Chapter Two: A Song of Regret
Asuka had told Misato that she did have one more thing she needed to do before going to see Shinji. Misato screwed her face up a bit before understanding dawned upon her face. Asuka now stood on the catwalk that ran the length of the EVA bays, right at head level of Unit Two. She gazed up at the huge beast, looking into the four huge eyes that hadn't shown any signs of life in close to two years.
"H…hello, mother," she said as she reached out over the rail and gently laid her hand on the side of the EVA's face. She felt a small vibration coming from the long dormant Unit. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry I've been gone for so long, " she started, then her defense mechanism kicked in. "But you know how it is, being a world famous scientist, one of the leaders of NERV, and the wildest fantasy of guys and pervs the world over! A girl just doesn't have the time to drop everything and come back to this dump!" The vibration vanished, Asuka had taken it too far.
"Oh god! No! I'm sorry!" Asuka cried out as she felt her mother slipping away, "Please come back!" The vibration returned, all be it not as powerful as before. "The truth is…I was scared and I ran away, just like Shin.." she broke into a sob before continuing, "Uh, like Shinji used to."
Asuka looked down at her shoes, unable to hold the eyes of the slumbering war machine. "I never realized what had happened to you until I was finally able to find and read the files. I…I hated you for so long!" she sniffed a bit, trying to keep the tears from starting again. " I thought that you had abandoned me! All of your attention was on that stupid doll! You kept calling her by my name, and calling me 'that girl'. Gott, it hurt so much." she whispered, She gasped a bit as the vibration increased and the armour grew a bit warmer under her touch. "And when I walked in and saw you…saw you…well, I understand now that it wasn't you, not the real you," Asuka looked up as a small smile grew on her face.
Shrugging her shoulders, she continued on, "Who knows? Maybe, someday in the future, we might go back outside and play again! Would you like that, Momma?" Asuka's voice took on a tone that had missing for many years now, the tone of a child trying to please her mother. She smiled and, removing her hand, walked further down the catwalk. She just missed seeing a warm glow begin to show in the eyes of the dormant Evangelion.
"Hello, Unit One," Asuka said as she stopped before the face of the purple clad giant. "I'm not even sure you will respond to me, but…" That was all the girl managed to get out before the eyes of Unit One came alive, flashing with a brilliant white light, tinged with red at the edges.
"Oh! I…I guess you can respond," she replied in a quavering voice. "This isn't good," Asuka thought to herself, fearing the EVA would reactivate at any second and squash her like the insignificant bug she felt like she was.
"I…uh…well…I guess you know who I am, and you probably know how Shinji feels about me," Asuka started, nervousness steadily creeping into her heart and mind. It was a feeling she hated, but one she had always kept hidden from others. "Of course you do, Shinji synchs up with you every time her pilots you, I'm an idiot!" she sighed, slapping herself silly in her head.
"Please, I didn't mean to hurt Shinji, I was scared! He got closer to me than anyone else ever had, and when I thought that I may lose him one day…well, I couldn't handle it!" The eyes flashed once more, a little more red this time. Asuka gulped as she wrapped her arms around herself again, subconsciously trying to form a wall around herself.
"If…if I could take back all the hurt I caused, all the horrible things I said, I would! If…if I thought dying would help bring him back, I'd ask you to crush me like the worthless thing I am!" The eyes flashed again, however there was no red tint this time. Unit One could understand Asuka was being honest with her. "I'm not worthy of Shinji's love! I…I'm not worthy of any love!" the redhead cried as she shook her head.
"So," she sniffed as she wiped her eyes with a tissue, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry, and I'll do my best to make things right with Shinji." She turned to leave when something blocked her path, "Oh!"
Asuka had turned around and come face to face with the First Child, Rei Ayanami. Rei looked far different than she had remembered. Her hair now came down pasted her shoulders, but was still the same shade of light blue it had always been. Her eyes were still blood red, but now burned with an inner fire that Asuka had never before seen.
