Overture / The Curtain Rises
His hands...so scrawny. Ineffectual. He saw in his mind yet again how little impact he held over the course of events in his life. He looked downwards, not for the first time. He knew what he had to do.
He clawed his fingers. He reached for the faded column, pressing his tensed digits into the vulnerability. He kept pressing. Nothing stirred. He failed to understand what he was doing at the same time as he failed to comprehend how he was doing it. His form was represented by nothing, his world focused upon the clenching...fists...and the throat...
He felt something. It was brief, but the sensation was powerful enough that he knew it was important in some way other than the raw, base, physical sense to which he had become so accustomed. For a moment, he was disgusted. Then, he was angered. Then, he was crushed, his fragile centre shattered like a dried, long-suffering insect in the hand of a cruel child.
He snapped, finally, mercifully, into full
recognition of the world...what a world it was...that surrounded him and
the only thing that mattered to him anymore.
I can live with others.
I need others.
I need you.
The impact of the simple, illogical epiphany struck him like a blow to the chest. He tore his still-twitching hands from his emotional focus, and peeled his eyes wide as, for the first time, he saw. Anything. The only thing that anyone really, truly strives to see. He saw himself.
And she was sickened.
* * *
His eyes opened again, though he could not
remember closing them. This time, he saw something...familiar.
Real. Any anchor would have done. But this was best.
The simple, boring paneling of a simple, boring ceiling. Yet something seemed wrong. Cosmically wrong.
He kept his eyes open, afraid that shutting them would mean killing the wonderful normality of the moment. How often had he lain like this? He couldn't calculate. The numbers escaped him. As before, his universe was focused. This time, he had no need or want to escape the pain. The pain was all he had. He was sure something else was there, but it was rendered unclear by the frosted glass of an exhausted spirit.
Who am I? As I recall, I was Shinji Ikari. I can only guess that I'm Shinji Ikari even now. But why does it feel so different? This existence...it isn't mine. Something's too pure, too orderly.
He barely recalled his final revelations, his decision...to what? He couldn't even see that clearly. Another sign of his momentary impotence. After a moment in time that sat like an eternity on his already overburdened fourteen-year-old shoulders, he finally shut his eyes. The darkness no longer held the warmth that it once did. He opened them again. The fact that the world around him maintained a discernable form and seeming function surprised him in a deeper way than anything else had ever done.
After a moment's contemplation, he realized that he had not had any real emotions for the past few moments. None that he was fully familiar with, at any rate. His customary pain and disappointment were nowhere near as acute as they had been, somehow muted now. What did he have left? Fear? No. Something else. Was he able to name it?
Some trying yielded a proper name for the feeling. Peace. Security. Somehow I'm not under...attack or scrutiny or orders or... He trailed off in his own mind, feeling absolutely at ease with his newfound state of mind. A decision...he had to try to figure out what had happened.
* * *
She woke up, as well, in a different world.
At least, from the one she had been inhabiting previously.
What the hell? Where was I? It took a second for her to realize that there was another question she needed to ask. Where am I now?
Like her would-be strangler, she saw a self very different from what she had known before. Where was the strife? The hatred? The self-denigration so intensely private that only she would be allowed to suffer the full consequences?
That goddamn son of a bitch. What was he doing? The words weren't as ferocious as they might have been, in a different time. Her ire was no longer the studded mace it had once been. She surprised herself. Her need to hate had been somewhat lessened. It was mama. Naturally. I wondered where she had been. Thank you. She called out to the dark recesses of her mind, never expecting an answer, but hoping nonetheless.
But I was dead. Then alive...then dying again. Then I touched him. Or did I? Was that me? Was that something he created? What was that retard doing with my neck? And why did I touch him, assuming I did? Why am I so confused? The obvious answer, that the world had ended and begun again in the space of minutes, eluded her if only for an instant.
But why...why did he stop? And why did his fingers...even if he was trying to kill me...but then...I feel so empty...my anger filled me. It must have. And even you, mama, can't fill the void, because you aren't even here. I need to find something.
Ever bolder than her counterpart, she sat up, and instantly felt the jarring undulations of her wounded body's ghost pain shaking her into an awakened state. Then she noticed the wounds weren't even there. She could see! In both eyes! But, for someone who had just risen from the dead twice...once in reality, once from the mind of her...friend?...such a revelation was less than earth shattering.
She swore when her foot caught the edge of the bed.