A coin rattles into the vending machine. A bottle of tea clatters into the dispensing tray. Shinji bends over to pick it up.
"Yo, Shinji!" one of his classmates says, putting an arm over his shoulder. "You going to sit out another PE lesson?"
Shinji blinks, stunned. He opens his mouth to reply, but another person cuts in before he can.
"Come on, Toji, stop bothering him."
"What? Nuthin' wrong with asking for one of my classmates! During PE he just stands there.. "
"You know Shinji doesn't like talking."
Shinji's heart sinks a little when he hears this. He's always known, but it was always... Hurtful? To hear out loud that people thought he was strange. Shinji clears his throat and tries to step into the conversation.
Remember, speak in a clear, audible voice and confidently say what you intend to.
"I- I don't dislike tal-"
"Yeah, what's up with that?"
Ah, that's twenty dollars of self help book for you.
"What are you always thinking of behind that blank face of yours?"
Mostly how to get through the day without breaking down and sometimes how suicide would feel like, Shinji thinks grimly. But what comes out is, "Ah hah, you know, homework and stuff. Plus I got a lot of things to do at NERV..."
His words fall on deaf ears as both of them wander off. When they are out of sight he fishes out a notebook and flips it open.
Possible social scenarios and what he should say in each one. Scripts on asking people what they did over the weekend/holiday/break. Little icebreakers to introduce himself he got from books. All of them jotted down as if Shinji had taken a class on how to interact with people. He settles on a set of pages with little rules of how he should behave.
Smile (at appropriate time, see notes)
Accept invitations to social events, do not be scared of them
Be interested in other people
Relax during conversations
His eyes scan down the list until he finds the one he's looking for.
Speak audibly and with confidence, convey your thoughts clearly
Shinji writes a little 'x' beside it.
I'll have to work on that.
He looks up and down the list. Ticks and crosses crawl over the page beside each pointer, indicating a little success and a little failure.
It's mostly crosses.
He sighs and puts the notebook back in his pocket.
The important part is that I try so that I'll get better and better. And I did. Good job.
The thought rings around in his head, empty and unconvincing. It was one of the rules. The one he tries to follow the hardest. He's a little proud that he did, then he sinks back into bitterness.
But when has me trying ever worked? When has me wanting anything ever worked? I wanted to get good grades so my parents would be happy. I want to be good at sports so I'll get picked for teams. I want to be something other than awkward, stupid and shy kid craving for affection. But of all the things the universe didn't make me, it won't even let me forget - all I want is to not - not remember that...
He feels his eyes well up. Hot, embarrassing moistness collects at the edges of his eyes. He slams his hand into his forehead in frustration.
You stupid fucking faggot, can't you even get through one conversation without crying? Godamnit don't shut your eyes, you're going to make the tears come out. Shit, it's been ten seconds, your eyes are going to be red. Christ you're pathetic. Fuck fuck fuck, this is making it worse. Just - just stop thinking.
He takes a few deep breaths.
If anyone asks, tell them that your eyes are itching.
Wiping away the last of his tears into smears that would quickly evaporate, he trudges onto his first class, his prepared lie on his lips.
He never uses it. No one cares enough to ask.
Shinji takes off his shoes and steps into the apartment. He slumps into a chair and sighs. It was a long day. A lot of crosses. Last few picks in PE class. Couldn't find anyone to eat lunch with. Again.
He reaches into his pocket and takes out his phone. He types in the first few letters of an anonymous forum, one of many on the internet, and clicks the autocompleted link.
He likes it here. Here he wasn't Shinji Ikari. He was just a string of random of random numbers. It was the only place he could interact with other people stress free. He can say what he wants without being worried about what other people think.
An all pervading cynicism pervades the forum. People lie, insult and pretend to be retarded here. In the real world, unacceptable. Here, the norm. Shinji hates everything so he feels right at home in with the dark humor of the place. He makes a few snarky comments, calls anonymous strangers a few names. He sniggers at a few stories about some retarded thing they did. Maybe it was true, maybe it was made up. It didn't matter here. Nothing did. And it relaxes him.
But he understands that it was all empty. The posters didn't care for each other. How could they? They weren't even sure it was real. Your identity was changed with every post, your digital existence lasting not more than a paragraph. In a day, it would be deleted. Gone. No trace of your interactions with other people. Relationships couldn't be formed here. It was all meaningless.
It is the very same thing that attracts Shinji to it. It didn't mean anything, so open, stress free interaction was possible.
There wasn't anyone at home. Misato was working late again. Being alone, Shinji felt at ease. No one around to worry about. Far from the madding crowds, he felt some semblance of peace.
An empty house. So peaceful. So tranquil. Or possibly lonely. I can't tell.
He stands up and starts making dinner. He practices cooking a lot. He doesn't remember why, but he started doing this many years ago. He doesn't have to. He's not a good cook. Nor does he enjoy it much.
Do I enjoy doing anything?
He tries to remember something he enjoys doing as he dices an onion. It takes him awhile. The onion is a fine pile of odd cuboids when he finally thinks of something.
I like reading story books. Especially science fiction. It's nice to read about another world. To almost live it.
He pushes the onions into the pan with a scrape of his knife. He makes the rest of the meal and eats it. There was nothing remarkable about it. Much like him. He goes to take a shower. He doesn't feel anything. See any significance. He just does it out of habit. Because he's supposed to.
Is this life? Just little meaningless things done one after the other? I'm going to do this again tomorrow, and the day after that, and for the whole month, then the whole year. How pointless. Or maybe it's because I have no purpose? Do other people have purpose? Should I get one?
He steps out of the shower in fresh clothes and brings his bag to his room. It's mostly bare. Light filters from a sliding window onto a bed with a single pillow. He unzips his bag and takes out a book.
It's one of those self help books. They all seem to have titles with words like "Positive", "Power", "How", "Rules", "Art" and a number. He reads it for twenty minutes with his notepad open beside him, scribbling some things down as he does. He reads it in an distant, mechcnial sort of way. If the book was called "How To Be A Better Person In 5 Minutes", he would read it with a stopwatch. He doesn't really believe in the books. It might work, it probably wouldn't. He just thinks it's better than doing nothing about his current state.
After twenty minutes he folds the edge of a page and puts it back in his bag. It was twenty minutes of learning the power of positive thinking and the importance of relationships. They all seem to say the same thing.
Maybe that's because it's true. Or maybe it's because they are all cookie cutter cash grabs ghostwritten by English major interns and with an author with an inspirational story slapped onto the cover.
He smiles a little in anticipation at what comes next. This was the only part of his day he looks forward to. Twenty minutes where he gives himself everyday to do something he likes. A little bright spark in his dull grey existence. Not a lot of time in a twenty four hour day; he treasures every second of it. Something he enjoys.
He pulls out a book carefully wrapped in plastic. It's a tattered, yellowed collection of science fiction short stories from the Golden Age. He bought it on the way back from school from a second hand book shop. He can't buy them often with his meager allowance, so he treats them each very carefully like the wonderful golden assmemblies of neatly ordered words they are.
Shinji likes reading these stories. Universes full of artificial intelligences and faster-than-light engines. Of positronic brains and black holes. Of what the future held. Reality admittedly had many technological marvels, but it wasn't that gadgetry that Shinji enjoyed. It was how the universes in them always made sense. They were full of clever, sharp people who strung together the facts and puzzled out the puzzles. People who came up with brilliant theories and ingenious inventions. And in the end, everything was woven together like a deft syllogism.
What logical and interesting universes. I wish reality was like this.
He eagerly starts reading, poring over every line between the brittle paper. Humorous stories about time travel. Ironic stories about robots more human than their creators. Epic stories of the vastness of the universe and the microscopic humans within. He reads and reads and reads until his eyes starts to droop and his body started to go weak.
He likes the night time. It's so very dark and cool. It relaxes him. But he also has a weak constitution and sleeps a lot. Whether from his depressed mental state or weak body he doesn't know.
He slips a bookmark in between the pages and carefully sets the book on his bed stand. From his bed stand he takes a few white pills from a bottle and swallow a them. Multi-vitamins. Misato insists he take them. It's good for his body, she says.
He crawls onto bed. He has a pillow but lays his head on his arm and hugs it instead. He likes hugging something when he goes to sleep. He's been like this since he was a kid.
One arm reaches out to the drawer of the bed stand and pulls out a pen knife. Sometimes he cuts himself, shallow enough that it doesn't leave scars. It distracts him from his current state of mind. Let's him feel something other than mind numbing depression.
How wonderful. Life gives me all kinds of pain to choose from. There's the quiet hurt of loneliness. The greyish landscape of depression and despair. The hot sear of social embarrassment. The meaningless feeling of existentialism. There's that eye watering sadness I get when I think about how useless I am. The anxiety when I'm about to interact with someone. The sinking pain I get from disappointing someone. That sinking dread when I know I'm about to disappoint someone. That pathetic sadness when I realize how much I want to please even people who are shitty to me. That hopeless despair I have for my future. That frozen panic when someone yells at me. Then there's physical pain, which can be separated into the wide bruising pain I get when I bang my head against the wall and the sharp cold pain when I cut myself. That cynical pain when I laugh at myself. And let's not forget the ever present dull, throbbing ache of my heart when I remember no one loves me and no one wants me. Because I'm a pathetic, lonely, fundamentally broken piece of shit. Ah, that last one, always fun.
He grimances a dark little smile.
Gotta love how many kinds of pain the universe provides. Variety is the spice of life, eh? I bet most people don't ever get a chance to experience what I do.
He looks at the blade. The moonlight catches on the shiny, stainless steel surface. It's a new one.
Of course, I'll never feel the pain of someone leaving me. That would require someone to be with me first. Ah-hah.
He slides the blade out. He ought to feel it was staring at him evilly, but to him it represented a measure of relief and distraction. He sighs and puts it on the bed stand.
Maybe some day I'll be brave enough to go really deep and cut a major blood vessel. Just a nice, deep slice. Down the wrist, not sideways. Or maybe one of the leg veins. It'll hurt like hell, but what's a minute of pain to an eternity of peace, eh?
He looks forlornly at the ceiling at thinks of something that, while not making him happy, lessens the sadness he feels. Or at least changes the type of sadness he is feeling.
Look at the bright side. You've got so many nights ahead of you. You'll probably do it at one point. When you're sick of it all. Even if you don't, there's always death by natural causes.
Shinji likes the fact that people die. And historically with a hundred percent success rate. That way he's pretty much like everyone else. He really hopes there is no afterlife. It seems grossly unfair, even my the universe's standards, to keep putting him through this forever.
Suddenly he shakes his head and berates himself. He shouldn't be thinking these things.
Think positive thoughts. This is important. Don't think negative thoughts. You won't get better like this.
He shifts onto his right side and hugs his pillow, as he always has done since he was a child. This was because his bed was pushed onto the right of the wall and like this he could press up against it. This way no one could see him cry. Hear him sob.
He clutches the pillow tight, buries his face in the soft, recently washed fabric. He closes hie eyes. Then he remembers. He doesn't want to. He wants to forget. But the memories are stuck into him like a stake through his heart. Always there for him to relive in his most private moments.
He remembers the beatings. He can't remember exactly why he got them, but there were an awful lot of them. His didn't know how to solve a question. He was disobedient. He did something wrong. He was a failure. He was a disappointment. That seemed to be the general gist of it.
He remembers the locked room. He would be yelled at to go into it. When he didn't, so he would be gripped by the wrist and dragged in there. The door would click shut, a click that made his heart sink into despair.
Sometimes it was clothes hangars. Sometimes canes. Sometimes bare hands. Each hurt in their own way. But still not the only things that hurt.
He remembers people in a rage. Yelling. Screaming. Insults. Abuse. Then he would be beaten. Sometimes he would be told how much, sometimes in their rage it just went on and on. He would huddle in a corner and try to shield himself. Exposed skin that other people could see was avoided, but sometimes they were so angry they didn't care.
He remembers his heart and body hurting. They would scream at him while beating him. He was bad. He was useless. He ws worthless. There was crying. Lots of crying. He wanted it to stop so badly. He wanted to run away. He wanted to stop feeling this but he couldn't do anything. At first, he would beg and plead for mercy. After awhile he realizes it was pointless and doesn't say a word.
He remembers hoping someone would save him. Rescue him. Make it stop. No one ever came. On hindsight, it was a silly hope.
After it was all over, they would let him out. He would go into his room, close the door and huddle on the bed. Sometimes he would just hang his head blankly. Sometimes he would just burst into tears again and cry and cry. At first, from all the pain and fear. Then, at how much they hated him. Then, the sharp, throbbing pain would seep into his heart like acid was poured onto it.
Eventually they would call him out for dinner. He would shuffle there quietly and they would eat as if nothing had happened. Sometimes they would tell him it was for his own good. He would nod silently.
His mother died when he was young. He can't remember much about her. He probably should miss her, but sometimes he think she was just as in on it as dad.
As he grows up, it tones down. His father starts to ignore him. Eventually, he gets sent away. There was a point when like all children he wanted to please his parents, but by that time all of it was gone. Burned away. Any hope of a relationship with them long gone. The idea of loving parents a distant fantasy, stranger than the science fiction he reads. He felt nothing but relief when his dad left. Felt less stress now that his dad wasn't around.
Tears drop down his face and turn into dark stains on the pillow. He clutches it even tighter. It's OK to cry here. No one could see him.
Then he remembers why he even bothered it all. With the cooking and the self help books. Because he had a dream.
It was a dream he had awhile back, when he still had hope. He finds it strange that he had hope for something he never had, but he supposes that was the nature of hope. It was a twisted, gnarled, beaten little hope, but hope nonetheless. At the time he clung onto it with everything he had. He took care of it and treasured it and gazed starry eyed it at as if it were a shining display behind a store window.
It was a hope that some day he would be good enough. He thinks he got the idea from a show somewhere. He was lonely, pathetic, useless, unloved, desperate for affection... He read on forums that these were huge red flags for a relationship. But maybe, just maybe, someone would still accept him if he tried hard enough. He would acquire enough skills, look good enough, speak well enough, be sociable enough, be interesting enough, become a good enough person to make up for all he was and all that happened in the past.
One day, when he'd scrubbed himself up real good and smoothed his hair and starched his clothes, he would stand in a line with others under a harsh light. He would wait and wait and wait as others were chosen before him; he'd be one of the last to be picked, naturally... But after that long, painful wait, someone would come by. It didn't matter who. Or how old or how they looked or how they were. This person would look him up and down. Finally this person would say, "You're good enough," and take him in. And he would smile for the first time and his eyes would well up, because that would be the day his life turned around. When he finally started living.
In a word, that he would finally be something to someone.
It would probably be a horrid person. Maybe vile, boring, unliked by everyone else. But that didn't matter to Shinji. To have someone was so much more than enough.
But alas that was a long time ago. He has given up by now. The pain of holding onto it and day after day seeing it remain as just a hope took its toll. One day, he looked himself in the mirror and realized how unlikely of a fantasy it was.
That's the final stage of loss, isn't it? Acceptance. Acceptance that feeling nothing is the best I'll ever do.
More tears start to trickle down his cheeks as he sighs. He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath to try and go to sleep. He likes sleep. He doesn't feel or think anything when he sleeps. Usually.
