Neon Genesis Evangelion Fan Fiction ❯ Pain, Rage, and Sorrow ❯ Talking ( Chapter 4 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Title: Pain, Rage, and Sorrow
Content: Angst, Mild Language, Mild Fluff, Alcohol References
Disclaimer: I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion or Gainax. This fiction is a work of my imagination only, and has no official relation to the actual series.
A/N: And now, a heavily revised Chapter 4. Yet again, much thanks goes out to my good friend Kanto the Slayer for helping me to give this story a makeover. Now read, or I shall smite thee.
The small noise signaled the end of Commander Fuyutsuki's move as he drew his arm away from the shogi board that sat atop Gendo Ikari's desk. “Your move,” he said to the younger man as he rested his palms on the varnished oak desktop, observing him carefully with his well-trained eyes. The other Commander proceeded to lean forward in his chair, and placed his elbows upon the polished wood, contemplating his next maneuver.
The pair sat inside the executive tent at NERV's temporary HQ, playing a game of shogi, or Japanese chess. The aging sub-Commander sat in a steel folding chair on one side of the desk, while his younger counterpart reclined comfortably in a swivel chair behind it. They had been playing the current game for a good length of time, having started it after leaving the briefing over an hour ago, and were currently locked in a tactical impasse. Neither could seem to gain a decisive advantage over the other, an event that didn't happen often when the two men played the game. Kouzou was doing his best to tilt the game in his favor, which was something that occurred even less often.
“He never takes off those damned glasses of his,” thought the sub-Commander, staring into the orange-tinted lenses. “They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but one cannot read the soul if the blinds are drawn, and he knows it.” Fuyutsuki tapped a finger impatiently on the wooden desktop in front of him as he continued to stare down the only superior he had in NERV's hierarchy.
At least, Fuyutsuki thought he was staring him down. Thanks to those glasses, he couldn't be sure.
“And that face of his . . . if he wasn't already wealthy, he could make a fortune playing poker,” thought the silver-haired man. “It's a miracle I don't lose every game with him.”
As Ikari pondered silently, Fuyutsuki abruptly broke the silence that hung heavily between them, saying, “Do you really think it was wise to tell the pilots as much as we did? Some of the things we told those three could make them more reluctant to pilot, which is something we just can't afford right now.” He raised a silver eyebrow. “You know how much your s-”
Fuyutsuki caught himself before he finished saying `son'. Even though he had never actually used the word to refer to Shinji in front of Gendo, somehow, he had the distinct feeling that the Supreme Commander of NERV wouldn't appreciate it.
“. . . how much the Third Child already despises piloting Unit 01, and if he refuses to fight . . . there's a very good chance we will lose this war.”
“You think I don't know that, Kouzou?” said Gendo casually as he leaned back into his chair. “I have already considered that possibility. You have no need to worry. The boy can be manipulated to fulfill the scenario, no matter how much he hates me or Unit 01.” Fuyutsuki glanced down, noting that the other man had slipped one of his pawns forward, as part of some as-yet unrecognizable strategy.
Fuyutsuki discreetly positioned a Gold General to check Ikari's King on the next move by capturing the pawn the Commander had just relocated. “Maybe so, but somehow I do not think that SEELE will be as susceptible to your plans. You know as well as I do how devious the Old Men are. After all, I would bet both my arms that they're the ones who incited this war in the first place; sitting comfortably behind the scenes and whispering rumors into attentive ears; ears that happen to belong to some of the most powerful people on this planet. If they're capable of that, who's to say that they won't find a way to eliminate the threat posed by Shinji? If that happens, our plans will crumble, and everything we have accomplished so far will have been for nothing.”
The sub-Commander was surprised by the speed with which Ikari made his next move. It wasn't uncommon for the Commander to take several minutes to plan his next maneuver, and compared the past few moves he had made, this one had been lightning quick. It was as if Gendo had been waiting for the move, which, Kouzou realized, he probably had been. “Where did that Bishop come from?” he wondered as he watched Ikari remove the General from the board.
“Again, Fuyutsuki-sensei, you have no need to worry,” said the Commander, placing the captured piece next to the board on his side of the desk. “The boy has his guardians; namely, the other two pilots. They are perfectly capable of protecting him. SEELE will not have their way.”
Fuyutsuki resisted the urge to smile as he considered his options. He had been working steadily to herd in his opponent's pieces into a corner, and so far, his patience was paying off. If things continued to go his way, he would be ripping into the enemy pieces within minutes, and there would be nothing Gendo could do to stop him. At the moment though, he didn't see any decisive moves he could make, so he picked up Ikari's captured Bishop.
