Part 5

"Allow me to introduce our new guests, Tohru. This is Misato Katsuragi, and two of her wards: Asuka Langley Sohryu and Shinji Ikari," Shigure said, gesturing toward each of the now fully clothed newcomers.

Tohru gazed at these new people, who were seated next to the by now familiar Asuka, examining each one with a curious expression. Shinji, the boy whom Asuka had referred to as "The Third" was exactly as she remembered from her dreams. He had borrowed one of Yuki's old uniforms, a white button down shirt with dark pants, rather ordinary attire that suited him perfectly. His gaze was focused toward his feet, not looking up, as though he were too ashamed of something to even make eye contact with the others. On the other hand, Misato was gulping down a can of beer. Shigure watched helplessly as the purple haired woman drank down more of his money.

"That hits the spot," Misato sighed, "I'm sorry to your inconvenience, Shigure."

"Oh, not at all," Shigure replied, smiling, "You see, Misato and I are old friends who—"

"Oh, cut with the crap!" Kyo snapped, "We know damn well that you people never met the Sohmas in your life!"

By now, Uo and Hana had left at Shigure's request, a request that Uo had no problem complying with. "I'd rather not stay with that red-haired bitch much longer. Tohru, you have my sympathies," Uo had said while waving good-bye, "If you ever get too annoyed with her, you know where to call." Tohru didn't quite understand how Uo would help in a situation like that, but she felt it was a good thing she had such good friends by her side. Still, Tohru had no desire to do anything to the German girl. If anything, she was curious. As Misato and Shigure defended their claims that they did indeed know each other, much to the disbelief of the other Sohmas, Tohru glanced over at the two children who were, at the moment, separate from the rest of the table.

Shinji was huddled inward, his eyes covered by his bangs, which, with his head lowered, hung over his eyes. He didn't see Asuka glaring at him with such deep disgust, but he could certainly sense her loathing, her silent fury. Tohru was surprised that Asuka wasn't being vocal about her anger. She appeared to have no problem making a fuss about little things before. No, this felt like genuine anger, not some sort of superficial fury like before. Whatever Asuka felt towards Shinji, it was intense.

"Uh, Shinji, right?" Tohru spoke up, glancing at the huddled mass. At the sound of his name, he glanced up, his expression strained, his eyes watery yet not teary. "Uh, do you like the food?"

Tohru had cooked for them all, but, due to the large quantity of people popping up with such little notice, she didn't have enough time to really cook a lot of food. She had made chicken teriyaki along with broccoli and some rice. So far, he had barely touched it, despite both Asuka and Misato having devoured it hastily, along with the rest of the Sohmas. "Oh, it's good," Shinji replied in his soft voice.

"I'm glad you like it," Tohru replied, "I was afraid it wasn't all that good since you didn't seem to eat a lot of it."

"I'm sorry, it's just that I really don't feel all that much like eating."

"Why's that?"

There was a moment of silence, a period where Shinji simply stared down at the plate of food in front of him, while Asuka glared at him from the side. Finally, he said, in a soft, hollow voice, "It's personal."

Tohru fell back on that wasteland, on that world where Shinji sat on Asuka, strangling her with that dead expression on his face. Was that what he was upset about? The events leading up to that nightmarish abyss? Surely that must be it, that tragedy, that horror, that fear. Still, the comment Asuka made before, about Shinji being a pervert, made her curious. What did she mean by that? What could she mean by that? Surely there was a reason for why she'd just shout that before, right?

"Shinji, I don't mean to pry or anything like that, but do you know a girl by the name of Rei Ayanami?" Tohru asked. At that moment, the Third Child's head shot up, Asuka's glare flickered for a moment, and even Major Katsuragi gagged painfully on her beer.

"How do you know about Rei?" Mistao sputtered through her beer.

"Rei?" Yuki asked, intrigued, "Who's she?"

"Rei is, um, uh, well, that is to say—"

"She's a damn doll," Asuka interrupted, glancing at Misato as she frowned at her in disapproval.

"That's not necessarily true, Asuka," Misato replied, "She's just, um, well—"

"See? Even you can't deny that Wonder Girl is just a freaking robot!" Asuka snapped. Tohru made eye contact for a moment, only to see a mad glint in the German's eyes. "She's just a freak, a Goddamn stupid doll!"

"Asuka, stop it," Shinji replied, his voice soft but firm.

"Oh, so the invincible savior of the world is here to tell me to stop little me from badmouthing that stupid little bitch, huh? Because, after all, someone like me isn't strong enough, or stable enough, just to say what I want, huh? Dummkopf?" Asuka rose up in her seat, glaring down at the boy sitting at her side, before darting away, leaving him behind, but not before Tohru caught a hint of her eyes shimmering for a moment, blurred with tears she refused to shed. At the sight of her eyes, Tohru rose to her feet, only for Kyo to rise up at the same time.

"Tohru, let me handle this," Kyo replied, taking a few steps forward.

"Thanks Kyo, but still I think I should—"

"No, I should see her," Shinji replied, rising to his feet.

"Shinji," Misato sighed, partially in awe and partially anxious.