But before he does, he can't help it. He imagines someone holding him as he drifts into unconsciousness. Someone stroking his hair and whispering kind things into his ear. He imagines the warmth of the breath, the weight of the arms, the fingers running through his hair. And the feeling of being loved by another soul.
Then he realizes he won't ever have this and sobs uncontrollably. He cries and cries until he falls asleep into his wet pillow.
The keen sci-fi reader might notice the type of science fiction story he is describing is in the style of Asimov's works like Nightfall and the Foundation series, which tends to end with a big deduction/reveal. It's also a reference to Asimov's prolific collections of short stories, such as "Gold" and "I, Robot". Yet I think some of his best humor comes from his quasi-fantasy, quasi-sci-fi collection of Azazel short stories, all 28 of them and a final last one hidden as a story within another short story "Cal".
Chapter 2: Twilight Meeting
Shinji wakes up without an alarm. He doesn't need one. He has difficulty falling asleep as it is; he woke up several times at night to find tears dripping down his face. He doesn't feel rested but he still gets out anyway. He always feels tired.
It's still dark out. Yellowed street lamps cast dim shapes on the walls. He sits upright and reaches up to his cheek with a hand. He feels the dried out crust of tears on his face.
I cried myself to sleep. Again.
With a sigh, he swings his legs off the bed and shuffles to the toilet. Face. Clean. Teeth. Brush. Toilet. Piss. Flush. He shuffles to the dining room and sees Misato's shoes near the door.
She's back. Guess I'll make breakfast for her too.
He gets to work with his mind still bleary, dicing tomatoes and dropping them in a grain filled rice cooker. As the rice cooks he fries eggs and toasts slices of bread. When all is done, he sets it on the table. Plates and bowls piled with food. He admires his handiwork for awhile.
He goes to knock on Misato's door.
"Misato-san," he says in a clear voice.
He knocks again. No reply. He slides open the door a fraction and sees a mess. She's passed out drunk on the bed with a beer can in hand, items scattered all over the floor. With pursed lips he walks into the room and starts cleaning up after her. Picking up clothes, cans and trash from the floor.
Oh? What's this?
He picks up a white pill on the floor. The pill is identical to his multivitamin, a small white ellipse with a line down the center.
Misato takes multivitamins too.
His foot nudges something. It's a plastic prescription container. He picks it up. It's half full with the same multivitamins, with the cap clumsily screwed on one side lopsided.
Who needs a prescription for multivitamins?
He turns the bottle around to look at the label.
It says "Anti-depressants".
Shinji stares at the bottle for what feels like a very long time. Then he puts everything where he found it and shuffles out of her room. He doesn't feel angry. He doesn't feel sad. He just feels... Resigned.
There are anti-depressants circulating in my bloodstream right now. But I still feel like no strong desire to live. So they don't work. I've always wondered. I wish they did.
He wonders if he should confront Misato about it. He decides not to. There doesn't seem to be a point. He hates fighting anyway. Pausing only to pour the rest of his "multivitamins" down the toilet, he steps out of the apartment with a sigh and gently closes the door behind him.
His feet automatically carry him towards school. Most students use the wide main road which leads to the main gates of the high school, streaming from their narrow neighbourhood roads to it like tributaries into a great river body of chattering students. Shinji avoids the main road and uses the back gate instead. He doesn't want to meet anyone on the way there.
I can't believe Misato would lie to me like this. That stupid bitch.
Does she really think I am depressed? Shit, she thinks I'm weird. I... I thought she might have liked me a bit. I have misinterpreted her caretaking as affection. Classic Nightingale syndrome. I'm just a burden to her, aren't I? An unwanted duty.
Shinji hangs his head. His heart aches a little.
What am I being so sad for? I should've known this. I'm a very unlikeable person. Nothing good about me. I should just keep taking the meds, make her happy. Put her heart at ease that I won't kill myself one night. She doesn't want me to kill myself. If I did, she'd have to fill out the paperwork. A-hah. Cause of death? Pathetic little bitch. A-hah. Couldn't even talk to someone without consulting a notebook. Would've died a friendless, lonely virgin anyway. A-hah. What a waste of helium. Anyone want his Walkman? A-hah.
Shinji grabs a rusty bar with both hands. He braces himself against the gate frame and pulled. A fine sprinkle of rust falls off the bar and the gate swing open. He steps inside and heads for the locker room. The first lesson is PE. Everyone is already gone. He hurriedly changes into his PE kit and runs out into the field.
Today was baseball. Two captains were chosen. Popular kids. They take turns to pick. Shinji knew the drill. He stands there, looking as inconspicuous as possible, as people left and right of him are picked. Until only he remains, like some nasty piece of candy at the bottom of the packet no one wanted, and gets picked by default. He likes to imagine he gets picked last because people didn't see him, instead of his scrawny, self-harmed body having near zero athletic ability.
Another thing I have no worth at. I don't like this one especially much. People can see how worthless I am. People hate it when I fumble. I hate it when I fumble. I hate that I'm so bad at it. I can feel them, their little sigh and quiet whispers as they bemoan that I'm on their team. Gods do I hate it.
Shinji is the first batter. They put him there first so they can get rid of him early when he screws up. His pale arms lifts the trembling bat. The pitcher winds up his arm. Shinji tenses what muscles he has, hoping he'd hit the ball at least once.
Shinji doubles over in pain. The bat clatter onto the floor. He hugs his ribs, where the baseball just struck.
"Hit by pitch! First base goes to the batsman!"
The PE teacher takes him to the nurse. As he leaves he hears laughs and ironic clapping, mocking the fact that this was his first base ever.
Shinji sits on the chair, holding a pack of ice against his bruise that the nurse just handed him. He likes getting injured. People treat him nice when he's injured. With a bit of imagination, he could take their pity for kindness. He likes it when people are concerned for him. Other people are afraid of the pain, but he isn't. It hurts all the time for him.
Maybe the teacher will make the pitcher apologize. Then I'll be all high and mighty and forgive him. Claim the moral superiority. That'll show those stuck up assholes, always belittling me.
But he's also disgusted at himself. At how excited he is to get a bit of pity from other people. It's pathetic and he knows it. Shinji sighs and closes his eyes, hoping he'll fall asleep.
Maybe I'll miss the whole day of school. That'll be wonderful.
But he's let out before lunch. He limps out of the office and takes his bag from the locker room. He doesn't eat lunch with anyone else. He takes a path on the side, checking first to make sure no one can see him, then goes to an abandoned building adjacent. He climbs to the roof. A high metal fence stretches above and through it a view of the Tokyo 1, a glittering forest of skyscrapers, can be seen. He wedges himself between two dysfunctional air conditioning boxes to hide from the students eating on the roof of the main school building.
His lunch is a cheap bun in a plastic wrapper. He buys them by the carton to save money. He doesn't have much money to spend, he saves what he has for books. The buns are terrible and sometimes moldy, but he doesn't care. Everything tastes grey to him anyway.
A wind blows through his hair and he breathes a little easier. He likes it up here. It's cool and quiet and there's no one around to stress him out. Eating wasn't the worst thing. He didn't enjoy it very much, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. It was a break from it all. He is relived the morning is over.
PE is done. No more until next week. No more humiliating team picks.
He looks at the bun. Two eyes and a smile made of cheese grins at him.
This bun looks happier than me.
He consumes his lunch quickly; he's not slowed down by the lunch time conversation everyone else has with their friends. He spends the rest of the time staring through the fence, trying to conserve energy for the rest of the day ahead. When the bell rings, he shuffles back to class.
The first class is Japanese. The teacher is a nice middle aged lady from Gifu Prefecture. Shinji doesn't mind these classes too much. He's a little better with lanaguges because he reads so much.
The teacher writes a column of characters on the blackboard.
"Can anyone tell what this phrase means?"
A hand shoots up. "Sensei, that's 彼は誰時 (Kataware-doki). It means the time before sunset."
The teacher smiles.
"Very good, Hikari-san. This is a phrase from Hida dialect, so don't feel bad if you don't recognize it. "彼" meaning "He", "誰" meaning "Who" and "時" meaning "Hour". It means the mysterious hour before sunset where it's so dark you have to ask who he is. In this twilight the lines between worlds blur, and strange things happen. Be careful what you wish for, because you'll never know who or what you'll meet."
A student laughs. "Sensei, that's all just superstition!"
The teacher laughs as well. "Perhaps. Still, it's romantic, don't you think?"
Twilight. Meeting something from another world? Maybe it'll kill me since I don't have the balls to do it myself. Not with too much teeth, I hope. Something peaceful, like draining all my blood so that I just lose consciousness and never wake up.
Shinji shakes his head and chides himself for having such negative thoughts.
The rest of the day blurs by. He's too tired to talk to anyone. He says almost nothing the whole day. When the final bell rings, he goes to the rusty back gate and leaves.
He hangs his head and walks.
Zero interaction with another person. That's not good. It's even worse than yesterday. I need to try or I'll never get better. I know you're tired, and it almost never ends well, and it feels exhausting, but I have to try.
He sees a group of older students up ahead. Yelling and laughing loudly. Cigarette smoke hangs around them like a mist.
I'll say good evening to them. To make up for the rest of today. They're total strangers, so it's bonus points, right? It'll be good for you, build confidence.
He lifts his head up and looks at them straight in the eye. He opens his mouth to speak.
"Good evening -"
"Hey, I know you! You're that boy had to see the nurse because he was hit by a ball!"
The rest of his group laughs. Shinji freezes. He did not prepare for this.
"Yeah, I heard about this guy from my younger bro. Never talks. What's the matter? You too good too talk to my bro?"
He realizes he has made a mistake. The eye contact only seems to aggravate them. He slowly backs away, but they advance.
They're like this because they think you're too meek to react. You need to show aggression. Fight back.
"Fuck off!" Shinji yells awkwardly.
The group halts for a moment. Then their eyes narrow.
"What did you say, shithead?"
"I think this boy needs to learn who he's dealing with!"
Shinji runs away as fast as he can. His legs pump over the road, his bag flailing as he makes a dash down a random street.
"You fucking autist, get back here!"
But it's not use. He has no stamina and his ribs blossom in pain the longer he runs. His whole body is weak. Soon he's panting, his throat parched and his sides have stitches. They're bigger, faster. It doesn't take long for them to catch up.
One of them grabs his bag and pulls. He stumbles and his body twists as his bag comes loose from his body. He gets up and turns around, just in time to catch a fist into his ribs.
Shinji let's out a strangled cry. The punch hits near the bruise. Pain shoots through his body and he doubles down in pain, clutching his ribs.
"Fucking retard, trying to make us lose face! You think we'd take this shit from an autist like you?!"
One of them reaches into the bag and pulls out a book. It's his story book. Despite the pain, Shinji lunged forward.
"No, stop! Not that one!"
Shinji manages to grab one half of the book with one hand, while the person holds on to the other. He desperately grabs on with his other hand and pulls. The book strains in between both of their grips.
"You little shit!"
"Please, let go!" Shinji cries pleadingly, putting all his body weight into pulling the book away.
The rest of them start to surround him. Shinji strains to pull, leaning backwards as he tries to save his book. The bully yells angrily and gives it a hard yank.
Shinji and the bully fly apart. The ancient spine of the book gives away. Torn shreds of yellowed paper burst into the air. Shinji states in horror and despair at the fluttering paper. He tried to grab them from the air. Too late, he notices the bully step towards him and punch him in the chest.
He flies backwards onto the ground, the air knocked out of his lungs. Most of his half skitters down the street. He curls up into a ball on the street as the rest start to beat him too. His arms, torso, back, legs... . He tucks his head close to his chest and hugs what remains of the book he has held onto. Every exposed bit of him is a target. As they strike him, they hurl insults. It's just like old times.
Eventually they tire and stop as people beating him always too. Energy and anger spent, they wander away. When he hear their footsteps fade he gets up. Every bit of him hurts but he stumbles around on bruised legs, looking for any salvageable remains of his book. When he finds where they dumped them, his desperation turns to despair.
Both halves were in the drain. A stream of water was washing the old, torn pages away. Fragments whirl across the surface and disappear around the corner. His eyes start to well up as he sees the shreds of his precious book float away. In a few moments, there's practically nothing left.
Shinji bangs his head against a lamppost and sobs a little.
Say good evening to them. It'll be good for you. A-hah. When will I ever learn interacting with other people is just bad news.
A tear slips out of his eye and onto his cheekbone. He wipes it away. Picking up his bag, he tries to find his way home.
Where am I?
He limps down a street and turns a corner. He blinks. Before him was a lake in the middle of a huge crater.
This must be the edge of the city. Where one of the N2 mines dropped.
Fallen buildings break the surface of the lake. Twisted heaps of infrastructure lurk beneath the surface. Broken statues slant halfway out of the water.
The sun is setting. It's disappearing behind a range of hills at the far end of the lake. The entire panorama is painted blood orange by its dying light. Half-sunken debris cast shadows on the surface that dance slowly as waves gently ripple across the lake. Cicada chirping fills the air.
It's a strange thing, that a destroyed area should be so peaceful. Shinji finds it oddly calming. He walks to the edge of the lake.
Fucking assholes. Why'd they have to do that to me? I... I just want to be left alone.
Shinji sighs. It's a question he asks a lot.
The bottom of the lake must be peaceful. There's no one there. Maybe I should go.
That's stupid, of course. You can't kill yourself by walking into a body of water. Humans float for Christ's sake. Movies have got it all wrong.
Shinji looks down at his hands. They're lit by a dim orange light. Soon he won't even be able to see them.
But I don't really want to be left alone, do I? If I did, I'd just run into the mountains and eat berries for the rest of my life. I wouldn't have the notebook. I wouldn't keep score of how awkward and autistic I was today. I wouldn't learn how to cook. I wouldn't try everyday to be a little better. I'm holding out for someone, aren't I? Who? Haven't I learned how stupid this was? No one comes to save you. A knight in shining armor will never come.
Maybe it's because it's all I have. I have nothing but hope. But trying is so cheap, isn't it? Everyone says they try. But look at me. Am I any better than before? I doubt it. Who'd want me? How could I subject anyone that's important to me to deal with me? Either way I'm fucked.
Hope is so awful. It hurts just to have it. Makes you ache and long and realize you don't have. Will never have. Like a coal that burns all the more brightly the harder you hold onto it. The more you need hope, the more it hurts. What's the difference between hope and delusion? Not a lot. Hope is a lie. It's an advert, a wish. Nothing but empty promises. You take hope because you know you'll never get what you want. If you knew you were getting what you want you'd be excited, not hopeful. So you settle for hope. Because it's all you can get.
Why was I even born? Just to do this day after day? What's the point of it all? I'm just a piece of shit. Maybe I shouldn't even have been born. Dad doesn't like me. Misato doesn't like me. My classmates don't like me. Hell, I don't even like me. I... I don't mean anything to anyone.
Is... Is this going to be how the rest of my life is like? Just.. Day after day of slogging through the mud and getting beaten up at the end? Picking myself up, dusting myself off, then crawl into my bed and cry myself to sleep?
This is all I've known. This is all I've ever been. I got all these notions from storybooks and movies. What is unconditional love? From my point of view it's nothing but fiction.
Yes, this is going to be all there is, isn't it? I know because I'm a realist. I don't have the luxury of denial or delusion because I've been smacked by reality too many times. I know all my fantaties are just fantasties. All those fantasties, balled up in my head. Soothing me, making the pain and dread go away for awhile. But reality always wins. It never goes away. It's cold and hard and it hurts.
