Everything was ashen--pale and long since burned. All around him were the dead souls of husks of people, misguided and illusion-bound. They did nothing but chatter and harass; and yet, because of some primeval law, their lives were sacred. The Sacred Intangible, the soul that every one _by definition_ possessed, somehow rendered them worth more than any beast or plant. And yet...and yet...it was these so-called Sons and Daughters of God that had wrecked havoc on their world over the course of the centuries, that committed matricide and shaped their world for their own ends. Buildings, roadways, parks, what were these but plagiarism and variations upon what Nature had given humanity? Further, these constructions took the rightful places of those things that had inspired their creation. Above that, there was a greater injustice: now they created life forms, for that is what he knew the Evas to be. Ignorant though he was of their method of construction or how they could live, live (so he was told) they did. He was one of three souls granted to them to make them combat-ready--was he the source of their life? Would the Evas be not living without him? And yet his soul, through and through, he knew to be utterly unworthy of revivifying the Eva. It was a soul filled with apathy, and now even that once-sustaining apathy had been shown to be impure. Nothing mattered, least of all him. Nothing could ever matter, as long as the puppet-show humans around him believed in their lies and were ignorant of the awful, abominable state of reality! There was no hope--for himself, for the world, for anything or anyone! ...the sound of the shapes that played in the back of Ikari Shinji's eyes that morning. -- Rei had excused herself to the ladies' room on a pretext. She passed behind Ikari's seat on her way out. She slipped her hand out and loosened the top flap of his book bag as she walked by; he didn't notice. She walked through the halls to the bathroom, and stood by the sinks while she counted 100. When she was through, she returned to the classroom as she had left it. She passed behind Ikari's seat again; and this time she casually lifted the flap and glanced inside. What she saw made her suck in her breath and return to her seat very quickly. She glanced around the room, and saw that no eyes were on her. She wanted no questions yet; things were happening that she didn't completely understand, and that she knew she herself had little control over. If he had been present, she would have turned to Ikari's father for advice, but he was not here, and she was in a state of desperate need. Ikari himself was out of the question. Langley was one option; but Langley had acted ignorant when they had spoken the day before, Langley would require too many explanations. Horaki was more approachable, but didn't know Ikari as well. Horaki would be her second choice. Suzuhara? Rei glanced behind her. Suzuhara was asleep in the back of the classroom. Suzuhara was not available to her. That left Aida. Aida had something of a soldier's discipline, knew Ikari, and was seated two rows away from Ikari and one diagonal from herself. Aida was the ideal person. "...Hamlet has been called the 'Melancholy Dane' by...er...since time immemorial. And any study of the play, no matter how casual, should point this out. As you will recall, beginning in Act 1..." Kensuke was half-listening to the teacher, but was more occupied with his own thoughts. He had been wondering about the war between Denmark, Poland and Norway, and whether it was a historic event or not. He had been meaning to go and look it up for some time. He tapped out a reminder to himself on his notebook computer; as he did, much to his surprise, a message arrived from his classmate Rei. He glanced over at her quizzically: she was staring intently at her screen, evidently eager for his reply. "...until, in Act 3, Hamlet's soliloquy, we see his desperation reach its apex. 'To be or not to be', he says..." Kensuke brought up the e-mail: "Aida, "Ikari has a gun in his backpack. What should be done? "Ayanami" Kensuke read the e-mail twice before he was aware of its impact. The note itself was fully against common sense: Ayanonymous never spoke to anyone, and certainly wouldn't try to play a practical joke. But, a gun? Who had ever heard of anyone bringing a gun into a classroom? Shinji? His friend? In spite of his want to disbelieve, Kensuke felt his heart rate increasing and confusion entering his mind. He leaned back in his chair and looked towards the satchel on the back of Shinji's chair. "...as he feels he is no longer part of Ophelia's life later in the same act." "Aaaaaa!" The attention of 28 of the other 29 students, as well as the teacher, focused on Kensuke as he jumped up and stammered, "Uh...suh-suh-suh-sensei, I must respectfully...uh...disagree with you on that point. Uh, the last point you were making. Just now." The teacher thoughtfully closed his book and said, "Aida...you do not agree? Would you care to elaborate?" "Uh...uh...elaborate, sensei?" Various parts of Kensuke's body had relaxed and gone numb, but for some reason, his skin wasn't one of them; he could feel every single sweat pore on his body. "Yes...on Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia?" The class giggled nervously as Kensuke turned a bright red. "Very...very well, sensei." Kensuke glanced to Shinji, who sat oblivious to the chaos around him; receiving no response from his friend, Kensuke proceeded to scan through the end of Act III, Scene 1. His mind was in clouds: he had blatantly