adults. That, and the details regarding Touji. Sometimes it paid to be a cute female in a man driven society.
She attended the funeral without telling anyone. Not her father, not her two sisters. She wore the black dress Kodama kept in the back of her closet and never took out. It was two sizes too big, but she wore it anyway. The lone formal shoes she possessed were the powder blue heelless slip-ons, which were incredibly inappropriate for a funeral, so she wore the only other footwear she owned, her school shoes, the ones with 2-A emblazoned on the straps. She doubted anyone would notice.
It was a short service, Gen reading the eulogy, a non-denominational priest presiding over the event. It was held in the Impact Memorial Cemetery, where Azumi was to be buried. It was a kind of honor, and no one argued with the wisdom. There was a small podium on a low stage, with a curtained backdrop behind it blocking the rest of the graveyard, and the coffin. Chairs sat in two rows of six before it, white, wooden, pristine. Hikari sat ramrod straight in her chair, good posture somehow becoming an acceptable way to show grief.
Attendance was poor. The Suzahara clan was not big to begin with, only Gen, his father Koji, and a few cousins able to make the trip. A smattering of NERV technicians showed up, but Hikari thought their only purpose was to hush up the cause of Azumi's death.
There was a lavender-haired woman she didn't recognize sitting near the back right row. She was, Hikari had to admit, gorgeous. Tall, slim, but busty, a model's face and features… Hikari knew how extraordinarily wrong it was to be comparing her looks to someone else at a funeral, but she couldn't help it. It was reflexive jealousy, plain and simple, with a little righteous indignation thrown in for good measure.
The priest refocused her by asking anyone who wished it to approach the coffin and pay a final respect. Hikari found herself walking towards the front before she knew what she was doing. She had only met Azumi once, during a basketball game Touji had played in. The younger Suzahara watched her brother with something akin to awe, gazing in wonder after him as he ran across the court. Hikari herself hardly ever attended sporting events; they bored her stupid. But the student council urged her to participate in more school events beyond meetings and assemblies. She was supposed to set an example after all, and audience turnout had been lacking recently.
Azumi had been front and center, practically hopping in her seat as Touji dribbled past her on his way to the basket. She was a small girl, but she exuded cheerful confidence and good-spirited poise. She couldn't have been more than ten or eleven, but she handled herself with the utmost self-assurance that nothing bad would ever befall her. Having an older brother who would beat the crap out of anyone who bullied her probably had something to do with it.
Hikari realized who she was when she stood and cheered for Touji as he made a basket. The brunette decided to sit next to her, both to try and catch some of the girl's contagious good humor, and to score brownie points with Touji.
They talked. Hikari learned Azumi was still in grammar school, she liked cats and not dogs, her favorite color was green, thunderstorms scared her, and her guiltiest pleasure was Sanrio. And she liked her. The young girl appealed to Hikari's more motherly instincts. There was no doubt in her mind: she wanted children one day. This was sort of a test drive.
Azumi fulfilled all of her secret maternal yearnings. The little girl was energetic, happy, bright, sweet, and infectiously cheerful. Everything Hikari always dreamed of. She let herself be carried away by a well used fantasy, of watching Touji perform to his body's extent, while sitting in the stands with a child. It was self-indulgent and silly, but Azumi was so full of life, it was hard not to dream a little.
Hikari approached the coffin with an almost stunned disbelief. She was really dead. This cemented it in reality for her. Even so, she couldn't summon any tears. She surreptitiously glanced around her. No one else was crying, either.
She paid her respects in silence. The coffin was closed; Hikari didn't want to think about what was left of the girl. Through the grapevine she heard it was pretty bad. The words mangled and ruined came up a lot. Hikari shivered, her imagination concocting dark images of burst open stomachs and bones spearing through pulpy skin and skulls cracked like old flower pots spilling their grey curdling viscera to the ground below. Suddenly the coffin seemed almost transparent, all the sinister visions of her mind painting the world red. She hurried off the stage.
The ceremony went on, but this was a busy city, filled with busy people, and it ended soon after Hikari sat back down. She stayed in her seat as the attendees began filing out of the cemetery in groups and alone, feeling impotent frustration. She felt like she should be doing something more, anything to make this tragedy less pointless. A little girl died here, and now it was back to business as usual. Even Gen and Koji, looking far older than Hikari thought probable, were merely shaking their heads as they walked out. The coffin was in the ground; that was that. End of story. Life marches on. Get over it.
