The General Aspect: Unexplained

by Sideris

Two figures walked down by the small stream.

Content in the noon hour, their stomachs filled by a home made lunch; they walked on along the small creek that bled into the nameless river. That nameless current bled into the lake that featured prominently in the center of the Geo-Front. It was sunny out. The reflectors from the surface shone through the clouds that formed at the summit of the Geo-Front dome.

The forest that skirted the soft shores of the stream was thick and dark. Almost primeval, like they were walking around in the beginning of time. The young man of the pair was silent, nervous and observant. He was hoping this would be a good day. Hoping very much so, in fact.

The female counterpart was also silent, but seemingly aloof, her eyes looking here and there. But seemingly, her gaze just went through it all. She wasn't really there in some respects. Though she seemed plenty 'talkative' and attentive when they ate.

Suffice it to say, Shinji Ikari was a little buggered by her attitude. Ayanami had been talkative, at least for her, when they ate lunch. He bought lunches that suited their tastes and he wondered if she was displeased. All in all though, he had expected this in the back of his mind.

Ever since the Fifth, she and he had been closer and more detached at the same time. One would say they kept an eye out for one another. Though the NERV personnel chatted about it, no one could tell where their 'relationship' lie. If it was platonic or something a bit deeper for kids their age.

No one knew, not even the Children themselves. Perhaps they liked it more that way.

They simply existed as was expected of Pilots. Neither had true social lives, neither had many friends outside each other. Shinji had Touji and Kensuke, but that was about it at a stone's throw. Just at the edge where the stone landed was Hikari, but anymore, she was walking in closer to him.

And it made him happy and confused. Getting closer to Hikari and Rei had introduced more of a female element into his life, a stark relief to the insanity of his guardian's lifestyle.

It was a welcome addition to existence though for the young Ikari. As much as he became embarrassed or was teased about all the girls in his life, it was most welcome. A skittish glance to his walking companion told him nothing new, no new revelation of her personality was in her eyes. Just that far off and away gaze she wore.

"Am I unsettling you?" She spoke in that whispering tone.

"N-no! Well…" he sighed, "Not unsettle…just a bit unsure."

"Mm," she nodded to his words. "I am sorry. What makes you unsure?"

"You're so quiet all the time." He admitted, shocking himself with how easily that came out. They walked another five minutes along the twine of the creek. Shinji's sneakers scuff the water line, sending beads of water along flow, thick gobs of water jumping out when the drops hit.

"I…simply don't hold conversations, Ikari."

"You seem to do fine talking with Father." He flushed and averted his eyes, catching the slight narrowing of her eyes.

She sighed, "We have talked about this." She said no more on the matter. All Shinji could do was nod. He was being bitter still. Perhaps it was just easier than accepting the bare fact that father had barely spoken to him except in making him pilot the Evangelion.

He had reason to be this way, in his mind.

But for all the ire he could level toward Rei over it all…he didn't. Not after what happened with the Fifth and their talks they had in between. They had become closer as he and everyone else had seen but still distant. They had similarities, but in that way, they saw their differences.

They were simply different beasts in the world. But they saw the kindred spirit in one another, and simply put, that was all they needed at the time. Shinji's sneakers sank into the mud of the creek's banks where it began to widen into a small tributary river that ran from the mountains.

"It's so nice here."

"Yes, it is. The Commander says this place hasn't been walked in since the Geo-Front was built." Rei paused to look at the scene of the river running by, the sound of its flowing contents soothing both of them.

"That so?" There was one thing that Shinji never really cared for about the Geo-Front. He'd found this fact out after their third walk. It had been something just nagging at him the entire time they walked in this place. No animals. No insects.

It just…really unnerved him for some reason. One would think this would be a boon, and it was. No chance of running into anything potentially harmful and what not. But it soon lent an unnatural quiet to the whole place. All they could ever hear was the river, the distant tram rails overhead, or their own breathing.

