Disclaimer: I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion or any of its characters. They belong to Anno and his crew at Gainax.
Author's Note: This is only about half the length of any of the other chapters in this fic but I think this part is necessary after the somewhat rushed ending of the previous chapter.
Shinji awoke and sat up in his bed. Beside him was the naked form of Asuka Langley Sohryu in a peaceful slumber. Shinji glanced over to his alarm clock and saw that it was only 5 o'clock in the morning. Despite the early hour, he got himself out of bed, put on some trousers before wondering through to his kitchen. He felt a pounding headache quickly overcoming him as he walked, causing him to lose balance. He quickly put his hands on the wall to stop him falling over, trying to regain his composure. He finally managed to get to the kitchen and grabbed a glass so that he could have a drink of water. However, as soon as he went to turn the tap, he felt his stomach failing to contain the alcohol he had consumed last night. Shinji retched loudly before empty the contents of his stomach into the metallic kitchen sink. He could taste the horrendous mix of whiskey, wine and half digested food in his mouth which almost made him vomit again had it not for been for some quick mental intervention on Shinji's part. He turned the tap on to wash away the mess in front of him as well as hastily getting himself a drink of water to hopefully remove most of the foul taste from his mouth.
As his sink cleared up, Shinji's mind remained groggy. He could still feel the effect of the alcohol as he stood there over his sink. One fact was clear though. I had sex with Asuka, the girl that I never really got along with when I was younger. I always wanted to get closer to her but I don't know if this was the right way, Shinji thought. I've done this too many times before. Meet a nice girl, have a few drinks, have sex, then never ever see her or speak to her again. Am I just going to do the same thing here? Shinji poured himself another glass of water, hoping that the taste of his own sick wouldn't linger in his mouth. That taste nonetheless remained in the back of his throat, just like his anxiety and fear always remained in the back of his mind. Despite the happiness he experienced last night, Shinji couldn't help but regret doing what he did. It was almost the same with Misato a couple of nights ago with him and Misato both drunk but thankfully, Misato had the sense to say no. This time round, it was with Asuka and it was what she wanted, wasn't it? They both did what they both wanted for a long time, yet Shinji couldn't help but feel like he had made a mistake. Maybe they had rushed things. Maybe they should have spent some time together before going that far, just getting to know each other again after all those years.
That was another thing. Shinji never really knew who Asuka Langley Sohryu was. When they were Eva pilots, they never really spoke to each other but the attraction he felt towards her was undeniable. He was never sure he she felt the same and he was too afraid to ask. He was even unsure now because both Asuka and he were both drunk when they had sex. Did she really feel that way about him, or were their actions just the deeds of two people, fuelled by both loneliness and alcohol? Shinji had so much uncertainty in his mind and his thoughts were clouded by the alcohol still in his system. He felt like everything should seem right; he had finally seen Asuka after all those years and his life seemed to be changing for the better. However, it didn't feel right for him and Shinji wanted to know what was missing and what more he needed just to feel complete.
As well as that, he had had sex with Asuka, but apart from that he couldn't say much else. What did he feel for her after last night? Was it love? No, Shinji could hardly call it love. And if it was, maybe he was in self denial. Shinji wasn't sure of his feelings at all. He was in an emotional labyrinth and he wasn't sure if there was a way out. The uncertainty was causing Shinji to be afraid of what he was feeling and the implications those feelings brought with them. I'm just like I was when I was 14…nothing really ever changes, does it? Shinji thought with a frown on his face. I'm still in that same mess…even without being an Eva pilot, everything just seems so confusing. Shinji placed his glass back in the sink and let the tap run a bit longer just to get rid of the stench of vomit. He looked out of his kitchen window and saw that it was still dark and from what he could see, it had been snowing during the earlier hours of that morning. Shinji had never really gotten used to the winters that had returned to Japan and wondered if he would get used to the recent changes in his life or even if they would amount to much.