Shinji starts to sob uncontrollably.
Oh gods, this is it, isn't it? This is life. This is my past. This is my future. Just day after day after day. Like eating gruel with bits of glass in it. Cutting me up from the inside. Then I'm going to die. And in my final moments, I'm going to think back and remember how awful it all is. How awful I am.
And the worst part is this is all I have to look forward to. To it ending. That's what something awful is, isn't it? When the only thing you look forward to is to it ending. It's like a book where the character just suffers and suffers until the very last page. And to me, it is everything I am and ever will be. There's no happy ending. Everything is awful. I'm awful.
I'm so tired. I just want it to end. I hate other people. I hate the world. I hate myself. I have a knife in my heart and every time it beats it hurts. Every second of my existence is awful.
The sky darkens as the sun sinks further down the edge of the world.
Twilight. I like it because it means the day is ending. I wish it would just all end.
"Hmmm hmmmm hmmm ~"
A delicate humming fills the air. The cicadas fall silent. Shinji recognizes the tune. It's the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth. The hummer sounds like he's in a pleasant mood. Calm and happy. Almost joyful. Such alien feelings to Shinji he can't help but turn to the source.
It's a boy, sitting on a statue of an angel.
"Music is wonderful, isn't it? It's the greatest achievement of mankind. Wouldn't you agree, Ikari Shinji-kun?"
The boy turns to Shinji and smiles.
"You... You know my name?"
The boy tilts his head. His smile doesn't waver for an instant.
"Who are you?"
"Kaworu. Nagisa Kaworu. I'm the Fifth Child. I'm a pilot, just like you."
"A pilot? You're a pilot. Nagisa-kun..."
"Call me Kaworu, Ikari-kun."
Shinji blushes in embarrassment. He doesn't quite know why he's embarrassed.
"T-then you can call me Shinji."
Kaworu laughs. He has a wonderful laugh. It wasn't the loud nasty laughter of other people, but a little joyful laugh that was delicate and precious. Not the kind of laughter that makes fun of someone else, but a happy little kind he's sharing with Shinji. His smile opens a little wider and there's a row of perfect white teeth. There's little dimples in his cheeks and his eyes are smiling as well. His laugh is soft and sincere and reminds Shinji of a summer breeze.
For a little while, Shinji forgets everything else.
Chapter 3: Transfer Student
Shinji drags his battered body back to the apartment. In the bathroom, he sees the dark blue blotches on his frail body. He washes delicately, wincing as even a light touch stings the bruises.
He's too tired to eat. He's too tired to do anything. He just drags himself and collapses onto his bed with a sigh. He's too tired to drag the blanket over him or rest his head on the pillow. He just lays there. He nuzzles the soft, downy fabric with relief. Finally the day is over.
And what a long day it's been.
After all that has happened, he feels like stepped on shit. His body hurts all over and so does his heart. But instead of replaying all the terrible little moments that made up his day, he keeps thinking of the boy on the statue.
He seems nice. Maybe I'll see him around. And maybe... Maybe we can be friends.
We could walk home together. Eat lunch together. Go to the book store together. That's... That's what friends do, isn't it?
Gods, how long has it been since I had a friend? Too long.
He let's out a bitter laugh.
He's not going to be your friend, idiot. He was being polite and sociable. Like all normies do at first. You know, before they find out you're a mumbling retard who cries whenever he bumps into someone. He's going to find out, someone's going to tell him, and he's going to become like all the others. Mostly ignoring you and acknowledging you politely. Sometimes in a sudden burst of charity towards the autistic loner they'll do what they think is being kind and be inexplicably friendly to you.
Shinji grips the bedsheets.
It could be different. I'm not asking for a soul mate. Just someone to say hi to. Maybe he'll.. Maybe...
Shinji's eyes well up. He buries his head in the bedsheets, staining them with his tears. But even as he drifts off into sleep, he still holds onto the tiny flickering home that things would be different with the boy.
He knows it's going to be crushed by reality eventually, but while he still has it it gives him a lovely warmth.
A bird chirps on a tree outside the classroom. Inside, girls squeal and whisper excitedly.
"Oh my god, he's so handsome!"
"And his figure is great too!"
"Look at those pretty eyes!"
"He's so ikumen!"
Shinji stares with a mixture of bitterness and sadness at the edge of the class because Kaworu was standing in the middle. He couldn't see Kaworu yesterday well in the twilight, but now it was plain that he was very good looking. He had a mess of shaggy, unkempt grey hair that framed a delicate and refined face. His pretty eyes were a strange deep red color, like the heart of a ruby, and they would smile with him whenever he smiled. His skin was unusually pale, almost snowy white. Some kind of albino. A very pretty albino.
He introduces himself as a transfer student, much to the delight of the girls and to Shinji's jealously. Not because of the girls, but because of how easily he does it. If Shinji goes up there he would be hunched, awkward and mumbling. But in front of a class of strangers Kaworu introduces himself with perfect coolness, his hands casually in his pockets and his weight on one leg.
Even the way he dresses. It should not be possible to look that good in the standard uniform of long black slacks and a short sleeved white shirt, but clothes that hung off Shinji like a towel on a rack fit Kaworu like a glove and made him look wonderful.
The teacher adds on about his record. Perfect grades. Star athlete. Accomplished musician. Kaworu says a few more words then when he finishes, he smiles and his head tilts almost imperceptibly. The girls titter like birds. Even the guys nod their heads approvingly.
Stuck up prick. Typical popular normie.
Shinji laughs nastily to himself.
You're jealous that a boy who's been here for five minutes is already more liked than you. And that he makes you look like crap. I mean, even more crap. How petty, being so bitter because you're jealous.
No, it's even worse. You wanted him to be someone was terrible as you so that you could have him. Because if he weren't, why'd he want to hang out with you? You're terrible. Now the rest of them are going to take him, take away your hopes. Because they're ever so much better than you. Cool, interesting, attractive, smart, charismatic. Your only hope was that he was as bad as you. But he isn't. And you resent him for that.
Shinji rests his head in the crook of his arm against the table as his eyes well up.
You know it's true. You've known him for all of two minutes and you're already clinging to him. Pretty pathetic.
Shinji sighs angrily and wipes the tears from his eyes. He doesn't look as Kaworu walks to his seat, but he can hear them crowding around him.
He tries his best to ignore him for the rest of the class. When the lunch bell rings, he slips away to the abandoned roof and hides between the air conditioning boxes.
He fishes out his lunch. Another piece of bread in a plastic wrapper. He's running out of food to bring; this particular piece is considerably past its due date. He opens it. The bread is stale, giving off a slight sharp scent. Small patches of mold dotted the surface.
Past the due date. Stale and moldy. Should I get another one?
Shinji turns the bread over in his fingers pensively.
It's like me. Valueless. Nobody wants it.
He can't bear to throw it away for reasons he struggles to put into words.
Because it's like me. If I throw it away, nobody would want it. It'd be all alone. Meaning nothing to anyone. Like me. Maybe I want to keep it because... Because... I don't want it to be alone. Maybe because it's as worthless as me I deserve to eat it. Or maybe I want someone to keep me...
Godamn it's a piece of fucking bread, why am I empathising with it?
He grimances again and prepares to take a bite out of the nasty bread.
Shinji freezes as he hears the rusty door to the roof open.
Who the heck is coming up here? A repairman? Shit, there's only one exit and he's blocking it!
Shinji presses himself against the row of air conditioning boxes to conceal as much of himself as possible. His heartbeat skyrockets and his breath quickens. Eyes darting towards the entrance of the row closer to the door, he anxiously watches for any sign of another human being. Beads of sweat forms on his forehead. Ten seconds. Twenty. Thirty. No one comes.
He sighs in relief. The person must've left. He is about to go back to his bread when he frowns. Something is different. He looks at the ground.
Wait, was that shadow there before?
He turns around and he yelps, his eyes widening into hopelessly pitiful circles as he sees Kaworu standing behind him.
"Ah, Shinji-kun, there you are."
Shinji freezes in despair. He's been found out.
What the hell? How did he find me? Why does he bother to find me here? No one else cares enough!
He prepares a lie to explain his behavior. He likes the view. It's too crowded in the main building. He can only get reception here. But... They stop at his tongue. He doesn't lie to Kaworu. Neither does Kaworu ask. Apparently unconcerned by the strange location, Kaworu sits down next to Shinji.
"You're so hard to find, Shinji-kun," he says with one of his little smiles. He turns his head around the roof. "This place is lovely. You like it up here."
Shinji squirms on the spot. "Yeah... The view is really... Wide." He groans internally when he realizes how stupid what he has just said sounds.
He turns to Shinji and looks him in the eye. "Thank you for showing it to me," he says in such a sincere way Shinji blushes.
"Is it? Ah, regardless, let's have lunch."
He takes out a pretty little carved wooden lunch box wrapped in a red cloth and opens it. When Shinji looks inside, he's stunned.
My god, it looks amazing.
Sticky Japanese rice, each fluffy grain shining like a pearl in its compartment, was sprinkled with crunchy little sesame seeds. Golden brown karaage, fried very crisp in thick batter, gave off a rich mouth watering scent. A light salad of crunchy lettuce, cherry tomatoes and shredded carrots was sprinkled with dressing and inexplicably looked chilled. And finally a rectangle of golden tamago so soft and fluffy it jiggled slightly on the spot. It is even visually appealing, the arrangement and colors of the food flattering each other in a vivid contrast of whites, golden browns and greens.
Did he make this?
For the first time in a long while, Shinji actually feels hungry. His bread looks even worse now. His stomach groans.
Kaworu catches the look Shinji is giving his lunch box.
"It's embarrassing when one is put into a position like this, but I'm afraid I have an ulterior motive for being here."
"An ulterior motive?"
"Humans are always prey to their biases, aren't they? The very act of creating something alters one's perception of what was made."
"I've made my own lunch, and I think it tastes good, but how can I know for sure? I want to see how it tastes to someone else."
"Yes! I-I mean OK, I'll do as you say."
Shinji groans internally again. Do as you say was such a syncophantic thing to say. But Kaworu doesn't seem to mind, he smiles and passes Shinji his lunch as if he's absolutely delighted to be giving a delicious meal away.
Shinji picks up the chopsticks and tries a bit of rice. He almost moans audibly.
His stomach growls as he forgets everything else for a moment. He shovels food into his mouth like he hasn't eaten in weeks. He chews sweet grains of puffy rice sprinkled with crunchy sesame seeds. His teeth crunch down on the crisp golden coating of kaarage, causing hot salty fat to burst into his mouth. In between he puts sweet tamago on his tongue that melts like butter. Crunchy leaves of chilled salad, lightly tossed in a clean slightly sour dressing that cleanses the palate, refreshes the tastes buds and makes everything else taste so much more intense.
Oh gods this is so good how does he even make these everyday things taste like this gods I wish I could cook like this!
He stops for a second. He realizes at the rate he's going there's going to be nothing left for Kaworu. He stops in embarrassment when he sees he's almost eaten half of it.
"I'm sorry, I've eaten so much..."
Kaworu has been watching Shinji from beside him. His smile doesn't budge. "Go on - bento is meant to be eaten whole."
Shinji bows his head in gratitude and dives back into the food. Bits of rice fall out of his mouth as he unceremoniously shovels the contents of the box into his face. His mouth is a mushy mixture of tender chicken meat, chewed up rice, bits of sweetened egg and sharp salad. It sits in a profusion of contrasting flavors on his tongue that Shinji can't get enough of.
Kaworu smiles as he watches Shinji eat. He truly is gratified by the sight. Shinji is too entranced by the meal to notice Kaworu slowly reaching to the bread he had left on his bag.
Quietly, Kaworu says, "Since you are eating that, I'll have this for my lunch instead, Shinji-kun..."
Shinji sighs in satisfaction after he has filled his belly with the contents of the bento box. He turns to thank Kaworu for the meal.
"Thank you for the meal, it truly was lov-"
Then Shinji's face does a terribly good impression of one of those spectacular icebergs collapsing on the Discovery Channel when he sees Kaworu facing him with his arms wrapped around his knees, casually chewing on his moldy bread.
Oh gods he's already eaten most of it.
His eyes flicker in horror from the almost finished piece of bread to Kaworu's face and back. He never stops chewing. Shinji's eyes catches Kaworu's, those deep crimson eyes that always close slightly when he smiles. They stare at each other for awhile. Silent understanding passes between them. There's the slightest twinkle in Kaworu's eyes.
Kaworu pops the last of the bread into his mouth and stands up.
"Thank you for the bread and for accepting my request so heartily, Shinji-kun."
He offers his hand. Shinji shyly takes it and is hauled to his feet.
His hands are really soft.
Together they walk down the roof and head back to class. Shinji imagines how they just look. Him, hunched and looking down at his feet with his hands tucked into his bag straps. Kaworu, head held high and hands in pockets, strolling with nonchalant ease.
He wonders if he looks better or worse walking beside him. Yet he doesn't mind.
He's so easy to walk with. He is... Pleasant to be around.
They don't say anything, yet is there a feeling that anything needs to be said. There is no awkwardness between them. Shinji doesn't strain in every second of silence for something to talk about, nor does he keep fidgeting as he tries (and fails) to look less awkward.
They're a little late. Everyone else is in class. Shinji pauses in the empty hallway.
Kaworu stops and half-turns towards him. "Yes, Shinji?"
"Why didn't you eat with everyone else?"
Kaworu tilts his head and taps his chin. He looks amused at the question, as if the answer is obvious and he finds it funny Shinji can't figure it out.
"Because you weren't with everyone else," he says with a slight twinkle in his eye. "Or was everyone else not with you? Either way, I'll see you around Shinji-kun."
Kaworu turns and walks into the classroom, leaving Shinji's standing alone in the hallway, his face blushing red-hot all the way to the tips of his ears.
Shinji lies spread eagled on his bed, his face snushed into his pillow. For the first time he can remember, he's not lying in bed with thoughts of suicide and loneliness weighing on his depressed mind. The simple meal had done him a world of good, more than the anti-depressants ever did. Shinji can't stop thinking about Kaworu.
He went to find me to eat lunch. He seems to like me. Or maybe he's a sexual deviant who's trying to rape me. I find the latter more likely. There's bound to be some fetish for autistic retards. Well, I should be glad he likes me for something at least.
He doesn't like me does he? I'm no one. Nothing special from anyone else. Mediocre. I don't stand out. I'm not anyone, I'm not going to be anyone...
All the chatter in his mind tries to distract him from how Shinji feels. He feels werid about Kaworu. Things he shouldn't be feeling. That boy is too alluring. He wants to get close to him, yet he feels unsure. And he doesn't have anyone to talk to, so he bottles up his confusing feelings and goes to sleep.
Chapter 4: Late Night
This is stupid. I shouldn't be here. He probably doesn't even want to see me.
Shinji sits hunched on a bench outside of a NERV testing room, wringing his slender hands anxiously. His SDAT plays Beethoven into the earphones stuffed into his ears, the work of a long dead master calming him slightly as he waits to approach his classmate.
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium [Joy, beautiful spark of the heavens, daughter of Elysium]
But I really want to see him.