disrespected his teacher, he had only a slim grasp on what the subject of discussion was, and he certainly hadn't prepared anything to add to the lecture; and all of these sensations were competing for his attention with his sudden fear of a young man who, five minutes ago, he would have counted among his truest friends. It was a combination of luck, inspiration and pure chance that he spat out, "It's his father, of course." "His father, Aida-san?" "Yes, it's his father. Hamlet wants his father's approval. Of course." Kensuke licked his lips, and fixed his eyes on a bright point of truth somewhere behind his teacher's shoulder. "Hamlet wants to get his father's approval, like any boy, but he didn't get it while his father was still alive. When his father comes back into his life, he'll do anything to get that approval. Anything." The teacher nodded slowly, and intoned, "How does this relate to Ophelia?" Kensuke let out a nervous laugh that grew to become a strong chuckle as he began his explanation. As he spoke, he made wild hand gestures, as though he was painting a picture at the same time. He also moved away from his desk to cross into Shinji's personal space; and Shinji was awakened from his torpor to the realization that someone was saying something from just behind him: "Well, Hamlet says that he will put on this 'antic disposition', right? It's to find out what the truth is behind his father's death, right? Yeah! But he doesn't know when to stop pretending he's crazy. When he meets Ophelia, it's true, she's just doing it because...uh...whatshisname...her dad, the dumb guy, wants her to. But she's also doing it because she loves him. That's why she's so sad when Hamlet insults her and leaves. See, at this point, it doesn't matter whether Hamlet's just pretending, he IS crazy, because everyone--even his buddy, Horatio or whatever--thinks he is, and treats him like he is. So. The thing is, see, is that his father is the one responsible for _making_ him crazy. If his father would just leave him alone, Hamlet might become sane again." Several heads around him nodded slowly, and Kensuke began feeling where his legs were again. His teacher turned his back and paced back towards his desk. "Aida, I want you and Horaki-san to read from Line 96." "Uh..." Kensuke glanced down and saw that he was immediately behind Shinji. He clapped his hands onto Shinji's shoulders and said merrily, "Could Ikari-kun perhaps read, so I can follow along?" "See me after class, Aida. Ikari, proceed." Shinji, thrust from the nest his psyche had sheltered itself within, groped for his computer and skimmed down to the line in question. He languidly began, "'The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins remember'd.'" From behind him, Hikari responded; and he heard her more upbeat tones. He realized that she would be reading in character. "'Good my lord, how does your honor for this many a day?'" "'I humbly thank you; well, well, well.'" "'My lord, I have remembrances of yours, that I have longed long to re- deliver; I pray you, now receive them.'" "Uh...'No, not I; I never gave you nought.'" _Wait a minute..._ "'My honor'd lord, you know right well you did; and, with them, words of so sweet breath composed as made the things more rich: their perfume lost, take these again; for to the noble mind rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There, my lord.'" She was enjoying herself immensely, injecting her voice with her own emotions; Shinji suspended disbelief, thinking that he was talking with a pure, innocent being who was trying to make the pain of a souring relationship easier for him to bear. To his horror alone, he laughed at her. "'Ha ha! Are you honest?'" "'My lord?'" "'Are you fair?'" "'What means your lordship?'" _Oh, no, I'm hurting her._ "'That if you should be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.'" _Stop it, you idiot! What are you saying?_ It was Hikari, even before Kensuke, who heard the strain in Shinji's voice. She continued unfluttered, and said softly, "'Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?'" "'Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it...uh...is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.'" Shinji gulped audibly and wiped something off of his face. "'I...did...love you...once.'" Hikari jerked her attention from her partner thespian back to her text. She slipped back into character and brooded, "'Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.'" "'You shuh...you should not have believed me; *hic* for virtue can-can- cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it-t-t-t; *hic* I love d you not.'" "Shinji?" whispered the girl next to him. "Are you OK?" "'I was the more deceived.'" "'Get thee to...a nunnery.'" He had just finished the sentence when he broke down into hysterics with his face on the keyboard. Kensuke grabbed Shinji's right arm and pinned it behind his body and clasped hold of the boy's left shoulder at the collarbone; and with a brusque "Excuse us," tore Shinji out of the chair and propelled him from the classroom. -- There were still 15 minutes before passing, and the hallway was empty. Kensuke threw the compliant Shinji against the wall opposite the classroom, seized his shirt lapels and, with ire and apprehension in his voice, asked, "Why the hell is there a gun in your book bag?" He received no response, only more of Shinji's self-pity. At the same time, his more aggressive emotions were waning, so when he asked again it was a sincere request. "Shinji, why? Why is there a gun in your