Shinji headed back to his bedroom and changed into his work clothes, even though he would need to be there for several hours. He grabbed his car keys but before he left he took a look at the woman whom he had slept with. Instead of feeling something unambiguous and clear, Shinji felt confused and uncertain. Maybe things would clear up with time but how long? Ten years wasn't long enough apparently as Shinji still remained the way he was. Another ten years? Would he ever clear up his thoughts and feelings? Shinji had the feeling that time would not tell and something else was needed, but what?
Shinji left his flat and headed to his car. He drove out of the residential parking area and headed on the quickest route out of the city. As he left the city limits, it occurred to Shinji that he may be over the legal limit for alcohol. He may have only been drinking the previous night but the alcohol would still be in his system and if he was stopped, then he may be in trouble. However, he felt fine and his driving wasn't impaired in away way. If he drove normally, then the police would have no reason to stop him. As well as that, Shinji didn't expect too many people out and about on this country lane at half past 5 in the morning.
As he drove, Shinji couldn't clear his mind of the events of the previous night and the regret he felt because of it. He was also struggling to concentrate on the road which was of little help to him at all. He wanted to get where he was going to alive and with his mind the way it was, he struggled every second of his journey. Shinji rolled down his window despite the biting cold and let the air run over his face. It helped, but there was no stopping the rampage of thoughts in his mind. Concentrate Shinji, you're on the road and you're going nearly 100 kilometres per hour in the dark…think straight…concentrate, Shinji thought. It was still very dark and Shinji had his headlights at full beam. A truck in the opposite lane drove past Shinji's car and blew its horn as it drove past. "Shit!" Shinji cursed and he tried not to cause any unintended movement of his steering wheel from being startled. Crap…I forget to dip my headlights for that oncoming truck…get a grip Shinji! Shinji slapped himself across the face several times to try and regain focus but all his efforts would be in vain.
"Shinji, let's go…to your bedroom…I've got a surprise were you there."
"Asuka, do you want to?"
Jesus Shinji! Stop thinking about it! You're behind the wheel of a car! You're going to get yourself or someone else killed at this rate! Despite his best efforts, that whole sequence of them getting into bed, both of them stripping down kept on repeating in his head. Then came the confusion in his emotions and his thoughts and Shinji couldn't stop them getting to him. He decided to reduce his speed in the hope that it would make his driving a bit steadier. Thankfully, he wasn't far from his intended destination as he past a sign reading, 'Tokyo-3 Ruins, Third Impact Memorial Site, 10km'. Another five minutes and you're there, Shinji. Just concentrate on the road for five minutes…damn, I really should have taken a train, Shinji thought, regretting something else as well.
Those five minutes passed fairly quickly and Shinji turned off the main road and parked car. He got out and walked towards the giant lake that stood in front of him. The snow was fresh and the ground and compressed with his every step. Shinji headed to the giant granite stone that bore the inscription, "This monument is a tribute to all those who lost their lives during both Second and Third Impact and to the brave souls who fought so gallantly for the city of Tokyo-3. May all those who still have not found their way back after Third Impact be guided back safely. 14th February 2016." The erecting of this monument occurred on the same day but fifteen years after the Valentine's Day treaty that ended the various wars that took place after Second Impact. Shinji was there with both Misato and Asuka when they put this up. It had been before Asuka had run away back to Germany, in a time when there world was having to build itself up again from the rubble.
The lake itself was mostly emptied of that primordial soup of LCL and changed into a regular fresh water lake. However, there was enough LCL to tinge the water a slight orange colour, just to remind anybody who visited of the significance of this body of water. Shinji didn't know why he came here. There was no logical reasoning in his coming here. Yet, it allowed him to think straight for once, something he hadn't been able to do for the entire morning. That however, wasn't such a good thing as Shinji realised just how ambiguous everything was in his mind. It was a strange paradox that Shinji had to think straight just to really see how confused he was about everything. As Shinji stared over the frozen lake, he said, "I've got to get out of here." He about faced and headed to his car before driving off.