“Speaking of the other pilots,” the ex-professor said as he set the piece down on his side of the board, “what about Soryu? There's always the possibility that she might turn against us. If I had to guess, would say that her loyalties currently lie with NERV, but that could change quickly if she is forced to fight her own countrymen. The Second Child is a double-edged sword. She is a valuable asset to us, but at the same time, she is a dangerous liability. On top of being an excellent pilot, she also knows volumes of critical information. She could very well turn out to be the poisoned arrow in our Achilles' heel.” Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow yet again. “Knowing all this, I have to wonder why you haven't dropped her into a prison cell already, like I thought you would.” The silver-haired gentleman glanced up into the reflective lenses of the man sitting across from him. Once again, he mentally cursed the glasses that shielded Ikari's thoughts from him.
“If that turns out to be the case . . .” said the Commander reaching toward the board.
“. . . She will be handled, and eliminated if need be,” he concluded, removing the Bishop Fuyutsuki had placed down only moments ago. Kouzou had to suppress a shiver as he listened to the casual coldness in his fellow Commander's words. He didn't always agree with Ikari's methods. However, he had little choice but to comply with the other man's decisions.
“One more question,” he said, leaning back in the folding chair once more. “Do you really think we stand a substantial chance of winning this war?”
“Checkmate,” declared Gendo as he pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “I would not accept anything less than complete and total victory, my friend. Our plans will not be hindered.” He stood, and folded his hands behind his back. “Now then, I have a meeting to attend. You must excuse me, Fuyutsuki-sensei. Thank you for yet another stimulating game.” That said, he strolled out from behind his desk, and vanished through the flap. Kouzou could only stare at the board and wonder how Ikari had managed to defeat him.
Sighing as he berated himself for being blindsided so easily, he started to pack the game up. “For some reason,” he thought as he put away the board, “I fear more for our enemies than I do us . . .”
That evening, somewhere in the residential district of Tokyo-3, a beep that signified a security system being disarmed echoed through an empty apartment, followed moments later by the sound of an automatic door sliding open. The lights clicked on, and Misato Katsuragi strolled into her living space, sighing with relief as she kicked her shoes off. “Jesus, what a day,” she muttered under her breath as she moved towards the living room, scratching an itch on her scalp. Close behind her were Shinji and Asuka, who proceeded set their footwear beside the door before following their violet-haired guardian inside.
“Well, isn't it nice to finally be back home?” she said as she turned to the both of them, offering a friendly smile which neither of them bothered to return. Her smile faltered momentarily, but she quickly restored it, determined to snap her young charges out of their depression, even if it meant getting them a little riled up. “So . . . what do you guys say we get started on dinner?”
She focused her gaze on Shinji. “Hey, Shinji, how about some instant noodles with curry?” she asked, trying to elicit a response from him. All she received was a shrug as he tried to avoid her gaze. Again, Misato's cheerful expression wavered. Normally, the young man would have voiced his disapproval (however weakly) against preparing such an unhealthy and repulsive dish. He took a small measure of pride in his cooking, and it wasn't unusual for him to spend hours every night making something that was actually halfway decent. As timid as Shinji was, it was unusual for him to comply with such a request without complaint.
Apparently, things were a bit worse than Misato had first thought.
Suppressing a concerned grimace, she turned to the other teenager who stood before her. “Well, now that I think about it, maybe Asuka and I should make dinner for once to give you a break, Shinji. What do you say, Asuka?” Misato fully expected the headstrong German girl, who went out of her way to avoid doing her chores, to protest violently against having to make dinner.
This was not the case.
“If you say so,” was her mellow response as she, too, tried to avoid her guardian's gaze. This time Misato could not prevent concern from spreading across her features. Now there was no doubt in her mind that there was something seriously wrong with the both of them.
Unfortunately, she didn't know how to fix the problem.
Misato concluded that she needed some time to herself in order to think things over. The Major sighed as she ran a hand through her violet hair, and announced that she was heading out for a while to grab takeout instead of having them make dinner. She didn't think it was wise to leave them anywhere near an open flame in their current state.
She made sure she still had her keys with her, and hit the switch that opened the door. “Behave yourselves while I'm gone, okay?” she said as she stood in the doorway. She waited for a response and, after receiving none, shook her head sadly before leaving.
The pair of teenagers dropped their belongings carelessly on the living room floor, and Asuka, to no one in particular, muttered that she was going to watch some TV. Shinji, without looking up, responded that he was going to go to his room. For a moment the two of them stood there, as if there was something they both wanted to say, but couldn't find the right words.