backpack?" "I...I don't know..." "You don't know? What do you mean, you don't know?" "I don't know, I don't know..." "Shinji, that is a GUN. This isn't America, we don't--" He was cut off as a quiet voice behind him said, "Here." Shinji and Kensuke were both astounded to see Rei standing behind them in the middle of the hallway. Her characteristic flat look had returned, betraying no emotions. Her right arm was extended. In her right hand was a quantity of green tissues with a plastic Keroppi wrapper around them. Shinji gave inarticulate thanks and took a couple from her. He concentrated on blowing his nose, and his pure distress ebbed as he focused on a routine activity. Kensuke felt a trace of relief in his own heart and asked, "Shinji, are you OK?" "Better, I guess," was his reply. He clasped his hands to the side of his head, bent at the waist and groaned. "I feel awful, Kensuke. I don't even know what I was thinking this morning." "Don't apologize," Kensuke said. He pulled Shinji up to his full stance and slipped a fraternal arm around his shoulder. "Let's get you to the nurse's office, that's where we should be going right now. Rei, explain to the teacher after class where we are, and get Shinji's backpack for us, OK?" "Yes." She returned to the classroom while Shinji and Kensuke, arms around one another, walked through the empty hallways. Shinji walked close to Kensuke, not out of any desire but a need for amity in a time of trouble. "Is everything going to be OK?" "Yeah, I'm sure it will be." -- "Asuka, you're not allowed in the restrict--" "Shut up. Misato, I need to speak to you NOW." Misato turned at the mention of her name as much as at the neglect of protocol. Asuka was in the doorway to the control room, still dressed in her civilian school uniform. Her face was screwed into a tight-lipped look of disgust, although she had the impression the disgust wasn't with her. Yet. "Asuka-chan, please respect Akag--" "NOW, MISATO, GOD DAMN IT!" Her patience had snapped and she stormed across the room, grabbed Misato's arm, and dragged her out into the corridor from which she had come. Misato had no choice but offer the briefest of excuses before the door was shut behind her and Asuka had her full and undivided attention. "Asuka, what on earth's gotten into you?" Asuka ignored Misato's question. She was fumbling in her handbag, and presently extracted something on a long leather loop. "Is this yours?" she asked with a note of apprehension. It was a standard issue NERV sidearm, still in its shoulder holster. On reflex, Misato reached under her jacket. Grasping nothing, she looked and saw that there was nothing there for her to produce. She chuckled nervously. "Oh, yes, that's right. I couldn't find it when I left home this morning. Where did you find it?" "Shinji's book bag." There was a report of silence. "WHAT?" "Shinji's book bag. He brought it to school with him." "What?" Misato's knees weakened and she staggered back against the wall of the corridor. Asuka's fire, or perhaps her melodramatic inclinations, were diminishing as well, and she moved up close to Misato. "Asuka, why? Why?" "He said he didn't know. He didn't act like he was thinking clearly, even for his usual weird self." They sat down along the base between the wall and the floor, shoulder to shoulder. Misato stared in front of her, Asuka's gaze moved about as she recounted the story. "Third period we were studying Hamlet, and he was reading Hamlet's role, and then he just started crying. That was Kensuke's fault, he was showing off and being smart with the teacher. Shinji told him and Wunderfraulein about the gun, so Kensuke took him to the infirmary and she got his backpack. Then after class, sensei asks where the two dunderkopfs have gone off to. She pulls out the gun in front of me and Hikari and tells him what's going on, scheise, I think we all three had heart attacks. Touji's waiting right outside, Hikari all jumps into his arms and whispers what's going on, so at that point there's only one thing we CAN do which is go down and see Shinji. Well, that's good. Shinji's doing all right at that point, in the sense that he 's not crying much anymore, but then Touji says something stupid and emotional, so does Kensuke, before I know it we're all doing a group hug. That was kind of my idea, I just wanted to shut everyone up. Then the nurse comes in and says she's found a head-shrinker who's got space in his schedule for Shinji. So Shinji's gone. Kensuke wanted to go with him to make sure he didn't get into trouble, but he had to talk to the nurse himself to explain just what was going on, so Touji went along. Then the other four of us were talking until a little while ago. I came here to tell you. Because i t is your gun." "Yes," said Misato, "it's my gun." She had reined in her emotions and was already thinking more rationally. She slipped off her jacket and methodically put on the holster. They stood. Asuka chafed at Misato's unnatural calmness. "Misato-san, what are you doing? Don't you realize what could have happened? ANYTHING could have happened! Shinji's a danger to himself and to us, too! We have to do SOMETHING, or...or..." Misato didn't continue Asuka's line of thought. "The logical first move is to contact the school and find out what psychiatrist Shinji has gone to see. After that, I guess we should see if NERV has any policy on psychiatric treatment...then inform Commander Ikari." "Yeah, the Commander. I sometimes forget he's Shinji's father." Asuka's face was downcast, and her posture was slumped forward. Her hands