Shinji had suddenly begun to relive his time as an Eva pilot and at which point he decided he had to leave. Now his only goal was to get as far away from the lake as possible. With this goal in mind, Shinji felt much better prepared to drive and put his foot down on the accelerator. As he left the lake behind him, he left his memories of being an Eva pilot as well for the time being. He would still have dreams, but that was beyond his control. He was doing everything in his power to stop his mind from going back to that terrible time, that time when he was forced to pilot that monstrosity. His thoughts soon turned back to Asuka and the confusion surrounding her. What did he really think of her? What did she think of him? Where they right to do what they did the previous night?
Shinji never saw the sharp right hand corner in front of him in time. The left hand side of his car slammed into the hard barrier before skidding along it. Inside, the airbags deployed as they were meant to but the impact of the crash was enough to knock Shinji unconscious. The car grinded along the barrier before coming to a halt. The engine smouldered as pieces of the car lay on the road, a potential trap for any other drivers behind him. One such driver, a civil servant in Japan's Ministry of Defence, returning from a summit from Hokkaido saw the pieces on the road and slowed down immediately. Then, he saw the wreckage of the car. He stopped and got out to check whether the person inside was alive. Much to his horror, he recognised the driver of the vehicle. "Oh my god…Shinji," gasped Kensuke Aida. He pulled out his mobile phone and called the emergency services, hoping that Shinji was alive and that the ambulance crews would arrive in time.
Asuka awoke at the sound of Shinji's alarm clock. She slowly sat up and rubbed her face groggily. She checked the time to be 8 o'clock and moaned, feeling that it was far too early for her to be getting up. Despite her woes, Asuka decided that since she was awake, she might as well get up out of bed. She noted that Shinji wasn't beside her but assumed that he would be in the living room, kitchen or bathroom. Asuka raided Shinji's wardrobe and put on one of his shirts and went out into the main living space.
Much to her surprise, she found Rei Ayanami in the kitchen. The blue haired woman turned to see Asuka and had a perplexed look on her face. "Rei?" Asuka asked.
"I'm sorry," Rei said, "I do not know who you are."
Somehow, I'm glad that she doesn't remember me. I treated her like shit all those years ago, Asuka thought.
"You do seem…familiar, however," Rei added.
"I'm Asuka. I'm one of Misato's and Shinji's friends," Asuka pointed out. "I knew you from when we were Eva pilots, although I'm aware you don't remember any of that."
"Eva? It's vaguely familiar, but I'm not sure," Rei said. Then, she smiled and said, "It's good to meet you, Asuka."
"It's good to meet you too, even though I already know you," Asuka said with a light chuckle.
"You say you are one of Shinji's friends?" Rei asked.
"Well…sort of. We go back a while. Last night was the first time I've seen him in years," Asuka answered. "It's kind of…complicated."
"What do you mean?"
Asuka was about to speak, but stopped herself. I'm speaking so freely with this Rei. I guess this is what Misato meant when she said Rei was different. It's different in a good way, I guess, she thought. "What I mean is," Asuka said, "I don't know what to feel about him."
"You are unsure of you feelings," Rei noted. "Shinji is the same."
"Misato said exactly the same thing. She said that Shinji and I are alike in that respect," Asuka added.
"Misato is wise for her age, even if she does drive crazy," Rei said. For the first time ever it seemed, Asuka began to laugh at something Rei said. It was a fairly trivial thing, but for Asuka it was significant enough to cement the fact that there was something about this Rei that contained aspects of the old Rei but was a different person altogether. "Yeah, when Misato drove me over last night, it was quite scary," Asuka agreed with a smile.
"She is very nice though," Rei said. "She took me shopping, after Shinji found me and she was very helpful in choosing clothes."
"Oh, I see," Asuka said. "She didn't make you buy anything too revealing, did she?"
"No, I do not think so," Rei said, blushing slightly. Asuka laughed at the sight. "I'll be honest Rei, ten years ago when we were Eva pilots; I never really liked you for some reason. I don't know why, but I'm being honest and saying I didn't. Now I realise that was a mistake and I regret not being friends with you back then," Asuka said.
"That's okay. That was then. This is now," Rei said with a smile.
"Well, that's true," Asuka agreed. "By the way, have you seen Shinji?"