"I'm the one she's angry at, so I'll speak to her," sighed Shinji, "Of course, I completely deserve to be yelled at."

Tohru watched as Shinji walked away from the table, flexing away each of his fingers as he breathed anxiously in and out, his joints trembling. Tohru, in spite of herself, along with Kyo, rose up from their seats, and followed the Third Child as he walked up the stairway, following the sounds of the Second Child's ragged breathing, breathing that indicated to Shinji, perhaps, that she was furious, but to Tohru sounded like sobbing.

Shinji stood before the door of the bathroom, an anxious expression on his face, as Tohru and Kyo slunk around a corner, trying to stay out of the boy's eyes. He glanced this way and that as he said, in a soft gentle tone, "Asuka, please, I want to talk to you. I'm—I'm—I'm—"

"Scheiße! What the hell do you want? Dummkopf!" Asuka shouted from the other side of the door.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to get hurt."

"Get hurt? Get hurt!? What the hell do you know about getting hurt? You did nothing! You just sat there like the coward you are and—and—you knew it was happening! Misato told me you were going to come, and you didn't! You just avoided me like a little pathetic spineless fool! And then you had the balls to move your Eva the moment they—they—they—well, you saw what they did to me! And you let it happen! We could have stopped everything, prevented it all from happening, but you stupid idiot! You let it happen! You let those damn monsters rip me and stab me and eat me and kill me! Scheiße! Dummkopf! Bumsen!"

Tohru could only stare as dumbfound as Kyo at this declaration. Kill her? Had they been in a battle? A war? Eva? What did that mean? What could they be talking—Evangelion! They were referring to the Evangelion! Giant robots, according to Asuka. Had their giant robots been fighting? Asuka said they were piloting them, so she had probably been inside the robot when this fight was happening. She could imagine her giant robot being attacked by this hypothetical enemy, only for them to rip the robot to shreds, killing the girl. But if Asuka claimed she died, then why was she alive right now? How could she breath right here and now?

"Asuka, I—"

"And before even that, what you did over me when I couldn't even open my eyes while in that damn coma!" Asuka snapped from the other side of the door, her words slightly muffled by the moisture of tears, "You jerked off over me!"

"Kyo, what does that mean, exactly?" Tohru whispered, curiously.

"Don't worry about it," Kyo replied, anxiously.

"You just see me as a stupid little girl who can't do anything, don't you? You think you're so great just because you beat me at a few synch tests. What? Do you think I'm supposed to worship the Goddamn ground you walk on now that you're a little better than me, huh? I know now that you've saved the world and brought everyone back to life that you think you're just so special and so Goddamn amazing! Well, guess what, you little jerk, I hope you rot!"

Shinji's eyes filled with tears that rolled down his face as he slumped down, his hand running down the wooden door as he sobbed, gently. In a tone so desperate, a tone so needy, he whispered, pathetically, "Asuka—please, listen to me. I need to tell you what happened, why I couldn't save you, why—"

"Don't use any more Goddamn excuses you little ass!"

"Let him speak already." Kyo, clearly having enough of this argument, walked forward, Tohru in pursuit, dizzy as Shinji glanced over at her. Dizzy, of course, from terror. They were intruding on a private moment, and, while they had been eavesdropping before, now they were in the fray. This wasn't right. Surely someone like Misato would be more experienced at things like this, so why were they interfering? Tohru knew that she should probably talk to each individual separately and try to reconcile them, but Kyo seemed so passionate. He had a glint in his eye that showed just how determined he was, just how much he wanted to help the two children see eye-to-eye.

"Who is this?" snapped Asuka from the other side of the door.

"It's Kyo Sohma," Kyo answered, in a slightly frustrated yet restrained tone, "Listen, Asuka, Shinji here really is sorry for whatever happened to you, so—"

"And just how in the hell would you know? He's probably crying over there, isn't he? Like a little baby! A spineless little wimp! He's pathetic! So annoying! I hope he suffers just like I suffered thanks to him!"

"But Asuka, you don't hate him nearly as much as you say you do," Tohru replied, reassuringly.

"Oh, you too? Jesus! Who else is out there?"

"No one. Just us three," Tohru reassured her, "We were worried, and—"

"Like hell you were! You probably just wanted to know what was going on! You people don't give a damn about us!"

"If we didn't give a damn about you, you guys wouldn't be here," Kyo replied, "Rest assured of that."

"Oh, I'm sure! And you're siding with that stupid idiot the Third, aren't you? Just that stupid, spineless, cowardly—"

"Stop it!" Shinji shrieked, running his hands through his hair as the others fell silent. He trembled there for a moment before collapsing against the ground, trembling as he slowly cried to himself, his hands over his face, his finger tugging at his hair, as he whispered, in a wet, soft voice, "I hate seeing you this angry, so please, just stop it. Please, I want things to be as they were before, with you just yelling at me when I did something wrong, for you to just call me an idiot and then we go to school together side-by-side. Please, stop it."

A moment passed, maybe two, before Asuka whispered, in awe, "Shinji, what did you say to me just now?"