And that was most unsettling sometimes in the middle of nature. It was like the entire place had held its breath and was only letting it out in bursts through Humanity's intrusion. It may have been man made as Misato once said, but he wish Man brought some of Nature in with it.

Rei never seemed to care. Though he was sure she did, never voicing any concern. Maybe she'd walked here before? Hell, she could have walked all over this place in her life time and he'd never know the difference.

"Do you like this place Rei?" He asked after scuffing a stone into the water.

"It's calming, every time I come here."

"…I suppose that's a 'yes.'" Shinji sighed to himself. Rei nodded the affirmative, looking at him plainly.

"D-Do you ever just talk normally?"

Rei stared at him for a long moment and Shinji even flinched, predicting another head jarring slap like the one weeks ago on the stairs. He closed his eyes and only opened them after a tick. She simply stared at him with her head tilted to the side. "Are you afraid of me, Ikari?"

"N-Yes…just…just getting slapped more than anything." He idly rubbed his cheek, still feeling the echo of the last one. Rei knelt down into the bank, picking up a smooth limestone the size of her palm. She chucked it across the river. It skipped, Rei Ayanami knew how to skip stones and it shocked Shinji right out of his memory.

"Never be afraid. I have no reason to hurt you, now do I?" He was still looking at the expanding rings of the lost stone's descent. She shook her head and walked on.

"You never said you could skip stones!" He finally blurted out, following her at pace. He was picking up every idle stone he could, trying to recreate her easily made flick of the wrist.

It wasn't that easy.

"What you do not inquire shall never be learned, Ikari."

Shinji sighed, "I knew you'd say that…or at least…something like that." A breeze kicked up from the east, the fresh scent of the trees washed over them. Quite refreshing like the breeze itself. Shinji often wondered if this is what the world was like before Man came. That's what the countryside of the Geo-Front evoked in his mind anyway.

"All right then…wh-what are you…" he flushed a little. He hated being direct. It wasn't something familiar or easy for him, but he had to try someday… "What are you afraid of?"

"Being empty in the end. There simply being nothing." She said, not breaking her stride, deftly tossing another stone, skipping thrice along the surface of glassy water. Reflected sunlight crinkled and shattered when the stone finally passed the surface to the sandy bottom below.

"Is that…I don't think I've ever heard someone say that."

"It's what I fear, Ikari. Don't you fear it? Afraid of nothingness? Of being empty…I suppose one would say, alone?" That he could identify with all too well. He simply nodded. "And yet…I'm not alone anymore am I not?"

Shinji smiled a little at her last words, "That's probably the most optimistic thing I've ever heard you say."

"Indeed. Perhaps not alone, but in the end…empty?"

Shinji raised a brow and walked on with her, scuffing the mud and dirt. A wayward stick was kicked into the river. It was quiet for a time, Shinji fidgeted with his change in his pocket, the jingling really the only noise around them. The silence was always unnerving. "How," he said after a time, "do you stand the silence?"

"It's what I've existed with always, Ikari."

"Ayanami…you really can't mean that. You talk with Father and some of the other staff all the time. I've seen you around, you're not completely anti-social like the kids at school pin you to be."

"Hn, perhaps." She eyed him, "You…watch me, Ikari?"

The boy blushed, "Kind of hard not to when I'm in my Eva…yours is right across from mine." Please…

"Ah. I suppose it is."

That was surprisingly easy to walk out of… His shoulders slumped a little in relief. Perhaps all wouldn't be like some soap opera, with her digging for more information. Then again, they weren't the most inquisitive people in the world.

"They're sending another pilot soon." He voiced.

"Yes, I've heard about her from the Commander. Supposedly, she is a well-groomed pilot."

"Really? You mean actually trained to do this?" He bit his own tongue with his last words, "I mean, we both know you are too…"

"It is alright, I know I had…difficulties in my first tries to pilot the Prototype." Her left hand went to rub her right arm unconsciously.

