AN: I know, I know! What it is with me and causing Shinji lung trauma every freaking time, huh? Ah, call it a subconscious desire to kick his ass, goes back to my childhood! Anyway.

Another one of these happened! Yeah… this is the thing, now. Welcome to the world, Relapse! Again, I have no clue of where this story will go, my friends. It'll be preeeeeetty dark, though. Yeah. Mature subjects and stuff, but with constant care for Canon behavior. I will be limiting the cursing to absolute necessary moments! As always, I own nothing.

Now tell me, what kind of mother would want to see her
Son grow up to be an undera-fuckin'-chiever?

(Stop. Forward. Stop. Play)

Man, I never thought that I could ever be
A drug addict, naw, fuck that, I can't have it happen to me
But that's actually what has ended up happening
A tragedy, the fucking past ended up catching me
And it's probably where I got acquainted with the taste, ain't it?
Pharmaceuticals are the bomb, Mom, beautiful-

(Stop)


Chapter Two: My Mom

The stench of antiseptic brought him back to a certain memory, one which had also occurred in a hospital room not too different from the one he was trapped in. Stirring in his sleep, the bandaged young man twitched, frowning deeply as the overwhelming helplessness and despair from the moments before Third Impact washed over him yet again. He felt the fourteen-year-old boy hesitantly make his way to the bed where the redhead slept, deep in a self-induced coma, and felt the need to retch when the boy's dirty, unworthy hand took a hold of a slim, delicate shoulder and shook it with desperation.

It felt like being a witness to a never-ending movie, with the emotions of the main character channeling through him without reprieve. For more than six years every attempt to shut the images out had failed, so the man relinquished the struggle and let himself be reminded once more of the many sins he had committed. He felt the slimy, slippery substance burning the skin of his palm as vividly as the needle pressed under his bicep. Third Impact was looming around the corner, so Shinji twitched in his sleep, huffing through the pain in his midsection in a subconscious attempt to rouse before the worst began.

The Spear came down anyhow, despite the faint sensation of blades pressed against his insides, it descended and split his arm in half. The sting of the stab wound in his stomach disappeared under the recalling of those dead fingers reaching into his belly and taking out his entrails. He trashed harder against the bedding, jaw hinged closed and frown morphing into painful grimace. His head spun left and right just as the scene changed to one far from the battle, where he could watch in exquisite detail as Unit 02 was torn to pieces. He was pushed back into his own body to recall how Bakelite of all things had been the last nail on his coffin, and soon the Grand Overture washed over.

Shinji screamed as loud as possible, which in his depleted state came out as a frightened gasp and half a cough. Chest heaving, sweat rolling down his face, the man tried to sit up and had his arms fail him yet again. The wound on his back flared and forced another gasp out his dried lips, the one in his leg complained and burned when his body twitched; yes, withdrawal was beginning to set with a vengeance after six days of nothing but sedatives and a bit of morphine being pumped into his veins every now and then.

"Ah…" he spoke to nobody, relishing in the fact that for once ever since waking in the hospital room, he was alone. The redhead had not returned, not even to inspect her grand work in his wounds or to ridicule him in some original form. "Another four days of this crap and I'll be free…"

"She'll be staying with you for the foreseeable future."

The horror from the dream and relative calmness of the empty room quickly succumbed to a familiar scalding sentiment in the pit of the former Third Child's stomach; Misato's dry statement came to greet his severely damaged short term memory. "God damn you all…" he muttered with annoyance. It was better if he simply enjoyed the relative silence of the very wee hours of the morning, before the nurse brought up his meager breakfast and the wounds were redressed and cleaned.

"They can't do this to me. I'm a god damned adult, they can't just cram me up with some girl just because...(cough)…" The sentence Lilith had erected was evolving, he noticed, so as to extract every last bit of delicious despair off his dying heart before the final hour came. As it stood, there was truly very little he could do about the current situation.

"You're on parole, remember, Shin-chan? From that last poor bastard whose teeth you smashed, and the four offenses before that. Also, I can have you on house arrest quicker than a cicada sings. Asuka just happens to be both a licensed physician and a licensed psychiatrist, and she accepted the task of taking care of you until those wounds close up nice and permanently, since no nurse in her right mind would take you as a patient. So! Suck it up, honey! Unless of course you'd rather go to jail, where I highly doubt they'll even give you methadone when you start shaking and foaming through your mouth. But, of course, you're an adult, so feel free to choose between options A and B."

Wishing for nothing more than the strength to rise from bed and smash his fist into the wall, Shinji disregarded the way the beeps and other sounds around him escalated to a crescendo and rose to relieve himself. He forced uncooperative legs to function, swallowed down the agony his left leg gave him upon laying the slightest weight on said limb, and took a hold of a crutch that stood a few feet away, resting on the night-stand. "God damn Misato and her stupid influence…(cough)… I'll show them… I'll show them the stupidity of their mistake… They'll be asking themselves...(cough)... why they even bothered in a few days..."

Prison was not scary in the slightest to him, it anything it was a clear, quick death sentence which would erase his existence after the second night or something. Sure, they'd probably rape him before the murder began, have their fun with the mighty Third Child until he was bleeding out every pore and hole in his body. The only problem with prison was the lengths he'd have to through if only to acquire some coke or a few pills to numb out the visions before some prisoner with a grudge stabbed him twenty seven times with a shiv.

He almost tripped and fell twice on his way to the bathroom, so engrossed was he in designing and brewing what would probably be the sharpest lines and insults he had yet come up with, that he almost banged his head against the wall instead of taking the proper route to the toilet. Another tremor shook him so hard that the young man actually lost balance and frantically clasped a hand down the support tube, feeling the stitches on his back stretch out and complain.

"Heh…" panted the brown-haired youth with fresh perspiration coming off his clammy skin. "I really… (cough)… need to get back to running… (pant)… but I'll be damned if another brute has to come in here… (pant)… and help me… take a piss." Balancing the injured left side on the crutch and holding onto the IV with his right, Shinji released his bladder and exhaled in relief, unbothered by the crimson tinge in his urine. Yeah, whatever. There's blood in my piss, what else is new?

Numerous body shots in the many street fights he'd had, stab wounds and kicks had familiarized him with the notion of internal bleeding much more than Asuka's little temper tantrum had. "Pff, apologizing for such a stupid thing…" He shook his head in derision. "What sort of messed-up revenge is she plotting…?" In his mind, the simple, innocuous push which had resulted in him falling a considerable height and cracking a perfectly good table in half with the disgrace he called a body was but a simple knee-jerk reaction. He was absolutely convinced that Asuka was in Japan to enact some form of poetic justice against him, even if that meant watching as he groveled at her feet under the effects of heavy abstinence.

"As far as I can remember," he mumbled to nobody in particular while wobbling back to bed. "I hadn't even mustered up the courage to hold her hand back then… (cough)… and then all of the sudden a car comes rushing straight to us… and she's just standing there, waiting to be run over…" The sting of the slashes in his muscle tissue flared with renewed vigor when his body hit the mattress. "What else was I supposed to do, let her die? Shit, I already did that… and it's not like she needed… (cough)… any help from me, anyways…"

Considering the horrors his father had perpetrated on his own flesh and blood, the terrible truth behind Rei's origin and upbringing, the crushing loneliness of his childhood and the blunt, twisted events of the Angel War and Third Impact, Shinji found Asuka's outburst… cute. The level of self-control the girl had demonstrated as he followed her around like a deranged puppy and tried in vain to apologize for leaving her to die and trying to kill her twice had left him dumbfounded. She despised him, and yet was willing to acknowledge his existence, even after all the horrible things she knew he had done. It was only a matter of time before she snapped, and it wasn't like she had done some unforgivable, horrendous act like say, used his unconscious body to please herself.

She had simply pushed him away, and poof… down he went like a sack of potatoes.

She was here, now. In Japan, not far from the stupid hospital. She had cleaned his wounds, assessed them, redressed them and said she'd save him. His wounds; she had touched his body, she had touched him. A hand gingerly felt around the puncture wound in his abdomen, but the feeling in his chest was far from pleasant. "Save me, huh…" The irrationality of such a statement alone baffled him, the serenity of her face as she said it infuriated him, and the security and self-confidence which shone in her blue eyes made him feel useless and pathetic. What he hated the most, however, was how a part of him, the annoying little brat who never shut up and should by all means be dead, blindly believed her.