The moment passed, and Shinji marched silently towards his room. Asuka watched his back retreat along the hallway until he disappeared through his door, then slumped on to the couch and flipped the television on. She watched the soap opera that came on for a few seconds, but she quickly lost interest as she thought about the events of that day. She drew her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them, lost deep in her thoughts.
Asuka started to check off her options as she stared blankly at the flickering images projected on to the screen. She didn't want to leave - as much as she complained about it, she was becoming accustomed to life in Japan. Here, she had friends, like Hikari and, even if she was a little reluctant to admit it, her baka roommate. Back in Germany, she'd never had time for friends. Her instructors had always kept her busy with Evangelion training or University schoolwork. And speaking of Evas, going back to Germany also meant that she would be forced to give up her greatest pride in life: the privilege of piloting Unit-02. She had no doubt that NERV would keep the red Evangelion in Japan, even if she wasn't around to pilot it.
On the other hand, the other agonizing side of the coin, she loved Germany. It was her home. It was where she had been born and raised. There, she would be able to get away from all this bullshit. Sure, life wasn't perfect over there, but if Matsuo's suspicious glares were any indication, things were just going to get worse and worse here in Japan.
She pressed her face into her legs, trying not to let her emotions overwhelm her. “No matter what I do, I'm going to end up betraying someone.”
Something else nagged at her, attached to the tail end of her previous thought. A name: Shinji Ikari. Even with the way she treated him . . . . Asuka wasn't comfortable with the thought of leaving him here alone, with only a booze-slurping guardian and that pair of retards he called friends to protect him. Though he was a baka, he was her baka, and she'd be damned if -
Abruptly, that train of thought came to a screeching halt, derailing itself in the process. “What the Hell am I thinking?! Why would I care about that spineless coward? He doesn't mean anything to me!”
Enter the subconscious, also known as the little voice inside one's head.
“Jesus, are you even listening to yourself? Do you even know what the word `denial' means?”
Asuka recoiled, surprised. When the Hell had she started arguing with herself? “Don't be ridiculous! I despise him, and everything about him!”
She heard an amused chuckle in her head. “And yet, just look at the way you reacted earlier today, when you found out what had happened to him.”
Asuka was a bit flustered now, momentarily destabilized. “W-well of course I reacted that way! I just couldn't understand how a dummkopf like him managed to pull off a 400% synch ratio!”
“Liar. You were worried about him.”
“No I wasn't!”
Again, that smug little chuckle. “And yet, you still call him your baka, who needs your protection.”
Asuka was struck speechless. “I . . . I . . . he's a weakling . . . I can't --”
And that's when her subconscious chose to deliver the knockout blow. The coup de grace. “It makes no difference. So what if he's spineless? That doesn't change the fact that you still care about him somewhere deep down, even if you don't want to. You think Romeo chose to love a Capulet? You think Lancelot wanted to fall in love with the wife of his king and best friend? You can't choose how you feel about someone. You just don't want to admit it because you're afraid that feeling this way is a sign of weakness. You can't deny it, so stop being a coward and own up.”
The auburn haired pilot went silent for a few moments.
“. . . . So what if I do care about him, just a little? What's your point?”
“It's just important that you admit it to yourself. That's all.”
Asuka sighed, no longer interested in continuing this conversation with herself, and tried to turn her attention back to the TV. There was some sort of run-of-the-mill soap opera on, and some woman was trying to profess her love, or something, to some guy. As Asuka reached for the remote, her subconscious spoke to her again.
“You should talk to Shinji.”
Asuka almost fell off the couch. “WHAT?!”
“It's obvious that he's pretty stressed out right now. It might help if you talk to him.”
“But nothing. You don't need to pour out your feelings to him like this stupid soap opera. Just talk. Let him know how worried you are. It'll help him.”
There was a long mental pause as Asuka considered these words, mentally debating the advantages and disadvantages. Eventually, she sighed, and uncurled her legs. “Fine,” she whispered out loud as she stood and smoothed out the wrinkles on her clothes. She took a deep breath, and start walking towards Shinji's `lovely suite'.
Moments later, Asuka stood frozen before Shinji's door, trying to muster a bit of last-minute courage before she knocked. She cursed herself silently for being such a coward, and finally rapped gently on the thin wood. “Shinji, it's me,” she said. “Can . . . can I come in?” She held her breath, waiting for a reply, but none came. She repeated herself, and knocked again, but there was still no response.
Even though she had only been standing there for about twenty seconds, she was getting impatient, and she decided that she wouldn't wait any longer. “I'm coming in,” she announced firmly, then slid his door open.