Hikari suddenly felt like crying.
This was the world she existed in. Death was a minor annoyance, a disruption of routine and nothing more. So what if humanity had been neatly halved fifteen years ago? One more was of no consequence. One more was just one more.
There should be more. There should be much, much more. Where was the outrage? Where was the sadness? Where was the grief?
She thought of Touji, and remembered where those things were.
Soon Hikari was the only one in the graveyard, left alone with the new marker of Suzahara Azumi. She didn't know why she stayed. The service was over, the coffin lowered into the earth, even the father and grandfather had left. She was the only one in the cemetery, the only human among an endless sea of headstones. She cast her eyes left and right, and felt like she was being swallowed whole by this field of death.
She looked up. The sky was clear and blue. The sun was bright and warm. The world went on, like it always did. The world went on.
"Ikari Shinji? Ikari Shinji?"
The aged sensei called out a third time for the boy, squinting angrily over the class. The students in the front row were clear and clean and vibrant, those in the back were nothing beyond blurry splotches of color. Everything in between was varying degrees of smeared haze. But just because he couldn't see everyone didn't give them an excuse not to answer when called.
"He's not here," Hikari said, standing up. "His guardian sent a note to the office. Didn't you get it, sir?"
He scoured his desk, and the printouts that littered it like fallen leaves from his youth. Without drawing attention to his severe farsightedness, and because this class' representative was so trustworthy, he selected one of the slips at random and held it before him.
"Ah, yes," he said. Some alien force carried his tongue. "Terrible shame, his absence."
"… yes, sir." Hikari sat down.
He continued with the role call, relying on his ears to mark the students as present than his eyes, until—
"Suzahara Touji?" the sensei called out. No one answered him, and he begrudgingly lifted his eyes to the class. He adjusted his glasses to identify which blurry smudge was the boy in question. "Ah, there you are," he said as a nebulous white and brown form rose from the murky sea of desks and torsos.
"Um… no, sir," Hikari said. "It's me again. Suzahara is…" She glanced away awkwardly. "He's gone, and he isn't coming back." That was enough to muzzle the rest of the class, in varying states of idle chatter. A shroud of melancholy fell over the students, each reliving the near murder many of them had witnessed.
"Oh," the teacher said. He shuffled the papers on his desk, jotting a mark on the attendance sheet, and moved on. He completed the rest of the roll call quickly, with the half-hearted interest his pupils had come to expect. Then he laboriously launched into his day's lesson. "And so as the year 2006 ended, I was living in Hokkaido, trying to scrape together a living as a teacher, instructing the children of the many construction workers of the Dai-ichi corporation, as teachers were in very short supply then, and children had very few safe places to be while their parents worked…"
For the first time in her class 2-A life, Horaki Hikari did not pay attention to the lesson. Her terminal was active, her hands poised over the keys for the illusion of vigilance, but nothing the teacher said got from her ears to her fingers.
As she walked into class that morning, the sight of Touji's and Ikari's empty desks burned themselves upon her psyche like a branding iron. And now, like a chessboard she could see the desks in her mind, and their relation to her. Her brain kept replaying the fight, but she couldn't feel what she normally felt. All that was left for her was fatigue.
She was tired. Of school, of the battle-scarred city, of her clueless peers, of the imposed responsibility of her position. She just wanted a break. From everything. But too many people were counting on her. Her family relied on her cooking and organizational skills, her friends counted on her for help with homework, and her teachers needed her to maintain order and control. There was no time to wallow in self-pity. No time to mourn the loss of one little life, or the sympathy the people in this city lost somewhere along the way.
All that remained was duty. To her family, to her school, to her city, to her fellows. She felt like she was being directed, controlled, by some superior force orchestrating her actions and emotions. It was draining, and tiring, and exhausting. But it was the life that had fallen into her lap, and there was no arguing with it now. Even if she managed to push the tears out again, they wouldn't do any good.
Finally the bell rang for break, but she didn't hear it. She stayed in her seat, eyes boring into her terminal screen. She stayed that way even when someone approached and stopped before her, and cleared his throat.
She looked up. Aida Kensuke stood before her desk, sandy hair falling into his dimmed eyes. He looked like he hadn't slept in days.
"Yes?" Hikari answered him, her role as class representative rushing behind her words.