His teeth chattered, and in a second he felt hot and cold all at once. "I hate hospitals…" the young man mumbled, surrendering to the small tremors. There were no pills in the vicinity, no weed, no booze to slip away into the bliss of alcohol-induced sleep, only the little bit of morphine still coursing through his bloodstream and the fact that his body had long since gotten used to chemicals. Most of the junkies he spoke with told him withdrawal was the worst torture in the world; he normally laughed at such a statement. To the former Third Child, Mass Murderer Extraordinaire, the sensation of his own blood boiling inside, the tremors and nightmares, the shaking, the sweats, the desperation and the itching of his very cells was a welcomed change to everyday life. Not that withdrawal was any fun, either. Moments of withdrawal, somewhere between the shaking and the fevers, were… when she visited the most.

"I really hate hospitals…"

Twice he had gotten clean and twice had he chosen to fall back into the abyss. There had been no particular trigger either time, simply the realization that neither Asuka nor Rei were coming back, that he was indeed the lowest of the low, and a genocidal monster at that, and that staying sober for another minute was unnecessary. Just like his drinking or substance abuse, there was no true rigid reason behind it. It was the opposite; there were too many events, too many bad days which had laid down the path towards addiction where he currently threaded. Sobriety was a waste of time, now that he was convinced Rei would never come back, having reached adulthood without friends, peers, a girlfriend or something more intimate than work partners. Life was… empty, and painful, filled with sorrow and disappointment. The elder he grew, the more books he read, the more he studied and the more drugs he did, Shinji realized just how alone he truly was, and how powerless he felt towards his own mundane situation.

He didn't even have a pet. Aside from a collection of small plants, some exotic cactus he had found over the years, the booze, the pills, the coke, there was… nothing else. Oh, the memories, the memories were also there. The power, so great and bright, given to him by Rei, and the woman who slept so comfortably in Unit 01's core, came with a cost after all. What was the sanity of one man when compared to the collective lives of humanity, after all?

"I blame you, Mother," he admitted to the darkness, chuckling. "Or at least, I did. I guess maturing has made me understand that at some point, you're responsible for your own stupidity." Of all the truths and epiphanies Third Impact and Instrumentality had shown him, the one which bothered him the most was the fact that his mother was a lying bitch, and that she was tremendously far away in a tin can where his hands could never reach to strangle her.

"Anywhere can be paradise as long as you have the will to live."

He hated the sound of the woman's voice, detested the memory of her face, and found it ironic and infuriating; a face he had so long sought to remember now came to him with ease, and with it came the sour taste of hatred and the familiar sting of betrayal. "Anywhere, huh, Mother?" He demanded to the ceiling with faint mirth, barking a false laugh. Unit 01 was currently floating around Jupiter's orbit according to the newspaper. How long still, until the thrice-damned robot floated in the Sun's gravitational field and got roasted like a cinder? "I hope I could see the look on your face, if you saw just how much I'm enjoying your little paradise," he spat, scowling. "I'd love to see those eyes of yours, when you see your son the good-for-nothing junkie. I bet you'd be proud, heh… (cough)… I bet Father's loving this…"

He had a job in which he excelled, a job that paid just about enough to cover the expenses and the substances he adored. Work was more of a therapy to him; so long as orders were flying in the small restaurant and his attention was focused on making even the simplest dishes taste amazing, the itches would dissipate and the anxiety had an outlet and a use. The young man made honest money and did not indulge in crimes, or social gatherings. He enjoyed the canteens precisely because people left him alone to get pitch black drunk, and only got in trouble when an ignorant shit said something he'd later regret. Working late hours from morning to dusk meant more money, which in turn meant more drugs and less time available, so as to not lie and make up constant excuses to the workers around him.

There was no escaping the flashes sometimes, though. On rare occasions when he forgot this pill or the other, when he rose late and forgot the morning joint to mellow out, the green Devil would knock on the door of his frail sanity, the visage of Unit 02's mangled body flashed, the pots where his food was being cooked became entrails, blood would dribble off the sink and he'd excuse himself, hands shaking, to go out the corner and chug down a beer, a few pills or smoke five cigarettes in a row.

"Who do you think is worse, Shinji?" The psychiatrist's voice echoed in his brain just as the itching on his scalp began. The visions were soon to make an appearance. "Your mother, or your father? Towards whom would you say the worst feelings… gravitate? Is it Gendou, the man who abandoned you? Or is it Yui?"

What a stupid fucking question, he responded. A giggle came from somewhere in the room, something moved on the corner of his eye; the dreaded episode had begun, and without any of his reliable substances to help him cope, Shinji felt panic begin to crawl up his spine and freeze his guts. It's Yui, you stupid cunt. What do you think? At least I got to take some level of revenge on my father, but that woman… that woman…

The giggling gained volume and soon enough, just like he expected, the torn-out figure made its way to his bed, laying on the white sheets and quickly staining them crimson. The apparition crooked its head to the side, bones screeching against each other, and the pale brown hair shook violently as the corpse stared at him. He sighed, unimpressed. "Hello, Mother. Come to gloat, I suppose?"

No wonder, he deadpanned with grim realization when the sound of steps reverberated through his empty room. No pills meant there was no form of escaping the twisted creations of his broken mind; there was no running away that night. For even Satan disguises himself as the Angel of Light.

"My sweet baby," the zombified creature croaked in return; a hand so rotten that bone was visible above the knuckles ruffled his hair with tenderness. "How's my baby boy? Enjoying paradise, my dearest?"

Even when his body was shaking and breathing became difficult due to the intense dread, he feigned nonchalance and shrugged. "You bet I am… (cough)… I had a hell of a party a few days ago. You see this?" Pointing at the fading marks on his face, Shinji blatantly ignored how the corpse's blood was warm against his skin, how the crooked smile on the rotting face was so wide it split the dried, leathery skin apart. "You should see the other guys, I really beat them to the dirt."

The pair of feet marched over to his bedroom as the remaining half of Ikari Gendou made itself known. "Well, that is good for you, Shinji." There was no head, no upper body, only a pair of crushed legs, some innards hanging out in a grotesque spectacle, and a piece of spinal column where Unit 01's fangs had bitten down.

"Oh great, great," muttered the injured patient, glancing in between the two apparitions and the door. "We have the entire Club of the Pathetic attending another meeting. Splendid. Who wants to share first, huh?"

Ikari Yui smiled wider, forcing blackish blood to tickle down the corners of her cheeks.

"Oh, my dear boy. Always with that sarcasm... Who do even get that from? No, no, shhh," He tried to rise towards the door, but the decomposing hand was pressed flush on his chest and dragged him back to the mattress. "You must be tired," The figure grabbed his face with its bony, frozen hold dripping warm blood, and placed a sloppy kiss in his forehead. He could smell the rancid stench of decomposition; feel the tattered lab coat come in contact with his skin and taste bile in his mouth when the figure bled on him.

"Why don't you go to sleep, Shinji-kun? I believe sleep to be essential for a growing, healing boy. Here," His eyes widened, tremors increasing in frequency and violence as some form of syringe materialized in the corpse's hold. The syringe held a dark, thick liquid inside, one he easily recognized. Black Tar Heroin; the stuff he had consumed two years before, after the incident. "Let your Mom take care of this… it's just a little sedative, nothing to worry about my dear… just a little sting and then it'll all go away, my child."

"Obey your mother," The bottom half of Ikari Gendou added. "Be a good boy now, Shinji." Every now and then blood would cascade down the man's half-devoured torso, while the ragged clothes of Ikari Yui's corpse continued to dye in crimson seemingly out of nowhere. The skin on the figure had a yellow, dried up tinge to it; the cheekbones were visible through the emaciated state of the corpse, with a grand laceration on the left side which allowed him to see bone near the jaw. Even covered in rags, the bones protruded from the clothes, visible and grotesque, and while the graying brown strands managed to obscure most of its face, Shinji could clearly see the gleam beneath the damaged eye sockets.

Green eyes, the only part of the apparition which was not in the process of rotting away, stared at him with fondness. The very tinge of his mother's eye color made him sick to his battered stomach, and the fear the creature brought in him paralyzed the muscles of his body with frightening efficiency.

