As I Stare Into Myself / Strong Arms to Hold Me (To Push Me) Produced by: Horde O' Hentai Productions, Literature Division Darren Demaine: Chairman of the Horde Lee (Greywolf): Guy We Rub For Luck Rob (Barbarian): Breath Weapon Specialist Craig: Our Man in Japan Written by: Darren Demaine Gainax owns all rights for Neon Genesis Evangelion. English translations and manga rights on the North American continent are controlled by AD Vision and Viz Communications. If I make any money off of this, I'll turn myself in. Otherwise, I'm broke. ---------- The elevator ride was slow. The only sound that existed in the small cage was the soft clicking as the counter dial revolved in its endless cycle. The same numbers repeated again and again. An elevator never went anywhere new; it could only travel upon the path set out before it. Its existence was predictable and unchanging. Even its destination was left to those who made use of it. Ikari Shinji felt a certain kinship with this descending metal box he found himself trapped in. Something that had no control over its own life. Maybe he was headed towards some destination he wasn't even aware of, one he knew nothing about. Certainly NERV was using him for their own purposes. The designated pilot of Evangelion Unit-01. The Third Children. The son of Ikari Gendo. They were applied to him, but he didn't really understand these terms. Like the elevator, he was on a path he hadn't chosen. Others used him to get where they were going, and once there, would he be left behind without a second thought? There were times when his spirits were up, like when he'd helped Misato stop the JSSDF's giant robot. That had made him feel good, like he'd done something. There had been purpose in that, doing something to save people. It had been similar to jumping into the volcano to save Asuka and Unit-02. That had been a personal decision, and he tried to recall that small spark of... something... he'd felt when he realized that saving her was something only he could do. Seeing Ayanami safe after Unit-00 collapsed from the particle beam attack... well, he wasn't sure he could feel that pure expression of joy ever again. But an elevator could also go down. And right now, the elevator was lowering his body towards NERV HQ and his thoughts and soul along with it. Those things had been momentary victories in the downward spiral that was his life. The pilot of Evangelion Unit-01? A tool to fight the Angels was more accurate. And not exactly a very good tool in any event. Ayanami Rei could pilot Unit-00 as well as Unit-01. He himself hadn't been able to sync with Unit-00, meaning that Rei had more use than him. His fellow pilot, Soryu Asuka Langley, had a better harmonics rate than him, and struggled hard to keep it that way. She was eager to do her job, willing to do what was asked of her. Therefore, he was the least effective, least motivated of the tools they called Children. A fact that was reinforced as he stared silently at the back of the blue-haired girl riding the elevator with him. He felt... how did he feel? He knew he didn't feel apathetic. He'd been like that before, when he had lived with his old sensei. Apathy had its advantages in that there were no lows to strike in your life. There was no risk, and there was no risk of failure. Going through the motions of living allowed for a certain sense of peace. Here in Tokyo-3 however, he could no longer retreat to that comfortable balance. He'd begun to experience things. Good things. Misato, friends, perhaps even a sense of belonging... But he'd learned that along with these also came feelings of worthlessness. Loneliness. Fear. He couldn't retreat. He'd invested too much of himself. Could he go forward? Forward... to what? They fought the Angels, but when would that end? Would it ever? He didn't control when the Angels would attack. They came with no care for the lives they disrupted, the people they hurt. He wasn't involved in the planning of the defense of humanity. He, the pilot of the most powerful fighting machine mankind had ever produced, was not in control of his choices. They told him to fight and he fought. Someone pushed a button and he did things. He couldn't even leave. Where would he go? He couldn't go back... he couldn't go forward... all he could do was experience things. All he could do was feel his emotions go up and down as others made demands of him that he fulfilled. Like an elevator. "Ayanami?" "Yes." "W-why are we here?" Her head turned slightly. He could now see the tip of her pale nose, but the rest of her features were still hidden by her short hair. "Here?" "Here. This elevator. This city. This life. Is there a reason why we're here, right now?" "Yes." He waited for her to expand on her revelation. "Uh... what is it?" The girl's head swiveled a bit more towards Shinji. Her eyes were red and black. The colours of power. Of stark truth. "I... do not know why you are here. I only know for myself." "Oh. You... can I ask why you are here?" "Because I have a purpose." "A purpose?" "Yes. A reason to be," she answered, turning away from him again. "W...what is it?" Shinji asked. Several more floors slipped by as the counter clicked away. "W...what happens when you find your purpose?" The girl was silent to his question for a long time. "Ayanami?" "You are... finished." "Finished?" "Yes," she whispered. Shinji leaned his head back against the cold wall of the elevator, leaving his companion to her thoughts.
he thought. There was nothing more after you achieved what it was you were there to. It made sense in a way: you put tools away when you were finished with them. Maybe... maybe good tools put themselves away when they were finished being used. <"He may have been born to pilot Eva."> Was that it? Had he born to pilot Eva? Was that his purpose, his reason to be? If so, had he achieved what he was here for? If Ayanami was right, then what remained? A soft ding signaled the end of the elevator's descent. The physical one at least. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - "Shinji! That was the worst showing we've seen from you in a long time! Pay attention when I tell you to clear your mind of anything. Just concentrate on syncing with Eva. There's no trick involved, you just simply have to work at it! [sigh] That's all for the plug tests today. You three, come to the briefing room." Dr. Akagi's words rang through Shinji's head as he levered himself out of the entry plug's seat. Ritsuko had been correct, today had been the worst showing Shinji had in months. He just couldn't focus on the need to meld his mind with Unit-01. Normally he did as he was told, and when instructed to sync with his Evangelion, he did. Today however he found he wasn't even interested in avoiding getting yelled at. It didn't seem worth it. He began to walk around the gangplank at the Eva's neck level. What if that was it, he wondered. What if his only reason to be was to pilot Eva? And now that he seemed to be backtracking, would that mean, like Ayanami had said, once he found his reason, he was finished? "Prepare to return Unit-01 to second stage of cooling," Maya's voice echoed out over the loudspeakers. "All personnel, clear the lower levels of the 7th cage. Injection of coolant into the cage will begin in 45 seconds. All