"What was it like…?" His eyes focused on the baby blue hair that crowned her head.

"You mean the incident?"

"Y-Yeah…" It was a sore subject maybe…but it was something more personal and well, they were getting to know one another better. Shinji decided it wouldn't be so bad as to try to venture into deeper territory to talk about.

They walked onto the banks of the greater tributary river, nameless in its ever going pursuit of the creek to the lake far below in elevation. She was silent for a whole time and Shinji simply forgot the question, probably far better not to ask another. When, in some what miraculous favor to the young man, she spoke.

"It was…traumatic." Shinji experienced Rei's power of understatement, but was still awed nonetheless she was even speaking on the matter. "It hurt, to put simply…" she trailed off. Silence reigned like a mighty king for a dynasty.

"Oh…" The soft hum of distant VTOL filled the air.

It was worth a try…I guess. Shinji hated being at an impasse. Awkward silences were the most painful thing he could observe in social situations sometimes. Brought up too much time to think, too much time to make words slip away.

"It hurt…and it burned like a fire." Shinji's eyes slowly leveled off on her head, watching her movements. "Something was just…screaming, then pain, then I blacked out. The next thing I remember is something the Commander was screaming and…and nothing…" Her monotone voice took on a deeper undertone of 'don't want to talk about it.'

Shinji scowled privately. He knew what 'nothing' meant. When his father saved her. He shut his eyes and shook his head, his feet scuffing along the gravelly path near the river. It was no time to think on that in between their words. Sadly, all it would do would make him resentful toward his friend. And their friendship was just budding. Petty jealousy now or the wrong words would simply shatter all of that.

All they had worked for to get to the point of speaking regularly. Regular people, they were not. That much was known by all. What wasn't known was how hard it was for them to interact. Days like today were rare and few and far between in coming.

And she knew that too. Shinji liked to think Rei wouldn't endanger a new friendship. As far as he knew…he was it as far as her list of friends went. He was up on her by two, but still, it didn't count for too much did it? Nearly getting them killed along with himself in the Evangelion wasn't the best way to impress…

The young man sighed, "I'm sorry…"

"Why?"

"I…don't know. Because it hurt?"

Rei stopped. Like a boulder hitting the earth, she stopped. The teenage girl turned on her heel. Red eyes bored into blue for a long, long time. Shinji flushed red and shook his head, "I-I'm-"

"Do not be sorry. It is of no consequence." Another VTOL whined overhead. The world was silent again, that almost oppressive silence pervaded the trees around them. The slosh of the water in the river was an unnatural background track. Shinji was then witness to a most astonishing event.

Rei coming up short for words. For a girl who never spoke that often in class, one would think she had a plethora to draw upon. Amazingly, she had none, so it would seem. "One should never…feel sorry for one who cannot accept it as a normal person does. Do you understand, Ikari?"

He nodded the affirmative even though he clearly did not. Something in her eyes wanted him to understand. A feeling in the back of his mind told him it would be many moons or even years before he would. And with the lives they lead, he felt he'd not have the time to do so. He could die in the next engagement or even she could. Too many variables to even attempt friendship in, but they did anyways.

Shinji still felt awkward. Technically, she was his only 'close' female friend. And she was hardly close to him and him to her. Kinship was formed only in a tenuous bond of a smile and words back by pain. It wasn't all they had, but for now it was the backbone of it all.

"I…I wish to some day be able to accept your apology and appreciate." Shinji bit his lip and nodded again. His legs felt as weary as his mind at the moment. "Are you well?"

"Just a little tired," he shrugged. "Can we sit somewhere?"

"Yes." She pointed over to a cropping of stone that sat a few feet from the shallow banks of the river. It would be as fine a place as any. They sat and for a while, just watched that river flow on and on for as long as the Geo-Front had existed.

"What do you think of this place, Ikari?" Rei's eyes followed the white froth of the flowing river, the shimmering lines underneath the water in reflection.