Rei was still pale compared to normal people, but now had more color than before, as if she had finally come out of the dark and into the light for the first time. Even her clothing was different. Instead of her plug suit or her school uniform, Rei was wearing a dark blue dress with sheer sleeves, as well as matching nylons and shoes. Rei looked like she was dressed to kill. The one thing that really surprise Asuka, though, was how angry Rei seemed, her arms locked to her side, fists clinched, and trembling visibly.
"Hello, Rei. How are…OWW!!!" was all Asuka was able to get out as a pale hand slapped her hard on the face. The blow was strong enough to send Asuka to her knees. "Oh! Ow! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR?!" demanded a very embarrassed and angry Asuka, as she stumbled back to her feet, eyes wide with shock.
"You hurt him!" Rei said through gritted teeth. Asuka had never seen this amount of emotion from the pale girl before.
"Ooo, whoa, wha…who?" Asuka asked, still a bit woozy from the strike. She never knew Rei had that kind of strength.
"You know who I'm talking about, Doctor Soryu. You hurt my Shinji!" was the response that caused Asuka to go first wide eyed with shock then jaw clenched in anger.
"HER Shinji?!" Asuka thought, as she clinched her own fists, ready to battle Rei. "Excuse me?!" she spat out, "Just what did you just say now, you empty excuse for a human being?!" "Way to go Asuka" she chided herself, "Do you have to let the bitch out EVERY time?"
"I said you hurt my Shinji," Rei spat back, rage clear upon her face. Her slender frame trembled with pure anger.
"Aww, does Wondergirl have a thing for that idiot Ikari? Why should I care…" she started to say as a second slap sent her back to her knees. "Damn" she thought on her way to the floor, "do I have to be such a bitch all the time? Why can't I treat anyone right?"
"What is wrong with you, Rei?! If you want Shinji that badly, you can have him," Asuka replied as a large part of her heart wanted to tear itself out of her chest for even suggesting such a thing. Standing once more, Asuka flinched when Rei appeared to be ready to slap her down again. "WAIT! I'm sorry! What the hell is wrong with you?"
"That," Rei said as she took a step back, not trusting herself to be anywhere within arm reach of Asuka, "was for implying anything…inappropriate…between Shinji and myself. The first was for all the pain you caused!"
"I'll ask you again, Rei: why should you care, then? I take it the two of you got…closer…after I left," asked Asuka, rubbing her throbbing cheek and trying to still her dying heart, as the thought of Rei taking her place in Shinji's heart was enough to make her wish Unit One had squashed her after all. "This is nuts!" Asuka thought .
"You could say that. After everything that happened, we finally discovered my records that the old bastard had hidden. My 'mother' was Yui Ikari. I was…created… from a mix of her DNA and that of Lilith. I'm a clone of sorts," Rei said sadly, withdrawing just a bit as the thought of her creation disturbed her. "Some modifications were made, but essentially, I'm the daughter of Yui Ikari. That makes Shinji my older brother. So, like I said: My Shinji!" Rei stood there, arms crossed, daring Asuka to smart off again.
"Brother?" Asuka asked incredulously, "You're Shinji's sister? Is that why he always felt a connection to you?"
"He felt a connection…to me?" Rei replied, her eyes a bit wide.
"Of course! Couldn't you tell?" Asuka replied as she stated the obvious, "He even told me that a few times back when …well… it kind of annoyed me a bit. I didn't think you were that dense!"
"If I was dense, then you were the same," Rei shot back, a bit offended by Asuka's tone. "Couldn't you tell how Shinji felt about you all along? Or did it please you to toy around with his feelings?"
"Wow, I never knew Rei had such spirit," Asuka thought to herself as she tried to come up with an answer, "Rei, I'm sorry, but I never knew how he felt until later on, after I came out of my coma. And then he…"
"I know what he did Asuka, he told me the night he called you. He told me everything, all that had happened since you woke up, and everything he had planned. My brother sat on the sofa, trying so hard to 'be a man' and not show his feelings, trying not to cry. I pulled him close to me and held him," Rei said, her eyes clouding at the memory, "He was trying so hard! He didn't want us to think he was a wimp, or weak, or a baby! He was none of those! He was my brother, and he was hurting! I told him it was alright, and he just broke down. He hasn't been the same since," she said sadly.