"It's all in my head," the young man said to nobody. "It's all in my head. It's all in my head, It's all in my he-"

The act of forced bravery shattered with the familiar sting of a needle pressed against the veins of his right forearm, forcing the youth's eyes to widen in absolute horror, only to shut forcefully a second afterwards. Not real, not real, not real, not real, not real. They are not real, Shinji. You're in a hospital, you're injured, you're a junkie and you're going through withdrawal. This is an illusion, and there's no way in hell that's an actual syr- The well-known burn of heroin as it flooded his veins halted the train of thought and forced frightened blue orbs to the place where the liquid was slowly disappearing. No, no, no. It's not real, Shinji, it's not, it's not, it's not it-

"Sh, sh, shhh, calm down, sweetie. We don't want you to hurt yourself again, do we? It's just the black stuff, the Mexican one. Remember, that's one of your favorites, right? That's the one you took after that day two years ago, isn't it? Here…" His muscles began to cramp up from the consistent, involuntary shaking, the wounds slowly started suppurating under the tension and his head turned foggy. He was being drawn back to the Abyss, drawn back by the woman he so detested and dreaded. "Don't worry, my sweet boy. Mommy's gonna take care of you, tonight. Just so you don't forget, Shinji-kun. Sometimes, when you're so high you drool over yourself, you forget, don't you, honey? Just for a tiny, itty-bitty while, but you forget."

The pain combined with the erratic breathing kept him from being able to close his eyes; not that it made any difference at all if he managed to close the unresponsive lids. Closing his eyes only made matters worse, for even closed he felt the creature's rotten breath caress his ear as it lay down next to him, holding him as a mother would its child. "You can't forget where you are, baby. That's not mature. Now, be a good boy and tell Mom where you are."

Blood had dribbled, no, flowed down Asuka's eye after the spear had pierced the cornea and exploded the socket in one fluid motion, the way her arm had been split in half so easily, so effortlessly had been nothing short of poetic, and blindingly painful. She had been awake, aware of her surroundings even after the final spear pierced through armor, flesh and bone, she had been awake while the vultures ripped out her arms, legs, innards, and fed on them. Flamethrowers were hardly something one could disregard, especially the feel of bone, actual bone melting clean off the limb and dripping down what had once been his arm.

The pieces of Unit 02 had been scattered or eaten, and he felt it, he felt his own teeth dig deep into the Titan's flesh and rip out chunks of Asuka's body to devour. His teeth, his hands, being used to disembowel and impale her, used to rip out her legs, arms, torso and gnaw on them like a starving hyena; the sensation returned as though it had happened the day before. The faint snap of a windpipe as it was crushed under his fingertips came to greet him like an old friend; the feeling of his inner organs cooking while the 5th Angel drilled a beam into his chest enveloped him like a blanket. His arm was cut off like the slice of an apple when Zeruel expanded its At-Field. Kaworu's body felt like wet paste, even through the armor, even through the Plug-Suit. Wet paste; he had turned his last friend into wet paste, for nothing.

Oh, there was no drug strong enough to make Shinji forget exactly where he was. He glared into the decomposing figure, even as the nonexistent substance carried him off to the torture chamber and terror overcame his limited awareness. "I'm in Hell, Mother." He answered at last; a triumphant sensation forced a tiny smile to his lips just before he slipped into the nightmare. "And so are you."

"That's my smart, sweet little boy," cooed the corpse with the loveliest tone of voice, ruffling his hair again. "Let's go then, Shinji-kun. Time to make you scream."

Three hours later, just as Akane was opening the door to carry the Third Child's breakfast into the hospital room and the sun started to filter through the drapes, the sound that crashed against her awareness made the experienced nurse drop the trey into the ground in shock and rush to the patient's side without a second thought. The young man was up in his bed, panting with clear difficulty as the apposite in his abdomen ever so slowly got tainted by a faint crimson mark. Eyes frantic, wide and full of a terror Akane could not hope to fathom, the patient sat and responded not a word to the constant questioning of the nurse. She felt relieved, oh so very, very much relieved that the release day on her patient was drawing near. The eyes of that man… even with his charm and attractive appearance, the cold glint in his dark blue eyes drew a shudder down her spine.

That morning, however, his eyes had not been cold and collected, which made Akane all the more thankful to be soon rid off the burden called Ikari Shinji. That morning the patient had howled as loud as the wounds all over his body had allowed; it was a sound the nurse would be happy to never hear again, a revolting screech which emanated as sanity was cracked like an eggshell.

Mother always managed to make him scream, after all. Always.


The sound of the dial as the call went through made her heart beat twice as fast. She glared at the wall, resolute in her decision and pretended to ignore the feint shaking of her hands. Today was the day; no more hiding, no more running, enough time had passed and now she was ready for it; hence, she was calling. Why would a simple phone call put her on such high alert, anyhow? There was nothing to fear, her father had ensured her no legal actions could be taken with her in German soil, and no matter how hard Misato tried, no assassin she sent was good enough to crawl through her country and shoot her.

The dial kept ringing, unanswered, and her breathing became erratic. What if he… what if he was with a woman, at this exact point in time? What if he had finally moved on and was on a date with a girl much prettier, and much gentler than her? What would she do or say if a foreign voice she did not know picked up? Insecurity and indecisiveness had always been two emotions she refused to acknowledge, which in turn had affected her behavior in a subconscious level. Regardless of how strongly she repeated to all who would listen that the fate of the Third Child was indifferent to her, the uncertainty stifled her at times, the idea of him being with another girl, any girl was sufficient to ignite a flame of envy in her chest. If Shinji had already moved on she'd have to accept it, respect it as he had respected her flight.

Not that he had not tried to reach Germany; the boy had been stopped by NERV Germany's agents a mere five miles away from her house only two years after she left. He had not intended to see her, the agents had explained later to her father; Shinji had only wished to deliver a small package in person, to her house, just to be sure she received it.

Her hand grasped the phone with more force than necessary. Today was the day. There was no better time than the current one; she was healthy and clear-headed and had laid the demons of her disastrous relationship with her father to rest. She was great, the Greatest. She was strong, so strong, and so confident in her abilities. She was the person he had always envisioned, and now she was ready. He was not with some woman; he was waiting for her, praying for her. That was the reason behind the boxes, right? He was hers. There was no way in Hell a simple, god damned phone call would stop her from doing what she wanted to do, even when it was something and menial as seeing h-

"Hello, Ikari residence," the grate sprung off the plastic device and shook her still, freezing the girl's body instantly. "Hello," he repeated, clearly either half-asleep or… worse. "Ikari residence. Who is this? Hello?" All of her carefully elaborated greetings, from nonchalant to somewhat shy, from angry to cheery, disappeared in the seconds it had taken Shinji to speak; she was frozen in place, unaware that she was not even breathing anymore. "Hello? Is this some sort of prank? Hellooo."

The line went dead, and Asuka's knees buckled underneath her.

She stared at the object dejectedly for a long time, listening to the constant beep-beep-beep, seconds turning into minutes while another day slipped right off her fingers. "Heh…" she muttered, her free hand rose up and clutched into a fist on her chest. "I guess in the end we're both wimps after all, Baka…" There was a new addition to the small boxes she continued to collect, a new gift. "No, that's wrong. At least you have the courage to call. You even came here, knowing they wouldn't let you close to my house." She kept speaking to the phone and pretended Shinji was on the other side of the line, listening.

No, Asuka, don't say such things about yourself, he'd surely answer something along those lines. "What? It's the truth, all the time I gave you crap for being a doormat and a wimp, and look at me," her hands trembled slightly, her eyes were cloudy and stung, her cheeks were stained as the mascara ran down with the tears. "Are you okay, you idiot?" she whispered forcefully to the dead line. "Are you eating well? Are you healthy? D… Do you still cook? Are you… using?" Curse her blurred vision and the useless tears dripping down her chin, curse her uselessness. "Are you okay?" Asuka repeated, much quieter this time. "I miss you…"

The silence stretched out just as midday passed, the birds chirped, the wind blew, and Shinji remained unaware that she had tried and failed, again. The cold hand of fate constricted her heart to a point where it physically hurt. God, she missed him. She missed… just seeing him there, staring at nothing. She missed speaking to him, even if it was just to call him an idiot. She just… missed him.