personnel, clear the lower levels of the 7th cage for coolant injection." Stopping directly in front of his Eva, Shinji looked into its monstrous eyes. Like his parent the silent machine seemed to be watching him, judging him. Losing the staring contest he never had a chance of winning, Shinji dropped his gaze. What was it with him and picking losing battles? Gazing down, he looked at the edge of the platform he was standing on. With morbid curiosity, he stepped to the edge and looked past the precipice and down to the floor of the 7th cage. It was a long way down. What if... what if he were to step off into the void? There would be nothing to catch him, nothing to interrupt his fall. Would he change his mind halfway down? Of course, it really wouldn't matter if he did. If he made this decision there would be no turning back. There was something appealing about that fact, that this time he would have to stick to a decision. There would be no running away, no standing still at the train station with Misato to pick him up afterwards. Could he do it? No, it would cause a certain amount of trouble for the technical staff, having to clean up his body. He didn't want to inconvenience them, better not do it. , he thought to himself. Running away from decisions was his specialty, wasn't it? Not luck as Kaji had suggested, but shrinking away from responsibility. Using the inconvenience of others to put off his choice- wait! Wouldn't the coolant help keep his blood from staining? And they always did the clean up of Unit-01 here; there were high-pressure hoses all over the place. It would be a cinch to remove any evidence of the act after it was all over. People could quickly get on with their lives. So, this was actually a good place to do it. His sole objection had been countered, he now only had to actually go through with the deed. Was he willing to put his money where his mouth was, or would he waffle here as well? Looking for any out to keep from making a choice, certainly he'd- No! He wouldn't run away here. He had raised an objection and it had been deal with. There was no reason not to continue. Idly, he wondered if his heart should be pounding. He wasn't anxious. Tense, but not fearful. Maybe that was the best sign that this was indeed the time. No terror, no fear of the actual act. Just a sense that he should either do it, or not. He took a single, final deep breath; a little annoyed that LCL was all he could smell. Well, you couldn't have everything your way. Shifting his weight forward, he rose onto the balls of his feet and his foot extended over the edge. His ear exploded in pain. Yelping loudly, his head jacked backwards, twisting his body around and dumping him unceremoniously on the gangplank. "Come on!" the loud redhead girl demanded, one hand yanking his ear lobe painfully. "Don't just stand there staring off into space! Hurry up and let's get to the briefing room! I want to see how well I did!" "Ow! Asuka!" he whined. "Don't do that!" "Be quiet, baka!" Still holding on to his ear lobe, she marched off towards the far door, dragging the protesting boy behind her. Behind the noisy pair, Unit-01 silently watched it all. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Closing the door to the stall, Shinji lowered the seat cover and sank down onto the toilet gratefully. Not that he had to go, but he welcomed the chance to just sit. Placing his book bag by his feet, he stared blankly at the stall door. It was lunch hour now, the morning classes over and students milling around to find places to eat. Taking advantage of the fact that few students were still enrolled, he had entered one of the least used bathrooms in search of a breath of solitude. Today had been similar to all the other days that made up his school life: Sensei had droned on about the Second Impact, to the extent that the class had drifted off into that horrible half-life where they weren't really aware, but not yet asleep. Hours had past, hours that had dragged like days. The only real time he'd felt even a bit alive was when Touji and some guy had engaged in a toad fight during science. Tossing dead frogs around the room and listening to the girls scream had been fun for a few moments, but that fun had died a quick death once the Class Rep had put in her appearance. It seemed recently that he was getting yelled at no matter what happened. Hikari had blamed the whole thing on the Three Stooges and their supporting cast, and the guys had been forced to clean up the mess. Although Shinji himself had not been involved, the fact he'd been holding his dissection specimen in hand had led him to be flagged as guilty along with the rest of them. Caught red-handed as Hikari had insisted. He turned his left hand over and gazed at the wrist. His eyes noted the lines of tendons and veins that existed just beneath the surface. He couldn't help but feel that if you probed him that is all you would find: tendons, blood and bone. Nothing more, nothing that couldn't be seen from a glance at his wrist. A thin wrist; he really should start working out. That brought a small sigh to his lips. He was thinking about the future. What future did he have anyway? Provided the Angels didn't kill him, he had no great plans to aim for. For him, school was something to fill time. He didn't plan like Kensuke, who needed a high school degree to enter NERV. He hadn't achieved anything in school to stand out, he was just... here. And he wasn't sure he want to be here anymore. There, under the skin he could see the blue of his veins. Not a powerful blue, but a colour that carried the very breath of life. Strange that so weak a colour was involved with something so important. The hue brought back Ayanami's words. <"You are... finished."> Reaching down, he opened his book bag and pushed aside the bento boxes inside. Finally locating it at the bottom, he took out the item he'd managed to surreptitiously acquire during his forced cleanup. An item used to slit open the frogs in an attempt to understand what made them live. Strange that: to understand the living it required the dead. Shinji scrutinized the scalpel he held. This one was different from most of the others used in the class: it was sharp. It would cut flesh without trouble, allowing life to drain away. Perhaps that was the key: life could not be understood until you were finished with it. Only by being outside looking in would things finally make sense. He examined the blade. It would suffice. He looked around the cubicle he was in. Strange, but there was a certain symbolic feeling of righteousness in here. He couldn't really place it, but his actions within this small space would free him from the cage of his life. Taking the scalpel in his right hand, he held it over the other wrist. The steel blade glinted coldly in the overhead lights. Would it hurt? Of course it would. But it would be over quickly. They said it was like falling asleep. Then, it would be all over, into a sleep with soft dreams. Besides, he was no stranger to pain. Shinji took one more look around his little enclosure. There was no change; the enclosing walls were still just as suffocating as they had been a moment ago. But he felt sure now, sure of the path to a peaceful existence. Taking a deep breath, he grit his teeth