With a hydraulic hiss the door slides open, Kaworu stands there in his crisp white uniform. His features are refined and clear, his eyes twinkling slightly as he sees Shinji waiting for him. Shinji's eyes widen imperceptibly. They always do when he sees Kaworu.
Wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum! [We enter fire drunken, heavenly one, your sanctuary!]
"Hey, were you waiting for me?"
Shinji blushes despite himself. The implication was too much. Kaworu has no venom or teasing in his voice, he is nothing but sincere. But they both know how the situation looks like - the weird loner kid desperately following the handsome, most popular transfer student around like a dog looking for affection!
"No! I didn't mean to..."
"You weren't? I was hoping you were."
"N-no! I meant.. Yes, I was, but not because... Usually I go and take a shower and go home, but... Misato doesn't come back much these days, and Asuka and Ayanami are nowhere to be seen..."
"It's a wonderful thing to have a home to go back to."
Shinji lowers his head. "There's no one there. In my house, I mean."
"I want to talk to you more. Can I come?"
"To shower. You go to shower after this, right?"
"No? No! I mean, yes! Yes, you can come!"
Why... Is he in the same bath as me?!
Shinji sits in the hot water, stunned at how this situation came about. He didn't know why he didn't go to another bath or why it never came up. He just went along with Kaworu and before he knew it he was sitting in a wide bath, sharing the same water as him.
Steam curls from the surface of the hot water, a huge screen flickers between calming scenes of nature before them. A substitute for a window in this underground city. Remembering how he was underground, he suddenly feels Kaworu is a lot closer, both of them trapped in a tiny bath under a million tons of rock.
Yet it is oddly calming. Just the two of them separated from the world by bedrock.
"You're afraid of making first contact, aren't you?"
"If you don't get close to people, you can't get hurt."
Shinji shrinks away from Kaworu, his head hung. "... Don't say it like that. I do try to interact, I'm just not very good at it."
His voice lowers to almost a whisper, as if hoping Kaworu won't hear. "I even keep a little notebook about how i should interact, and I buy books about how to make friends and stuff..."
"You haven't answered."
Shinji feels his heart sink. Kaworu has hit the nail on the head. What he feels whenever he interacts, or even just anticipating interaction, was very much fear. If he didn't push himself, he'd avoid it entirely.
"Yeah. I'm scared."
"But it also makes you lonely."
"There's always loneliness in people's heart. But they forget that loneliness, and that's how they keep on living."
"I'm used to the loneliness. But Kaworu-kun, you're wrong."
"I don't forget that I'm lonely," Shinji says quietly and with an unheard of firmness.
Suddenly Shinji feels something soft envelope his hand. Even in the hot water, the hand feels unbelievably warm and smooth. He turns around to Kaworu in surprise. Kaworu was likewise looking at him, ripples of light reflecting off the water playing across his delicate features. He gives Shinji a broad smile.
Shinji's face is already steaming in the hot sauna, but he manages to blush and even deeper shade of red. He turns his head away in embarrassment.
"You're too forward, Kaworu-kun," Shinji mutters. "Why are you always smiling?"
Kaworu shakes his head. "I don't always smile. You just think that way because you only see me when I smile."
"Then why do I only see you when you smile?"
Kaworu taps his chin thoughtfully with his free hand. "Hmm, could it be that Shinji-kun is fishing for me to say something shameless like 'it's because I'm always happy when Shinji looks at me'?"
Shinji flinches, his eyes growing wide as plates. "W-what? No!"
Kaworu grins. "Ah, just because I'm naked beside you, you think I have no shame?"
Then a most unexpected thing happens. Shinji starts to laugh. He laughs so loudly his shoulders shake and has to cover his mouth with his hand. "Because I'm naked I have no shame? Who the hell talks like that!"
Through his laughing and shaking, Shinji doesn't see Kaworu stare at him. Kaworu looks, inexplicably, stunned. Then a smile creeps across his face. "Evidently, I do."
The lights shut off, plunging the bathroom into a gloomy darkness. Shinji feels Kaworu's hand slip away from his. His hand suddenly feels a lot colder.
"People's hearts are easily hurt. Yours in particular is fragile, like glass."
Once again Shinji is caught off guard.
Easily hurt... A fragile glass heart. Yeah, that's me alright. That description fits me like a glove.
"But still, not unworthy of love."
The pair takes an elevator to the surface. The machine deposits them on a road out of a futuristic looking box that resembles a phone booth.
"Say, Kaworu, there's this sci-fi animated comedy that was set a thousand years in the future. They had suicide booths by then, where anyone could've just put in a few coins and have their life taken away."
"Hmm? What an interesting idea."
"Do you think it'll be like that in the future? That so many people will want to die it'll be turned into a service like fast food?"
"I don't think there is anything wrong with it. Is it not their life? I could even be said to be an act of bravery. Everyone is born into circumstances they cannot control and will typically die in a similar fashion. But some people take it into their own hands, choosing to reject the cards Fate has dealt them. A final act of defiance, an exercise of a person's greatest and only freedom. The choice of his death."
"You really are strange, Kaworu-kun. Everyone else would say it's an awful device, who would even think of such a thing, et cetera."
"I think the person must be suffering a great deal if he were to want to commit suicide. The existence of this device doesn't change their situation. If it lessens the fear and anxiety it takes to escape this suffering, it could even be said to be a good thing."
Kaworu tilts his head and smiles mischievously at Shinji. "But let's not beat around the bush, Shinji-kun. You are telling me this because want to ask me, or indirectly make me tell you, if I ever would step into such a booth."
Shinji balks. He stutters some unconvincing excuses and denials before finally just hanging his head. "Kaworu-kun saw through me that easily.."
"The answer is yes, of course."
Shinji blinks in surprise. "But Kaworu, you have everything. You're smart, skilled, good looking, everyone loves you, why would you do such a thing?"
"Ah, so you think I'm good looking?"
Shinji chokes. "I mean, you're..."
Kaworu laughs. "I didn't finish. Yes, I would step into such a booth... And I would leave with everything from the change dispenser."
Shinji laughs so loudly people turn to look at him. He quickly slaps his hand over his mouth to suppress his giggles.
"Taking their change!"
Shinji suddenly stops. Kaworu is looking at him with such intensity that he unconsciously blushes, his hands trying and failing to hide his reddening cheeks.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes instinctively. An old habit. He doesn't know what he did wrong but he says sorry anyway, afraid the other person is angry or upset.
"It's me who should be apologizing, staring at you like that out of nowhere."
"It's OK... Why are you staring?"
Is it because my face is so plain and ugly?
"It's my first time seeing Shinji-kun smile like this."
Shinji's eyes widen. "Oh..."
"You don't smile like this a lot, do you?"
"You should, it looks good on you."
Shinji freezes, his cheeks the color of maple at this point. "T-thank you."
They walk together down the street for abit. Kaworu is contentedly humming, his hands luxirantly stretched behind his head. For the first time Shinji doesn't get anxiety from being in public. He doesn't shirk from their presence, or feel conscious that other people are looking at him. He's in a protective bubble exuded by Kaworu and as long as he's inside, he feels like he can finally be at ease.
"Kaworu, you house is pretty far away from here, right? It's getting late, why don't you come stay over to stay at my place?"
Oh fuck, the way I said it, with my eyes wide and beseeching like a puppy. It's pathetic how badly and blatantly I want him to spend time with me.
"I would love to."
Shinji's heart swells with something strange.
What is this feeling? Is this... Excitement? I'm excited at the thought of spending time with him.
"Ojama shimasu," Shinji says quietly as he enters his apartment. He does a quick check. Misato isn't home. Perfect.
Shinji pulls out a futon and from the cupboard and unrolls it on his bed room's floor. Meanwhile Kaworu changes into some of Shinji's old clothes in the bathroom. While Kaworu is changing Shinji hastily tidies up his room, shoving scattered clothes into drawers, stacking books neatly by their size and especially shoving his bloody stained pen knife way into the back of a drawer. He stands at the door of his bedroom and casts and eye over it.
Should I get some drinks? Snacks maybe? There's nothing but raw ingredients in the fridge. Damn, I've never been in this kind of situation before.
The bathroom door clicks open. Shinji turns to see Kaworu wearing his clothes and for reasons he doesn't understand it makes his heart beat faster.
"So this is Shinji's bedroom," Kaworu says, casting his eyes around the small traditional Japanese room. Kaworu doesn't have even a hint of disapproval in his tone but Shinji feels embarrassed. It looks cheap and bare, nothing but a bed and a cupboard. He didn't know what kind of bedroom Kaworu stayed in, but he imagined it was infinitely nicer. Stylish. Pretty. A well designed, beautifully decorated place to rest in, not the bare box whose primary function is to separate his depressed self from the rest of the world.
Without a word both of them lay down in their beds and pull their blankets over themselves, Kaworu on the ground and Shinji on his bed.
"Kaworu, you can have the bed."
"Shinji is already doing me such a big favor letting me stay over here, I couldn't."
"It's really nothing... Misato is out, so it's easy for you to stay here."
"So we're alone? How wonderful," Kaworu says with a laugh.
Shinji laughs a little in embarrassment. "If you put it like that..."
A few moments past in silence.
"Shinji, what do you want to say?"
"You want to tell me something, right?"
Shinji's throat twists.
Yes, I want to tell you something. I want to tell you so many things. About how I feel. About how lonely I am. About how sad I am. About how hurt I am. I've been wanting to tell someone how I feel since forever. To have someone listen. To have someone maybe understand how I feel all the time, maybe even... But I can't. Because... Because there are so many reasons I can't. More or less it boils down to looking like a broken retard with parental issues, which isn't helping on top of my awkward social disposition. If I do, anyone who miraculously wants to listen is going to pack up and leave.
"It's... Nothing worth saying."
"Nothing worth saying?"
"It'd be a waste of air."
"Could it be that you say these things to yourself?"
"Say.. To myself?"
"Yes. You say these things you want to tell me to yourself, right?"
"Is it not a waste of air then?"
Kaworu laughs, a happy lilting sound that blows like a warm summer breeze through the room. "It's okay if you don't want to tell me, Shinji-kun. But I'm here all night, and I'll be waiting to listen to everything Shinji-kun says."
"Until the sunrises. After that, who knows?"
"Are you... Leaving tomorrow?"
For the first time Shinji notices Kaworu doesn't respond instantly. Maybe it was just him, but he felt just a flicker of indecision in Kaworu. Like he doesn't want to do or say something, but has to anyway.
"I think it's a lovely night. To talk about everything and anything. Just perfect."
Shinji lies there anxiously. He's not really conflicted because he knows he'll tell Kaworu eventually. Because Kaworu wants him to, he'd do it. He suspects he'd do anything Kaworu wants even without him saying it.
Because he's all I have, isn't it? Some guy I met two days ago.
He also knows he's going to blow it after he's done.
Because once he finds out what I really am, he's going to leave. Once the pathetic veneer I managed to throw up to hide who I really am falls, he's going to see what garbage I really am. Even more worthless than the act I put on. And that'll be that. Two days will be all I had. I'm not going to lie or act, because I know I can't to him. I think I realized this awhile ago. I'd never. To everyone else, but not to him.
Shinji takes in a deep breath, like he's going to do something painful.
"I hate my parents."
"I know it sounds childish, but it's the way things are. Ever since I was a kid I didn't like them. They... Did a lot of things to me. I can't remember all of them. They beat me a lot. Yelled at me a lot. Insulted me a lot. And through a dozen different ways told me I was was a disappointment. Sometimes by outright saying I'll amount to nothing and I'm a failure. Others through little ways, by saying all the little ways I've failed, like at sports or studies or how I was a lazy good for nothing. Or comparing me to other people. That was a fun one. Whenever we were at dinners with their friends, their friends would talk about all their children's achievements and successes. My parents would be noticeably painful and silent about me. Until one of their friends would ask how I was doing out of politeness, and they would quickly gloss over it. Everyone knew of course, and I would hang my head and look down at my food."
"But I could've taken all that. I mean, I've always known that I'm a disappointment, ah-hah. It was the beatings which were truly the worst. They would lock me in the room with them. A little click that sounded the end. I can't remember why anymore, honestly. There were just so many of them, and I was so scared, in my mind they all sort of just melded together into one big painful memory. I think it was because I disobeyed them. Or I failed them. Or I did something wrong. They would hit me with a lot of things. Canes, hangars, their hands. Sometimes they would grab my wrists so I couldn't run away. I would just be bawling my eyes out, at first begging them to stop, then just keeping quiet afterwards. It's funny. My mind would be so disoriented and... Soaked in fear that I would start thinking all these crazy things. Like that someone would come in and save me. Make it all end. Take me away. Or that I would run away from it all somehow. I was in a locked apartment and the walls were too thick for anyone else to hear even if they did care. It really was a ludicrous fantasy."
Tears start to well up in Shinji's eyes, pooling and threatening dangerously to overflow from the sides and drip down his cheeks in an embarrassing hot mess.
"I was a lonely kid of course. I wasn't good at school. At anything. I was rubbish there and reminded of it at every test. I hated it. Being the worst, the failure. I didn't have much, or any, friends at school either. The teacher used to tell my parents that I needed to socialize more. I would just sit in the library and read books. Lots of books. It was nice in them. Things weren't so bad in the books. They were quite good in them actually. I forgot that my life existed, that I existed, for awhile. I don't know why I didn't have any friends. I didn't feel like talking to anyone. All their laughing and their... Sharing about themselves was so alien to me. I don't like to talk about myself. I don't talk to anyone about anything but a small portion of myself. The less humiliating portion. Save myself some face, although I think it was pretty pointless because they all hated me anyway."
"My parents would drop me off at school, then I would go back home myself. They both worked, so when I got home I had a few peaceful hours before they got home. I mostly just sat there. Sometimes I read a book. Didn't do much. Didn't know what to do. But the hours would creep by, and I would watch with a slow dread as the hand ticked down to the time they would return home. Sometimes they just ignored me, which were the better nights, and sometimes they didn't. But even if they left me alone, I was stressed just being in the same house as them. I would feel anxious. Listless. I couldn't think and I couldn't enjoy doing anything. Then came bedtime. It was a little better because they wouldn't bother me once I crawled into bed. I would shut the door, turn off the lights and crawl into bed. I slept facing the wall, because that way I didn't face them."
"The peace didn't last too long. Alone and in the dark, I would remember all the awful things they did to me. And I would remember how awful I am. Without my senses constantly observing the outside world I drowned in my own memories, which were almost all awful. The human brain, ever so wonderfully, remembers the most emotionally intense events the clearest and best and retains it the longest. I think it's great for other people because they probably remembered things like that birthday party where everyone showed up and had a blast. All I remembered was the time I was beat to a crying pulp because I screwed up a test or broke a rule. All that pain in wonderful HD. I would feel as I did then, all the fear and sadness and hopelessness. Then I would start crying. Some nights were better, I wouldn't even cry at all. Some nights were much worse. I would cry and cry until I got tired and fell asleep. Then I would wake up, dragging myself to a much too early time for school, wash my tear stained face and slowly eat my miserable breakfast feeling like shit, knowing I had another eight hours of that mind numbing hell before I got back home again."
"That was my childhood. Years and years of that. To handle it all I eventually learned to dampen my emotions. Don't feel anything. Suppress my fear, my grief, my sadness, my anger. It was the only way I could survive. My best moments were those when I just felt nothing. Just a sort of grey, monotonous despair. I couldn't help it sometimes and I hated it. When they yelled at me. When people were angry at me. I would cry easily. I fucking hated myself. How pathetic it was."