"Yes, I'm sure you do, Schatz,"

Her head whipped towards the hallways from which the voice had sprung out. She was in her house, kneeling pathetically in the large, empty main hall and it was the middle of the day, so there was no way the hallway would be so dark. Aside from that, she was currently reliving a memory, not a nightmare.

"Now, Asuka dear. Let's not make Mama wait, come here darling. I have something for you, Schätzling."

Her legs responded without consent, eyes wide as saucers and skin pale as milk, and pushed her towards the voice. Her breathing constricted, the hairs on her nape and arms stood to no end, her skin filled with gooseflesh and her knees shook. Despite every instinct telling her to run for the hills and/or get her gun from the closet, nonetheless, the redhead's body became engulfed by darkness and continued to walk. It dawned on her that she was walking towards her step-mother's old room, so confusion slowly crawled back into a deeply frightened mind.

She dreaded that woman.

As expected, once she opened the door the stench of death hit her full in the face, with the constant sound of the rope dangling ever so slightly deafened her sense of hearing. The ever-present eerie smirk welcomed her in the empty space, the blotted, blue skin around the face shone as bright as she recalled from so long ago. The stupid doll was always there, as well.

"Is something the matter, Schatz? I thought you'd call that boy today." The broken neck bones scraped against one another when the ghost of Kyoko stole a glance at her daughter and two pairs of blue eyes met. "Did you have second thoughts again, dear? It's okay, you'll go about it someday."

"I heard him," she replied. God, she sounded pathetic, weak and small in the presence of this inhuman apparition. "I... didn't hang up this time," admitted the former Second Child with the closest she ever came to shame. "He picked up the phone, and I heard his voice."

Once more, the dreadful echo of bones moving in unnatural ways sent a shiver down her spine. Her mother blinked, smile widening. "Now then, darling, that's progress! I'm so proud of you, honey! I knew you could take that step forward! Not that it didn't take you four years!"

For whatever reason the girl felt scolded, so she lowered her head and nodded absently."I know. It's stupid, but… I'm worried. He… he didn't sound very healthy." The tone of that grate she had heard had been so sweetly familiar and so foreign all at once. His voice had changed, roughened up to such a degree it was difficult to remember how he'd sounded as a teenager, yet it irremediably remained as his, so familiar it hurt. He sounded… tired, exhausted. "I think…" she gulped, pinched herself four times and shook her head, to no avail. Mother was still staring, still smiling. "I think I'm going crazy without him."

"Now, now, sweetheart. Let's not overreact over some poor little boy from your p-

"Asuka?"

She blinked slowly, as if waking from a dream, and turned back to see her father staring at her with a raised eyebrow and an aura of mild concern. "Are you okay? Who were you talking to, just now?"

She shook her head, breathing in deep and realizing she was seeing this apparition and speaking to her very alive father at the same time. "No, I was just… thinking out loud… about some stuff," she answered. A single cerulean orb addressed her father with anger shining through. "Did you manage to get the names I requested, Papa?"

The eldest Langley blinked in surprise, but otherwise made no move to approach his daughter or enter the room. He did, however, notice how Asuka's eye kept jumping from him to the bed and back with frightening speed. "Ah, yes, of course." Producing a small piece of paper, Peter Langley finally took two steps in the girl's direction, yet did not dare set a foot in the room where he had so often slept with his latest dead wife. "Here you go. I still don't see why you needed the names of the security detail that was around the compound on your birthday."

"I just need to make sure of something," was all she answered, retrieving the piece of paper. The bones continued to crack as the dangling woman smiled crookedly at her from different positions. The stupid doll never stopped smiling, either; it felt as though they were laughing at her expense. Some time must have passed, for she jumped when her father's hand fell on her shoulder.

"Is something there, darling?" he asked, pretending to be worried for her. Boy, was his act good, she was half-inclined to believe him. "You've been staring at that wardrobe for a while." Shaking her head and shrugging off the man's hand off her, Asuka headed for the door and ignored how Mother waved goodbye and batted those blue eyes at her with glee and endless love. She needed some air.

"No," ground out the redhead. "There's nobody there."

Another day, another encounter with M-

"MOTHERFUCKER!"

The knife clattered noisily when she threw it on the counter and nursed the small cut on her forefinger. It was ridiculous, every blade in the house had been honed to slice through vegetable, meat and bone to perfection, so much so that after only a millisecond of not paying attention while cutting the celery for her smoothie, the knife had already pushed past two layers of skin.

"Ah, careful now, Asuka. You're not in your luxurious mansion anymore, remember? You've got neighbors, now, and I bet they resent that vocabulary."

"Ah, go to hell, Katsuragi," she answered, and put the now bleeding finger under the faucet, hissing. "Damn it, how come this idiot has the time to sharpen every freaking knife he owns to such an extent?! I almost cut off half a finger!"

The woman who had been her guardian for a very limited time shrugged, more interested in her fingernails than in providing assistance to bleeding young lady in the kitchen. She sat at Shinji's small table while Asuka concocted one of her super healthy beverages and kept on cutting this and storing that in varied locations, clearly making herself comfortable in Shinji's home. "Well, he says sharpening the knives relaxes him," she elucidated. He looked young in that picture by the stand, Misato noticed, young and animated while his co-workers gave him the price for employee of the month. "He works cutting stuff all day, too, so I bet he hates a blade that's not sharpened."

"Yeah, tell me about it," shot the redhead with clear annoyance. She made quick work of a bandage, put on a plastic glove and continued with her task. Shinji would be released in two days, which meant she had enough time to prepare the kitchen, house and bed for a patient with severe wounds. "Speaking of sharp blades," she added with a flat tone. "The new serum I brought from Germany has had more than satisfactory results; the Baka's metabolism is working hard to keep up. His wounds are closing more than twice as fast as they normally would, and in these few days his blood work has shown no signs of infection."

"Ooooh, big words from Mrs. Doctor Sohryu!" The other woman shot back with a nasty undertone. There was still plenty animosity between them, as could be felt in the tension inside the small apartment. "Can you please elaborate a bit more in the language of us, mortals? Or have the three other degrees you got gone to your head, already, Mrs. Psychology Expert?"

"Oh, ha ha, so very funny," The fact that her former caretaker had not acted on her instinct of shooting the former Second Child on sight had surprised her at first. Then Misato had explained she was not allowed to shoot her on sight, as per stated by the Ambassador, the German Prime Minister, The Emperor and the Minister of the Interior. Not that any of those men and women could actually stop Misato from killing her, if the woman really wanted to. "I thought you'd be happy he's gonna make it, granted how on the verge of a mental breakdown you were when you called."

Misato shrugged once more, knowing that Asuka could not see her, and took another swig of the can. She had blamed herself for years believing her example as a derailed alcoholic had been the trigger to Shinji's current drinking problem, only that Shinji had not even bothered to look for a beer in his own damn house when he began. No, the brat had chosen to go out, get himself someone to buy whatever sort of foreign rocket fuel and proceed to chug down two six-packs by himself as a first drinking experience. The boy had managed a surprising eight cans before succumbing to unconsciousness outside the store where she'd found him.

She was currently nursing some Spanish piss named 'Keller' which seemed like the cheap sort but had a certain flavor to it that she enjoyed. "Well," The image of the blood-stained sheet where they had brought Shinji to the hospital came to mind, and Misato suppressed a shudder with a larger gulp. "You weren't there when they brought him in. There was blood everywhere, he was coughing up blood every time he tried to breathe…" A pair of brown orbs glared half-heartedly at the mass of red hair that so diligently worked preparing God knew what. "As a matter of fact," No matter how hard she tried, to her own dismay, the former Mayor could not hate the girl in front of her. She felt disappointed instead, and tired. So very, very tired. "As a matter of fact, you weren't there at all."

The continued chop-chop stopped cold, and this time not because the new house-chef had mistakenly cut another finger. Misato watched with a raised eyebrow as the woman's proud shoulders slumped somewhat, which ignited the pang of guilt in her heart. After seven years Asuka had returned, and she was bullying her. "Look, I'm…" she sighed, ran a hand through her hair and chugged another drink. "I'm sorry, Asuka. I know I don't understand and I was the one who asked you to do thi-"

"No, you're right."

Misato blinked, twice, thrice. What? What?