"Oh," Asuka said softly, "he told you everything?"
"Yes, Asuka, everything. But answer me this: you two dated seriously for a year, didn't that mean anything to you?" Rei said, "Didn't his love mean anything to you? You had his heart, you know. He thought he had yours."
The lump in Asuka's throat returned as she tried to say something, anything, that could make sense. The idea that she had hurt Shinji so badly, even if it was unintentional, broke her heart. At least Shinji had someone to turn to, even if it was his weird mother and even weirder sister. Then a thought struck her.
"Um, Rei, I was just wondering, did Misato adopt you like she did Shinji? Seeing how you are siblings and such," Asuka then cringed when a split second later she wondered if that was the wrong thing to say. "Is this how everyone felt when they were afraid they had angered me?" she wondered, "I don't like feeling like that!" She noticed a small shadow cross over Rei's face.
"You didn't answer my question, Asuka," Rei spoke up after a second, "And I fear that isn't a good sign. Maybe Shinji's just destined to hurt, it seems you didn't love him at all," she added sadly.
"No! You're wrong Rei!" Asuka shouted back at her, "I never wanted Shinji to hurt! I do love…er…did love…oh… you know what I mean!" the redhead shook her head as she tried to admit that which tore her to shreds. Her deepest inner defenses screamed at her to be silent. But it was too late. She hung her head.
"No, I don't," Rei replied, her eyes locking into Asuka's when the redhead looked back up, "Do you? Or did you? Which is it? One answer will heal him, one will doom him. Which shall it be?" The pale girl took a step closer to Asuka. "Shinji loves you, he loved you then, and he loves you now! Do you know that the only time his eyes would light up these long months were when someone mentioned your name? When someone praised your work? When he would remember something you would do, or when his friends talked about how the two of you would act around each other? Do you realized the only other time he ever got that deadly fire in his eyes was when someone at school or NERV would insult you? I saw it, and it scared the hell out of me! It took me, Touji, Hikari, and Kensuke to pull him off that one senior last time! The kid still ended up in the hospital, and Touji damn near had his prosthetic arm pull off!" Rei was shivering at the memory. Asuka was astounded that Rei had actually spoken so many words at once. It was probably more than all the times she had heard Rei speak in the past combined.
"You didn't answer my question either, Rei," Asuka stated softly as the impact of Rei's words continued to pound against the barriers she had half-heartedly tried to erect around herself.
"I know," it was Rei's turn to speak softly, as if dredging up a terrible memory, "Misato did…offer… to adopt me as well. I declined, however. Misato was never around me as much as she was you and Shinji. I didn't want her to force herself to be a mother to me when she clearly wasn't." A small tear slid down a pale cheek, "Besides, I didn't want to feel like a consolation prize, as if she couldn't have the daughter she truly wanted, so she chose a replacement. I don't want to feel like a replacement!"
Asuka understood Rei's feelings about being a replacement. She was, technically, the third Rei. The mind of the previous Rei had been downloaded into a new Rei clone when the second Rei self destructed her EVA to save Shinji, during the attack of the Sixteenth Angel. Rei immediately realized she wasn't the same, and the effect was to help release her from Gendo Ikari's control. "It must be heart wrenching," Asuka thought, "thinking that your purpose in life was to be used as a spare part!" Much to Asuka's surprise, and to Rei's as well, Asuka reached over and took Rei's hand, the same that had just caused her pain no more than a few moments prior.
"Rei! If I know Misato like I think I do, she asked you because she wanted you in her life, she wanted to be your mother! She didn't offer because she had to!" Wrapping a shocked Rei up in a hug, Asuka continued. "You are NOT a replacement! If Misato asked, it was because she loves you, and I am so, so sorry that I hurt all of you!" She felt Rei actually relaxing a bit and place her arms around Asuka.
"Thank you, Asuka," Rei whispered, "but Shinji still suffers, and there is nothing I can do to help him. Only you can do that."
"I know," the redhead whispered back, "I just don't know how…"
"Yes, you do. But it frightens you," Rei replied.