"To stop it! Please!" Shinji cried, weakly.

"No, the other part. About you actually hating to see me angry. Why? Are you just trying to run away from the problem here?"

"No, I don't like seeing you this upset. Really. It upsets me, it really does. I mean, you're always so strong, so confident. These last few months have been—I've barely been able to endure it. You're always sad, and you've been breaking down in front of me and I couldn't do anything to help! I felt so helpless, so unable to do anything to stop you from falling to pieces without hurting your pride. I was afraid that you'd just fall into yourself and never come back. And then after the incident with the 15th Angel, you died inside. I was afraid, I needed to help but couldn't do anything at all. When I—I did what I did to you, in the hospital, I didn't mean anything. I came asking you to wake up. I needed someone, anyone, to talk to. I just couldn't take it anymore. And then I did what I did to you, but I didn't mean it. I didn't mean to hurt you like that. I just wanted to die after what I did, to crawl up and disappear. I knew you'd kill me for something like that, I knew how hurt you were, but I did it anyway. I'm just so—so—fu—"

"Stop talking."

"Yes, Asuka."

"Just leave me alone for a little while, okay?"

"Yes, alright."

"I just need to be by myself for awhile. Please, don't talk to me."

Shinji was about to say "Okay" again, only to nod solemnly and back away from the door, folding his body into a fetal position, crying silently to himself. Kyo approached Shinji, only to scoop up his collar in his fist as he heaved him up to his feet, and dragged him into a room. Tohru darted after them, a worried expression in her eyes, only for Kyo to gesture for her to stay. "Listen, I need to talk to Shinji man-to-man. You stay with Asuka, alright?"

"Okay," Tohru replied as Kyo threw Shinji haphazardly into his own room before slamming the door shut on them.

#

"Alright, you little kid, I need you to listen for a few minutes," Kyo replied, sitting down on his bed as Shinji remained on the ground, motionless, "But first of all, stop crying! Real men don't cry."

"I'm trying, but you haven't seen everything I've seen," Shinji replied.

"I know," Kyo sighed, "You've seen Hell first hand."

"How do you know that?" Shinji replied.

"I had a dream last night that showed me something so horrible, so nightmarish, that even I couldn't stand it. It was so real, so vivid. I really can't say anything more about it. All I can say is that it scared me. I couldn't take it anymore after I woke up. I'm afraid that, if I go asleep again tonight, I'll have another dream like it."

"What happened?" Shinji asked.

Kyo shook his head as the image of a certain doll hanging by a noose reappeared in his mind's eye. "I'll need to talk to Asuka about it. But that's irrelevant. Listen, Shinji, did you and Asuka ever kiss?"

Shinji reluctantly pulled his legs into a folded position as he glanced up, an anxious expression in his eyes. "Yeah, once, but it wasn't really a kiss. She held my nose shut because my breath tickled her, and I really couldn't hold her or kiss her back because of it. She ran away, started gargling, acting all disgusted by kissing me even though she was the one who wanted to do it. I didn't want to, she just randomly asked me to do it. I don't know why or—"

"You can't be serious," Kyo laughed under his breath, "Isn't it obvious why she kissed you?"

"Usually people kiss when they like you, but she didn't seem to like me at all. All she ever does is yell at me, call me stupid, and—"

"Do you like her?" Kyo asked, "Be honest."

"Yes, I do," Shinji replied, his tears drying now as he brushed them aside on the back of his hand, "Even though she acts strong, I can tell that really, on the inside, we're the same. I saw this as she was breaking down, she started acting all depressed. One time, when I was trying to sleep, I heard her shouting at the top of her lungs, hitting everything she could find in the bathroom. I couldn't hear much, and I didn't think I could help, but I do know that she said something about hating herself."

"She hates herself? I know, she really does," Kyo sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Just like me."

"What's that?" Shinji asked, curiously.

"Listen: do you want Asuka to be the way she was before?"

"Yeah?"

"Then listen to what I have to say very carefully. I have a plan to help her, but I need your help. There are a few things you need to do at the right time. Too fast and she'll hate you, too slow and she'll hate you. She's very sensitive like that, even if she doesn't like to show it. We just need to make her see the real her."

"What do you want me to do?"

#

"Hey, uh, Asuka?" Tohru asked, wrapping her knuckles against the bathroom door.

"Leave me alone," she replied, her voice wet, "Please, just leave me alone."

"Listen, I just want you to know that, if you saw how Shinji was outside, you'd know he didn't mean to hurt you. I'm sure of it. He seems to deeply regret what he did to you, and even though I really don't understand anything that happened since you lived in another world and all, I'm grateful that—"

"Remember how before you asked me about Rei?" Asuka asked.

A change in subject? Was Asuka afraid of Tohru going any deeper into her shell? There was no point digging deeper if Asuka didn't want a hole to be dug. With a melancholy smile, Tohru nodded. "Yeah?"

"Did I ever tell you?"

"No, you didn't."

"Do you still want to know? About that damn doll?"

"Not right now. I'd rather know about you."

"Dummkopf." The way she said that word in German, it almost sounded warm.