The light in his room was off, preventing Asuka from seeing anything for a few moments. “Hello?” she said uncertainly as she took a step inside, looking around cautiously before spotting Shinji's sprawled-out form on the bed. She wondered if he was asleep and if that was why he had not answered her, before her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she noticed that he was listening to his S-DAT with his eyes closed.
“Jeez, he's always listening to that thing,” she thought. Strolling over to his bed, she reached down and yanked one of his earphones out, bellowing, “Rise and shine!”
Startled, Shinji bolted into an upright position, nearly falling off his bed in the process. Quickly, he recomposed himself, and he turned his eyes towards Asuka, confusion and bewilderment apparent in his gaze. Asuka nearly launched into a tirade about how he needed to get out more often and get a life instead of listening to his stupid tape player all day, but she remembered the reason she had come in here in the first place, and she forced herself to swallow the criticism.
“What is it?” he asked. “Do you want me to make dinner?” Apparently, he had forgotten that Misato was grabbing takeout. Asuka was rendered momentarily speechless as she tried to summon the words she needed. She wasn't used to doing something like this.
Taking the lack of a response as a `yes', Shinji sighed softly and stopped the S-DAT as he pulled out his remaining earplug. He stood, his gaze dropping to the floor as he muttered, “I'll get started.”
Finally, Asuka found the words she wanted, and quickly said, “Wait.”
Shinji paused, though his eyes did not rise to meet hers. “Did you want me to do something else?”
Asuka glanced at the wall as she said, “No, that's not it. I don't want you to make dinner.” She dropped her eyes towards the ground, and shuffled her foot anxiously, hoping she was doing this right as she said, “I just . . . wanted to talk, is all . . .”
There was a pause, likely because Shinji was trying to debate whether she really wanted to talk, or if she was just trying to be cruel to him. Either he decided to give her a chance, or he just didn't care what she did to him at this point, because he said, “Talk about what?”
“Well . . .” she replied, tracing abstract designs in the carpeting with her toe, “I just wanted to know . . . are you okay?” She blushed slightly, a bit embarrassed and aware of how unusual that sounded coming from her. Cursing herself mentally for even letting herself be embarrassed, she said, “I mean, you just seem kinda . . . out of it, right now.”
He stiffened as he heard her question, though he still didn't bring his head up to look at her. A long silence followed. When he neglected to reply, Asuka assumed that she had touched on something sensitive, and decided that it was probably time to get the Hell out of there before she embarrassed herself any further. “Never mind. Forget I asked,”
Whipping around quickly, she started marching towards the door as fast as she could without actually sprinting, wanting to get away from this awkward conversation. She was moments away from stepping back out into the hallway before she was halted by a whisper from Shinji.
She stopped, and turned to look back at him cautiously. “What did you say?” she asked, unsure if she even wanted to hear it. For all she knew, he was telling her to go away and leave him alone. Fortunately, this was not the case as he repeated his statement.
“Not really,” Shinji said, his voice cracking slightly. Slowly, he sat down on the edge of his mattress, slouching and hanging his head dejectedly. “I mean, I just feel kind of . . . powerless . . . You know what I mean?”
Asuka suddenly recalled how she had felt after losing her battle with the 14th Angel . . . and that day, so many years ago, where she had opened a door, and walked in to find the lifeless corpse that had once been Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu hanging from the ceiling . . .
“Yeah, I do,” she said quietly as she recalled many unpleasant memories. “Kind of like no matter what you do, it all ends up being pointless in the end, right?”
He nodded. “Ever since I came here, it seems like someone else is always making my decisions for me. In the rare cases when I do make a decision myself, it always seems like I choose the wrong one.” He raised a hand, and stared at it for a while, contemplating it as he curled and uncurled his fingers a few times. “What's the point of having these hands if someone has to tell me how to use them? All I end up doing is hurting people with them anyway,” he whispered
Asuka considered this for a few moments before she responded, choosing her words carefully. “That's not true,” she said softly. “Without those hands of yours, the Angels would have beaten us long ago.”
“But because of my actions, so many people have gotten hurt, like Touji's sister and Rei. If I weren't piloting that . . . thing, none of it would have happened,” Shinji replied, curling his hand into a tight fist.
“Maybe so, but if you weren't piloting, then a lot of people would also be dead,” she whispered. “People like Misato, Touji, Kensuke . . . and even me.” Shinji seemed to pause, and a few moments later, his fist relaxed into an open palm. “You've saved all of us more times than I can count.”