"I hated them. When they left for trips overseas, sometimes I would fantasize about their plane crashing. They would never open that door again. How wonderful and peaceful my life would be from the on. Didn't work of course. There was a time when I wanted to please them, to hear their praise, to make them happy, but that's long gone now. And when I remember I used to be like that I feel disgusted at myself."
"I used to pass the time by daydreaming fantasies about myself. There were lots of them, but they all took on a simple theme. I would eventually discover that I had some... Hidden ability. Some skill. Something good about me that thus far hadn't shown up. My parents would just sort of fade away. And I would be cool, charismatic, likeable, clever, kind, people would love me and in a word everything that I didn't have. When I was really young and really stupid I used to think I was just waiting to bloom. I was secretly really smart or really amazing or really compassionate somehow and it was hidden in me all this time and in the future someone... Anyone... Would see it in me. But... Then I grew up and I understood there was no hidden inner beauty within me. I was just trash inside and out."
Despite his best effort, a tear spills from the corner of Shinji's eye and down his cheek. His voice starts to waver.
"There was a time when I wanted to please them, to hear their praise, to make them happy, but that's long gone now. And when I remember I used to be like that, I'm pretty disgusted. Eventually as time went on I got more... Angry. Deep down that is. Some people remarked about it. It made me more unpleasant, because to people a downtrodden loser is harmless and pitiable, but an angry malcontent is a danger. But still I was a little proud of myself. Don't get me wrong, I was still a worthless, crying piece of shit, but... In some small way I felt that I was fighting back. That I wasn't the same pathetic loser pining for their affection. It wasn't true of course, I still badly wanted it, but it was at least covered up by my anger. Like a fragile shell. A-hah, it's sad, I know. "
"Years and years of that. I tried to kill myself once. Didn't succeed, evidently. It would be a pleasant story to say someone stopped me and talked me out of it. Or that just as I was about to I found new meaning and purpose in life. That I should love myself or some banal shit like that. What actually happened is that there wasn't anywhere in the house tall enough to do what they call a full hanging, so I tried a partial hanging which was supposed to be just as fatal. But I think the damned noose I made out of this skipping rope was too thick, and I didn't pass out like I was supposed to. After an hour I just gave up."
"Eventually they got tired of me. They told me mom died, but it's all the same to me, really. They just sort of left me and sent me to stay with my teacher. If I told anyone I think they'd feel really bad for me and tell me so, how it's ever so sad my parents abandoned me. If they did I'd laugh, because it was really a wonderful thing for me. I had so much less stress and anxiety. I managed to scrape up some semblance of self that wasn't based around avoiding them and hating them. I felt in a very small way like a real person for once."
"The most embarrassing thing in this is that... I had another kind of fantasy. Not really a fantasy, it's much too short. More like an imagination. When I went to sleep, when I was sinking in the sludge of a thousand beatings and yellings, I would imagine... Someone. Someone would slip into my bed and wrap their arms around me and hold me very tightly and gently."
Line after line of tears fall from Shinji's red eyes. He can't keep it in anymore and his voice cracks.
"This person would know all I was thinking, remembering, feeling... He would know all about my past and who I was... And despite all of that he would comfort me. He told hold my hands and stroke my hair and tell me it's alright. And he would whisper into my ear those sweet words which I've never heard anyone say to me in my whole life... Those words that I want so, so very desperately to hear every moment of my pained existence. Something which is so alien and foreign that aliens from Betelgeuse are more real to me than them. Something I have no proof even exists or will exist, yet something I dream of every night."
"And I think it's that fantasy which hurts the most. Because when I dream of it, imagine the ghostly touch of his arms around me, I truly understand it doesn't exist. I get the most exquisite weltschmertz, the pain and weariness one feels when you realize how imperfect the world is. I realize there is no secret hidden beauty within me that everyone else has overlooked, no dark past that can be loved. I'm just... Really awful."
"Eventually I learned that life isn't like a movie or a song. People who are lonely, depressed and just filled with nothing but sadness and longing aren't lovable. It's not cool, or interesting, or makes people go starry eyed at your vulnerablity. The realization had always been building up in me, but it crystallized one night when I was reading a forum about dating. They were talking about what people looked for and red flags, and this one user mentioned a huge red flag: when he just awkwardly shuts up around his parents. It really fit me to a tee. It hurt a lot, that string of text sent by someone I've never met, but in a way I've always known it. Being a depressed, sad, lonely shit just means you're a depressed, sad, lonely shit. Who wants to spend time around such a person? Much less like such a person."
Shinji laughs bitterly, tears trickling into his mouth.
"I don't even like me. If it weren't a logical impossibility, I would've left me a long time ago."
Smiling madly and tears covering his face, Shinji turns his body away from Kaworu. When he speaks he speaks softly and with a deep resignation. Kaworu can't hear him as clearly.
"That's... What I want to say. You can leave, it's alright. I don't know what you were expecting from me. Maybe you were expecting someone deep and interesting, like still waters with hidden depths, but I'm really just a broken person filled with nothing but sadness and resentment. I'm sorry to have let you down. But... Thank you. You're the first person to ever ask. Well, the first person who asked who wasn't paid to do so. For someone like you to come forward to me... Everyone knows I have issues, but for some reason you wanted to get close to me. It's more than anyone else has ever done and so much more than I could ever expect. It's OK. You don't have to feel bad for me. I've gotten used to all this. I've never known anything else, actually. And I'm doing better than I've ever done. And this is the best I'll ever be. I've accepted that."
After Shinji finishes he sighs deeply, his throat is dry and his eyes are red. He hears Kaworu get up from his futon. He hears his feet shuffle to the door and hears the door open slightly then slide close with a click.
Shinji was mentally expecting this, but when it actually happens he can't help himself. He starts sobbing, quietly at first, but he can't stop himself as it audibly escapes his throat. Plaintive, sobbing moans. Incoherently begging him not to go. He quickly, instinctively pushes himself against the wall to quieten his crying. He hasn't cried this badly in a long time. He doesn't want anyone to hear him, especially Kaworu. He slams his forehead against the wall, tears streaming down his face.
All by myself again. On this lonely night. Did I think he would stay?
Suddenly he feels the weight of someone else depress his bed. Before he can react, a pair of arms slides around him from behind and holds him tightly, gently.
He hears Kaworu's wonderful voice speak beside his ear, soft and sweet.
Shinji's eyes fly open, he's so stunned he stops crying. Kaworu squeezes him a fraction tighter.
"It's alright. I'm not going to leave."
"It's alright. I've known. I've always known, but you had to tell me for yourself. I'll take it all. All your sadness. All your insecurities. All your anxiety."
Shinji tremble as he feels Kaworu pat his head. Gently at first. Then he threads his fingers through his hair, gently winding his black locks around his slender digits and stroking his head.
"K-Kaworu... To tell you the truth, I was going to avoid you. Next to you, I'm such a pathetic excuse for a person…… I feel like I'm going to go crazy when I'm with you, but, when I can't see you…… I feel so, so anxious…… And when I thought about how you shouldn't spend your life with someone as pathetic as me…… I just felt like dying…… I'm trash, Kaworu-kun," Shinji moans, tears trickling down his face.
Kaworu smiles gently. "If you can only spend your life around someone as pathetic as you, then I'll be as pathetic as you. If you're anxious because your trash, then I'll be trash too. We can both be trash together."
"But... Why would you bother with someone like me?"
Kaworu buries his head into Shinji's neck and gently nuzzles it. "Why? Because you'd do the same for me. You fall in love so easily and utterly. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit lonely too. And you're wrong, Shinji."
"You do have a lovable hidden secret. When you fall in love, you'd give yourself completely and selflessly, wouldn't you? You call it desperation, which is so very like you, Shinji-kun. But still, it's lovely."
"I know, it's a bit odd. There should be an order to how we fall in love, but there's no tim-... But now or in the future, why does it matter? I've chosen you, and I know you'll choose me."
Kaworu lovingly strokes Shinji's soft, raven hair. "I'm a word, I was born to meet you. I know I was for a long time, but now that I've actually met you, and now that you've told me what you wanted to say, I know it for certain. I truly understand and feel it with every bit of me."
Kaworu tenderly but firmly turns Shinji onto his back and crawls over him. Shinji's teary eyes widen as he sees Kaworu on all fours, looking at him. He instinctively back pedals until his head hits the headboard. He wants to run away. He doesn't want to let Kaworu see him like this, see who he really is.
Moonlight streams through the window and lights up half of Kaworu's face, catching his refined features and pale skin. Soft red bed-eyes, half lidded and sincere, look back at him. Shinji catches his reflection in those beautiful pools of ruby. Panicky, afraid, his face ugly from the tears and crying. He doesn't know how Kaworu doesn't flinch in disgust. But even through his tear blurred eyes tonight, after all that has been said, Kaworu's face is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. More breathtaking than a sky of a thousand stars, more alluring than a nuclear explosion, more comforting than a dark bed.
Slowly Kaworu crawls towards him. As he does, he whispers softly.
"You've been so alone your whole life, and so have I. I know what you want to hear, and I'm going to say it, meaning every single word. I suspected I was going to say these words to you long before you met me, and now that I've met you I'm sure I can. And I know you'll say them too. Those beautiful, wonderful words you've dreamed every night of hearing, those words you've waited your whole life to hear."
"No... Please don't... If you do..." Shinji whispers through the tears, pressing himself against the headboard as hard as he can. He's trapped as Kaworu slowly, certainly crawls towards him, until he's so close their noses are touching. Shinji is hopelessly trapped by his gaze as Kaworu's soft lips slowly mouths those words.
"I love you."
He leans down and gives Shinji a loving kiss on his forehead.
Shinji just breaks down. All his fear, his sadness, his loneliness, his longing, dammed over the years, explodes and he falls apart. He bawls uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face as he tackles Kaworu. He grips Kaworu's shirt like he's going to fall down an abyss if he let's go, burying his wet face into his chest. Kaworu smiles and embraces Shinji.
"I.. I..." Shinji chokes through his tears.
"I love you too, Kaworu-kun!" Shinji cries.
Kaworu smiles. Both of them fall onto the bed, Shinji tucked into Kaworu's chest, tears of joy streaking down his face as Kaworu holds him. Kaworu, one hand holding Shinji, the other gently stroking his head. Kaworu begins to hum The Ode To Joy, the same tune as when they first met.
Kaworu hums the tune until the beloved in his arms falls asleep. He kisses him goodnight and holding him tightly falls asleep.
Pale moonlight falls on the two intertwined boys. Even asleep each of them holds tightly onto the other; after finding what they've been looking for all these years, neither of them wants to let go.
Shinji's consciousness stirs.
Another night and I'm still alive. Damn.
His usual wake-up thoughts are interrupted by some strange lurking memories that haven't quite reached the forefront of his consciousness. He frowns mentally.
I feel so... Warm? So safe? This is weird. Are these the words that I should use? I've never felt the slightest urge to use them except to note their absence... I'm not even sure if these are the right words. Did I take a shit ton of opiates last night? Maybe they're still inside of me. No, they don't make me feel remotely like this.
His body feels warm and sleepy. Not sleepy in the way he's used to where he's so tired and sleep deprived his arms feel like lead. It's sleepy in the way where it feels like his body has so been warmly and cozily coddled all night in has turned into a soft, contented mess.
He feels something heavy weighing on him.
Was my blanket this heavy?
He feels his arms wrapped around something.
My boister is so shapely today. And feels so soft. And smells so nice. I should get more of this fabric softener.
His whole body stiffens as he feels something touch the back of his head. Or more accurately, it stretches itself then relaxes. His eyes roll under his eyelids, and embarrassingly he gurgles a little. Something is stroking the back of his head very gently.
Hhhnnmmm, what is this? Who is this? Wait, who? I'm in bed with someone!
Then he remembers. A name rings through his head, freezing his thoughts solid and turning his blood ice cold.
That single point connects his brain. Memories of last night come flooding back. What he said. How he cried. His eyes shoot open and freeze there, twitching slightly. They're caught, enraptured by the sight of a pale red-eyed boy lying on his side, looking at him with a soft smile as gentle sunlight diffuses off his snowy white face.
"Ohayou, Shinji-kun," Kaworu says softly.
Shinji stares in disbelief.
I'm scared, aren't I? I know how to deal with loneliness. With having nothing. I'm used to it. To have someone as wonderful as him, it can't possibly last. And I don't think I could take losing him.
Kaworu tilts his head. As if reading Shinji's thoughts, he intertwines his hand with Shinji's reassuringly.
"It's okay. I'm here now," he says softly, pulling Shinji close. Shinji can't take it anymore. He grabs onto Kaworu's shirt and buries his head in his chest, crying softly. He can't believe it.
So many years... So many nights... All alone. Could this be real?
Kaworu doesn't move. He doesn't run away. He stays there, stroking the back of Shinji's head as his tears stain his shirt.
"I'm sorry, did I say something wrong to make you cry?"
"N-no," Shinji sniffles. "I'm not crying because I'm sad. I'm crying because I'm happy. So, so happy."
Shinji doesn't see Kaworu smile with utter contentment as he gently pats his head, as if holding the crying boy and comforting him is all he ever wants to do. Shinji stops abruptly and apologizes, wiping away his tears and slowly getting his choked up voice under control.
As much as they don't want to, the two of them eventually roll out of bed. In front of the bathroom mirror, Kaworu helps Shinji wash the dried up tears on his face, washing his hands in the sink and running them over his face. As Kaworu's slender digits gently caress the curves of his face, it's such a sweet and sympathetic act that Shinji can't help but have a dopey, embarrassed smile on his face.
"Ah, is Shinji-kun enjoying this?"
"You should be doing this. After all, you're the one who made me cry tears of joy like this."
Kaworu let's out a puff of laughter. "I'm sorry."
"You can make up for it later."
They go to the dining room. Shinji refuses to let Kaworu do any chores. Kaworu protests, but Shinji presses him into a seat and starts making breakfast for the both of them. Kaworu sits down and rests his cheek on one hand, watching Shinji as he puts on an apron and make breakfast. A bare light bulb dangles between them over the table.
Looking around at the kitchen, Shinji feels a creeping sense of embarrassment. It's a cramped, old, dull room, with paint flaking off the grey cement walls and rusty exposed pipes sticking out of the shadowy depths of appliances. Brown rust lines stretch down from ancient gaps at random intervals and it's all unflatteringly exposed under the glare of a dusty light bulb hanging by a black rubber wire over the table.
He never thought about the state of the kitchen before. In fact, he almost felt at home in a run down, decrepit place. After all, it matched how he felt. But now that Kaworu is here, he feels acutely that it's far too poor a place for Kaworu to be.
Just like me.
He opens a cupboard and pushes away all the cheap bagged tea he usually has. Instead he removes a carefully wrapped box from the back of the cupboard. He opens it and pours a carefully measured amount into a steaming boil. It's his best quality matcha, expensive powdered green tea that he once bought but never felt he was worth drinking. With a chasen he whisks the tea into a dark green liquid.