"Hey Ikari!" a familiar voice called out. Both girls jumped at the sound and turned around to look.
"What? Where?!" Asuka looked around wildly, wide eyed, with hope building in her heart.
"Hey, Rei! Are you ready yet?" the voice called out again. Rei perked up and actually pranced over to the speaker, who turned out to be Kensuke Aida, one of Shinji's best friends. Rei wrapped her arms around Kensuke's neck and planted a big kiss on his silly face.
"Whaaaaaaaaat?!" Asuka gasped out incredulously.
"Oh, the name?" Rei asked as she wrapped her arm around Kensuke's waist, "I took my mother's name, rather than the name that bastard gave me!"
"That explains part of it" though Asuka, "but Aida?!" Closing her gaping mouth, she asked, "Uh, what, er, where are you two going? And just what is Aida doing here at NERV?" She tried her best to pick her jaw up from the ground.
"Is that the Red Headed De…OW! I mean, is that Asuka?" Kensuke called out as Rei elbowed him in the ribs.
"Be nice," She whispered in his ear, as she nibbled a bit on his earlobe.
"Oh gag," Asuka reeled at the sight. "Who the hell do you think I am, you moron…uh," she retorted until she saw the venomous look Rei was giving her, "Yeah, I'm back. When I heard about Shinji…"
"Yeah, that's rough," Kensuke sighed, "we all took the blow really hard when it happened. Rei and Touji kept blaming themselves for not being there, and the other pilots are all depressed. They think that if that can happen to the senior pilot and their instructor, what chance do they have?" he shook his head sadly.
"Kenny works here now," Rei chimed in, changing the subject.
"Kenny? Double gag," Asuka felt ready to wretch. "How did that happen?"
"Shinji got him on here a while back," Rei explain, her eyes shining brightly, "He and Hyuga get into hacking contests, which really drives Misato insane sometime, especially when the Magi greet her as 'cutie pie'" Rei giggled a bit at the thought of the Commander of NERV screaming at the computer terminal in her office. "However, no one has been able to hack into the mainframe since he started."
"We're going out to dinner, then we plan on swinging by to see Shinji," Kensuke added, "Have you been yet?"
"No, not yet," Asuka replied sadly, "I had to see some others first."
"We're going now, remember what I told you, Asuka. You know what you have to do," Rei said as she and Kensuke turned and started to walk out of the bays.
"Wow! Asuka's back!" Kensuke said as they walked away, "Did you do what you said you were going to do?"
"Yes, twice." Rei replied.
"And you survived?! Whoa! I knew I loved you for some reason!" he said as the two of them laughed on their way out. "Say, have you heard the test results yet?"
"Hush! Not yet," Rei replied as they turned the corner and left Asuka's sight.
"Rei showing emotions? Dating?? Kensuke??!! Gott, could this day get any weirder?" Asuka wondered as she, too, left the EVA bays.
Asuka stood before the door and had to fight the urge to run and hide. The room before her held so many bad memories for her and those whom she loved. She started fussing a bit about her appearance, wanting to look her best for him. She felt silly about it after a second or two, seeing how he would probably not be able to see her any time soon.
"Still, I want to be the first thing he sees when he wakes up," she thought to herself, " and I want to make a good impression!" She giggled a bit at the thought, which helped to steel her nerves enough so that she was able to open the door and go inside.
Asuka didn't really know what to expect when she first saw Shinji laying there. The lights were dim, so she had to step in further and get closer to the bed to see him well. She gasped in surprise at his condition. Gone was the softness his face had held when last she had seen him. This face was hard, pale, and gaunt, as if he hadn't properly rested or eaten in months.
"That may well be the case," she mused as her heart went out to the young man who held her heart in a tighter grip than that of a battle enraged EVA. Stubble had formed on his face, and his chestnut brown hair was much longer now than it ever had been before. It looked as if Shinji had just given up trying to live life. He looked as if he just existed, period. According to everyone she had spoken to, the only time any life showed on his face was when he went to battle, either with his fists or his weapon of mass destruction.
