Author's note: It should be clear shortly if it's not already, but this picks up right where End of Evangelion left off. I know, it's not an original premise at all, and it's probably been beaten into the ground, but this story's been in my head for a while and I just wanted to get it down on paper. Or... in pixels. So, if you want, read on and enjoy yourself.
I'm rating it M. It's probably skirting the line between T and M, but I want to be safe.
I don't own Evangelion. If I did, I wouldn't need this disclaimer.
Pain. Hot pain, searing through my viscera. Jagged teeth, tearing claws and mindless laughter. Intestines stretching, limbs as trophies. Screaming does nothing. Helpless.
I'm disappearing. No, I'm already gone? World-burning rage, helpless. Vultures, white vultures, the halo of the sun. Circling shadows above; I'm squinting. The heartbeat of some great beast, pounding thunder-like, deafening, and the beast is me.
No, not me; gone. Sun's going dark, be gone soon. Someone... someone I know, close by. Someone warm. Not enough, though. Too little, too late.
Darkness. Blue eyes, blinking, pupils narrowing, startled. A kitchen? A familiar place.
Cold words now, desperate words, pleas. Sharp words, frost-slicked steel. They're designed to hurt, to cause what I feel. An offer, a tantrum, refusal. Neither pity nor quarter, barely above a whisper.
Hands grasping now, not my hands, squeezing. Choking. Lights fading again, cold coming again, but no pain this time. No fighting. The high road. Grunting, roaring, darkness.
Another pair of eyes, eyes all over, watching, judging. Some are mine. What is inside comes out, dirty, cowering, a panting wreck. Hate it. Hate it so much. Can see theirs too, shameful and smothered, but hate it. Have to get out, have to...
Water. A drop, echoing.
Mama? Mama loves me.
Watchers back, clawing, prying, but I fight. I see as through a prism of hearts, not what I want, and I fight, and I flee. Flee through darkness.
Mama loves me. But Mama's gone now.
Someone else isn't. Someone, something warm. Spiky and warm, someone familiar, and I swim through what isn't there, swim away, swim towards a solid anchor piercing the veil and find that I can't breathe. Something's around my neck, and I can't move.
He's strangling me. Again.
I'm not even angry. I'm dying again, feeling the sands slip through numb fingers once more, and I'm not mad, because Mama loves me. And because we hurt each other. Even now I can feel it, feel his rage and pain, sharp as a knife in my womb.
Sky above, nothing but a dark blur. My fingers twitch, all the more I can move now. Eyes burning, muscles straining, I lift a hand. Lift it and touch his face. Want to feel something before I go. Loss. Things aren't... didn't have to be this way. Want him to know.
Fingers trail along a smooth cheek, caressing, but the effort is too much, the weight too heavy. My hand falls. Wind roars somewhere despite the stillness, and the too-bright stars go dim.
Exhausted, I collapse onto the sand and simply lie there for a long time. Just a few meters away, the sea laps patiently against the sand. It's red, now. The water is red. LCL. The spray has already marked the cross I put up for Misato, leaving premature signs of age.
Something draws my attention to the side, and with effort I roll my head to face that way, staring out over the water. Rei is floating there, I see. Just... hovering in place, leaving a tiny shadow on the rippling surface of the water below. She's watching me.
I stare back. I don't know what you want me to do, Rei. I don't know that I'd do it if I did. I'm tired. Tired of all this. I've taken your lessons to heart, but... it's hard. It's hard and I'm tired.
The silence stretches. I find myself wondering if she's really there at all. Her school uniform should seem out of place in the crumbling wreckage of the world, but I can't summon the will to laugh. Mirth seems inappropriate now in any case.
Silence, but for the waves. I blink, and she's gone.
For a time I just continue staring, but after a moment I sigh, pushing myself laboriously upright. The sea is a monument to apocalyptic pain now, a half-submerged temple to hubris and failed plans. Rough statues stick out from the waves at odd intervals, some slanting drunkenly, the petrified remains of the mass-produced Eva series. Somewhere in the distance, water laps against an enormous stone likeness of half of Rei's wide-eyed face. Is she staring at me? I don't think so. I'd laugh if I had the energy for it.
At the thought, my eyes flicker sideways again, but it's no use, of course. She's gone. Maybe she was never there.
Everything's so red now. The water, the arc of souls in the sky. The plugsuit and hair of the girl next to me.
Asuka's lying there on her back, her face about as peaceful as I've ever seen it. I think she's alive. I dragged her out of the water not ten minutes ago and she was breathing then.
She's got a bandage over one eye, and matching ones on her right hand and arm where the suit has been cut away. By whom, I couldn't tell you. I don't know where the bandages came from either, but like Rei's uniform, like Rei herself, there's really no gain in wondering. It's just there.