He cracks open several eggs and separates the whites and yolk. Adding some sugar, he whisks the whites until it's a thick merengue and stiff peaks form. With the golden yolks he adds sugar, flour, baking powder and milk, whisking them until it's a pale frothy batter. He sprinkles a hint of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla on top. Carefully, he ladles the batter into the merengue, stirring throughout to make a light foamy batter. He places thinly sliced butter on a non-stick pan and pours small discs of the stuff all around. When the smell of caramelization rises from the pan, he expertly flips the discs to reveal the toasty golden brown side.
Shinji hums as he fixes breakfast and Kaworu smiles. There's a little extra something in the way Shinji flips the pancake to pouring the tea. He doesn't want to disappoint. When the pancakes are little small, fluffy golden brown discs, he flips them evenly onto two plastic plates. Remarkably, everything is going so well for Shinji that he finds a half full can of whipped cream and blueberries to put on the pancakes.
A cup of steaming green tea and a vibrantly colored plate of fat pancakes slides to Kaworu. His fork spears downwards and he pops a little piece of cream and pancake into his mouth.
"Ah, your cooking is wonderful, Shinji-kun."
Shinji blushes. He scratches a reddened cheek in embarrassment. "You'd say that no matter how terrible it was, Kaworu."
"I'm not just saying it to make you happy. I'd never lie to you, Shinji," he says earnestly. "For example, the way you dress is terrible."
Shinji looks stunned for a moment. Kaworu is afraid that he might say something wrong, but Shinji suddenly bursts into laughter. "You must help me fix it then!"
More quietly he says, "Now that I'm with you, I can't be seen by other people hanging around like a hideously plain teen, can I?"
Kaworu smiles. "You can dress however you like around me, Shinji."
Shinji grins sheepishly.
Is this how eating a meal with someone you like feels? It's great. I can't believe I'm actually using that word without sarcasm. It's my first time eating with someone since that dinner with Misato last week. But I'm talking to someone and he's... He's... Listening! And... And he's replying! Happily! I don't have to be anxious that what I say next, or worry about what to do when he doesn't reply.
He picks at his food, stabbing off small pieces of fluffy pancake and swishing it around in whipped cream. As he does, he sneaks glances at the boy across the table. He wants to just sit and stare at Kaworu. Watch every little movement of his hand and every twtich is his face.
But that would be fucking weird. He's been cool with how you are so far, but let's not push it.
"This is really good. How do you get the pancakes so thick yet light?"
"Oh, that... You just whip the yolks and sugar into a stiff merengue first instead of mixing everything into the batter. So when you mix it together, the batter has lots of air inside."
"That you can do something like this, it's amazing, Shinji."
Shinji rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Not really... I just got the recipe from the Internet..."
"But still, to be able to make something as delicious as this..."
"It's nothing compared to what Kaworu-kun can do. Your lunch was much better and a much more complex dish!"
"Still, it takes skill to put this together. How do you do it so well?"
"Ah, it's not hard! I just use a hand mixer on the merengue until it's really stiff. Then I slowly mix it in so I don't lose the air. And when I fry it, I don't use too much butter, else one side will be cooked differen-..."
Shinji blinks. He realizes Kaworu is leaning his cheek on one hand, and smiling slightly as he listens intently.
He's listening. I just realized. He's listening. To me. He's always been listening. Thats why I fell for him, isn't it? Good gods, since when was the last time someone listened to me? Even my psychologist, the damned cunt paid palmfuls of cash by the hour to listen, just nods and reads questions off a list. I always listen to people. Even when they don't talk to me. All that incessant chatter I don't understand why they spout yet want so badly to be a part of. And even those parts about me they talk behind my back. All those little jabs at me. How weird I am. How much I screw up. How I'm such a loner. Well I never wanted to be one! Listening to all those people laughing at me. I hate when my name is called. It's always because I fucked something up. Or they're scolding me for something. Or mocking me behind my back. I pretend I can't hear because it's easier that way. But when they talk I always listen when they speak. And not just that. I ask questions. I keep asking questions. No matter how hard it is or how anxious I get. When we get put together for projects. When we sit together. Trying to get to know people. Befriend them. Show interest in them. Hoping maybe they'll do the same. But they don't. My words are like a boot stepping on dogshit to them. Soft, annoying and best ignored.
But he does. Since the start, he's listened to me. So utterly and completely. More than that, he asks about me. Almost non-stop. And he carefully thinks and replies to every word I say. Oh gods, he's listened. Every word, attentively and happily. Seeing me as something more than some social dogshit that they had the misfortune to step in. I... I mean something to him. I can feel him, interested in his gentle sweet way in dogshit like me. Oh gods, why?
Tears well up in Shinji's eyes. For the first time in his miserable life, the boy who doesn't even want to exist feels his existence acknowledged by another soul. Listening to him. Making him feel like he exists. More than that, that his existence his wanted. That his thoughts were more than just random irrelevant sparks.
Kaworu was interested.
He was listening.
He wanted to listen.
He was watching every bit of him with a cat like attentiveness. Every little thing of his existence being noted by him, and he wasn't disgusted. For once it makes Shinji feel alive. As if he were really living, and not in the grey landscape he muddled through everyday. Part of him wanted to hide his shitty self in a corner, not wanting Kaworu to see his pathetic shitty self and his banal worthless existence. But another part yearned to bask in the warm glow of his kind attention, his ever present caring gaze. He feels like... Like... He isn't a a chore. He isn't worthless. He means something.
It was such a small thing, asking him about how he makes pancakes, but because it was such a small thing it meant all the more to Shinji. That someone like Kaworu could be so interested in such an insignificant bit of an uninteresting person like him. Asking just to hear him talk.
I don't even like to hear myself talk. I sound awful.
The two of them sit under the dangling bulb that lights up their little room. Just the two of them. It's tiny and it's cheap and it's run down, but right now, there is no place Shinji would rather be. The breakfast he made is excellent but he picks at it. He doesn't want this breakfast to end.
I've never been acknowledged by anyone else, have I? Even myself. I don't want me to exist. Someone as shitty as me. But now I know how it feels like.
Shinji smiles sheepishly. Deep down in the doubting, endlessly self depreciating depths of his soul, he knows something with an absolute conviction that he has never felt before. And it makes him feel so certain than all his other doubts melt away into irrelevance.
He knows that with Kaworu is where he belongs.
Shinji locks the door to the apartment and Kaworu watches him intently while he fiddles with the old, rusted key. Kaworu watches Shinji a lot, with a certain amused gentle attentiveness, like a vet carefully watching an injured puppy limp around. Always ready to intervene if he hurt himself.
The early rays of dawn are breaking, shining over the railing onto the two schoolboys in their short collared shirts and long black pants outside the door.
"Stupid lock," Shinji grunts. With a hard hank, he finally manages to pull it out, his whole body twisting and jerking back. He trios over his own feet tipping towards Kaworu. Kaworu catches him in his arms, laughing soflty as Shinji is buried head first into his chest.
"Hmm, falling for me again, are you?"
Buried in his chest, the look of embarrassed outrage Shinji gives Kaworu with his upturned eyes is too much. Kaworu can't help but laugh.
Shinji thinks about getting a little angry, but Kaworu's arms tighten a fraction around him and he can't resist. He gives up with a soft sigh and buries his head in Kaworu's chest.
"Do... Do you want to walk to school together?" Shinji says, his voice muffled by Kaworu's shirt.
"Shinji, I have to go."
Kaworu can't see Shinji's face, but he feels Shinji mentally hurt himself a little again.
"It's OK. I understand that you don't want to be seen with me."
"It's not like that."
"It's fine. It really is. You have a reputation to keep up. To be seen with someone like me, and to think of what people would say if, you know... Two boys... Held hands..."
Kaworu grabs Shinji's hands tightly. "That's irrelevant. They are all irrelevant. Please believe me Shinji - I really have to go to NERV to do something."
Shinji believes him. He really does.
"I believe you, Kaworu-kun. Will... Will I see you later?"
"Yeah... You will."
Shinji looks up and smiles. It's all he wants to hear. "I can't wait."
Shinji leaves Kaworu's arms with a sigh. "I'll see you later, okay?" Shinji says, walking away from Kaworu. He doesn't take two steps when Kaworu rushes towards him and hugs him from behind.
"Shinji... I just want to say..."
Kaworu's grip tightens. "Thank you. For everything. And I love you."
Shinji blushes. "You're weird, Kaworu-kun. And saying... Saying something like that in public. If people were around..."
Shinji wiggles around and gives Kaworu a kiss on his pale neck. "I love you too."
The pair separate, Shinji heading towards a brightly lit stairwell that went to school and Kaworu walking the other way towards a shadowy lift that would take him into the depths of NERV headquarters.
Shinji walks to school with something like a spring in his step. But because he has never done it before, it's an awkward sort of half hopping, half shuffle. But he feels so pleasant he doesn't care that he's making his trip longer and occasionally kicking his foot into the random things sticking out of the floor.
What a strange feeling happiness is. Not having that slight sinking dread of every coming second of existence is so queer. I don't think I've thought about killing myself for the whole morning.
He kicks open the rusty back gate of his school. People pass him as he walks to class. More than pleasant, he feels... Confident. Like he doesn't care what other people think of him. That the quiet slight disdain he feels radiating off everyone else like a silent aura telling him to stay away, that his existence is merely tolerated and not actually wanted, doesn't exist anymore.
He passes a girl from his class.
Ah, I remember you. You lost your pen that one time and when your friend suggested borrowing one from me, you refused to borrow it because I was 'that quiet weirdo'. Also last week you suggested to this boy to cut in front of me in the canteen because you thought it was funny that I wouldn't do anything and giggled when he did.
As he walks past her, he smiles a broad grin and says good morning. The girl is caught off guard that Shinji of all people had a wild grin on his face and was greeting her, she returns the greeting a split second later.
Actually, he still feels it. Feels their myraid of lowly perceptions of him. Looking down not so imperceptibly at him, the mild kid who's always eating by himself. But he doesn't care now. He hums as he walks through all their slightly hostile auras, no longer with his head bowed. Instead, he grins through all their half turns away, all their slipping glances.
None of you like me, do you? Ah hah, that's nice.
Shinji has less than a low opinion of their dislike. He doesn't have an opinion at all. Yesterday he would've felt anxious. And angry. And sad. And pathetic. And scared. But today, he simply notes their feelings with a grin.
Hmm, so you don't like me. I know.
He even feels a slight curiosity as to exactly what they think of him.
I think there are gradations of their distaste. Some look down on me as weak and submissive and an easy target for bullying. Others, a sort of exhausted pity, where they have given up and just occasionally treat me with kindness but want nothing to do with me when they're tired. Who knows? Maybe I'll find out more as time goes on.
He whistles all the way to his table, slinging his bag onto the floor and unpacking his things. Something slips out from his between his books which he quickly shoves into his pencil box. It's a bloody stained pen knife.
Shit, I must've accidentally pushed it in between the pages of the books in my drawer that night Kaworu came over.
As he's settling in, he overhears a gaggle of the popular girls talking in their annoying, high pitched whine. Well, popular for him anyway. Although relative to him almost everyone was popular. He ranked only slightly above the janitor in the social pecking order of the school. He would've ignored their inane chatter, but one word made his ears prick up.
"What? No way!"
"Yes way! He totally walked me back home at night and we talked all the way!"
"What! How did you even meet him? We didn't see you leave school with him!"
"I met him at my favorite bookstore! Turns out he goes there too!"
You stupid lying cunt. You mouth the words you read.
"Oooohhh, that's so romantic! What happened next?"
"He told me he thought it was so cool that I loved reading books, unlike all the other girls who just read fashion magazines and put on makeup."
There's a fashion mangazine sticking out of your bag right now.
"Then one thing led to the other and we ended up talking all the way back to my place."
One thing led to another is such a lazy phrase for people who don't know how to be succinct. It tells the other person nothing. One thing led to another, are you describing the Great Wall Of China? I suppose whoever first wrote it intended to convey a sense of intangible chemistry and understanding you couldn't put your finger on, but really it's just lazy. And now in a lazy attempt to sound interesting even lazier people are using this phrase.
"Did... Did something happen? Oh gods, don't tell me!"
The girl giggled. "Well, I'm not going to tell..."
Their chatter grinds on Shinji. He's good at ignoring things and keeping quiet. Things people say. Especially about him. He's done it for years. But for Kaworu... Shinji breaks his silence.
"Yes, because it never happened. Kaworu was with me last night," Shinji says firmly. The girls turn incredulously towards Shinji. At his loud, clear tone that they would never imagine he has.
Naturally, the clique is immediately annoyed when their conversation is butted in by someone they didn't invite to talk. When they see it's Shinji, their annoyance turns into a sort of nasty patronizing anger. After all, who was he do butt in like this? And to openly contradict their leader? Looking bad in front of the other girls, she had no choice but to not only talk back, but embarrass and humiliate Shinji to for suggesting such a thing.
"You shouldn't talk when grown ups are talking. Why don't you keep quiet like you always do?"
"He was with me," Shinji insists over the giggles of the rest.
"Ah hah hah, what would someone like him be doing with you? Other than stepping over you, of course."
"He -," Shinji starts angrily. But he halts when he realizes he is reviled by the idea of telling this girl what happened last night. He couldn't, this was for only him and Kaworu to know!
Seeing the conflict flash across his face, the girl pounces. "Oh, I get it. He probably talked to you once and you have this weird idea that he likes you."
"You -" Shinji says, his face turning red at the implication.
The girl shrugs. "But why would you want to think that?"
She covers her mouth in mock surprise. "Unless... You like like him."
"Ooooo, that would make sense. Shinji couldn't get with any girl, so he has no choice and becomes a cut-sleeve*," another girl offers.
"But Kaworu isn't a damn cut-sleeve like him, why would he think that?"
Shinji grinds his teeth. His hand unconsciously wraps around the pen knife.
"He's probably daydreamed it. He's always staring blankly into space or buried in some damn book."
"Yeah, daydreaming a world where he isn't an autistic retard."
"Then his schizoid ass starts to break down and he can't differentiate between his fantasy and reality."
No one notices the click of the pen knife extending from its plastic housing.
"What was your gay fantasy like? Lots of kissing and smooching? Or did you spend the night pushing your tips together?"
The rest of the girls burst into laughter.
"Shut up, you airheaded slut. Try to listen to what I'm saying above the whistling of wind through one ear and out the other - Kaworu would never like someone as banally attention seeking as you," Shinji hisses.
The girl recoils for a second, the surprise that Shinji would fight back against all historical evidence flashing across her face. Then she hits back.
"I'm hot, popular and everyone loves me. Even if Kaworu were a damned cut-sleeve like you, think about it - would he really like an ugly retarded fuck like you?"
His fist curls. Then the girl notices the pen knife in his other hand, and the worst possible thing happens.
"A knife! Shinji's got a knife! He's lost it, he keeps saying he's gay and that Kaworu slept with him! Help, he's going to cut me up and kill me! Stop him!" she shrieks in an alarming panicky screech.
Whether her fear was genuine or a ploy to turn everyone against him, Shinji couldn't tell. But unfortunately for him she has a loud, piercing voice and it sounds utterly authentic. It echoes down the hallways, so loud that even students from other classes stick their head out.
Shinji's eyes swivel around the class, where twenty pairs are staring back at him in shock. Then his eyes swivel to his hands, when he finally notices. It's holding a pen knife in a shaking fist, an extended blood stained blade trembling angrily in the air.