"No, I haven't," Rei replied. "Perhaps he has gone to work early."
"Maybe," Asuka said. "It's just that I wanted a proper talk with him. I can't remember too much of last night because we were both pretty drunk."
"I could hear you two speaking from the guest bedroom," Rei said. "The last thing I heard before I feel asleep was hearing the both of you go into Shinji's bedroom."
"Oh yeah," Asuka said, blushing when she did. "I hope we didn't keep you up," she added with a sly smile.
"No, don't worry, you didn't," Rei said, returning Asuka's grin. "So you and Shinji, are you…together?"
"I don't know," Asuka replied. "I mean, we were both pretty drunk last night and we probably didn't talk about anything important. That's why I want to speak with him. We have a lot of things that we need to clear up. There are a lot of things I want to clear up."
"So you can set your mind straight?" Rei asked.
"Yeah, so to speak. You know, I had first thought that last night would be enough to fill that empty space in my life because I had finally seen Shinji again. Turns out it's not as simple as that," Asuka said. "I'm sorry if I sound depressed or anything."
"No, no, it's okay. It's good to be able to speak to people, Asuka," Rei said. "Even if that means having a heart to heart with somebody you barely know."
Asuka smiled and said, "Yeah, I guess that's true."
"You know, before you came, Shinji seemed really depressed," Rei said. "He was drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle and he even yelled at me."
"He yelled at you?" Asuka asked in surprise.
"I knew that he wasn't angry at me, but something had him very uptight. I meant to ask him this morning but I haven't seen him," Rei explained.
"That didn't seem like the Shinji that was with me last night," Asuka said with concern on her face.
"Maybe he was happy to see you," Rei offered.
"Maybe. Misato told me he had problems with alcohol," Asuka said.
"He drinks more than he should," Asuka replied. "I'm no one to judge but it's not something you want in a person."
"I see," Rei said.
"Who am I kidding?" Asuka muttered. "I've got my own fair share of problems that probably rank just as bad as alcoholism."
"Some might say that it is our flaws that make us who we are," Rei said.
"Maybe," Asuka said. "But I've never looked at flaws in a good way. I've had it hard enough in my life facing my demons."
"Just as long as you are facing them," Rei said.
"I've never succeeded in getting rid of them, that's the thing. I was always afraid of getting…hurt," Asuka said.
"Aren't we all?" Rei asked. "Fear of getting hurt, fear of pain, isn't that just part of what makes us human?"
"But my fear was stopping me from connecting to people. It actually impeded certain parts of my life," Asuka said.
"You're connecting with me," Rei said, "and I'm happy to be speaking with you. Isn't that a good thing?"
Asuka looked up at her blue haired companion and saw the sincerity in her expression. There was definitely something different about this Rei. She didn't seem like a puppet, or a doll. She was her own person. "You know Rei, you have one of the sunniest outlooks on life out of anybody I have ever known," Asuka said.
"I almost died in the snow a few nights ago. I have no recollection of my life before it but I certainly intend to live. I am alive and because of that, I have the chance to be happy," Rei said with an honest, sincere smile.
"I've never, ever looked at life that way," Asuka said. "But thinking about it, that makes more sense than anything else anyone has to say."
"Those were the words stuck in my head when I first woke up after Shinji dragged me out of the snow," Rei explained. "Because I am alive, I have the chance to be happy. I have that hope."
Suddenly, the door bell went off, causing the two women to momentarily pause their conversation. Rei went forward to get it because she was the one of out those two who actually lived in the flat. When she opened the door, Misato was there, panting from having run up the stairs. "Misato?" Rei asked.
"Come with me," she said. "Shinji's been in an accident."
Misato drove the two to the local hospital where Shinji was being treated. Not a word was said in the car as Misato sped through the city. When they reached the hospital, the three disembarked and headed straight up to the floor where Shinji was. A doctor was up there waiting for their arrival. "What's the situation?" Misato asked.