"I like it," he finally spoke after a time. "We've only been here a few times…and I like it a lot. It's peaceful. It's just the silence that gets to me sometimes."

"I know…but is it the quiet borne of the lack of life…or the lack of our talking at times?"

Shinji flushed a little, "More so the silence has borne of us."

She nodded, "I don't know what to speak about…for that I…" she sighed a little.

Shinji let out a sudden chuckle, gaining a raised eyebrow from his walking companion. "Have I said something humorous?"

He shook his head, raising his hands in an attempt to ward off any anger, "No…I'm just the last person you should apologize too. Or even attempt to."

Her head tilted to the side, "If that is so, then why do you see the need to apologize and kiss other's feet as if you were some Untouchable? Why do you simply not exist as they once did?"

Shinji's laughter died a cold death. "Um, I-I…I don't…know."

Rei enlightened him with that small smile she kept. "Then, Shinji Ikari…why do you think so low of yourself, in the end?"

His head lowered an inch, as if to inspect the grains of sand at the foot of the rock he sat on. He fidgeted, folding and unfolding his hands several times. Then a surprising thought hit him, "Untouchable? Like…the people in India we learned about?"

"Yes, why…why do you see yourself so low? Below us all?"

"I just do."

"That's a pathetic reasoning for anything, and you know this."

"But it's what I believe…" He wrung his fingers out like a towel; they flushed as blood was squeezed a little. He regarded his friend with a sideways glance, shaking his head at his own self. Being nothing…was all Shinji knew. At least, no self value. He didn't matter.

She spoke.

"What you believe and what the truth is are not always the same Ikari. Especially with this." Shinji gave a non-committal shrug, his lips twisting this way and that. "Your self-worth is no better than my own."

"Hn." All he could do was nod. That unexplainable silence drifted down between them once more.

For a time after that, into the first hour of the noon time, they just sat there. Off in their own realms of thought, the world passed by around them. The trams spun lazily up toward the city and down to the Geo-Front respectively. VTOLs rushed overhead, this way and that.

And for the first time, Shinji Ikari heard something in the relative silence of the Front. His ears perked up a little, "Is that…?" The soft twitter of a bird in the distance, somewhere in the forest, lilted in on the winds.

"I would suppose that life prevails, anywhere, doesn't it?" Rei's words shook him from his soft reverence.

"I-I suppose it flew down from the city…"

"Indeed. Shall we go? We have the synch test at three." She stood and dusted off her skirt.

"Yeah…" his feet lazily lifted his frame to an upright bearing. His eyes scanned the forest for that elusive caller of the sounds. Suddenly, movement caught his eye a ways off. Two small birds flitted off from tall pines that lie somewhere deep in the woods. A smile crept over his lips. "Maybe this place won't be so foreboding anymore…"

"No, perhaps not." Rei shrugged, walking along the path. She stopped after only a few feet though. "Ikari…"

"Uh, yeah?"

"May we walk here again in a few days? It is nice here. I like it."

Shinji could only nod as he watched those birds disappear off into the distance. "So do I…" He fell in behind her, wondering yet again. Perhaps…perhaps that silence that always pervaded their speech and walks wasn't truly borne of awkwardness. Maybe they really didn't need much to say to understand their limited bounds for now.

They understood each other perfectly with what they knew. They were friends and they spoke when it was needed. Really, what more was there to add to that?

Unexplained silences…well, they were just something a bit deeper. Just understanding in a way. In time, perhaps they would speak more. Less unexplained, more understood. The loose bonds of friendship would tighten in time. Who knew where that would take them?

They would know by the End.

(The End)

A/N: Just a General category fic, a talk on life and a musing of friendship. It's not a pairing, no romance, just a slice of life. Hopefully the 402 team can enjoy it enough to post it in this 'hallowed' ground of fic-dom. Enjoy it, please.