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh... SHIT.
"No, it's not what you think it is!"
The red isn't blood. It's... Ketchup? A leaking red pen? No, I can't lie and mumble my way out of this one. She's already made me the enemy with that scream, and all of her friends will back her up. Now everyone thinks I'm going to pull a Columbine, and godamn do I look like Patrick Bateman like this. And if anyone looks, they'll find that it is really is blood. And I can't exactly tell them I'm a suicidal loner and that blood is mine. Even if by some miracle they believe me, how would I explain me holding it and yelling? They'll strap me to a chair and call the police just to be sure. I've got five seconds before they unfreeze. Ten before I'm tackled to the ground and have my ribs kicked in. I can't run past all of them fast enough.
A gear clicks in his mind. A ridiculous thought. A Hail Mary pass. A retarded idea. A Corbomite maneuver. Something so stupid he might as well kill himself now. But he thinks that he has nothing to lose at this point. It's not like they could have an even lower opinion of him. He takes in a deep breath.
"She's right! The faggot's got a butterknife! It's got jam on it and he can't get it off! We're all going to die! Look behind, a nigger is stealing your bike!" Shinji shrieks, waving his hands.
For the first time in his life, Shinji is glad he has spent years browsing that convoluted septic tank of an Internet forum, saying werid things and deliberately acting like a retard for no particularly well explained reason. Because now, it meant no one in the room could out-sperg him.
The brains in the room grind to a halt. Actions and behavior so strange from the mainstream that like a maliciously crafted piece of data, processing it makes their brain shut down and reboot. No one has dealt with anything like this before, and they don't know how. Just for a second before they realize the trick and discard spergy information.
"Run away! He's gonna kill us all with his dubs! We can't check 'em if we're dead! Desu desu desu desu!" he screams, pushing forward through the crowd like a visible, physical version of autism.
Some people actually turn around to check their bikes. Others step away to run. The rest get out of Shinji's way because they don't want to stand in the way of a screeching autist brandishing a knife. He heard and outraged yell and a hand close around his shoulder. Shinji's head snaps back. Toji is evidently quicker than the others. Shinji manages to twist out of his grip.
Shinji runs out of the room. He doesn't stop as he passes by a fire alarm and slams his fist into the red box. The whole school explodes into a cacophony of screams, ringing fire alarms and sprinkling water.
Shinji runs randomly down the stairs and darts into a bathroom. He clicks the door shut and sits on the toilet, his heart pounding so hard he feels it. Water streams down his face as the school descends into chaos.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I can't go back now. That fucking cunt! Couldn't you go back to bragging about some imaginary boyfriend you had from another country? Fuck, I can never come back here! God I was a hated piece of shit before but this is a new low even for me! I can't ever have a remotely normal conversation with anyone here every again! I'm going to be known was that quiet kid who had a psychotic break and tried to cut up the school! It'll be on my record forever!
The sprinklers are soaking him. Matted locks of his wet hair dangle in front of blurry eyes.
Shit! My record! Once Misato hears about this, there's no way I'm not looking at the rest of my life inside a padded room, every piece of food I eat spiked with psych meds. Fuck, she's probably already been thinking about sending me to a mental hospital, but I've just booked myself a fucking bed there for ten years. God I hate this piece of shit school and everyone in it, but at least I could come here.
Gods, all my classmates... My acquaintances... Those people I said hi to occasionally and didn't get totally scorned by. Now they all think I'm loony! Shit, if only I'd kept my mouth shut! None of this would've happened.
Godamnit why did Kaworu have to go... It'll all be fine if he were here. I'd be fine with everything with him... Shit, what would he think of me once he heads about this. He can't... He can't be with a loony. He wouldn't.
A horrific image flashes in his mind. Him, in a straitjacket, seated on a stainless steel bench in a room strewn with them. Across a scratched metal table is Kaworu. He's holding a small cake he baked. It's the meeting room for a mental institution. Kaworu comes to visit him. He's the only one who does. He's done so every week for years. Smiling happily as he listens to Shinji ramble on about which lunatic tried to stab him this week. Barely managing to make out the stuttering, intermittently loud and soft sentences that a red-eyed and crazed Shinji babbles. Trying his best to understand and say something sympathetic to a boy who spends his waking hours trying to find the hardest padded bit of wall to cave his skull in. What little thin frayed social skills he have that ties him to society, to normal life, little problems and interests like traffic or food, eroding as he's locked in the giggling cement hallways so unfit for human habitation it's only permitted because it's inhabitants don't notice. He would listen to Kaworu talk about things like reading books and watching movies, his incomprehension growing each week as what little memories he has of his previous life are blankly drowned by an ocean of anti-psychotic medication.
He imagines Kaworu is the only thing that kept him going. The voice he tries to hear as he clutches his heads to shut out the incoherent, insane ramblings of madmen he was slowly becoming more like every week. The name he screams as the scientific community tries out some new and revolutionary form of therapeutic electro-shock treatment on him. A face he sees behind his eyelids every night as he goes to sleep, sobbing quietly in a corner of his empty padded room as he dreams that Kaworu were there with him. A beautiful shade of white in a grey landscape.
He can see his spirit would rise the closer visitation day comes. His broken soul slowly pulling itself together. He would try and practice to speak properly so he wouldn't embarrass himself. Smooth down his tangled hair. Try and think of things to talk about. And an hour with him would be like heaven. The only time when he feels human again.
But then that hour would inexorably pass by. Every tick of the clock slicing away a second spent with Kaworu. He would smile happily at the end, not wanting to make a scene or to make Kaworu worry. But when the door clicked shut, he would sob and break down, screaming and begging for him to come back as huge guards wrestled and dragged him away from the rectangle of locked metal that stood between him and happiness. As he passes by open bunks he would lunge at them. For the hard metal bed frames absent from his room. Because once he bashed his head hard enough against the rounded edge of a bed post, Kaworu would be free to leave him. To stop being dragged down by his worthless existence and live his own.
Shit, stop thinking like this. Calm down. It's OK. We still have Kaworu. Nothing else matters. Nothing else has ever mattered.
Even in this godawful mess, of screaming students and blood freezing fear, just thinking of his name makes feel better. Calms down his pounding heart. But then Shinji gulps.
The night I first met Kaworu... I... I had just stopped taking the meds Misato was slipping me, didn't I?
He remembers the white pills tumbling out of their orange prescription canister and plopping into the water, sinking to the bottom and flushing away.
What... What if they were some kind of schizophrenia medication? Something I had to take or my condition would get even worse?
The memories of Misato insistently making him promise to take the pills and checking if he did floats up in his mind. Unusually insistent. So insistent Shinji feels a little good because he thinks she cared for his health so much when she didn't give much of a damn about anything else.
Maybe they... They weren't meant to make me feel better, but to keep me from falling apart...
Oh no... Gods no... This... This is just a coincidence.
A coincidence, like how I just happened to wander into Kaworu after getting beaten up and getting lost?
Shinji screams and slams his forehead into the stall's door so hard the whole plastic frame shakes.
No! No! No!
With each thought he slams his head against the door.
Shit, that stupid slut can't be right! I didn't just imagine it all! I mean, what about all the people who saw me...
Shinji almost throws up as bile bubbles up his throat. His eyes widen in horror.
Oh gods, I've never talked to him in front of everyone else. Beside the lake... During lunch... Last night... He spontaneously shows up when I'm all alone... When there's no one else around to witness it. And when he's in class, he never even looks at me...
Tears of panic and confusion well up in his eyes.
But... But I saw him before he at the lake before he was introduced to everyone. Unless... My mental state was so bad I created memories of him the day before he was introduced...
I thought he always approached me when we were alone to make me feel more comfortable, but what if...
No! No! No!
Shinji punctuates each mental scream with a slam of his fist onto the door. The upper hinge snaps and the door pitches forward slightly. Tears slides down his cheeks, mingling with the sprinkler's spray, sliding down and dripping off his chin. He can't tell whether the sprinkler or his crying is wetting his face more.
I couldn't have imagined it. I couldn't! It's real, it has to be! If it's not, that means... That means... No one... No one... I'm all alone again...
I can't... I can't take it anymore.
He clutches his head with his hands hards so hard his fingernails are biting into his scalp.
I'm... I'm going to go mad.
Shinji looks up and sets his jaw.
I can't go back anymore. I have to find him. Regardless, it all leads to him.
He pushes the hanging door open. Outside the toilet, the school is in chaos. Students are screaming about a knife attack by a crazy student and a fire breaking out. Teachers are yelling to keep calm and go down in an orderly manner, but their yelling is just adding to the confusion. The sprinklers drench, muffles and blur everything. It all seems to unreal. Like another world was behind that door.
I can't go by there. Too many people.
He turns to the toilet window. He's two storeys high. Three days ago, he wouldn't have had the confidence to jump off a high place no matter how much he wanted to. The height looks like nothing until one is perched on its edge. But now, he doesn't hesitate. He shoves the pen knife into his pocket. Stepping onto the ledge and lowering himself down as much as he can before dropping off.
Shinji falls almost three times his height. One foot lands first with a nasty crack. Shinji cries out as he stumbles. He grits his teeth. His right shin is creaking with agony, every throbbing second making him feel like falling to the ground, clutching it and screaming.
I'm about to find out if the best night of my life was even real, and if there's a single soul on this Earth who loves me, who makes my existence worthwhile. It's laughable how my body thinks this pathetic pricking it's throwing up is going to stop me.
Shinji runs towards the rusty gate and yanks it open for the last time. He turns around and looks at his high school.
Three years... Three years I've known these people, tried so hard to get them to like me. I've failed miserably, but in the span of ten minutes I've dropped in their eyes from quiet and pathetic to Patrick Bateman. Three years of all that anxiety. Of a hundred little downcast sighs and heart aching failures. Never accepted. Never a good moment. Did I mean anything to anyone? No. So long, assholes.
With a grimace, turns his back to his school and he runs to the nearest NERV elevator.
Through the pain that goes down all the way to the marrow of his shin bone, Shinji eventually realizes that something is wrong. He doesn't notice because it's been blaring before he was out of earshot of the school's sirens forming one long alarm, but now he does.
NERV's klaxons are also blaring.
He stares at one of the red lamps revolving, painting a spinning red hourglass shape on the ceiling.
An angel? Now, of all times?
A group of men in grey overalls, yelling and rushing to somewhere with urgency, stop and turn to face him. They start yelling even louder as they rush towards him. Shinji let himself be pushed into the a node in the labyrinthe of NERV's elevator system, great big cages capable of going not just up and down but sideways, forwards and diagonally. Huge cages slam shut and the lift lurches downwards. One of the men excitedly talks into a comms panel while the others stand, evenly spaced, around Shinji in a circle. He doesn't know if it's because they're afraid or because they were trained to do so.
That stupid angel. I'm going to rip its fucking guts out, showing up at a time like this. But it also means Kaworu will be there because he's a pilot, so I don't have to look for him in this underground city. Thank God NERV hasn't learned about what happened at school. Thank God Misato hasn't.... Yet.
The cage lurches to a halt at the end of Evangelion Unit-01's bay. It's too late to change to his plugsuut. He's quickly pushed into the Eva's pod and hastily put through the pre-activation checks.
"Neural gateway interface activated..."
"Hydraulic stablizing system calibrating..."
"Internal battery at 100%..."
"Synch rate at 35% and holding..."
"Shinji, do you copy?"
"I copy, Misato."
"An angel sighting has been confirmed. Blood type blue."
"Rendezvous me with the Fifth Child and we'll fight it together."
Misato frowns slightly. Shinji's voice is different. Confident. Insistent. Like he's giving her an order.
"Well? Asuka is gone and so is Rei. That leaves the Fifth. I can't fight this angel alone. Where is he?"
"Misato, the bio-readout from Unit-01 says Shinji's shin is fractured," Maya reports from her terminal. "He must be in pain."
"What? Why the hell is his shin fractured?" Misato snaps.
"There's a report coming in," Maya said, pressing one hear to her headset as she listens intently. "It's about Shinji. Something has happened at his school."
Maya's eyes widen. "He... He..."
"That's not important right now. Shinji, you're going to have to fight the angel alone."
Kaworu turns his dark ruby eyes skyward. He's floating quietly on the air, his feet pointed slightly downward as if tip toeing. Unit-02 is suspended in the air beside him, its impossible mass floating like a feather in the enormous chute. The twisted remains of first four levels of Terminal Dogma are above him, great twisted gashes ripped through the reinforced steel and concrete doors. Jagged rims of metal point down at him from around the circumference of each gaping hole.
"You're late, Shinji-kun," Kaworu says as he detects Unit-01's presence approaching from a distance.
"No! No! No!" Shinji yells, slamming his fists into his Unit-01's toggles. "You're lying! Kaworu-kun can't be an angel!"
"It's a fact. Accept it," Misato coldly says as she watches a little blip on a screen that was Unit-01 sliding diagonally downwards on a lift towards the angel.
Shinji slides out of a vent in into the cavernous chute of Terminal Dogma. He leaps through the jagged holes, easily wide enough for a whole Evangelion, and drops in front of Kaworu.
"Kaworu-kun!" Shinji cries. He's so happy to see him again everything just melts away. All the panic and insanity and anxiety vanishes as Kaworu tilts his head and smiles at him. Unit-01 lunges forward towards the beautiful youth. Somehow despite floating in midair, it can run forward.
"Shinji, stay back!" Misato yells. "We don't know what it's capable of!"
"Kaworu!" Shinji cries out again. Shinji frowns as he realizes he can't hug him like this, so Unit-01's hands reach out underneath Kaworu to let him stand on its palms.
"Konichiwa, Shinji-kun," Kaworu says, landing lightly on Unit-01's palm.
Misato slams her hand on the table and yells, "Shinji, now's your chance! Crush it!"
The trio breaks through the fifth layer with an ear splitting boom.
"Angel has broken through the fifth layer!"
"That's not your classmate! That's a monster!"
Shinji looks at the boy in his palms. As serene and beautiful as ever, radiating an icy cool presence that calms Shinji down. A little smile that makes his heart pound like a drum then relaxes into a gentle pulsing. Beautiful deep red eyes that smile with him and makes Shinji feel like everyone else in the world has left.
The only person who has ever loved him...
"Is it true, Kaworu?"
Another boom echoes in the cavernous chute.
"Sixth layer breached!"
Kaworu's smile fades just by a fraction, the upturned corners of his mouth dipping slightly. Kaworu nods.
"Yes. I am an angel. The 17th and last angel. The Final Messenger to humanity."
"Shinji, you don't have much time!"
"I am also Adam, the progenitor of all angels, mortal enemy of Lilim."
"Shinji, listen to me carefully. If it reaches the lowest level, it'll -"
"Eight layer breached!"
"... I see."
"Shinji, it'll kill us all, it'll be the end if -"
Shinji flicks the comms off. He fiddles with a series of switches. With a pneumatic hiss, his pod extends from the back of Unit-01's neck. Shinji leaps out onto Unit-01's head and makes his unsteady way down to its shoulders to its hand.
Misato's voice blares from recessed speakers in the chute. "Shinji, it's tricking you! It's pretending to be your friend so you won't kill it! You have to, else it'll kill yo-"
A slight shimmer fills the air at the first torn level of Terminal Dogma.