"The patient, one Shinji Ikari, was involved in an accident. His car was the only one involved and it is assumed that he lost control of his vehicle. As a result of the accident, he suffered a compound fracture in his lower left leg. He was taken into the hospital just before 6 o'clock in the morning where we immediately performed surgery on the fracture. He is in recovery, still under the effect of the anaesthetic," the doctor explained. "He is fine, however, and should make a full recovery from the fracture."
"So he got away with a broken leg?" Asuka asked.
"Yes, that's correct," the doctor replied. "Once he wakes up, it may be possible to speak to him but he will be under sedation from morphine."
"That's fine. Thank you doctor," Misato said.
"It's no problem whatsoever, and I'm glad to be of service," the doctor said before walking off.
Asuka moved toward one of the seats in the nearby waiting area and collapsed backward onto it. "What an idiot," she muttered, although the tone of her voice conveyed her worry. She dropped her head into her hands and slowly rubbed her face. "Asuka, are you okay?" Rei asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Asuka said. "I'm just happy he didn't go and get himself killed."
"Do you know what he was doing out on his own?" Misato asked.
"No, he left before either of us was awake," Asuka replied. "Nothing happened that would cause him to go out driving like an idiot."
"I see," Misato said. "Maybe we'll just have to find out from Shinji himself."
As the three waited for word of Shinji regaining consciousness, a man that Misato and Asuka immediately recognised walked into the waiting area. "Kensuke…is that you?" Asuka asked.
"I was about to say the same thing about you," said the bespectacled man, making no effort to hide his surprise at seeing Asuka in the same country as him.
"You must have heard about the accident," Misato noted.
"Well, actually, I saw the accident, the aftermath of it, anyway. I called the ambulance as soon as I saw Shinji in the car," Kensuke explained.
"You saw him?" Asuka asked. "Where was he?"
"He was on the road heading back into Tokyo-4," Kensuke answered.
"The road back into Tokyo-4?" Asuka said. "What the hell was he doing outside of Tokyo-4?!"
"That I don't know," Kensuke said. "I was pretty lucky to see him because there was hardly anybody on that road, especially at that time in the morning."
"What were you doing on that road?" Misato asked.
"I was coming back from an international summit up in Hokkaido. I was part of the Ministry of Defence delegation," Kensuke explained.
"So you're a civil servant?" Misato further inquired.
"That's correct," Kensuke replied.
"What's with the cross-examination, Misato?" Asuka said. "Isn't he one of Shinji's friends?"
"I just wanted to know the circumstances," Misato pointed out.
"As well as that, I haven't spoken to Shinji in well over five years," Kensuke added.
"Five years?" Asuka said.
"Yeah, and it's been the same for Toji. Neither of us could really get in touch with Shinji. The two of us stayed good pals but Shinji just seemed like he was on another planet, for all we saw of him," Kensuke said.
"I told you Shinji was like that," Misato said.
"It's not like I'm much better," Asuka said. "Running off to Germany for just under 10 years."
"The thing was with Shinji was that we all knew his phone number and where he lived," Kensuke said. "He just refused to speak to any of us and went about his life, almost like a ghost."
"Trust me, Kensuke, I was just the same in Germany," Asuka said.
"It doesn't matter," Misato said. "The fact is you're here now and Shinji managed to get himself into a car accident during a seemingly random drive out of Tokyo-4. We need to get to the bottom of this."
"I'm just glad that he is okay," Asuka said.
"As am I," Rei added.
"Rei?" Kensuke said. "There's another face I haven't seen for years."
"She doesn't remember anything before New Year's Day," Misato pointed out.
"I do seem to recall his face, though," Rei said.
"Well, I'm Kensuke Aida, one of Shinji's pals from school."
"It is good to meet you."
"Don't worry, we've met before," Kensuke said with a smile. "So, what now?"
"We wait," Asuka muttered.
"Hold up one second. Are you sure you two did anything that caused Shinji to behave erratically?" Misato asked Asuka.
"I told you already, no. When I arrived at his, we had a few drinks and messed about and we…well…" Asuka said, not wanting to say it out loud.
"I see," Misato said, knowing exactly what Asuka meant. "That may have just been it, then."