"What?" She repeated, dumbfounded and convinced her mind was playing tricks, or that perhaps she had misunderstood.

"I said you're right. I wasn't… there. Here…ugh, you get my drift. I wasn't, I get that, trust me. I know… what I did. And I know you can't trust me because I almost… I almost killed him that one tim-"

"He laughs at that, you know," This time it was Misato who interrupted, managing to draw the woman's eyes in her direction for once. "When people ask him about it, he laughs. He calls your little stunt 'cute', a little outburst that was a long time coming, and says he expected nothing less. He says it was just a little push. Just a little push." The elder woman's eyes hardened. "Just a little push, he says."

"Yeah," nodding with a stern, stony expression, Asuka turned back to her vegetables. "Just a little push that cost him 20% of lung tissue, a severe concussion, two broken ribs, internal bleeding, a dislocated shoulder and almost left him paralyzed from the waist down." She sliced through the carrot with more strength than necessary, digging the sharp blade deep into the cutting board's wood. "Just a little push that almost killed him. I don't find it funny at all."

"Go tell him that," the purple-haired female stretched, realizing she had lost the glaring contest miserably and also failed in spectacular fashion with her attempts to make Asuka feel remorseful or indisposed. The satisfying –click- of another can opening signaled her defeat, so she dipped the beer in the girl's general direction. "Prost, Frau Doctor."

"Yeah, Prost," she sighed, picked up the sliced carrots and threw them in the blender, pausing to get herself a Keller as well and taking a sip. "Ugh, what the hell is this piss?"

"Spanish piss, honey," Misato took a long drink. It was almost five o'clock, almost time to go home and see her little girl waddle her feet to come greet Mama. "Shinji seems to like it. It's more of an… acquired taste, if you will."

"Acquired my ass," she grimaced, but swallowed down three more gulps in hopes that they would settle her aching head. She had slept better than… than ever as far as recent memory went, but the amount of alcohol her relatively petite body was processing had been a bit too much. "He buys expensive rum, vodka, whiskey and wine and he drinks this for a beer? Jeez, he really is an idiot."

"And starting the day after tomorrow, my dearest Frau Doctor," this time, the former guardian's tone as playful and a bit animated, an old reminiscent of the teasing voice she'd used so long ago. "That idiot will be your responsibility! I do hope you understand what you're getting into, and I really hope you're not biting off more than you can chew." Both women locked eyes, and Misato's gaze softened. "Are you sure you'll be okay, honey? Alone, with him? He's not the Shinji you remember. He can be really…(sigh)… really mean… when he wants to, Asuka."

"I can be really, really mean as well, Misato." The redhead's solemn response took her by surprise. "That doesn't mean he quit on me, ever. I can't quit on him, and I'll be alright. I know he won't hurt me." Then, she swallowed a lump of fear which manifested. The memory of the kitchen, his hands wrapping around her throat and squeezing with so much force as he sneered down at her whipped through the girl's mind. "…Will he?"

"Not a chance in the world," the woman's flat statement managed to make her release a breath she had not noticed she'd been holding. "See that dent, right there on the wall to your left?" The mark was almost invisible, but there was a slight depression in the wall's material. "He has… very bad episodes of Post-Traumatic Stress. One time, I… I triggered one of those episodes, and he got… really mad. But he never touched me, he slammed his fist against that wall instead, then his head, he banged it so hard he knocked himself out."

Asuka nodded with what she assumed was medical understanding, and for all her worth Misato was unable to find a sliver of honest fear in her gaze. Both women sat down at opposite ends of the table, each with a beer can in hand. For a second a bit of uncertainty born out of past experiences had made itself know, but just as quickly as it had come, the girl had either suppressed or discarded it. "I see," commented the former pilot. "And does he have… visions? Hallucinations?"

"Sometimes, yes," Nodding grimly, she suppressed yet another shudder. Misato recalled watching her male charge stare into nothing in particular with a look of intense, absolute terror, with the white of his eyes visible and his breathing erratic, for more than fifteen minutes. "He never talks about them, or about his nightmares, though. No matter how you ask him, or how many times you repeat the question, he won't budge. The idiot just holds it all in, and then when it's getting close to the boiling point he goes and drinks himself to death."

"Yes, and in these nights is when he gets into fights and snorts coke, am I right?" Asuka added, and took a sip. The more she drank, the more the bitter taste grew on her.

"Right you are," confirming the girl's suspicions; Misato's eyes drew over to the kitchen window. Shinji had broken that window once, with his fist. "But he doesn't just do coke on those nights. Sometimes he has insomnia for days, and if he's too tired to work then he'll just keep doing lines until his body responds."

"Well, I'll have to be careful around that white shit. It never leads to anything, in general chemical substance only ever manage to get you sicker." She sighed with a pang of sadness; Shinji truly held little to no regard to his own health and somehow managed to not only not die, but be relatively healthy. His body was not withered, nor did it present any sign of deterioration aside from the many scars, and had he not been stabbed so savagely he would be in almost perfect physical condition. "You said he runs, and goes to a gym?"

"A boxing gym," Misato clarified, clicking her tongue. "Or… mixed martial arts. Whatever, the stupid sport where guys in swimsuits beat the living snot out of each other." There were a few gloves and some sporting equipment stored in Shinji's laundry room. Indeed, violence, he liked it nowadays. "He goes twice or thrice a week and gets pummeled to the ground by those monkeys." She hated Shinji's gym partners; they all loved to use their superior skills to beat up the mighty, famous Third Child and gain some sad sense of superiority over a broken, damaged young man. "Be careful around those brutes, I don't trust them."

"Copy that," A final drink, and the small yellow can was empty. Even when it was not Misato's beloved Yebisu at the very least the wrapping was similar. "Anything else I should be wary of?"

Brown eyes addressed the ceiling for a few moments and snapped back to her gaze in a flash. "Yeah," she nodded stiffly. "Don't ask him about that, you know. About two years ago. And if you want to spare yourself of a horrible experience, don't ask him about the people he… the people. It was all in self-defense, even the jury dismissed the case as soon as it came in, but…" Red eyes, gleaming, leering at her. Her boy, her sweet little boy gorging on a man's neck, bathed in blood. Misato shook her head. "Just save yourself some pain, trust me." After a quick glance at the clock, the woman rose from her seat. "I have to go, Asuka. Duty calls."

"Yeah, tell little Rei auntie Asuka sends her love," despite the current grimness of the situation, the image of that happy brown-haired child and her innocent smile drew a small smirk in the redhead's features. "I'd love to meet her, you know."

"My house is your house, Frau Doctor," While heading for the door, the purple-haired took a lasting glance at the young woman who so confidently sat at Shinji's table, waiting to help him of all things. The situation felt absurd in her head, but she was honestly out of options, grasping at straws and whatever help would be welcome. "Shinji doesn't buy it, and I know you don't either, but I do love you kids," her head bowed lightly. "Please, take care of him, Asuka. And of yourself, like you've been doing."

"I already told you, you slob," came the arrogant response, which managed to curve her lips upwards. "You don't need to worry about it, anymore. I'll deal with it. And whatever Shinji's told you when he's being… nasty, it's all just bullshit. You know it; you're the closest thing either of us had to an actual Mom, and he loves you." She mulled over the next words carefully, licking her lower lip. "He's just hurting a whole lot, has been for too long. Don't take any of those words seriously."

Misato visibly deflated upon hearing her last statement, and Asuka could have sworn she saw the woman's eyes turn glassy and unsteady. "Thanks, honey," she whispered with a finger on the door's button. "I really appreciate it. I'll call you tomorrow."

The door hissed open, hissed closed, and Asuka was alone in his house, again.

She rose from the seat and took a small stride through the living space of the former Third Child. He had a master bedroom where his bed and belongings were stored, but his house differed a bit from the typical Japanese flats. There were no paper doors, for starters; all of Shinji's doors were made of wood, and they all showed signs of some level of violence. The largest of them all led to his bedroom, and it seemed as though the heavy wooden object had been cracked off its hinges.