"A.T. field detected! It's the strongest we've ever seen! Everything - matter, electricity, electromagnetic radiation, even light - is blocked out!" Maya says urgently. "Even... Even Terminal Dogma's self destruct is unresponsive!"
Misato looks in horror at the screen. The blip that was Shinji has vanished.
"It's the end... Fourth Impact... We're all going to die..." Shingeru croaks.
No one in the room can contradict him.
"It's all up to Shinji now."
"I've blocked everyone else out. It's just the two of us now."
Shinji stands on Unit-01's wrist. Kaworu stands just a few meters in front. He slowly, shyly walks forward, his head hanging. It's like he's in class again, called up to the board to answer a question he doesn't know. He stares at his shuffling feet.
"I just have one question. Please answer it honestly."
He glances upwards shyly at Kaworu, his deep sad eyes radiating pathetic neediness and fear at what he's about to hear. As much as he doesn't want to, emotion overcomes his voice and it breaks as he whispers, "Do... Do you love me?"
Kaworu frowns. "Of course I do. What sort of question is that?"
Shinji let's out a sigh he's been holding in since he heard Misato tell him Kaworu is an angel. Since the girl in class called him schizophrenic. Since Kaworu left him this morning. His whole body pitches forward and he lands, sobbing, in Kaworu's chest.
"I'm sorry for ruining your shirt again," Shinji croaks. "It's... It's been a long day."
"Oh my, I've only left you alone for three hours and you're already like this," Kaworu says soothingly, stroking Shinji's soft hair as he cradles his head into his chest. It's such a gentle and warm thing to do a fresh round of tears burst from Shinji's eyes.
Shinji playfully punches Kaworu's shoulder. "Shut up."
Kaworu smiles. "Sorry."
He gently picks up Shinji in a princess carry, hugging his back and the crook of his knees to carry the sobbing boy to one of Unit-01's slightly curled fingers. He kneels and lays his back against one of the massive inclined digits. Shinji crawls into his arms, and Kaworu smiles as he wraps his arms and knees around Shinji.
Shinji sighs again as he feels Kaworu's warm embrace. Safe. Loving. Ever so kind. His heart aches with how much he wants this.
"Some stupid cunt was saying that you went home with her in classes today and how she likes books. She can't even read without moving her lips."
"What happened afterwards?"
"I got into an argument with her. She called me schizoid because I said you spent the night with me and she said I imagined it all and I... Pulled out a pen knife," Shinji mutters.
"It was an accident, I swear..."
"I believe you," Kaworu says gently, reassuringly patting his head. Shinji is so relieved he feels the tension building up in him since he left vanish. His whole body relaxes and sinks into Kaworu's.
"So you're an angel? You don't look like one."
"My soul grew up in this artificial body. My real body was... Bigger."
"That's annoying. You're already taller than me."
Kaworu laughs. His hands gently reach around Shinji's neck and strokes it, making him wiggle happily. Shinji can't help it, it's such a submissive thing to do he blushes in embarrassment.
"Are you really going to kill all the people on Earth?"
"The First Ancestral Race decreed that no angel and Lilim life form can coexist. My creators created me down to the spirals of DNA to raise only angel life on this planet."
Shinji hears Kaworu sound sad for the first time. "I am predestined by God to do so. Every second is exist, I am drawn closer to my fate."
Shinji acutely feels Kaworu's fingers around his delicate neck. The fingernail of his index finger is resting gently on his pulsing jugular.
"Are... Are you going to start now?"
"Hmm? What? No, gods no... Shinji, you know I would never do something like that to you," Kaworu says hastily, withdrawing his hands from Shinji's slim neck.
Shinji giggles nastily as sees the shocked look on Kaworu's face. Kaworu frowns. "Shinji, don't say things like that."
"I know you wouldn't. I know," Shinji says with a sigh.
"... You know what you have to do."
"I have to die, Shinji."
Shinji lifts his head from Kaworu's chest. "W-what?!"
"You have to kill me, Shinji."
"Kaworu stop with this joke! It isn't funny!"
"If you don't, you'll die. Along with all other humans."
"You're... You're joking right?" Shinji says desperately.
"N-no! This can't be true!" he says, staring at Kaworu's face with eyes wild with panic."You can't go!"
"I have to."
"This... Can't be..." Shinji breaks down, hanging his head as he cries. "Why.."
He slams his fist into the ground so hard his hand cracks. "WHY?! I... I just got you," he sobs. "It... It's not fair."
"I'm sorry, Shinji."
Shinji freezes. He looks up at Kaworu, his face a rictus of desperation. "It's me isn't it? It's something wrong with me!"
"There's nothing wrong with you, Shinji."
"I'll change! The way I dress, or talk, or how I speak, or walk. P-Please!" Shinji cries out.
Shinji desperately grabs the lapels of Kaworu's shirt.
"It's because I'm because I'm ugly, isn't it? Please, I'll change! I'll - I'll put on makeup, or get facials, or even do surgery! O-or is it because in so autistic? I'll change, I'll get better! I'll take meds, I'll go to the psychologist everyday, I'll put myself through every awful social situation to get better at it! I know I'm hated by everyone and despised and useless... You don't have to go out with me! I know I'm ugly and shitty and am and embarrassmen, so one has to see you with me? I'll just stay and home and wait for you to come back. I'll cook and clean and scrub and do the laundry, I know how, I've been practicing! Please, I won't be a burden or bother you at all!"
"Shinji, don't say these kind of things..."
Tears stream down Shinji's face as he rambles on. "People want to date rich people right? I'll work all day, all week, and you can have it all! I don't care about overtime, I barely sleep anyways! I know I look like shit, but I can dress different, I can stop eating, I can change my hair! If you want to just keep me as a side thing, you can! You can see other people and I'll just stand by the side, or I won't even come if you don't want me to! If... If... You want to do werid things in bed with me, you can! I'll do anything you say! You can use me anyway you want! I won't scream or put up a fight or tell anyo-"
Kaworu grabs Shinji in a tight hug, Shinji rants on for a few more seconds, before finally giving in and bursting into fresh tears into Kaworu's shoulder.
"To me, there's nothing wrong with you, Shinji. Even if other people keep telling you that you're lousy and shitty and worthless, and even if you keep telling it to yourself, it isn't to me."
Shinji's lifts his head from Kaworu's neck. He looks at Kaworu with tears brimming in sad eyes. "It's not fair. I... I only had you for a few days."
"I'm sorry. I didn't want it to be this way."
Shinji's shoulders slacken. "Why does it have to be so unfair? Why can't I have you for longer?"
"It awful, Kaworu. Everything is awful. My life is awful. Other people are awful. I'm awful. Everything is just awful. Except you. But you're leaving. It's all going to be so awful again."
"You're my sunshine, Kaworu. The only light in my life. If I were to take everything good in my life and put it together it'd just be you."
"That's a lovely thing to say."
"I don't think I could go to sleep without you."
"Every night... I'll be dreaming you're still here. I'll see you perfectly clear in the dark. But when I wake up you'll disappear, and when I remember you're gone... I don't think I could take it."
"You're the only one who cares, Kaworu. About me. Who thinks of me. I'm... I'm worthless without you. Worth nothing. I'm despised, hated, humbled, pathetic, small, worthless... Just shit."
"What... What am I going to do without you?"
"You'll get better. You'll see you aren't as bad as you think you are. You'll find happiness."
Kaworu smiles softly as he pats his head. "I know you won't let me down."
Shinji's face briefly lights up as he hears this. Kaworu feels a tad guilty for manipulating him like this. It was the best he could do under such cruel circumstances.
"Yes," Shinji says, steadying his voice through his raw throat. "I won't let you down."
Shinji lowers is head. He is quiet for a moment as he thinks. He brings it back up with a small smile on his face.
"I won't let you down," Shinji says in a soft, assured voice.
Kaworu smiles gently at Shinji for the last time. "That's my boy."
"Can I hug you one last time?"
Shinji crawls on top of Kaworu and wraps his arms around his slim torso. Shinji sighs as he feels Kaworu do the same, feels the warmth of his body pressed against his, the moistness of his breath on his neck.
"Ah, Kaworu-kun, you're my heaven."
With a resounding boom, they break through into the last layer of Terminal Dogma. A huge, hemispherical sky is suspended atop them. Unit-01 hovers above an orange sea. The sounds of everything are sucked away into the open space. It's quiet and dark, with only a sparkling sky shining a soft twinkling light on the pair of boys.
"The sky is beautiful, isn't it?" Shinji says.
Kaworu smiles and looks up. "It is, but I think Shinji-kun is still better."
"Still flirting with me, even in a time like this?"
"Anytime is a time to make you blush."
Shinji giggles. "I'm going to miss you. So much."
"I will too."
"But... But why did you do all this?"
"I'm a little like you. I've grown up my whole life being used. My whole life was a lie built by SEELE. My existence a means to an end. I played along out of curiosity, really. I don't resent them. I can understand how scared they are and why they do this. I was always meant to meet you, Shinji. You seemed like someone like me. And... You were worth it all."
Shinji smiles. "Ah, I can't help but love it when you say something like that. You're lucky it's me you're with. If you said something that sappy to anyone else, you'd get slapped."
Kaworu laughs. "I'm sorry, but I like saying things like that. And so, I am so lucky to have Shinji-kun."
"I'm going to miss you so much, Kaworu-kun. Every little bit of you. From your pretty red eyes which always smiles with you. To your long unkempt grey hair. To the soft tips of your fingers as you run over me. To all the stupid things you say in that sweet voice. To the way you're always happy. To how you can get away with doing anything to me."
Kaworu's arms wrap tightly around Shinji's back. He buries his snowy face into Shinji's shoulder and feels gratified as through his chest he feels Shinji's heart slow to a calm beating.
"I've been waiting all my life for you, Shinji," he whispers softly into Shinji's ear. doesn't see Shinji slip out the pen knife from his pocket. "And I'd do it all over again just to see you."
"Thank you. For letting me feel what being loved is like before I die. For everything," Shinji says with a smile as he quietly flicks out the blade behind Kaworu's back.
"I love you," Shinji whispers as pressed the stainless steel tip into the crook of his elbow. "Now and forever."
A delicate sound fills the air, like ripping silk. Then quietness.
Kaworu pushed Shinji away and looks at him. Shinji is smiling peacefully at him. Then his eyes trail down to his forearm.
"Shinji... What have you done?"
"No, no, no!" Kaworu croaks, panic rushing into his voice for the first time.
A gash, huge and nasty and dripping an evil fleshly red. Blood is spurting out intermittently in tandem with Shinji's strangely calm heartbeat. It's so deep he has even cut an artery. It radiates a deathly unnaturalness, it didn't take a doctor to see Shinji is slipping into Death's embrace at an alarming rate with every breath.
"I told you I wasn't going to let you down," Shinji says with a grin. Already he's looking paler.
"Haha, why? That night we met, I was going to kill myself anyway. Even if I didn't pluck up the courage that night, there was always the next. And the next. Maybe even worse, I would never kill myself and have to live on in my state... I was praying to the sunset that something would come along to kill me. And just and it all."
Shinji sighs wistfully. "Katware doki, the hour where it's so dark you have to ask someone their name. Where maybe, just maybe, wishes would come true."
"And it looks like it did. I finally plucked up the courage to do it. Not for me, but for someone else," Shinji says calmly. "I couldn't bring myself to do it so many times but was so easy to do it for you, Kaworu."
"But to throw away your whole life like this! Why... Why didn't you believe me when I told you it wasn't worthless... That you could grow and find happiness..."
"Do you know I've tried to offer myself to other people before you? In a hundred different ways. I did things for other people because I thought if I were nice people would like me, even if it made me look like an obsequious ass and a meek little boy. I tried so hard to become smart and skilled and talanted so that I could do things for people and I would have worth. I even tried buying them gifts."
"I've been yelled at, disregarded, scolded, ignored, beaten, told to get lost and awkwardly avoided... In a hundred ways and a thousand times what little I gave I was rejected. Each time it hurt like a stab wound in my heart. Each time I would crawl into my bed, hurt and tired, and pull the covers over my head. And I would cry a little, I would hate it all, I would wish for everyone else to just disappear. But every time I would crawl out and try again, because... Because... What else was there to go? Each time I think I stayed away a little longer because being alone was the closest thing to solace I could get."
"But then you came along like a beautiful daydream and I didn't even get a chance to give you much... Do anything for you... And you even knew deep down how shitty and worthless and doubting and full if problems I was. You still accepted all of me."
Shinji smiles weakly up at Kaworu."Kaworu-kun, even if I got better, even if I became happy, even if I fixed myself. Even if I became brilliant and learned in all subjects, even if I became a billionaire and could buy anything I desired, even if I became super charming and had a million people who loved me. Even if I was the opposite of myself today, had everything good on this Earth, a life envied by all... My life would still be yours. If my life is as useless as dirty pennies, it'd be yours. If my life is as brilliant as the Milky Way, it's be yours. However much my life is worth, it's yours. It's been yours since you said you loved me. It's yours to use however you please. It'll be yours till the end of time."
"Ah, I love it when you say my name. It makes me feel so good, just to have my existence acknowledged by you. How do you do it? Everyone else calling my name sounds grating and scary. But... They're all going to die now, aren't they?"
Shinji chuckles softly. "I should probably care, but... Ah, fuck it. Everyone else can fuck off. You're the only one who's important."
"Shinji, I didn't want it to be this way..."
"Don't feel sad, Kaworu-kun. Because of you, I got to feel what being loved was like before I died. Before I met you, that was just a fantasy. I have more now that I would ever have had without you."
Kaworu can't help it. He embraces Shinji tightly, as if he doesn't want him to go. His throat clutches in horror as he feels Shinji's body slowly weaken and hang onto his.
"Will Kaworu-kun is be fine and happy living on after this?" Shinji asks in a drunken slur.
"And you won't keep mourning me and live a full and fulfilling life right?"
Shinji grins happily. "Thank you."
He sighs one last time, feeling as if all his work in this life is done.
"... Sing for me," Shinji whispers weakly as his legs give out. Kaworu props his back against one of Unit-01's curled fingers and gently lowers onto him.
Kaworu doesn't want to disappoint Shinji. Despite how he feels, he manages to sing. A soft, pleasant sound fills the air. A single lovely voice tinged with joyful passion. The same one Shinji heard when first meeting Kaworu.
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium
[Joy, beautiful spark of God, Daughter of Elysium]
Wir betreten feuertruken, Himmlische dein Heiligtum!
[We enter fire drunken, Heavenly One, your sanctuary!]
Deine Zauber binden wielder was die Mode streng geteilt
[Your power binds together what custom has strongly divided]
Alle Menschen werden Brüder wo dein Sanfter Flügel weilt!
[All men become brothers where you gentle wings hover!]
Deine Zauber binden wielder was die Mode streng geteilt
[Your power binds together what custom has strongly divided]
Alle Menschen werden Brüder wo dein Sanfter Flügel weilt!
[All men become brothers where you gentle wings hover!]
Under the stars, this pale boy sings this song of heavenly joy until his beloved fades away in his arms. Then he can sing no more.
*cut-sleeve is a slur for homosexual men, it comes from the ancient Chinese Emperor Ai of Han who famously once cut his sleeve rather than wake his gay lover Dong Xian. Admittedly it's completely out of place being used as a slur for gays in a Japanese high school, but hey, it's "cultural".