and pressed down with the cold blade. "SHINJI!!" The boy jumped, scared witless. He hadn't heard anyone enter the washroom. Where had the voice come from? "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!" It came again, that disembodied voice. A loud, commanding voice that rang throughout the room. Horrified, Shinji looked around. Then he slowly gazed up as he realized the voice came from on high. "A...are you..." "YOU STUPID BAKA!!" Shinji flinched. What kind of supreme being would call him a baka? "YOU'VE STILL GOT MY LUNCH!" Oh... that one. The one that was using the school's PA system to insult him. "WHAT KIND OF IDIOT DISAPPEARS WITHOUT GIVING ME MY LUNCH FIRST!? WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU HIDING?! [pause] NO, I'M NOT GIVING THE MIC BACK! NOT UNTIL HE SHOWS UP WITH MY LUNCH! HEAR THAT YOU BAKA?! I'M HUNGRY!! BAKA! BAKA! BAKA!" The scalpel slipped through his fingers and clattered to the floor as he lowered his head into his palms. He could feel the walls closing in on him once more, but despite it all, he didn't want to fall into an eternal sleep with 'baka' echoing in his ears. Who knew... it might give him nightmares. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The hand before him was red. Like those around him, he passively awaited its permission to move. Listlessly he watched the cars and trucks move through the space he wanted to cross. He was surrounded by people, but still was alone. No one paid any attention to the young man standing there silently. It was almost as if he was invisible. Maybe he was, he thought. What was particularly special about him? Lethargically, Shinji swiveled his head around. He saw other people waiting for the light to change and others who moved along the sidewalk with purpose and drive. These were people heading places, those with things to do. The cars moving in front of him embodied power and animation. There was something fundamentally *there* about them. Some tangible element that made his eyes notice them. It was an element he lacked. He was nothing really. Certainly not much to look at. Average in height for his age, there was nothing to his figure that would garner a second glance. A bit on the skinny side, but not so emaciated as to gain notice from anyone. He kept his hair too short to be ill disciplined, and his choice of clothing only informed the world he was not unique. He lacked the roguish good looks of Kaji, or even the powerful eyes of his father. His were soft eyes; soft and unassuming. He probably got from his mom. He lacked Touji's arrogant presence, or even Kensuke's energy. In short, there was nothing about him to gain attention. Reaching deep beyond his physical shell, he only found a certain emptiness to himself. He piloted Eva, but it was something he took no pleasure in. It was a task, a harsh duty. It was a job, the boring of sync tests broken only by the sheer terror of a real Angel attack. Even that strange feeling of warmth he sometimes got from being in the entry plug didn't seem to do much for him anymore. He didn't have the resilience of Ayanami to tolerate the testing, and he certainly lacked Asuka's fire to find thrill in combat. He was sandwiched between the two girls in piloting Eva. It was a position where he could be ignored. Like he really was invisible. Was he, he wondered? Was he really invisible? Would the cars stop for him if he stepped out into the street before him? Or would they just continue on their merry way? A morbid question to be sure, but one that was worth asking. Would it matter to anyone if he stepped in front of a bus? Maybe that was the best way, to step out into traffic. He'd always relied on others to make the tough decisions. His whole life had been made up of choices by other people. Perhaps stepping out into traffic would be the best way to settle things. Other people would make the choice for him. He would know at last if he was actually there, or if he was invisible to the world around him. It felt fitting that he shouldn't be the one to make this decision. His life... run by the choice of others. His life or his death... decided again by the choice of others. If someone grabbed him, fine. If the cars stopped for him, fine. If he was truly invisible... fine. What began with others would end with others. Closure. The hand flashing upon the far pole no longer told him to stop; now it beckoned him forward. His eyes fixed firmly on the open palm, red and black. The colours of stark truth, the truth of his existence. Shinji stepped forward and into the on coming traffic. Just as his book bag exploded in noise. Shocked, Shinji pivoted on one foot and stumbled backward, swinging his arms in an attempt to maintain balance. Losing the fight against gravity, his arms reached out and wrapped around a lamppost to keep him upright. For a few seconds he stood there panting as his heart thundered wildly, more from the surprise than from his aborted walk into oblivion. And his bag continued to ring incessantly. "Hey kid, answer your phone, would you?" A stranger told him, and then turned his attention away. Shinji stared at the man for a moment, blinking. It seemed that he was only visible when others wanted something from him. Getting his feet back under him, Shinji straightened up and released the lamppost he'd been hugging. Pulling out his cellular phone, he paused for a moment. If it was for an Angel attack, he wasn't sure he wanted to answer it. The phone rang again. As if he was no more than a machine, he answered it. "H-hello?" "Hey, Shinji! Come over to the mall on Hiyama Street and make yourself useful." "A-Asuka? What do you want?" "Don't ask stupid questions, stupid. Hikari and I were out shopping and we picked up a few things for her sisters as well. We need a little help carrying all this stuff, and I can't get a hold of Kaji." His eyes widened. "You called me up so I can come over and be some beast of burden?" "What kind of attitude is that!? There's no way you'll ever spend free time with girls, so you should jump at the chance to help us! You weren't doing anything important, were you?" He looked again at the red hand. A hand that continued to weave its siren's spell upon him. "Well... I was kinda in the middle of something..." "Doing what?" she asked. He was silent. He wasn't about to tell her about this, certainly not over the phone. What should he say instead? "Uhg! Ikari, that's gross!" "B-but I didn't say anything!" he protested. Over the line he could hear Hikari asking what was so disgusting. "Baka-Shinji's somewhere buying pornography! And trying to deny it!" "I'M NOT BUYING PORNOGRAPHY!" he screamed into the phone. "Prove it! Come over here right now and show us that you're not carrying around anything disgusting!" "I'm not coming over!" "A ha!" the redhead at the other end of the phone sounded vindicated. "See! You admit you can't show yourself! You're disgusting! Hentai!" "I'm not a hentai! I'll show you I don't have any pornography on me!" "Good! And if it's true that you haven't wasted your money on porn, you should be able to buy dinner for us girls! See you at the east entrance!" Triumphant, the German girl cut the connection. Furious, Shinji hit the 'end' button on his phone, biting back a curse. Glaring at the pedestrian sign, he noted with fury that it had changed to the 'walk' symbol. And he also noted something else: he was getting a lot of looks from passersby. A lot of looks and the occasional whispered conversation with the words 'porn' and 'pervert' in them. Stuffing his phone back into his bag, Shinji turned from the road and stomped off towards the mall, eyes and comments still following him. For now at least, he certainly wasn't invisible. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Solitude was an easy commodity to acquire inside NERV. The Geofront itself was a huge chamber, and the depths to which HQ plunged was something that defied imagination. The immense size of the facility was a continuing source of amazement for those who worked there. There were some who spent their days off just wandering around the facility, finding new things and new places every time they explored. Shinji knew only little about the vast complex. The most he'd ever 'explored' the place was when he allowed Misato to 'guide' him anywhere. How a grown woman who couldn't even read a map was left in charge of defending humanity was something he found it better not to dwell upon. Instead, he used these 'tours' to note places were there seemed to be few security cameras and even fewer people. Since HQ was the only place he could be sure that security personnel wouldn't be shadowing him, it was kind of paradoxical that the only place he could be truly free from his job was the very place he worked. He'd come to NERV today along with the other Children to be forced to sit in the Evas while reports of an Angel were investigated. For six hours Units 00, 01, and 02 had been held on ready status. Six hours sitting on the throne of the soul, waiting for the chance to do... nothing. Six hours of breathing in LCL, the smell of blood just below direct awareness but noticeable when your mind had nothing else to fixate on. Six hours of wondering what this Angel was going to be like, which part of your Eva would it damage, and how much it would hurt. Six hours of wondering if today was the day you were finally going to mess up. Of the possibility that this Angel would be the one to kill you. Six hours of experiencing the pain that was piloting Eva. Six hours of listening to Asuka whine about how boring this was. Finally they'd been given an all clear and allowed to leave their mecha. Informed that the whole thing was a false alarm due to human error at the Lake Bawa relay station, the Second Child had promptly thrown an Eva-sized hissy fit. For him though, those six hours had been useful. It had been time spent experiencing Eva without outside distractions. For once he could just sit back and devote himself to understanding the pain and misery that always accompanied piloting. Not having to worry about such things as actually synching with the giant machine, or fighting Angels, he had been able to judge for himself if he could continue on like this. If he wanted to go on. And he had found his answer. Shinji stared at the colourful panel before him. He knew that the security camera for this hallway couldn't see under the stairs. The metal meshwork of the stairs and the landing they ascended to above him would effectively hide him from prying electronic eyes. As well, this section of NERV was rarely visited by anyone. It seemed like one of the regions of HQ that existed for no purpose but to exist. It was desolate. It was isolated. It was what he needed. CAUTION: HIGH VOLTAGE DO NOT OPEN warned the panel. Below those red English words, kanji repeated the caution in Japanese. Contrasting stripes of black and yellow chased the perimeter of the panel, signifying the outline of the electrical box. With a steady hand, Shinji opened the panel. A soft hum came from the open access port, a mix between kitten's purr and hiss of a snake. Wires stretched through the open port, and a small metallic box was nestled into the back wall. Another caution repeated itself on this box: DANGER DO NOT TOUCH IF PANEL ACTIVE LIVE CONNECTION DEATH OR SERIOUS INJURY MAY RESULT. It seemed strange to put a warning on this little panel, hidden away in the depths of HQ. Tokyo-3 was filled with weapon arrays, supposedly enough to wipe out a small army. Missile batteries, tank battalions, VTOL squadrons, gun emplacements: the first line of defense. After that came NERV and its three Evangelions, the mechanized battle machines that nothing human could possibly withstand. And so far, nothing divine either. The whole city was involved in the dissemination of death, and yet they still had this warning here to prevent *accidental* demise. Maybe that was the key. NERV was not in the business of coincidental death, but of cold, calculated termination. Shinji stared at the box emblazoned with the warning. This was no simple thing he had planned on a whim; this had been calculated in a manner as cold as his father. Six hours of doing nothing in an Evangelion had given him enough time to contemplate his life. To ponder the pain he'd suffered through. To look ahead to what was offered. To take a step away from himself and see life clearly. The scales had been found wanting. Coldly, impersonally, judgment had been handed down. He would use the power of NERV to end it all. As his hand reached the wires, he thought that maybe this junction helped power an elevator somewhere. He wondered if his death would case it to stop. "There you are! I've been looking *all* over for you! What are you doing down here anyway?" Shinji froze, a fingernail's breadth away from the junction box. The sound of a door opening above him caused him to take a step back in surprise as he looked up towards the noise. Up on the landing, a roguish looking man and a flashy teenager walked in through the hatchway. "Just looking around Asuka. It's always nice to see new things, don't you think?" The girl smiled at the tall man and clasped her hands behind her. "I'd much rather see you more often." "Yes, I'm one thing that will never get boring, will I?" Kaji chuckled. Turning to face the teenager, he looked down at her fondly. "You really shouldn't follow me around though. I've got some important work to do, and it's best you not get too close to me while I'm doing it." "But Kaji," she whined in a cute little girl's voice. "I heard a rumour that you're going to Osaka. Tell me that's not true!" "Sorry there, Asuka. My job sometimes requires me to make sacrifices." "I don't want you to go!" she pouted, crossing her arms and looking annoyed with him. He returned her pout with a smile that would have made Katsuragi slug him if she'd known he smiled that way to other women. "Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it. You'll hardly notice I'm gone." "But I miss you already!" He chuckled and turned away, casually descending the stairs. "Well, why don't you make me terribly jealous by choosing some lucky guy and going on a date with him? That'll make the time seem to fly by." "Ugh! Nobody could ever match you!" she told him. Having reached the floor level, Kaji walked down the hall and casually tossed a wave over his shoulder as he strolled away. "I'll pick you up something nice from Osaka. See you later, Asuka." "Bye Kaji!" the redhead returned, a big smile plastered on her face. Once Kaji had moved out of sight however, the smile and animation left the girl. Her features fell into something blank, and she stared off in the direction the object of her desire had vanished. Letting loose a small sigh, the girl allowed her head to fall forward. With eyes glazed she stared down at her shoes for a long moment, lost in thought. Then she blinked. Refocusing her eyes, she gazed down past her shoes, past the metal grating she was standing on, and directly into the frightened eyes of a certain young boy who was situated under the very landing she was standing on. And who was in the perfect position to look up her skirt. "IKARI! DIE BAKA HENTAI!!" Shinji bolted. There was nothing cold or impersonal about death at Asuka's hands. Nothing painless either. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Shinji walked into the darkness of his room, closing the sliding door behind him. His free hand strayed towards the light switch by force of habit, but he aborted the motion before he hit the switch. At least in the dark he would not stare at the ceiling. The apartment was quiet. Quiet enough for him to hear the occasional drunken shout coming from his unconscious guardian off in her room. Still, it was probably the most peaceful time he would ever find here. It seemed a good omen. Major Katsuragi Misato, the guardian of the Second and Third Children had recently been taking her job more seriously. Long hours and meetings had taking their toll upon her free time, and she had been spending less and less with her two wards. To make amends to her flatmates, she tended to set aside specific 'quality time' to spend with them, and just them. In Misato's case however, quality time was a synonym for 'party.' She threw herself into these little extravaganzas with a passion that was scary to behold, and even scarier to suffer through. Misato took care of everything: the planning, entertainment, refreshments, and of course, the food. Oh God, the food. Shinji and Asuka had arrived home only to find Misato already deep in preparations. Showing that she could apply her genius level IQ to real life situations, Asuka had made up some story about Hikari needing help with homework and deserted the apartment faster than a certain animated panda from responsibility. Shinji was not so fortunate. Having lost one roommate already, Misato was unwilling to lose another and his stuttering pleas of a previous engagement had fallen upon deaf ears. Shinji dropped himself heavily onto his bed, slouching over his hands. As he had learned to dread, Misato's idea of a party involved beer, teasing, embarrassing her flatmate, activities designed to humiliate all others in the room, and beer. The Major's capacity for drink had been tested again tonight, and while she had been successful in drinking Pen-Pen under the table, her victory had been a costly one. Shinji had to help her stagger into her room so she could collapse in drunken victory upon her futon. Right now Shinji felt... nothing. Nothing at all. Considering that he'd been eating Misato's cooking this evening, that was probably the best he could hope for. For all her attempts, Misato's jovial endeavours had not improved his spirits any. Although she had raised a whole lot of spirits tonight, all of them had been liquid in nature. He didn't blame his guardian any; their worlds were just too different. It wasn't her fault that he couldn't respond to her attempts. In fact, he owed her a bit of thanks. Because of their 'quality time,' Misato would snore peacefully through what was about to happen. He really didn't want to disturb her. He owed her that much. Uncoiling from his slouch, Shinji sat up and stared at the weapon in his hands. Misato's service automatic was cold in his hands. Cold and heavy. He was surprised it weighed so much. And so black. Even in the twilight of his room the gun was a black spot, a thing of sharp, pointed angles. There was nothing soft about this device, and maybe that was a good thing. This was a tool specifically designed with a purpose in mind. Unlike him, this was a tool that would not malfunction. Carefully flicking the selector off 'safety', Shinji swallowed. Not because he was scared, just to clear his mouth. How to do it? In the mouth? The ear? The temple? Should he lie down on the bed, making clean up easier? Or would it be better to sit upright, facing death like a man? Strange there were so many details to go over when all you wanted to do was kill yourself. So simple an act required so many decisions. In the temple, sitting upright he finally decided. No specific reason behind his choice, but it did feel good to just make a decision like that. No worries about whether or not they were the right ones, just follow through. He settled his butt firmly on the bed and raised the gun to his right temple. Kind of liberating, making decisions like that. He really should have looked into doing that before. Well, no time like the- "I'm home!" A wave of outright exasperation blazed through Shinji's nihilistic feelings, burning them to ash. God damn that girl! Would she never let him go through with things? He had half a mind to march right out there and tell her that if she did not stop interrupting his suicide attempts, he would come back and haunt her for the rest of her life. "Hey, Shinji! Is there any non-Misato food left?" Of course, if she kept keeping him from killing himself, how would he ever get the chance to die so he could haunt her? There seemed to be a little something wrong with the logic here. He really should think up a better threat, maybe something like- "Baka-Shinji! I'm talking to you!" Wait a minute, it sounded as if she was coming this way. He froze. For some reason, he really didn't want anyone to know he was going to commit suicide. It just seemed... a private affair. Nothing that should involve outsiders. He thought about hiding the gun, but part of him had already decided that now was the time to pull the trigger. It wasn't the best solution to do it at this time, but he couldn't override the feeling of rightness to the whole thing. Still locked in his debate, Shinji could only stare stupidly as his sliding door was yanked open and light from the hall spilled into his room, highlighting the figure in the doorway. "Hey baka, I was talking... to... you..." The irritation drained from Asuka's words as she fell into stunned silence, her face going slack with shock. Just as surprised Shinji stared back, caught in a compromising position with the gun still pressed against his temple. He could feel the cold of the metal against his flesh, but seemed unable to pull the trigger now. His whole world consisted only of the gun and her eyes. The gulf between them expanded, even as neither of them moved. Shinji looked into her blue eyes and saw the barriers she'd placed there shatter in the wind. Emotions flashed in those orbs, in a pure way he realized he'd never seen before in anyone. Hate, fear, loneliness, worry, envy, anger, sadness, panic- Envy? Suddenly the barriers slammed down over her soul. Her eyes blazed cold blue fire as her face closed to all, hidden behind an enraged visage. So furious was her gaze that for a moment he thought he wouldn't have to worry about suicide, that gaze would do the trick. Although he was the one holding a