Chapter 2: Shinji
An unfamiliar ceiling.
If I ever turn these notes into a proper biography, I think that's what I'll call it. I've seen a lot of unfamiliar ceilings in my life, and they've always seemed to be symbolic of something—though I'm not quite sure what. It was only after my battle with the Third Angel that I started to notice the pattern. Later, I would come to measure my life by the procession of beams, moldings, and wood panels above my hospital beds. For now, all I knew was that I was alone in a strange city in a strange house owned by a strange woman…
…In the same room as a very, very strange foreigner.
At the moment, Tom was kneeling beside his bed, hands propped on the mattress in a gesture of supplication. He explained its ritual significance to me later, but at the time it just creeped me out. I turned away from him and pulled the covers over my head.
My memories kept me company.
Face down on the concrete. I can't move. My head throbs, even though I know intellectually that there's nothing wrong. There'll be something very wrong in a minute, though.
My enemy stalks toward me. He's a nightmare of green sinews and protruding bones. If scarecrows were made of rotting corpses, he'd be the prototype. A hand wraps around my face and pulls me up to eye level. The next moment is blinding pain and white light. Something slams against my forehead with the force and repetitiveness of a battering ram. I scream and know my skull is going to crack.
But it's just neural feedback!
It's just my mind playing tricks on me!
IT'S NOT REAL!
MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!
I'm ready to black out when a presence envelops me. It's equal parts warm, nurturing and bloodthirsty. The metal monster caresses me and asks me to give myself completely to it. And I do.
Then, suddenly, it's as if I'm having the world's most powerful sugar rush. I am the EVA now. My hand wrenches the Angel's wrist until it pops from its socket. My leg shoots out and kicks the creature across the darkened tunnel of buildings. I drive it far enough away that I can only see its flailing limbs in the green glow of my shoulder pylons. It's like watching a spider in its death throes by the light of a glo-stick.
I--(or the EVA? Doesn't matter.) We charge. We sink our dull teeth into the Angel's flesh and let its blood warm our throat. We grab its shoulders and ram our knee into its chest. We twist and snap its twiggy arms. We thrust it into the ground and beat and tear into it until it's far, far past dead. We beat it until—
A muffled sob cut through the darkness of our room.
That's right, Shinji. I thought. Cry in front of the little foreigner. Let him tell Father what a coward you are. A worthless, spineless little…
I wasn't crying. He was.
The foreign boy was still on his knees, head bowed. He was clearly fighting to keep himself quiet—the only way that I could tell was that his golden curls bobbed up and down with each suppressed whimper. I wanted to roll over and leave the crazy kid alone, but I found that I couldn't. I don't think it was pity so much as morbid curiosity. Or maybe I'm being too generous with myself. Maybe it was just sadism.
Where's Misato? Doesn't she hear this? Why can't she deal with this?!
I halfheartedly tried to roll over. The swish of the sheets must have caught Tom's attention, because he tensed and whirled around.
"I…er…I'm sorry, Ikari. Didn't mean to wake you."
Why can't she make him leave? I thought. Or me leave?
"Um…It's ok," I said.
"J…just a bit under the—" he fought down a sniffle by clenching his hand against his thigh "—weather, that's all. I assure you it won't happen again."
"I don't mind," I said.
He stared at me with his brow furrowed and jaw a little slack, as if I'd done something very strange.
"Is…um…whatever you're doing making you sad?" I asked. It was more to stop him from staring at me than to start up a conversation, but I got one anyway. He stroked his chin.
"I suppose so," he said at last. "After a fashion, anyway. I…never prayed at Rugby. I left off praying when the other boys teased me about it…but I always used to pray when I was home, d'ye see?"
"No, I don't suppose you could, exactly," he said. "Do heathens pray?"
He probably mistook my look of puzzlement for anger, since he started talking very quickly.
"Oh! I mean to say—well, don't misunderstand me. I don't mean it like that. Like an insult, I mean. It's just…hem…yes, well."
He dropped his gaze and tapped his forefinger along the ridges of his left hand, as if he was counting.
"Er…OK?" I said.
A long silence followed. My eyes adjusted to the moonlight, and I noticed that he was staring at the floor. I figured that was my signal to leave him alone, so I rolled over and hoped that my job was done for the night.
"Do you ever, ah, think about your mother? If you don't mind my asking, that is."
"Mom died when I was two," I said. I made it as deadpan as I could. That should shut him up for a while.
"Oh, dear. I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, well, nothing you could do about it," I said.
"I suppose not. Still…"
I didn't bother responding after he trailed off.
Just leave me alone.
"Well, I won't wake you again, Ikari. My…display tonight was unseemly. I'm sorry."
I shrugged. He mumbled something in English for a few minutes and then crawled into bed. He didn't cry again for a very long time.
"Are you the EVA pilot? Y/N"
I looked behind me and saw a brown-haired girl in the back giggling. When her eyes met mine, she gave me a low-key wave. School in Tokyo-3 was everything I'd expected it to be: dull, stressful, and filled with social pitfalls. It didn't help that my two best "friends" were bigger social pariahs than I was. Rei spent most of her time staring absently out the window, confining her conversation to monosyllables. Tom wanted to communicate, but being a foreigner made things difficult—along with the fact that he only spoke 19th century Japanese for some reason.
I guess it can't spoil my reputation any more, I thought.
I hit "yes". The room exploded with female chatter, and I was surrounded by a wall of blue skirts and breathless questions.
Even though it felt like getting blasted on all sides with radio chatter cranked up to eleven, I can't say that the attention was unpleasant.
…Until after school.
"Hey new kid!"
It was the big guy in the track suit who sat at the back of the room. Toji something-or-other. He scowled as he approached, stepping hard enough on the gravel that I could hear it crunch.