"I… you said Touji left and isn't coming back. I called his house, but no one's there. I can't find his dad or granddad, and… do you know where he is?"
"You really don't know?"
"No." Kensuke glanced away, looking at the parking lot beyond the windows. "I know… I know what he did was… wrong, but… even my dad won't tell me what happened. Everybody's sweeping it under the rug like it was just a minor accident or something. It's like nobody cares."
He was his friend, Hikari rationalized. He had a right to know where Touji was. It was the same thought process that aided her own search for the truth. She didn't stop to question it.
"He was put in a juvenile detention center somewhere outside Tokyo-3. I don't know exactly where. I don't know where his dad and grandfather are, either. Sorry."
"… yeah," he said. "Thanks."
She glanced at him. He truly did look terrible. Remotely, she thought he did indeed look like he just lost his best friend in the whole world.
"Where were you the other day?" she asked suddenly. "During the attack?"
He flinched back a step. His eyes would not meet hers. Lying to her would only make things worse. And after she told him what she knew about Touji, not letting her know felt incredibly wrong, even with everything else going on.
"I went outside. I left the shelter." He swallowed as Hikari shook her head in weary disappointment. "But," he went on, "it was for a good reason. Not just to see the battle, but to see how the new kid held up. I mean, he had to be carried away the other day. So… so I thought I should be an eyewitness to his struggle, you know?"
He was talking faster now, getting caught up in the tale. His eyes sparked a little as he spoke.
"The route I followed out of the shelter led to a hill overlooking the east side of the city. And even with all the evacuation drills and plans made available to the civilians, it was still weird to see the city in, I guess, battle configuration. Like, those big buildings without any windows? They're for transporting weapons. Giant rifles for the robot. And all the taller ones, like the building with all the government and city official offices in it, they were all gone. Sunk into the ground. Whatever's under the city has to be incredibly deep and wide. I can't even imagine."
He stopped to suck in a quick breath.
"I saw the Eva, that's what it's called, fight a huge thing that looked like a—"
He stopped abruptly, and remembered he was talking to a girl.
"… a big insect or squid or something, and it was floating off the ground. Anyway, the Eva, it's real skinny and gangly looking, and purple with a big horn on its head. It was armed with a rifle and it fired a volley into the squid thing, and then I had to look away to reload my camera with a fresh disc, and the next thing I know the Eva is being thrown through the air and crashes right next to me.
"The squid thing hovers up right on top of the Eva, and he can't move or he'll crush me, and like a total moron I'm too freaking scared to move. So the back of the Eva opens like a flower, and this long tube sticks out. The pilot, Shinji, tells me to get in. So, of course, I did.
"It was filled with this goop, slightly thicker than water, and it smelled weird, too. But inside it, you could see in every direction, like a fighter jet's canopy. There were only two handles to control it, meaning it had to be run by some other means, maybe voice command or remote control. But why would they need someone inside it to begin with? It had to be something else."
Hikari nodded politely, forgetting how longwinded Kensuke tended to be about things he liked.
"He was fighting," Kensuke continued, "but he was talking to someone over the comm. line, too. A woman. They were arguing about something. The woman must have been his commanding officer because she kept ordering him to shut up and fight, but Shinji, he was furious with her. I think… I think NERV covered up the casualty reports after the first battle, and they didn't tell Shinji anything about Azumi. He must not have known anything until… well… you know."
"What happened?" Hikari asked softly after a moment.
"He fought. But I don't think it was because that woman told him to. He was… furious. I mean, I can't think of anyone I've ever seen who was that pissed off." He stopped abruptly. "Well… I mean—"
"He was angry. What happened next?"
"… it sounded like he was in pain. They must have a kind of neural feedback system in the robot. He was screaming, and the squid thing had these weird whip things, and they went right through the robot. I didn't know exactly where until I got out, but it was his stomach. But he… I don't know. He must have ran into the squid thing until he was right in front of it, and the whips couldn't move. He trapped it with his own body, then pulled a knife out of somewhere and jammed it into this orb thingy, and apparently it was enough to deactivate or kill the thing, and then the Eva shut down too."
Kensuke blew out a breath like an exhausted athlete.
"Then what?" Hikari asked.