"According to Misato, it's like he and Rei had switched personalities of a sort," she remembered back to the Commander's briefing, "He even gets into fights at school, over me. He tries to prove he's worthy of my love, but I'm the one who's not worthy."
Reaching over and gently caressing his face, tears once more threatened to cloud her vision. Asuka brushed some stray hair from Shinji's face, astounded at how long it had become. It hadn't looked that long in the battleROM footage. In fact, it had actually looked shorter than normal in the footage.
"Hey, Shinji," she said softly, as if she feared to disturb him, "Shinji, it's me. Asuka. Shinji, please wake up!" Asuka sighed sadly as she looked down at his passive face. She had thought she had seen some sort of movement when she said who she was, but that may have been wishful thinking on her part.
"I…uh…came back when I heard what happened to you," Asuka told him as she fought to hold herself together. She had sworn to herself when she was a child that she would never cry again, and that she didn't need anyone. Yet, here she was, having cried more in the past couple of days than she ever had her entire life. Worse still, she needed the young man that lay in the bed. She needed to talk to him, to be held by him, to be kissed and loved by him. She needed to tell him how she really felt, and apologize for breaking his heart.
"I missed you, Shinji, even though I told myself twenty times a day that I didn't," she continued as she held herself, looking down at the floor, with just a hint of bitterness tingeing her voice. "I'd be talking to someone, or working on some project, and suddenly you would pop up in my head. It was really a pain, sometimes."
Asuka sat down in the chair next to his bed and gently reached over and took his hand, as if it was made of fragile porcelain. She felt it twitch ever so slightly, which caused her heart to rush with hope. "I don't know if you heard or not, but about a year after I got back to Germany, I got my doctorate in Cybernetics. With all the knowledge I got from working with the EVA's and a little help from Doctor Akagi, it took me no time at all. After all, I am a genius." Once more, she felt a little squeeze. Asuka was about ready to leap out of her chair with happiness.
"Come on, Shinji," she encouraged him, "you can do it! Wake up Shinji!" The young pilot still slept though, as Asuka sat back in the chair and sighed.
"You always were a pain, you know?" she started giggling just a bit. "There I was, sitting before the board, defending my doctorate dissertation when…WHAM! There you were, in my head again! I was suddenly remembering our last White Day together, and I guess I spaced out for a second. The head of the board had to bring me back to reality. I could have lost my chance for my doctorate because of you! And don't you dare say you're sorry!" she said, still giggling as she felt the twitch again.
"If you do, I'll kick your scrawny butt! Well, you're not all that scrawny anymore," Asuka added approvingly, noticing his well defined physique even though it was hidden beneath the hospital gown and sheets. The skinny arms had been replaced with corded steel, and even his shoulders had broadened out quite a bit. She reached down and picked up his hand once more, and noticed that the knuckles were much more calloused than in the past, and though he still had the long fingers that had served him so well as a cello player, they now were covered with a very fine network of scars.
Abruptly, she stood up and started pacing about, "Oh, I hate this! You know I have no patience for this kind of stuff! I want you to wake up now, Shinji! I even got all dressed up for you, just like you liked! The least you could do is wake up and talk to me! Shinji, please wake up!!" Asuka pleaded as she stood beside his bed and laid her hand upon his chest.
She noticed a small white scar sticking out some from under Shinji's gown, starting about halfway across his left collar bone. Asuka reached out and touched it, wishing that she could have been there whenever that happened and take the pain away. She gasped as she realized that it wasn't a small scar at all. Asuka traced the scar from his collarbone, across his chest diagonally, and ending just below his ribcage on the other side.
"Ach mein Gott!" she exclaimed, "What, what happened?!" Reaching down, she pulled his gown free and stared at the ugly scar across his chest. She didn't even stop to think how this might look to anyone walking by. Her eyes were locked on the wide, ugly, jagged blemish on Shinji's otherwise smooth, yet muscular chest. He had indeed grown since she had seen him last.
"Doctor Soryu?" a familiar voice called out from the doorway, "I was wondering when you were going to show up! I take it Misato finally got a hold of you."