I mustn't run…
Pain lanced through my cheek. My legs sank under me like wet noodles and I flopped onto the ground, skinning my arms in the process. In front of me, I watched the spinning image of my attacker as he cracked his knuckles.
"Sorry, kid. Had to take my anger out on somebody, ya know?"
He smirked and headed back to the door. Something warm and wet dribbled down my chin. Great. My lip was bleeding. And of course, I 'd have to explain it to Misato. Something glinted on the edge of my field of vision. I rubbed my head and followed the light to a pair of glasses attached to an impish, freckled face. His hair reminded me of Tom's.
"Toji's kinda rude like that," Kensuke said. "Still, you did hurt his sister…"
"I didn't want to pilot in the first place!" I shouted.
Toji suddenly stopped, stomped back over to me, and yanked me into a standing position by my shirt collar. He cocked his fist again. I looked away.
"I shouldn't do that if I were you."
Toji's hold slackened and I felt him turn around.
"Stay out of this, gaijin-boy," he said.
"Let Ikari go or I'll give you a sound thrashing."
Toji's hand opened and he shoved me backwards with his palm. My legs stumbled desperately to keep up with my falling upper body, but it wasn't any use. I fell down again.
"What's your name again, kid?"
"Well Tom, I'm going to enjoy kicking your ass," Toji said. They were standing almost nose to nose now, and I realized that they were actually closer in size than I'd thought. The foreign kid was smaller, but not by much. Tom smiled and sank into something that looked similar to a boxing stance, except that he kept cycling his arms back and forth as if they were pedaling a bicycle. Toji snorted.
"You've gotta be kidding."
He pulled his right fist back and made a grab at Tom's shirt with his left. Almost lazily, Tom simultaneously batted Toji's hand away with his forearm and thrust his own left hand into Toji's face. It was different from any punch I'd seen before—more like a fencing lunge than a jab. His fist connected with Toji's nose and planted my former tormenter on the seat of his pants.
"Son of a…"
Toji jumped up and assumed a stance of his own. He'd obviously had some boxing experience as well—he moved in more deliberately now, weaving his upper body to make his head a moving target. Tom jerked as if he was going to throw his left again, then slammed a straight right hand into Toji's nearer ribs. Toji countered with a swinging left that caught Tom on the forehead. Both staggered back a couple paces.
"Didn't they teach you to keep your hands up where you come from, dumbass?" Toji said.
Tom steadied himself and then nodded at Toji's bruised hand.
"That's what you get for trying a rounding blow when a straight one would have worked better," he said.
Toji moved in again, flicking a jab out a few times to find his range. By now, both were in brawling mode—Toji was no longer bobbing and weaving, and Tom's arms had stopped moving.
Toji lurched forward with his right. Tom deflected it upwards with the same weird-looking forearm block. As soon as Toji's punch had sailed over his head, Tom rotated his blocking arm until the knuckles faced Toji's face and brought it down between his opponent's eyes. His knuckles broke the skin as they were dragged across it, and blood started to ooze onto Toji's eyebrows.
"You won't be able to see in half a minute," Tom said. "I suggest you call it quits."
Toji wiped the blood out of his eyes and spat a red glob of saliva at Tom's feet. Then he rushed in again and tried to throw an uppercut. He'd probably intended to close the range to prevent Tom from timing him on the outside. As it turned out, that was a bad idea. Tom leaned away from the uppercut and then grabbed his crouching opponent around the neck with one hand while he pummeled his ribs with the other. Toji tried to bull him forward, but Tom kept leaning on him until Toji sank to his knees. As soon as that happened, Tom stopped throwing punches and backed away.
"Is it settled, then?"
Toji glared back defiantly and stood up.
"So you want to fight dirty, huh?" he said.
"I'm not sure what you—Argh!"
Toji swung his leg around like a baseball bat. His shin connected with Tom's outer thigh, nearly buckling his leg. Tom skipped gingerly away on his remaining leg.
"So that's the way you fight here, is it?" he yelled. "Kicking like Frenchmen?"
"You are a Frenchman, you idiot."
I've heard many primal screams during my time in Tokyo 3. Tom's was among the loudest. He closed the distance before Toji had time to react, backing his opponent up with lefts and rights. Toji was too surprised to sidestep, and soon they were within grappling range. Tom whipped an arm around Toji's neck, turned his back to him, and threw him headfirst over his hip. They collapsed into a heap, Tom uppermost.
"Now do you give in, you blackguard?"
"I said, do you give in?"
Instead of answering, Toji shook his head a few times to clear it. Tom shrugged and started pushing himself into a standing position. And then…
"No, I don't!"
Toji swiveled his hips to the side and snaked his legs around Tom's straightened arm. Tom tried to pull back, but Toji yanked the arm against the inside of his own leg.
"Do you give in?"
"I'll do no such thing! I'll—aah!"
Toji kept pulling. I wondered how long Tom's tendons would hold out.
"Suzuhara, let go of Brown."
Everybody stopped. Toji tried to meet the glare of Rei's single unbandaged eye. He lasted maybe a second and a half before looking away.
"Stay out of this," he mumbled.
Rei's facial expression didn't change an iota.
"I remind you that Tom and Shinji are both essential components of humanity's defense system. NERV would treat any attempt to damage them…unfavorably."
Toji let go of Tom's arm and fell onto his back. Tom slumped next to him. Both were panting heavily.
"I would've had you if the albino hadn't saved you," Toji gasped.
"If I'd known you'd fight on the ground like a dog, I wouldn't have followed you down," Tom replied equally breathlessly.
"Hey, that's Judo you're talking about," Toji said. "Don't diss our national sport."
"Then your national sport is stupid," Tom replied.
"Wanna have another round?" Toji growled.
"That will not be possible," Rei said. "An Angel is approaching."