"After a while NERV guys came and picked us up. They confiscated my discs; all the footage I had was lost. And then they debriefed me, which consisted of big guys yelling at me for a half hour, then they sent me home." He shook his head in amazement. "I still can't believe this happened to me."
"…what about the boy? The pilot?"
"Oh, uh…" Kensuke appeared to have forgotten him completely. "He was… pretty messed up. One entire side of his face was swollen up like a balloon. He couldn't talk right, he was limping, he wheezed… he was pretty messed up." He scratched his forearm self-consciously. "I mean… I've seen Touji fight plenty of guys before, but this…" He shook his head.
"Yeah," Hikari offered weakly.
They let silence buffer their emotions a moment.
"Thanks, Horaki," Kensuke finally said. "For telling me."
"… it wasn't exactly a secret," she said.
"I know. But still… thanks."
He turned around and walked out of the classroom without looking back. Hikari watched him go. She stayed in her seat. Slowly, she raised her arms and placed her elbows on her desk. Then she lowered her eyes into her palms. She blew out a shaky breath, but no matter how hard she pushed, the tears just wouldn't come back.
It became a kind of routine for her. Almost a habit. Hikari visited the Impact cemetery every day. It wasn't out of delayed grief or a favor to Touji. It was to make herself remember, to never forget. To reaffirm both her life, and the reality that it could end in a heartbeat. Despite the time she lived in, despite the country, and the city, and the job her father worked at, Hikari never once worried about a premature death. It was settled in her head, that she'd die many years from now, in a house by the sea, buffered by a large family and numerous grandchildren.
And somehow returning to the cemetery every day helped her realize that. That despite the swirling storm of death and destruction that blew around her, she would survive. It was selfish, and incredibly egotistical, but people didn't visit graveyards to get over themselves.
It was the third day of this practice that she found someone else at Azumi's grave when she arrived. It was a boy, about her age, in a school uniform. He looked ragged, like he'd been wearing the same clothes for days. Hikari approached him slowly, and it took her ten steps to realize it was the pilot boy. Ikari.
He still looked terrible. His left eye was swollen shut, nearly his entire face was various shades of purple, his lips were split and cut, his hands and forearms were scarred with defensive wounds.
Hikari glanced away from him and her eyes fell on Azumi's grave. All sympathy for the boy was instantly crushed.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, stopping short a few steps behind him. She inwardly cringed. She hadn't meant to sound so confrontational.
"I heard this was where she was buried," Shinji said simply, almost reflexively. He sounded like hell, too. His breathing was labored, a raspy shuddering whistle. "I wanted to see her, at least once."
"You're leaving?" she asked.
"No. I'll go back. Right now I'm just… I don't know what the right word is. Taking a break, I guess." He glanced at her for the first time since she arrived. He gasped silently. "You're that girl… from the other day. You tried to stop—"
"I'm a class representative," Hikari said quickly. "It's my job to stop stuff like that."
Shinji kept his eye on her for a moment, then flitted it back to the grave.
"Oh," he said.
God, Hikari thought. Don't look like that. It makes it harder to hate you.
"Do they know you're gone?" she asked him. "The people who own that robot? I mean, do they know where you are?"
"They know I'm gone. But, no. They don't know where I am. Like I said, I'm taking a break."
They let personal grief muzzle their words for a long moment.
"Thank you," Shinji finally said softly.
"What? For what?"
"You saved me. From that boy." He sighed gently, resignedly. "Thank you."
"It was…" Hikari fidgeted in discomfort. She didn't want anything from this boy. Not even his gratitude. "It was nothing. I've stopped tons of fights. This was just… one more."
It wasn't a lie. It was just one more fight. It also just happened to be the worst one she ever saw.
"Oh," Shinji said again. He kept staring at the tombstone.
It was sleek and black, about two and a half feet high, with a tapered top. Azumi was buried in the children's section of the memorial site, in its leftmost edge, near where new arrivals were placed.
There were no flowers, no inscriptions, no religious symbols on the marker. There was nothing on any of them. Just names and dates for empty graves.
"Did you know her?" Shinji asked.
"Yes," Hikari said, nodding her head. "Not well, I only met her once, but I knew who she was."
"Could you tell me about her?"
"If you don't remember people who die, if you don't keep their memory alive, there's nothing to stop them from really disappearing forever." Shinji glanced away, out over the endless sea of graves. "If you think about them, and talk about them, and keep them in your thoughts, they won't die completely. It's important; they won't fade away if you keep them with you. That's all you can do. Or you can forget them, and then they'll be gone forever."