Abruptly and without reason, my numbness shatters into rage just from looking at Asuka. All the suffering I've suffered at her hands, at everyone's hands, comes crashing home, drawing lips from my teeth in a feral snarl. She's nothing but a point source of pain. Even Instrumentality didn't seem to change her either; I was desperate then, seeking help from anyone, but she wouldn't lift a goddamn finger to save my life when I needed it. All because I needed help anyone could give, not just her.
My limbs move of their own accord, climbing, reaching. Squeezing. As I straddle her hips and start strangling her, I can't help but suspect with a flash of black humor that this must be starting to get routine for her now. She's nothing but pain, and she can't stand me, and really, I've just had enough of her shit. No more. My thumbs meet over her Adam's apple and push in; my teeth grind.
One blue eye stares unblinking at the heavens. One bandaged hand twitches, then rises to touch my face. No, to caress.
I freeze, relax. Waves whisper against the shore.
Fingers slide, then drop back to the sand. I blink. As quickly as it came, my rage disappears, leaving me a shaking wreck. Hot liquid trickles down my cheeks, drops onto her face, her lips, but she doesn't stir.
Does she know what she's doing? Does she even... but how couldn't she? A gesture like that is too specific to be reflex. She knows.
It's too much. Tears blur my vision and I collapse atop her, unable to stop the sobs now wracking my body. What... what the hell is wrong with me? Earlier today I made a choice. Life implies pain, as Rei explained; you can't have one without the other. And shortly after that entire ordeal, when confronted with pain, what's the first thing I do? Run from it. Choke it away.
Did Rei put her here, I wonder, just to see what I'd do? To test me? If so, I've failed. I thought I'd grown up somewhat during Instrumentality, but clearly that's not the case, or at least not to any significant degree. Or maybe I brought here here. No... I think I'd remember that.
"How disgusting." Her voice is low, a murmur, and hoarse from being strangled.
I just... I can't run from pain anymore. I owe it to her as much as myself to change. My God, I almost killed her.
Long moments pass, but Shinji continues to cry. That's not really what I wanted to see on coming back here, and I kind of wish he would stop. He's just a trembling weight on my thighs, curled up and shaking and gasping. And as strange as it is to realize this... I don't get it. I didn't mean to upset him, but if it's made him regret all the stuff he did to me... so much the better, I suppose.
Eventually he half-falls off me and crawls a short distance away along the sand. There he stops and plants his face in his hands, but the tears continue, as do the gasping sobs that suggest he's doing his damnedest not to lose it altogether.
With him no longer restraining me, I sit up. Or try to; it's harder than I was expecting. A consequence of being... away, maybe. With a grimace I'm able to push myself up to a seated position, though, and that lets me look around to take stock of my surroundings. Our surroundings.
We're on an unfamiliar beach. White sand, red water. No... the scent tells me it's LCL, even from here, but it's frothing and playing like sea water. Maybe it's a little of both. It's night, too, and the stars seem too bright for the moment it takes me to realize that this is because there are no city lights obscuring them. No lights at all, in fact, except those hovering above. Oddly-familiar statues lean in slovenly disarray up from the sea, and farther out gapes a megalithic and godlike half-Rei. Behind us, over the slope of the beach, I can spot skeletal power poles and tilted street signs. This place, I decide, feels like it should ring a bell, but I don't know this part of the city very well.
I swallow, and it hurts. Making a face, I rub my neck gingerly, but I don't think anything's broken there, or out of place. It's strange, but my throat actually hurts more than the parts of me covered in bandages. The warm weight against my left eye is a little stifling, but I ignore it. The sensation will go away on its own.
The cyclical murmur of blood waves keeps time to Shinji's choked gasping. Stars stare coldly down on us, along with the moon, a circle split in two by a curious arc of red in the sky. My memory stirs at that, but whatever it means, it's gone before I can identify it.
Gradually Shinji forces his tears under control; now all I can hear from him is a sort of heavy breathing and the occasional sniffle. Without turning my head in his direction I hug knees to my chest and stare out over the dark water.
I'm here. Alive. On solid ground. I've never really appreciated that before.
Time crawls past; I'm not sure how much. An hour, maybe, in silence broken only by the waves.
What even happened? It's a question that probably should have struck me right away, but the fog of slumber has only slowly disappeared from my mind. That was... Third Impact, clearly. I didn't really know it was supposed to be like that, dreamlike and shared. More like a nightmare than a dream, really, but like either, it's already fading from memory. Some parts stick out, though, parts I won't forget. I remember Shinji. There was actually a lot of Shinji, but what stands out clearly is the argument. Misato's kitchen, but different. He's so pathetic, literally begging for help, like he thinks I'll be some mindless pair of arms to comfort him. Like I'll put everything on hold to satisfy some circle-jerk sympathy fantasy of his. After everything he did to me? Over me? Not likely.
I remember him strangling me. The silence beforehand, his head hanging, too weak to look me in the eye. The odd grinning snarl on his face in the split second before he did it. He's stronger than I would have thought, or at least he was in that place. It didn't take long for darkness to take over.