were in front of her, and she wrung them and kneaded them as she thought. The mid-level light made her fawn hair warmer than it would look in daylight, and the red beads in her hair caught the light, shining. Her school attire was immaculate, as she made sure it was every day. _She looks very feminine_, thought Misato, and she had an inkling of what it was that so many boys her age saw in her. It hurt Misato to see someone she cared for so greatly suffer; and she embraced Asuka reassuringly. "You're worried about Shinji, aren't you?" To her surprise, Asuka pulled her closer, and shut her eyes tight. She said, weakly and quietly, "Yes. I...he's such an idiot, he doesn't know how to take care of himself. Misato-san, what's going to happen? Is he going to be all right?" "Of course he is, Asuka," said Misato. She patted her on the back and went on, "Shinji doesn't want to do anything foolish. He's just confused. Once he sees the right way, he'll come back." "Gott in Himmel. I hope so." -- Words are limitations. As soon as one tries to explain a situation--especially one as dynamic as the human soul--one cannot tell the whole truth, because one has constructed a limitation as part of a definition. Shinji struggled with words. "I get up in the morning, and there's no point. No reason at all why I should go to school, to NERV, do anything. Everyone wants me to, but what do they know? Why should I do anything if I don't believe in it myself? Isn't it obvious that I don't care? At work, my mantra is, 'I mustn't run away.' And I started wondering, well, why not? Who cares? Rei and Asuka are good enough. NERV found me, NERV can find someone else. Then they'll be done with me. My father? He doesn't care. On my first day with NERV, he told me I was a coward for not fighting the Angel, then told me to get lost. When I did fight it, he didn't have anything to say to me." "How do you feel about your father?" asked Do Boton, MD. Shinji shifted himself on the couch. "Take your time," said the doctor. "My father...I don't like him. He abandoned me when I was 3 or 4, he left me with my uncle. My uncle sent me to one of my mother's relatives. Then I went back to my uncle's, then to one of his friends' home. I was in a half- dozen houses before I was 9. That year, one of my teachers became my foster parent. That was all right, but I felt like I was just visiting his home . I'm sorry, sensei, I guess that's not an answer." "Whatever you want to talk about, Shinji." "My father, then. Uh, I feel like he only keeps me around because I'm useful. He's said 'Good job' to me before, but...my friend Kensuke? I told him how happy I was after he congratulated me on saving the city, and Kensuke said, 'Shinji, you saved Tokyo-3. I get "good job" when I ace a test.' And that hurt, but he's right. Then again, I guess I don't care. He should be there for me, but he isn't." Shinji stood up and got himself a paper cup full of water from the dispenser in the room. When he returned, Dr. Boton asked, "What did you think of him when you were growing up?" Shinji reflected and said, "I don't know. I didn't really think about him, but I was always aware of his absence. My mother died--I mean, disappeared...and then he was gone, too. I had this empty void inside me that didn't get filled. "Now that we see each other, I don't think it's going to. It's a smaller hole, like I've grown around it. But when he and I meet, it's like I'm trying to fill it, but I'm only tearing at the edges...and when he's gone, or doing some of his NERV things, there's other holes in me that are forming, and they're all connected, all the little holes. I feel so empty. Days pass, and I feel how empty I am." He sipped the water, and glanced at the clock. "Sensei, thank you for seeing me, but I don't want to use your whole afternoon. I guess I should go. Should I go?" "You may do what you want to do, Shinji. You're here because you want to see me." Shinji considered a moment, swallowed the last of his water, and said, "I want to go. But I want to hear what you have to say. What's wrong with me?" "Shinji, we've had one single session together, and I don't like to make a pat diagnosis. But since there's some urgency with your case, and since you ask, I'll tell you: I believe you're suffering from clinical depression." "_Clinical_ depression? What's that?" "It's a form of depression that has a source we can identify, that's what." Boton smiled at his joke and stroked his beard. "I'll spare you the fourth- year-intern details and explain it this way: your brain is built to experience joy and sorrow equally. In clinical depression, something in your brain's or body's chemistry keeps you from finding an equilibrium between joy and sorrow. You feel depressed because your brain won't let you recover. "Fortunately, this problem can be solved." He produced a pad of paper and jotted something down on it. "I'm prescribing an anti-depressant called thoronyne in 100 milligram doses, to be taken twice daily. I presume you don't take illegal drugs? What about other prescription or over-the-counter medications?" "No." He tore off the top sheet and gave it to Shinji. "Ibuprofen should be fine with this if you have a headache, and birth-control pills aren't an issue. You'll notice a dry mouth in the next few days but that will go away. If you experience any tremors, especially in the hands, stop taking the drug and call me. That's all. Are you free in three days?" "Yes. I'd like to come back then." They shook hands in the doorway to his office, and then Shinji showed himself out.