Crouching near the door, Asuka noticed marks of repair and nails which had been dug into the lower hinge where the metal structure had given away. The door itself was slightly bent in an unnatural angle but still functioned well enough. A guest room about the size of Shinji's own lay in perfect order, bed made and organized. It was most likely the cleanest part of the house, and Asuka nodded with grim understanding, envy and anger that it was the room Shinji continued to have prepared for Rei. The First Child had never returned, after all, and the sheer cleanliness and bleakness of the sleeping space was clearly inspired by the mysterious Ayanami.

Trash it, came the whisper from within. Trash this disgusting room made for the doll. Sure, he'll make a room for her, of course he'll have a room ready for her. Anything for little Rei-Rei, right? Just like when the Angels attacked; he went straight up to save her, didn't he? Asuka shook her head, clutching the handle with ire. "Shut up," she ground out and glared at the perfectly-made bed. Why did he have beds in the first place? What had ever happened to futons? "Shut up already." The door was closed with a bit more force than necessary. "Rei never came back. I was the one supposed to fight that Angel, and my Synch rate hit zero that day."

Yeah, and why did it hit zero, huh, Asuka-chan? The bathroom was clean as well, with no evidence of vomit or blood anywhere; it was a typical guy's bathroom with nothing more than the essential cleansing products, which she had already rearranged to accommodate her many beauty elements. Because he didn't move. He didn't hold you, he didn't help you. Why should you help him at all, huh? He's a pathetic waste of space. Look at him, drooling over the First for seven years, living life like a junkie. He's the same weak little boy, only older. There's nothing for you here, nothing but decadence, and death.

The balcony of Shinji's apartment, Asuka decided, was the nicest place in the entire living area. Located in the outskirts of the city, his apartment building looked over the mountains near Neo-Tokyo 02. He could watch both the sunrise and sunset from the position where the two small chairs and table were located. Even his ashtrays were spotless, showing no signs of roaches or cigarette butts anywhere. The breeze was fresh out there, as well. I wonder how many times that wimp has thought of jumping from here, the annoying yap of the starved dog in her gut provided. He's always looking for the easy way out, that wimp. Remember how he was groveling at our feet, crying out for help? And when we said No, off he went. Asuka's right hand shot up to her neck instantly, and she shuddered, frowning. "You keep bringing up the same old bullshit. I've had years to contemplate on why did what he did, I have all the necessary information to understand now, and I have the maturity to do something about it. So," she voiced out to the nothingness of the balcony. "Shut up for once."

Relentless, the red hound licked its fangs in anticipation. Don't pretend you're not angry. What was that think the shrink said? Oh, yeah. Don't deny your feeling, Asuka-chan, no matter how… dark… they may be. Admit it! The dog barked another barrage of laughter; it sounded so faint, so faint when it had once deafened her. You want your retribution!

"I want answers," she responded at last. The sunset was almost upon her, soon the first stars would make an appearance. It had been… years since the last time she had simply sat down and gazed at the stars. "And so does he. He'll get his, I'll get mine, and… and we'll get by, somehow." The packages had arrived that morning, every single one of them, and she had rented a small shed in the complex's first floor to keep them all safely hidden. The only thing she had taken was an old piece of paper stored away in special wrappings to prevent moisture or fungus from deteriorating the material. "This is what I want."

"Are you certain, Schätzling?"

She had relinquished the pills a year before, against the stupid shrink's recommendation and her useless father's own nonsensical advice. Sohryu Asuka Langley would stand on her own two damn feet, or not at all. "Mama," she replied with a dry undertone. "I'm sure."

The bones always scraped noisily, the noose seemed to tighten with every move the corpse made to rearrange its position. It now hung from the rain above Shinji's apartment, doll dangling obediently right next to it. "Truly?" The bony image of Kyoko shrugged and smiled even wider, blue orbs shining with the fading sun. "Are you sure you don't want to die with me, Schatz?"

Asuka huffed, shaking her head in disappointment. "Really? That poor, stupid line again? Jeez, now you just threw away the game on a technicality, Mama." With a knowing smile plastered on her face, she took in the different hues in the sky. "My mother wanted me to live and be happy, not to die hanging off a balcony in the middle of this city of all places. That was made clear to me during Third Impact. So hook, line and sinker, Mother."

"You've gotten smarter," the corpse answered as it began to disappear. "Take care, sweetling. Mama loves you."

"I know she does," the girl nodded, and resisted the urge to spit on the ground. "She also killed herself in front of me and spoke to a doll for years." The stupid question the red dog had raised bounced back in her brain. "Of course he's thought of it, suicide. But if we were to compete on that regard, I'd take the gold, silver and bronze medals all at once. And I have my dear mother to thank for the marvelous example she set."

She recalled the sensation of the noose tightening against her neck that one time two years ago, recalled with frightening detail how for a second, she had been willing to let herself fall off the damn chair and let the rope do the rest. "I guess that's why I am like I am," the young woman shrugged, taking a hold of a random strand of hair and holding it between her thumb and forefinger. Mama had also been a redhead. "Because I'm like her."

Contemplating suicide had been a weekly exercise during the first two years of her life in Germany, and a daily part of routine directly after Third Impact. She no longer had an Eva to pilot, her greatest performance had ended in the stuff of nightmares to any who dared to watch, her Synch Rate had fallen to absolute zero before the Angel War was done, the very essence of who she thought she'd been had been broken like glass after Arael was done raping her mind. She had wanted to die and at the same time had been terrified by the very notion of departing, disappearing, then bombs had started to detonate on her back, and her deadbeat mother had chosen the end of the world to have a heart to heart with her broken daughter.

Really, I'm just like her, the youth decided. Another day had passed; another meeting with Mama had come and gone without major complications, leaving her with a realization she had long since recognized. Just like Mama, I waited for the last possible moment. The moment where you're already fucked, but you'll take the tiny amount of hope anyway. The last seconds in the Activation Clock… damn… I really am my mom.

The final chance before the Spear spread her arm in two was drawing near, the last chance the Universe would give her pursuit of happiness. You can read every holy book, every volume on psychology and trauma, you can be the finest general doctor in the world, you can memorize every little line written on enlightenment, she mused, raising her right arm to the fading light. It doesn't make any difference if you don't believe a word of it. The final element in was there at last, making her feel at home in a house she had never seen before. Just like those nights in which her body had reveled against her and screamed NO loud enough for the entire compound to hear, it was screeching a resounding YES every time the Shinji's scent engulfed her.

He'll realize I've been sleeping in his bed even if I wash the sheets and buy a new mattress, it dawned on her that the task of trying to disguise her scent in his house was a futile effort, so she'd deal with the consequences as they came. There was no longer any fear left inside, only hard determination. The last drop of dread had dripped away the moment Asuka had removed Shinji's bandages and began working on the knife slashes one by one.

The doctors had done a fine job, indeed, considering the critical state Shinji had been brought in, but in their haste to keep the young man alive, the doctors had not closed off the incisions in a way that left as little scarring as possible. It was a heavy, delicate task; to reopen and properly close a wound so as to avoid any and all dangers of infection carried the hazard of reopening half-closed arteries and causing life-threatening bleeding, especially if the patient's lung tissue was considered.

Regardless, she had found two pieces of discarded metal, a half-used piece of string badly wrapped around one of Shinji's veins, and a small pebble embedded at the corner end of the cut in his leg, and the potentially most dangerous one, a small piece of debris from whichever wall Shinji had crawled through with an open gash in his back. Any of those small objects could have creating complications in the future, so she'd taken them all out and chewed off the Medical Staff, demanding to know how a twenty-two year old was able to see things experienced surgeons hadn't noticed, or bothered to notice.

"Who would've thought he's been in more street fights than I have," she muttered with a level of self-disappointment, shifting in her seat. The first stars began to shine through the curtain of dusk; located strategically facing the shadow of the mountains, Shinji's apartments was one of the few places in the illuminated metropolis where some constellations were visible. "Two overdoses, huh…"

If the boy's medical record left something clear, it was that Shinji was no stranger to the hospital, knife wounds or overdoses. He had overdosed twice in a span of five years, had been in the ER being treated for broken bones, concussions and slashes many a time, and according to the nurses, had a charming personality so long as he was being provided with generous morphine to keep him sedated. When the dosages started to grow too few and far between the young man would lash out with biting words, eerie knowledge of the nurses' lives, and ultimately carefully designed insults meant to go under the victim's skin. A strategy the former female pilot was painfully familiar with; trying to push people away before they abandoned her. The familiarity of his behavior only roused more misery in her chest, a misery she embraced and used to strengthen the resolve of being there.