gun, he shrunk back away from the rage he saw in her eyes. He waited for her reaction: to tell him to stop being a wimp and get it over with, or to stalk over and hit him for trying to do something so stupid. To live or die, what would be her choice for him? "I hate you!" she screamed before she turned and fled from sight. With a bewildered expression, Shinji let the gun slip down into his lap. Well, that had been unexpected. Not at all the reaction he'd thought he'd get. It had sort of answered the question 'what does she think about me?' that had been plaguing him off and on for a while now. In a way it was closure: she hated him, so she wouldn't care if he killed himself. The hand with the gun started to raise again. And it lowered just as quickly. She hadn't said, "Go ahead, I don't care." She'd said, "I hate you!" He really couldn't understand it. If someone was trying to kill themselves, you either let them do it, or try and stop them. But she'd said, "I hate you!" Almost as if she was mad at him. Yet, she hadn't made any attempt to disarm him. She could have walked over and slapped him and he wouldn't have stopped her. At that point, she had held his life in her hands. A signal from her, either way, would have meant something to him. Instead, he got a comment he couldn't figure out. He raised the gun again. You killed yourself because you were feeling bad and wanted an end to it. You could kill yourself when you felt good, knowing that you could never keep those feelings. You could even kill yourself when you felt nothing, because nothing hurts in its own way. But would it really make sense to kill yourself when all you felt was confused? What if you spent the rest of eternity being confused? With a sort of helpless whine, Shinji tossed the gun on his bed and headed out after his flatmate. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Shinji spent nearly an hour searching for his fellow pilot. He had no idea where Asuka had gone and quickly ran out of options. He'd tried her room and then Misato's, but it was clear the redhead had fled the apartment. He'd gone to NERV, but a quick check in with HQ had shown that she hadn't swiped her card to gain access to the Geofront. He'd even tried calling Hikari. He wiggled a finger in his ear and winced in memory. Man, and he'd thought Asuka could be grouchy when woken up. Apparently the Class Rep was *extremely* possessive of her beauty sleep. Where could Asuka have gone? It wasn't as if she had many friends here; despite her popularity with the guys she didn't make friends easily. His period of running away had given him insight as to all the places in town one could have gone, and she wasn't at any of them. Looking around, he saw that he'd left the suburbs of the city behind and had moved into the surrounding hills. Up ahead, barely visible under the weak streetlamps, was the park and small cliff that offered an unparalleled view of Tokyo-3. Looking out across the city made it seem as if the land was lit by a candle in every window. However, he was in no condition to appreciate the sight. After a night of putting up with Misato and a totally futile chase of Asuka, he was ready to call it quits. It seemed fitting that when he actually tried to do something, he failed. It was simply better not to try. He might as well just go home and shoot himself before he bungled that too. Oh wait... he already had. Reaching the top of the hill his gaze mechanically swung around the small park. Tiredly, he examined the looming dark mass of the grassy hill, the few pools of light cast from lamps, the short metal fence that outlined the cliff, and the small figure seated alone on a stone bench. Shinji slowed to a stop as he stared at the girl. he thought to himself. She had pulled her feet up on the bench and wrapped her arms about her calves. Face buried behind her knees, only her hair caught any of the light from the nearby street lamp. He stood silently, at a loss. He'd been so focused on finding her he hadn't really thought about what to do once that had been achieved. He waited for some action from her part, some sign that she had noticed his arrival. But none ever came. Finally, he sighed softly and closed the distance. Reaching the stone bench he paused, struggling for something to say. Finding nothing, he sat down. Shinji glanced over at the girl, but she made no sign that she was even aware of his presence. He waited some more, finding the noise of the cicadas to be annoying. Normally you couldn't shut Asuka up, but now she wouldn't say anything. His gaze turned towards the nearby cliff. Maybe he should just jump from here, rather than go back to the apartment. Naw... it was too low, he'd just end up hurting himself. "Go away." He turned towards the voice in surprise. Asuka hadn't moved at all, just spoken the words from the depths of her tight form. "If you're going to leave me, go get it over with." Perhaps because he'd just spent time he could have used to kill himself looking for her, this egotism annoyed him. "Right Asuka. Here I am thinking about committing suicide and all you're concerned about is the fact I'm leaving you. Can't you think about someone other than yourself for a change?" Asuka raised her face from her knees and glared at him with a disgusted look in her blue eyes. "Oh yeah... like someone who was trying to kill themselves has any right to call me selfish. I always knew you were stupid, but I never really understood the depths of your stupidity till now." Gazing back at her, Shinji felt the last of the focus that had led him here burn away. He'd been so sure that he'd hurt her when she'd fled from his room. He hadn't meant to hurt her, and had felt a certain obligation to make sure she was okay. He didn't want to leave without making sure Asuka was going to be fine. There had also been that look on her face. In his room she had looked so hurt, vulnerable for some reason. That as much as anything had driven him to find her, to find what had caused such a reaction from her. But as he looked into her eyes now he wondered if he'd just imagined it. Her blue eyes were hard, unforgiving. There was no red in them, no sign of tears or pain. Only anger and rage. "Stupid? I'm stupid?! I came out here to make sure you're okay and you call me stupid?!" "What do you call someone who's held a loaded gun to their own forehead?!" He had no snappy comeback for that. "And I didn't ask you to come!" As she spoke, her voice progressively became more enraged until she was screaming at him. Staggered a bit at the emotion, Shinji grasped for something to say. "Well... I..." She turned her head away from him with a snap. "Why didn't you just blow your brains out and be done with it?" Stung at the venom dripping from her words, Shinji's brows drew together. "Maybe I should. I really don't know why I came to find you." He rose to his feet and glared down at the foreigner in front of him. The anger seemed to fade from her. Her eyes drifted shut and a tired look crossed her features. "You're an idiot," she said, quietly. No, the rage was still there, but shrouded in a different form. "You think this will solve anything?" "I don't know," he replied. "But it's my life. I'm doing this for me because I want to. It doesn't involve anybody else. I've made my