I remember choosing not to fight him. It was a sick gesture, letting him kill me just so that I could be free of pain, and maybe do the same for him. I don't think it helped, though.
I remember touching his face. I loathe him, but that was honest.
It's... quiet here. There's the wash of waves, but nothing else. No traffic, no television in another room. No animals, even. I wonder if any are even left.
Resting my chin on my knees, I stare vaguely off at Rei's monumental head, sliced in half. It's a ludicrous thing to see, but I feel curiously little at the sight. I barely remember anything of her from Instrumentality.
Whatever. "Shinji, I'm thirsty."
I blink at Asuka, barely registering her words as thoughts of a unified blob of humanity fade into mist. She's just staring off over the water, not looking at me at all. A few strands of red hair dance fitfully away from her shoulders in the faint sea-breeze.
As the silence deepens, she turns her head, and a slight frown creases her features. Not an angry frown. "I'm thirsty," she repeats quietly, blue eyes levelly meeting my own.
Oh. "I... I don't have any water," I admit, grimacing. "I haven't really looked around much." In fact I probably haven't been more than ten or fifteen meters from where we sit. Even Misato's memorial I made out of driftwood washed up on the beach.
A wave froths playfully against the sand as she watches me. "How long have you been here?"
I shake my head, glancing out over the moonlit water. "Not long. Less than a day before you woke up, and then... an hour since? Hour and a half?" Eyeing her again, I don a questioning expression, wondering at the length of our solitude.
Rather than answer, she frowns a little more deeply, apparently waiting for more. Then she lifts a cool eyebrow. "Water?"
"I said I..." Sighing, I shake my head, then climb to my feet. "Can you stand?"
A dark look crosses her face as she stares down at herself. "I don't think so," she answers, her voice low.
I hesitate at this. It's unlike her to admit inability, especially without trying first. I suppose I've changed in the last day, though; why not her too? And why water? I mean, sure, I see the obvious need for basic necessities, but if I were her, I'd sure as hell be confused about what just happened. About the city, the world, all the people in it.
Too proud to ask, I suppose. Typical Asuka.
As the silence stretches, I shift my feet in the sand. "Aren't you going to try?"
She spares me a withering look, then sighs, planting hands on the ground and pushing. Tendons stand out in her trembling arms and shoulders, and her lips peel back from her teeth, but shortly she falls back, letting her head plop back into the sand. Naked pain on her face is shortly replaced with a scowl. "I... can't," she mutters, turning her face away.
After a moment I let drop the hand I was holding out for her. She'd still rather fail than let anyone help her. Typical Asuka.
When I say nothing, she rolls her head back to stare up at me, blue eyes strangely cautious. "Can you get some for me?"
"Some water?" I clarify. She nods once. I open my mouth again to answer in the affirmative, but abruptly it occurs to me how similar this situation is to when she was in the hospital, sedated. Her lying there, helpless, while I stand over her and make a choice. Only this time it's her who needs something from me, rather than the other way around. I'm not the weak one anymore. Not the strong one, either, maybe, but... not weak.
Her eyes harden as though the same thought has occurred to her. She says nothing, though.
"Fine," I sigh. "Anything else?"
"Get some food, too. Unless you'd rather head out a second time when we get hungry."
I feel a smile tug at my lips, but it's not one of happiness. She just came back from death, and has spoken to me only to insult me and send me on errands. Typical Asuka. "No problem," I assure her. "Don't go anywhere, though." Only after the words leave my mouth do I realize how stupid they sound, and I grimace.
"Bite me." Her voice is bored, not angry.
Shaking my head, I turn and make my way up the gentle slope of the beach, feeling the sand give under every quiet step. Gradually the city resolves into view past the peak of the incline, and I stand atop it for a moment, staring around.
Tokyo-3 is... somehow more immense than I remember. An endless warren of crouching shadows and half-toppled infrastructure glowing silently in the silver moonlight. Even after accounting for the massive chunk of the city missing after the departure of the Black Moon, it's still enormous, an easy place to get lost in with no vehicle and no Eva to carry me around.
It's a ghost town.
Lips tight, I glance back behind me, but Asuka is still just lying on the beach. She's propped herself up on her elbows now, though, for all the world like someone enjoying a tropical vacation somewhere.
After a moment I shift my gaze back to the abandoned city and try not to slump where I stand. With no flashlight or anything, this should be... interesting, but Asuka doesn't look good, not at all. I'm sure she needs water and whatever else she can think of, and I owe it to her to get what she needs.
Taking a deep breath, I step over a low wall and onto the cracked pavement beyond. With steeled shoulders and a determined scowl, I forge off into the moon-painted shadows to scavenge what I can.
Author's note part two: Sorry for the fragmented beginning, but it had to be done. I expect it'll alternate points of view from now on, with each chapter belonging to a single character. Look for Asuka's in chapter two.