The cold breeze gently swayed the auburn locks away from her face. She had watched the stars with him once, after the Ninth Angel had been defeated. Threading through the awfulness of her past alone, with little else than her father's vague presence as a reminder this was, indeed, reality, had forced Asuka to appreciate those brief lapses in time when she had been a simple teen, spending time with her… friends.

"Were we ever… something close to friends…?"

The night air refused to answer, so she made her way back into the apartment and began the task of cooking dinner; it had been some time since the last time she had eaten, and even longer since the last time she had cooked. There would be nightmares that night, without a doubt. It'll still be Shinji's bed, though; she reasoned and was able to stop the slight trembling of her fingers. I only have it for two more nights, might as well make the best of it.

It felt as though she were stealing something, felt like a forbidden act; to sleep on his mattress engulfed by his scent and blankets without so much as by your leave from the proprietor. She had two more days of weakness left, regardless of how disrespectful or intrusive it was, two more nights to let her defenses down and sob into his pillow, only to have the true hardhip begin once he stepped a foot back in his home.

"I'm ready," Sohryu Asuka Langley told herself with a determined expression while devouring some fried sausages and salad. "I'm ready. And even if I'm not… I'm doing this. I fought kaijus bigger than this building and survived the end of the world," she stabbed the meat with her fork with vehemence. "I'll be damned if I can't save that idiot from himself."

The curtian of night fell upon the apartment, making the air in the kitchen feel frigid.


"Come on, quick, quick! Somebody might come!"

"Will you shut the fuck up and help me bind this little b-OW!" The resounding echo of a slap bounced off his heavily dosed mind. "Little bitch bit me!"

"HELP! Help me! Please, somebody, anybody! HELP! HELP M-" A very familiar –ding- indicating the use of a tube of some sorts came next, and Shinji blinked, stopping in his tracks to look right.

Something about the girl's hair… had seemed so familiar under that city light, vaguely auburn, correct in length. The next thing he knew, legs which had wobbled for about a mile steeled, and the familiar elixir called adrenaline pumped mercilessly through his veins.

"-also have to be careful with sudden movements for the next three weeks. The damage to your lung is minimal, thank the Gods, but you took a nasty slash to the stomach, and that puncture wound in your leg almost got to the bone," The doctor's drowning, medical tone that feigned friendliness brought him back to the current date. Yes, freedom at last. At the very least, freedom until he reached his apartment. My confinement, you mean, he pondered with displeasure and nodded absently at the doctor, who continued to droll about his condition.

"This new version of the serum is truly a superb advancement in medicine," General Surgeon Hokada mentioned as he held up a small jar containing the crimson liquid. "Your soft tissue is regenerating at a dramatic rate, which also explains the episodes of exhaustion you've been having for the past few days. As your body grows stronger, I would expect the overall dizziness will disappear. Now, I know you like to run in the mornings, and that you train regularly at this… Third Impact Gymnasium…" The man clicked his tonge and regarded Shinji with a bored gaze. "I would recommend you abstain from any physical strain for at least two more weeks. Then, after your next check-up we can discuss slowly getting back to your routine. Is everything clear until this point, Ikari-san?"

"Oh, crystal, Doctor Hokada," while attempting to limit the drowsiness off his own voice, Shinji disregarded how the sarcastic replies were more of an unconscious response lately. "So clear I think I might go blind from it. Really, you do such a splendid job at…(cough)… explaining! It's like...(cough)... I'm being enlightened!"

The doctor narrowed his eyes in Shinji's direction upon hearing the coughs. "That reminds me," he wrote something down on his clipboard and closed it a second afterwards. "No smoking for the next four weeks, minimum. That means no weed, either, Ikari. I know you like to mellow out with your little joints, but we need that gash in your lung cleaned and healing."

"Oh?" Shinji raised an amused eyebrow while he played with the rims of his wheelchair. "So you mean that chunk of dried up flesh I call my left lung is still functioning?"

Rising from his comfortable seat with an air of clear annoyance, the man in the coat walked over to the door and pushed the button, extending an unspoken invitation for the former Third Child to leave his office. "Sohryu-san truly is a remarkable physician, indeed. Her work in that particular incision limited the damage to your lung to a poultry 5%. Considering the serrated knife your assailant used to stab you from behind, I'd say it's nothing short of a miracle that you can use it at all, let alone retain more than 50% functionality."

He wheeled himself off the room with evident difficulty and relinquished control to the monkey waiting outside once he left. Let the brute push him around the hospital; the young man did not feel at all inclined to make his way down to the exit just yet. "Yeah, wonderful, the great Doctor Sohryu-sama comes again to show us, poor earthly bastards, how the job should be done, no? Tell me, doctor Hokada," Shinji's eyes narrowed just as a predatory smirk drew itself on his features. "What does it feel to be outclassed by a twenty-two year old?"

"Your caretaker will be responsible for the serum's dosages and the redressing of your wounds. Good day, Ikari-san. May you have a swift recovery." And with the last statement the doctor shut the door an enclosed himself in the spacious office.

"Meh, that guy is no fun," he commented to the large bodyguard/nurse/handler who wordlessly wheeled the injured Third Child through the large hallways. "Kinda makes me miss Ritsuko. Hmm… I wonder how that life sentence is working out for her, maybe I should pay the old hag a visit once I'm able…(cough, cough)… ah crap…. Ahem… once I'm able to walk properly." He turned back to the stoic figure behind and motioned with his right hand. "What say you, oh, mysterious benefactor who pushes me around like a rag doll? Should I go to Ritsuko's? Maybe she's got pointers on how to properly shoot yourself in the head, you know. She tried it that one time before they dragged her off to jail! Hah! (Cough)."

Eliciting a reaction from the heavily-built man in charge of keeping him check was turning boring, so Shinji yawned, hissed when three of his four new soon-to-be scars stung, and redirected bored, empty cobalt orbs from one familiar face to the other. In reality, I should be flattered, the boy reasoned with a bit of pride. Stabbed four times, with all of my left side, my dominant side, basically useless and still they sent some juicehead monkey to escort me to the door. What a joke.

Quicker than he would have liked, the boy was sitting in the taxi's very uncomfortable backseat as the random driver took nervous glances through the rear view mirror, and the newly-erected city flashed quickly through the window. The similarities with what had once been Tokyo 03 were there; the buildings collecting electricity in the mornings, the passageways that opened with the latest technology, the train stations, the streets; it all looked modern, fresh and promising.

The hole in the ground where his home had once been remained exactly that, a hole in the ground.

Men, women, and youngsters hurried either to or from work, teens and children in school uniforms laughed and joked, pushing each other with smiles on their faces. Sometimes, depending on the global climatic conditions they'd have a winter, and it would snow. People wore nicely decorated coats and sweaters, the children played and threw snowballs at one another, even the restaurant held a slightly friendlier atmosphere on those rare occasions. It all served to remind Shinji that the sacrifice and torture had not been in vain. There was life on Earth still, life as SEELE had not wanted it, and that alone was victory enough for him. He had taken his father's plans, his precious little scenario and shattered it into a million tiny pieces.

Never mind that I killed every single person in the world in a temper tantrum, he thought dispassionately while his gaze turned to where the massive crater was located. And I blew my own home to shit. I probably vaporized Pen-Pen… heh… what a pathetic little worm you are, Ikari.

At some pioint during the ride after telling the driver to take the longest route he knew, Shinji began to drift in and out of consciousness. The serum, or whatever they called it, truly had a numbing effect on his entire body; he felt exhausted from head to toe. Cars drove by, children laughed, a train rode off somwhere and before he knew it, sleep had claimed him.

"Run!"

The little girl had blinked impossibly large eyes to him, wide with fear and clearly foreign. What was an exchange student doing in this neighborhood at such a late hour, anyhow? "Run!" He repeated, loving the way his knuckles cracked when they impacted on the second assailant's face and pushed the man three steps back. "Are you daft, stupid, or do you want to die today, huh?!" He bellowed this time, glaring down at the still immobile schoolgirl.

A bloodied hand picked the youngster from the ground and hurled her to her feet with much more force than needed. "Run! Get the hell out of here! Go!" He pointed in the sidewalk's direction and pushed the girl away. "RUN! Run, you stupid little bitch! RUN!"