decision and I'm not going to back out." His back straightened a bit as he looked down at her. "You're always complaining that I'm too much of a wimp to do anything... Well, this time I'm not going to let anything stop me. I'm sorry you had to see that, I didn't mean to hurt you." He turned away to gaze at Tokyo-3's skyline. "I might as well go back home." "To relieve yourself of your obviously unused gray matter?" she asked, not looking at him. He paused before replying. "Yeah, I guess so." "Well in that case, why don't you just jump of the cliff here and be done with it?" Shinji let loose a breath, almost a sigh. "These cliffs aren't high enough. I'd only hurt myself." "You want to kill yourself, but you're afraid you'll get hurt. You know how dumb that sounds?" she asked rhetorically. Flatly she continued, "Then try about three meters to your left; there's a bunch of rocks at the bottom. Fall on that head first and you'll save Misato the trouble of having to sponge down the walls." Shinji looked over at the edge. It was so dark now he couldn't tell if she was telling the truth or not. "And just how would you know about the rocks?" he asked snidely, suddenly tired of putting up with the bothersome girl; tired of everything. He just wanted an end to things, no matter what. Asuka pulled herself into an even more rigid ball. "Well?" Shinji demanded, the confusion that had led him to search for the redhead now nothing but a bitter memory. "How would you know that?" "I looked! Okay you moron, I looked when I arrived here!" She screamed from the depths of her ball. "There are rocks there, big, hard, sharp rocks! Just right for cracking open your head! No better way to spill your brains! There! Are you happy?!" Shinji turned away. "Maybe I'll take you up on your offer. I mean, why bother to go back to the apartment? At least this way you and Misato won't feel so uncomfortable at home." He shrugged his shoulders. "Here's just as good a place as any to-" Something inside Shinji suddenly clicked, dropping him into silence. His brow furrowed, he gazed at the fence and the dark void beyond. The girl retreated back into her own silence. "Asuka..." Shinji asked softly, his back still to the redhead. "...how did you know about the rocks?" "...I told you, I looked you moron." "I know you looked and all... but *why* would you look?" Asuka only curled herself into an even tighter ball and didn't reply. "I mean, I've been here before, I've stood at the edge and all, but I've never looked down. I always looked out at the city, the view. The only way you could know about what was at the base of the cliff was if you looked, but-" he finally turned to face his fellow pilot and flatmate. "But why would you look down?" There was no reply from her; she just stayed in her ball, separating herself from the world. Seeing this from someone like Asuka left Shinji feeling even more tired than before. But it was a different kind of exhaustion. Slowly he sat down next to the girl, even more confused than before. "Asuka... I know why I want to... end things. I mean, I've got nothing. I'm not good at school... no one really likes me... and my family... well, my father... "But you... you're... you've got everything. You're smart, popular. You like piloting Eva, and you're... you're bold. Fearless. Why would you even think about-" Asuka's head snapped up found his eyes in one sudden motion. So swift was the motion that Shinji recoiled slightly. "Get one thing straight Ikari," she growled. "Suicide might be what runs through your demented head, but not mine. I've never thought about it, you understand? Never. I want to live. Live, damn it! I'm not like you! I'm not like my...! I'm not like any of you! I will live!" She glared at him for a long moment, her bottom lip trembling, her face set. He saw the fierce determination in her eyes and found that for some reason he couldn't turn away. There was something in that glare she gave him, something he thought that just maybe he recognized. It was something dark, something that he couldn't place a name to, but not what he'd ever expected to find in anyone else. Before he could identify what it was Asuka broke eye contact, lowering her head back down to her knees. "I'm not like you," she muttered, her voice weakening. Confused, Shinji turned away from the girl and looked out over the cityscape again. They were both silent for a long time, Shinji having no idea what was going on in her head. Hell, he wasn't even sure what was currently going on in his own mind. Nothing made sense. "It's all so simple, isn't it?" Asuka finally spoke, her voice very quiet. She sounded exhausted, her tone implying she had seen the same sort of futile thing again and again. But how could- "You want to stop your suffering. Run away from the problems that don't seem to quit. Just get it over with so you won't have to feel anymore. Of course you don't even bother to think about how the rest of the world will feel when you're gone. "Oh of course no one will mind," she continued, killing off the response he'd been about to voice. "No one cares about you after all. Everything that happens is just a reminder that you've got no one, and no one cares. Why bother to put up with it anymore, just end it all and leave. People would be better off if you weren't there." Shinji stared at her, stunned. How could she possibly- "Well I got news for you Ikari... it's not that simple. It's not just you in your own little selfish world. There are others around, others who just might actually give a damn about something. And these people might just be affected when you go and hang...... blow your brains out. "If you think that killing yourself is just a personal decision, you're just being a selfish bastard. It's not just a personal choice. Did you ever stop and think how Misato would feel?" Shinji licked his lips. "Uh... well, I guess that she'd-" "You didn't. No one ever thinks about those left behind," the redhead continued over his response. "All that proves is that you haven't really thought about it. All you can see is *your* pain, how crummy *your* life is. How the world is a dark, rotten place. You're so busy with your petty little problems that you never consider that maybe, maybe someone just might miss your rotten stinking carcass after you're gone. "You're so concerned about ending your pain, getting away from what's eating at you, that you never stop to think about who... about what you've left behind." In a voice barely above a breath she finished, "To think about suicide... you'd have to be... crazy." When Asuka finally stopped talking Shinji only sat there, face down, staring at his own knees. She was right, he'd never really thought about those who knew him and how his decision would have affected them. After all, everybody else seemed to have lives, have things to occupy their attention. He was sure he wouldn't have be missed too much. A short grieving time perhaps, but in the end he would have been quickly forgotten. Misato might have cried a few tears, but held a wake for him and that would have been it. He'd never really given it the thought that Asuka seemed to have. She really must have spent some time thinking these things over. Strange that she'd have a better understanding of what he was getting himself into