The young redhead realized that what she was saying to him at that moment was more kind and sincere than anything she'd ever said to him before. She could feel her ego rising within her, attempting to take control and shut her mouth before she damaged her reputation any further. Fighting to suppress it, she managed to whisper a final sentence. “So . . . don't give up, okay?”
Having said what she needed to say, Asuka turned and started to leave once again before her pride could regain control and start screaming insults at him, undoing all that she had just said.
“Asuka?” she heard Shinji whisper as she was halfway through the door
“Yeah?” she said, turning back to see what he wanted. Her eyes went wide in surprise as she saw him.
Shinji was no longer sitting on his bed with his head hung, but was standing beside it, looking straight at Asuka. She could see moisture gathering in his eyes, threatening to start streaming down his face at any second. But what caught her eye was the smile on his face. It wasn't the forced, tense grin she usually saw him use, but a genuine one. She couldn't remember ever seeing him so relieved. Suddenly, she couldn't focus on anything but that smile.
“Thank you,” he said.
Something fluttered gently in her chest, and Asuka felt her breath catch in her throat. “You're welcome,” she managed to whisper. Shinji closed his eyes, and a tear slipped down the side of his face as he sat back down on his bed. Sensing that he wanted to be alone again, the redhead stepped out into the hallway and closed his door behind her. Wondering why she felt so strange all of a sudden, the young German headed back down the hallway.
Walking back into the den, she plopped back on to the couch and picked up the remote as she waited for Misato to return. Flipping through the channels, she settled on a show she liked, and curled up on the cushions to watch. A few seconds later, though, she found that she had lost interest in the program, just as she had earlier that night. This time, however, instead of reflecting upon the war, NERV, and politics, she found herself thinking about Shinji, and his smile in particular.
She felt that weird sensation in her chest again, like a hand was giving her heart a gentle squeeze. It wasn't really unpleasant, though. Just strange . . . and a little nice. She started wondering what it would be like to make him smile like that all the time . . . and abruptly, she stiffened as she realized what she was thinking.
“Mein gott, what's wrong with me tonight? Next thing I know, I'll be serving homeless people in a soup kitchen and adopting sick puppies.”
Still, for the rest of the night, her thoughts kept drifting back to that smile . . .
About an hour later, the front door of the apartment slid open, and Misato walked in, carrying a couple bags of takeout. “Guys! I'm home!” she called out, slipping her shoes off for the second time that night. “I got dinner from that new Korean place! Hope you don't mind, and if you do, too bad!” She walked into the kitchen and dropped the packages on the table before heading for the den. She was about to crack a joke - something about the two teenagers engaging in inappropriate activities while she had been gone -- when she stepped into the den, and saw Asuka asleep on the couch.
Misato smiled softly. Muttering something about saving the joke for tomorrow morning, she opened a nearby closet and grabbed a spare blanket from the shelf. Then she walked over to the couch and draped it over the rebellious young German, tucking her in gently. As Misato did so, she noticed that a small smile rested on the girl's lips. She blinked in surprise, and her smile widened. She was glad that Asuka, at least, had cheered up while she had been gone.
Misato started to head back towards the kitchen to feed Pen-Pen, but stopped and made a 180 as she decided to check in on Shinji. She crept down the hallway silently, and stopped before his door, sliding it open just enough to poke her head into his room. “Shinji?” she whispered, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. Just as Asuka had earlier that night, she saw him lying on the bed a few moments later, listening to his S-DAT.
Misato opened the door a bit more and tiptoed over to his bed, and waved a hand in front of his face to see whether he was awake or just listening to music. Satisfied that he wasn't conscious after he failed to respond, Misato grabbed the blanket at the foot of his bed and pulled them over him, just like she had for Asuka.
At this point she noticed his expression, and while he wasn't smiling like Asuka, his face was peaceful, a change from the unease that usually haunted his features whenever Misato checked in on him while he was asleep.
“What the . . .” Misato whispered, scratching her head in bewilderment. A smiling Asuka, she could believe, but a Shinji that wasn't twisting and turning in his sleep . . . well, that was a little harder to swallow. A little confused, she stepped back out into the hallway and closed Shinji's door.
As she walked back towards the kitchen to feed Pen-Pen and grab a beer, she couldn't help thinking, “What the Hell did I miss?”
A/N: Yet, again, I beg that you leave a review, and my beta has left a note for you all below. XD
Beta's Note: It's your resident Fanfiction Mercenary, Kanto the Slayer, doing his duty to exorcize the demons that possess this chapter. You now see before you the finished, polished product of painstaking labor (it took me a good hour to sift through this). Enjoy the remix!