Hikari stared at his profile. The sentiment, though childish, was genuine. Here was a boy who had obviously lost someone dear. And all at once she realized he was probably suffering more over Azumi than she was. He didn't mean to kill her.
"She was…" Hikari hugged herself and frowned. This felt like a betrayal, like she was divulging a secret behind Touji's back. It felt wrong. "I… I don't know what you want me to tell you."
Shinji gazed hard at the tombstone.
"Anything to keep her in this world."
If you're so desperate to keep her around maybe you shouldn't have killed her.
Was her first instinct, her gut response. But yelling at him wouldn't bring Azumi back. Nothing would. And just like Shinji said, all they could do now was talk about her. To keep her alive in their thoughts and words, since nothing else could. Besides, Hikari was the one who initiated this conversation. Did she think the discussion would head in any other direction?
"… she was young, ten or eleven," she told him, studying the tombstone with him. "She was small, maybe up to my bicep, if that. She had dark brown hair, almost black. She…"
Hikari took a breath to continue, then stopped and sighed through her nose. This felt like an offense. Discussing a victim with the person who killed her. She knew Touji wouldn't approve of this. She bit her lower lip.
"Please," Shinji said as she fell quiet. "Please." His voice was very low, and very soft. He tried to keep the tears out of his tone and failed. He was literally one step from crying. "Please."
"She had an excited way of talking," Hikari said after a moment. "Like conversation thrilled her. She was energetic in her speech, and used a lot of hand gestures and signs. I… I mean, I only met her once. I can only assume she was like this around everyone else. She… she had a cute way of smiling and humming softly whenever you said something nice to her, or if she agreed with what you said. We talked about school, and I said it was important to always try your best, and she did that."
She was caught up in it now. Hikari found she liked talking about Azumi. Despite Touji. Despite herself. It almost gave her the same warm feeling she received from the girl herself.
"She loved her brother. She told me she always watched him play whenever he was in a game. Suzahara was on the boy's basketball team. He was pretty good, I heard. Of course, Azumi said he was the best. She would watch him from the bleachers and she would… glow. It was plain to see. She loved him. Adored him. And—"
Hikari stopped abruptly. The boy, still kneeling before the grave, was quietly crying. She drew back.
"I didn't mean to kill her," Shinji bit out between short sobs. "I'm so, so sorry. I… I never even saw the Eva before that day. I didn't have any training, or time to prepare or practice. It wasn't… God, it was my fault. She's dead because of me. Because I couldn't watch my fucking feet!"
He clutched at his head, nails digging into the soft flesh of his scalp.
"God!" He sucked in a ragged breath. It sounded like a rusty gate. "God!!"
"You…" A lifetime of living in a culture of ingrained empathy forced Hikari's tongue. Seeing a boy cry… it was both sad and frightening. "It wasn't like you… I mean, if you hadn't fought, how many more would have died?"
"It's meaningless if people have to die so others can live!" Shinji shouted. "Every life should be equal!"
He calmed a degree. He angrily wiped at his good eye.
"But they're not. Everyone at NERV treats people like commodities. Things. For the greater good, they say. For all mankind, so whatever sacrifice they make is written off as necessary and acceptable." He ground his teeth. "None of them even cared that she died." He jammed his eye shut. "I hate them."
Hikari took a discreet step away from him. When he said hate… he might be a boy lashing out against authority, but this was no rebellious juvenile attitude. This was real hate. It scared her.
He hated the adults who facilitated that robot, and by extension, him as well. That was a dangerous combination. He was fighting for people he despised. What was stopping him from turning on them, or purposefully failing their orders, or just giving up? What would keep him motivated to fight? Hikari found herself talking to him again before she realized it.
"You shouldn't… do this. Pilot that robot. If you hate it so much, aren't you just asking to mess up? Can't they get someone else? Someone who has experience, someone who wants to—"
"Are you ready to die?" Shinji asked her abruptly.
"If an Angel attacked tomorrow and killed you because I left… would you be okay with it?"
"… no," Hikari said softly, hugging herself. She glanced away. "I don't want to die."
"I doubt she did either." Shinji rose from the ground, still keeping his eye on Azumi's grave marker. "I'll stay. Until the Angels are gone. But after that…"
"What if they never stop coming?"