than he did himself. She'd certainly given him something to think about. He rose from the cold stone bench and wandered over to the railing. Gasping the icy metal bar, he stared out into the city lights that competed with the stars. It was unsettling to hear what suicide would mean to people other than him. He'd always assumed that having the gumption to kill yourself required a certain amount of courage; one of the reasons he'd never tried to do it back at his sensei's old place. He'd just never had the balls before. But to hear Asuka talk about it, it was a coward's solution. A selfish way to say that your problems were all that mattered. There was nothing else and the feelings of everyone around you were not worth considering when you made plans. It was disconcerting to be told by the likes of Asuka that you were being selfish, and even worse that he was starting to think she might be right. He gazed down once more, towards the base of the cliff. Darkness hid all signs of the rocks Asuka had promised would be there, but somehow he could feel them there, waiting. Step off into the abyss, he realized. It was as simple as that. His pain would be over with that one simple gesture. He would never have to suffer again. He hated pain. Embrace the darkness at his feet for it offered comfort, forgiveness, and peace. It made no demands of him, expected nothing from him except himself. He would, at last, be free. But what about others and their pain? He would be free of his, but they wouldn't. If Asuka was right, then they would have to deal with pain he caused. Could he really inflict upon others what he was unwilling to face in himself? Was he really that selfish? Very slowly, Ikari Shinji released his hold on the fence railing. With uncertain steps, he took a step away from the edge. He gazed for a long moment at the comforting darkness a pace beyond the cliff. Reluctantly, he slowly turned away. Asuka hadn't moved. She was still curled up in a ball, keeping the world at bay. Shinji walked over to her and sighed softly. "Asuka," he said, tiredly. She made no sign she'd heard. "Come on. Let's go." Slowly she raised her head from her protective ball. Eyes guarded, she looked at him. "Why? So you can kill yourself with all the comforts of home?" He shook his head. "I'm... You've given me a lot to think about. I'm not really sure I still want to continue on, but..." He sighed again and ran a weary hand through his short hair. "I'm not sure what I want. Are you going to tell Misato?" "Maybe." She stared at him with hooded eyes. "Do you still want to kill yourself?" He opened his mouth to reply, then paused. For a moment nothing came out then he tiredly shook his head. "I don't know. I really don't know." Her blue eyes found his. For the first time that evening, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he saw the possibility of moisture in them. He stared in awe as she uncoiled herself from her ball and rose from the bench. Straightening up, she stood level with him and once more stared into his eyes There was no sign of tears; it must have been a trick of the street light. "That," she said in a quiet voice, "is a good place to start." - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Neither said a word as they trekked back to the apartment. The heat from the hot day had faded and the soft light of the moon bathed everything in a shroud of shadows, hiding the harsh edges of the man-made environment. The city was asleep, and the silence was a comfortable one. At the apartment building, they walked over to the elevator and stairs. Automatically, Asuka's hand reached for the elevator button. "Wait," Shinji said, softly grabbing her hand in his. This seemed to break the silent spell that had been over the two of them because Asuka's brows drew together in annoyance. "I... I just don't feel like using the elevator." "And just how do you expect us to get to the apartment, Third Child? Jump from balcony to balcony?" Her hand was soft, Shinji realized, and warm in the night air. "Uh... well, I thought we could use the stairs." Without using too much force, Asuka pulled her hand free from his. Unnoticed, she rubbed the fingers with her other hand. "The stairs? Do you have any idea how many flights that is?!" "Uh... well, I..." He really wasn't sure he could explain to Asuka his feelings regarding elevators. Seeing him hesitate, she snorted and pushed the button. Realizing he was losing this battle, Shinji decided to try something a bit different. "Well, I guess if you don't think you can do it-" "And you think you can, Third Child!? A few measly stairs are not going to get the better of me!" Call button forgotten, she turned to face him. "I'll race you to the top, and know that you're going to lose." She gave him a mocking smirk. "After all, when they made Soryu Asuka Langley, they broke the mold!" "Yeah, on purpose." Grinning slightly, Shinji bolted up the stairs. Behind him, red death was nipping at his heels and screaming incoherently... or perhaps just in German. For whatever reason, courting death like this had left him feeling better than he had in ages. He'd have to do it more often. Behind them and forgotten, an elevator opened. In this case, it was unneeded as people made their own way up. [fin] ______________________________ [Author's Notes:] As for this whole fic: I wanted to do something that would be a bit different from the large number of 'Asuka considers suicide' fics out there. Many of these are wonderfully done, but an occasional break from cliche is always a nice thing. There have been a few fics where Shinji considers doing himself in, and I have generally enjoyed them, even if I'm too lazy to go hunting down their titles so you can as well. This was also partially inspired by Anno's description of Shinji as someone who, 'was too cowardly even to commit suicide.' What if piloting EVA gave him the just enough courage to kill himself, but not yet enough to face life? One neat thing about this fic is that with regards to someone committing suicide, Asuka is no doubt a war-weary survivor. If anyone could give Shinji a talk about what it's like for survivors, it's her. There's also the nice bit of irony that for once, Asuka can tell someone that they're being selfish, and she's right. The question I'll leave to the reader to ponder is: does Asuka give her little speech to Shinji, or is she giving it to herself? How does this relate to the fact that Asuka does try to kill herself later in the series? At this point, she still has something to live for and can still fight against her own personal demons. After the 15th Angel, that conviction is shattered, and she falls victim to her own trap of losing herself in her own problems. This shows how close she is to giving in anyway, so with the 15th crushing her, she no longer can keep the wolves at bay. At least, that's what I'm hoping this showed... Goof-readers for this piece of... er... art... include: The Horde O' Hentai: Rob Craig Lee SEELE fan-fic review group Alain Gravel Godsend777 Axel Jeremy Mullin In the end however, ideas, problems, and signs that I am indeed in need of serious help all are my fault. Darren Demaine Chairman of the Horde Horde O' Hentai Productions mailto:Greywolf@worldgate.ca http://www.worldgate.ca/~greywolf