"Doctor Akagi," Asuka greeted the blonde woman as she walked over and held the door open for her, "how are you?"
"Fine, thanks," Akagi replied as she wheeled herself into Shinji's room. Asuka's eyes saddened a bit at the thought of her mentor being stuck in that chair for the rest of her life. Her and Touji's injuries were two of the reasons she went into cybernetics. Gendo Ikari's bullet had done it's job too well, but not the one he had intended. The bullet had completely severed Ritsuko's spinal cord, and Asuka had as of yet not come up with a way to repair it.
"Is there any change in Shinji's condition?" Asuka asked hopefully as she watched Ritsuko study Shinji's chart.
"Not much, I'm afraid," the older woman replied as she replaced the chart and started typing furiously into the laptop computer attached to her wheelchair. "It show's massive mental activity, but no physical response."
"Uh, well, he did move his hand a little, a few minutes ago when I was talking to him," Asuka said softly, "isn't that a sign of improvement?"
Akagi raised one eyebrow in surprise, then dropped it a second later. "Probably not, Asuka. Sometime, people in a state like Shinji's will involuntarily twitch. Muscle spasms, plain and simple."
"Oh," Asuka whispered, a bit crestfallen. Akagi was kind of taken aback by the look on the young woman's face. After all, Shinji was the reason she had left Japan.
"You really should go now, Asuka. Visiting hours will be over soon. Have you gotten yourself a nice hotel room?" Akagi asked, trying to get Asuka's mind off of the stricken pilot. Even though Shinji was nothing like his father, she really didn't want the younger woman to have anything to do with any Ikari.
"I'm, I'm going to stay a while longer, Ritsuko," Asuka replied as she looked once more at the fallen young man on the bed. "I'll get a room later."
"Alright, Asuka," Akagi sighed, knowing her worries were confirmed. Asuka still had a thing for Shinji. "I'll let the doctors know what you said about Shinji."
"Thanks, Ritsuko," the redhead replied as she went and once more held the door for Akagi. "Oh! Wait a second! Can you tell me what happened to Shinji's chest? That is one hell of a scar he has!"
"Well, what do you think Asuka?" Akagi replied in a mocking tone, "The Invincible Shinji Ikari got in in battle, saving all of us little people from big bad monsters! Good old Shinji, our own superhero!" The sneer in her voice was unmistakable.
"Doctor Akagi! How can you say things like that?!" Asuka growled through gritted teeth, the anger threatening to burst through at any second.
"Easily, Doctor Soryu," Akagi replied as she started wheeling herself down the hall, "you used to say things like that all the time!"
"I…er…grrr…humph!" Asuka fumed as the blonde scientist wheeled herself away. Crossing her arms and leaning against the doorway facing Shinji, she had to admit Akagi was right. She had been horrible to Shinji at first, but it was her jealousy talking at the time. Later, when she realized she needed him, she got so much worse. She had always told herself that she didn't need anyone, and now that she knew she needed Shinji Ikari, she lashed out at him angrily. She pushed him away.
He never left her, though. He was always there, helping her whether she wanted it or not. He helped her in her first battle, and pulled her from certain death in her first solo outing in the volcano. He came back and saved her at great personal cost when her EVA was dismembered. The only time he failed her was during the attack of the Fifteenth Angel, but she later learned that he had no choice.
She had treated him so horribly after that. Shinji was the one who helped her after Kaji's death, even if he felt like he was her second choice in all things. He was there when she woke up, and he was there to help her heal her mental, emotional, and physical wounds. He was there to hold her after the nightmares, and he was there when she had her accident. She glanced down at the white scar that crossed over her left wrist.
More importantly, he was there to love her, no matter her faults, and she repaid him by leaving. She couldn't push him away, so her own fears drove her off. "Never again," she promised herself, "he deserves so much more!"
Sighing softly, Asuka went back to the chair and sat once more by the young man who held the keys to her heart. She reached over, took his hand, and gently laid her head on his shoulder. The stress of the past couple of days finally took it's toll as her eyes grew heavy and gently closed. She drifted into a fitful sleep, as her mind drifted off to the past.
End of Chapter Two.