"… I won't leave," he stated. "I won't run away."
Somehow, despite the fact that the fate of the city was solely in the hands of a teenage boy who had anger issues and was responsible for at least one death, Hikari felt better knowing he wouldn't leave. That he'd stay and fight, even though he hated it. Of course, the why, why a giant robot had to be piloted by a kid and not a real soldier, was left to the wayside. There was obviously a good reason, there had to be, but she had no clue what it could be.
Hikari watched him gaze out over the cemetery. He took a step into it, then stopped. He seemed like he wanted to go in, but couldn't. He stood deathly still for a moment, then finally turned back to Hikari. He looked utterly defeated.
"You shouldn't… blame yourself," she told him. It sounded incredibly false and hollow from her, and she knew it. And she didn't care.
"And you shouldn't say that to me," he said. Shinji glanced up at her, his eye swimming in fury, in regret, in sadness, in hurt. Hikari couldn't look away. "I don't even know your name," he said, and somehow it sounded almost like an apology.
"… I'm Horaki Hikari."
"Thank you, Horaki-san."
He held her eyes for a long moment, then looked past her and let his feet drag him away, out of the graveyard, out to the city he saved, out to the city he hated. She heard his limp, the shuffling gait that carried him along like a car with three wheels. Hikari did not turn to watch him go.
She kept her eyes on Azumi's resting place, and attempted to sort out her feelings from the conversation with the boy. She tried hard to banish the swell of pity he gave her. She tried to forget his gratefulness, his pain, his words, him. Hikari wished she hadn't come to the graveyard today. Meeting Shinji humanized him. Made him more than the one-dimensional heartless killer her mind crafted him into. It made her see him for who he was.
He wasn't a cold-blooded monster. He was a child, like her, forced to shoulder burdens that broke his back, that weighed him down. He was a child without a childhood. He was a human being, and he was suffering greatly over what he did.
He didn't mean to do it. He said he didn't even have any time to practice with that robot.
He didn't mean to do it… yet he still did it. The fact remained Azumi was dead, and Hikari didn't have anyone who she could blame for it anymore. Logically, she couldn't fault Shinji; he was thrown into this situation with no training. How could he fight without knowing how? She couldn't blame the people of NERV; they were doing their job, to defend the city. If they hadn't been there, everyone in Tokyo-3 might have died. She couldn't blame Azumi, either; she was the victim in all of this.
So who was left? Who was left to take responsibility for this tragedy? Who would make amends with Touji, tell him they were sorry and that this never should have happened? All the tears, the anger, the sorrow, the pain, the regret and grief… everything that was spilt for this tiny little life… what was the point? It was all for nothing.
It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. Nothing about this was fair. Life shouldn't be a gamble. It shouldn't be a game you play where you can be ripped away at any moment without any notice, where life and death are totally beyond your control. Nothing you do matters, because it won't affect the outcome. Crying, yelling, shouting, fighting… none of it changed anything.
This was the world Hikari lived in. Where everyone fought to survive against enemy nations, and now giant monsters, but where the loss of one life meant nothing. Quantity over quality. So what if a single death resulted from their actions? Three billion were lost fifteen years ago. Today, one more was just one more.
She kneeled down in front of the marker. She stared hard at Suzahara Azumi's grave, and soon it became blurred and fuzzy, like a watercolor painting.
Hikari felt the tears push on the backs of her eyes. But crying, she realized, didn't accomplish anything. It was a weak reaction for helpless people. And these past few days had shown her she needed to be strong to survive this world. She couldn't just curl up and disappear. She had to stand on her own two legs and walk. Even if it was painful, and hard, and miserable, and disappointing. Life was not a fairytale. And Hikari knew that now. So did Touji, and Kensuke, and Shinji. Azumi knew it, too. And crying wouldn't change a thing.
Still, the tears pushed. But she did not let them out. She did not let them out.
Author notes: I've always liked Hikari. This fic was just me paying tribute to her. She always struck me as one of the more together characters in the series. Plus, she was friends with Asuka. She's a brave, brave girl.
I realize Shinji was a bit OOC in the graveyard. Just roll with it.
Don't know if I'll continue this. I suppose I could launch into a Shinji/Hikari pairing, but… I don't know. It kinda feels wrong. Don't worry, though. One day I will set those two up, I promise. Just need to think of a plot first.