The last scream apparently had a satisfying effect, for the girl blinked once more, nodded quickly and started hot-tailing in the way he had signaled. Not two seconds after she fell out of focus did the third one slam himself against Shinji and pushed him to the wall. "Oh, you want some, too?!" He snarled, took a hold of the man's pants and shirt and knocked him down with a judo throw, enthralled by the sickening crack of the skull slamming against the asphalt. "Come on, you god damned cowards, come on!"

The first two had already risen back to their feet. One threw a drunken right hook which he easily dodged, opening himself for Shinji's leg kick to throw him right back on the ground. Before the man could rise, he planted a solid foot on his head and smiled at the satisfying sound of nose cartilage being smashed. The next one took a safe distance, brandishing a pocket knife, and managed to connect a few punches and scratch the outside of his right forearm before Shinji took a hold of his hand and head butted the man's nose with tremendous momentum.

He dug his knee deep in the opponent's ribcage twice, and drove the third knee directly to the skull, enjoying how the bastard's head bounced off his grip like a basket ball. A powerful body shot and a right hook later, the second man was on the ground for a second time. He was about to lift the first one back to his feet in order to properly snap his neck when a strange sensation paralyzed him for a second.

He had stepped on the syringe the criminals were about to use on the girl, so what… what was digging into his back with such ease and stealing his ability to breathe? It dawned on Shinji that he was being stabbed from behind by a new, fourth assailant he had not yet seen, and just as he prepared for a well-aimed elbow in the man's gut, the knife inside his flesh twisted and the third man rose, slamming a powerful hook in Shinji's temple.

"Hey! Get the fuck up and beat on him!" He heard the fourth one bark out instructions, frowning at the garlic-like stench from the man's mouth. "Hurry up, this scrawny brat is stronger than he looks!" The knife was removed in a fluid motion and reinserted in his leg without much effort. Just as he screamed out in pain Shinji realized it was a damn good knife, and a sharp one, the one being used to immobilize him at the moment.

From then on it was all flashes of punches as they impacted his face, kicks, the neon lights coming in and out of focus, and the cold blade comfortably lodged in his thigh. He bided his time, and when the opening came, slammed the back of his head against the man holding him, who in turn pulled the blade out and tried to stab him again. He watched the pink, almost white muscle mass turn deep red and start gushing out blood in seconds. Shinji's survival instincts flared, he dodged just enough so that the tip of the knife entered his left side as the man slashed wildly.

The first, second and third ones were back to their feet. The second one threw himself at him, knife in hand, but even wobbling on one leg he saw the attack coming, grabbed onto the hand once more, only this time he pressed hard against the man's elbow until the resounding crack came. He took the pocket knife from the weak hold and hurled it deep where the man's entrails would be. The ever so familiar sound of a tube impacting his head blackened Shinji's vision for a few seconds, which was more than enough time for the fourth one to dig the knife deep in his left side one final time.

Shinji stared at the pommel in shock, pinkish drool dribbling down his mouth, and smirked. A knife to the stomach, really? As if his insides had not been thoroughly cooked, as if his entrails were not removed on a nightly basis. "That all you got, you punk?!" He demanded, taking a firm hold of the hand holding onto the pommel while his right elbow slammed vicious and repeatedly on the thug's head. "Come on, try a little harder, will you?! Come on!" Completely disregarding the way blood freely spewed off his mouth with every word spoken, Shinji kneed him right in the temple, puking up a mouthful of blood in the process, and stomped on the man's head twice. Clenching the right fist, left hand holding the blade in place, he stood before them.

The three other men hurried to get back to their feet and threw terrified glances in his general direction. Unaware that he was sneering with open, deranged eyes and bleeding heavily from the head, mouth, nose, leg and stomach, Shinji held up his fist and took slow, heavy steps towards them. "Come on…" he wheezed as crimson droplets stained the sidewalk under his feet. "Come on… come at me, (pant)… it's three on one, come on…" He stepped into the light. "Come on!"

One of the assailants' eyes went wide as saucers. "Oh… oh, no. Oh, shit, shit, shit! Guys, this is… this is Ikari!"

"W-What?" asked the second one even with the small pocket knife protruding from his gut. "What did you say?!"

"That's Ikari! I know that face, I've seen it on the news! Shit! Shit! Let's go! Let's go, we have to leave right now!"

"What about Ishidoro? Are we supposed to lea-"

"Fuck him!" The first one tugged the remaining entourage away. "He's probably dead, anyway! We need to go! Do you assholes want Katsuragi sniffing around our operation!? Huh?! We need to go now!"

In a flash, between him blinking away the drowsiness and puking out another glob of crimson, the assailants disappeared and he was left alone in the sidewalk with a knife imbedded in his abdomen. "Pff..." He wobbled, walking away from what he assumed was a corpse. "Bunch of pussies…"

Realization dawned and hit him harder than the metal tube; if he took out the knife the bleeding would worsen considerably and his chances of surviving the night would be all but nonexistent. They were already stacked against him, anyhow. During some of his fights, Shinji tended to forget he was no longer in the Entry Plug, with a powerful S2 engine to magically put him back together. Taking a firm hold of the pommel, the young man nodded to himself and ever so slowly started removing the blade-

"Ah, Ikari-san, are you awake?" The sensation of the car grinding to a halt and his head bouncing a bit roused Shinji from the memory; he blinked with heavy eyelids, recognized the entrance to his apartment building and produced a frustrated grunt. "I took the long route as you instructed, sir. Do, uhm… do you need some help getting out?"

No, of course I don't, you stupid little bald fuck, biting off a sarcastic remark, Shinji nodded wordlessly and opened the door, already dreading what awaited on the other side of his own door. I was only agonizing with half my stomach filled with blood ten days ago, and don't even get me started on this useless leg, or the fact that a serrated steel knife was introduced to my lung. The medical staff had been kind enough to grant him a pair of fresh, new crutches, a wheelchair and a cane of all things to help him maneuver. "Shit, I guess I ought to be thankful that this stupid complex is cripple friendly," he muttered to himself whilst the driver wheeled him into the elevator.

"Sir?" The man asked in return. The familiar ding put the meager conversation to an end and spared Shinji the need to explain himself for using yet another word that was no longer socially acceptable.

"Nothing, forget it," he ground out, ignoring the man's quiet outrage when he stretched to push the button to his floor and upset his injuries in the process. "Here," the young man produced a random number of yen from his pant pocket and pushed them in the man's unsuspecting palm. "Thanks for the help."

"A-Ah!" The driver blinked, and tried to articulate a sentence just as the door closed. "T-Thank you, Mr. Ikari! I hope you get well soon! You're a h-" Thankfully, the man's voice disappeared under the ominous hum of the metallic device ascending towards the ninth floor. Shinji took out his cell-phone and sighed dejectedly upon discovering the many varied messages in the inbox. A large feeling of relief washed over him remebering the nurse had told him the crutches and cane had already been delivered to the apartment.

HEY THERE, HERO, his boss, the restaurant owner wrote. TAKE AS MANY DAYS OFF AS YOU NEED. WE KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE US MEDDLING IN YOUR STUFF, SO WE VISITED YOU ON THE SECOND DAY BUT YOU WERE STILL UNDER. IT WAS A TRULY HEROIC THING THAT YOU DID, SHINJI, YOU OUHGTA BE PROUD AND HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH. WE'RE PR-

Delete.

ARE YOU OKAY?! The excessive use of exclamation marks let the boy know Kodame, one of the waitresses had been the next to write. WE HEARD THE NEWS AND RAN TO THE HOSPITAL! MY GOD, THERE WAS SO MUCH BLOOD-

Delete.

HEY THERE, RUTHLESS. The comment from his trainer and the stupid little nickname they had given him brought a small, lopsided smirk in Shinji's lips. HEARD YOU GOT INTO A NASTY FIGHT. HEARD YOU WON, SO CONGRATS. GET WELL SOON. WE'LL VISIT WHENEVER YOU'RE GOOD ENOUGH TO DRINK. HOLLA.

The last message he did not delete, and while he busied himself with emptying said inbox, the sound of the elevator arriving to his floor forced yet another annoyed sigh from the injured former pilot. He quickly typed a generic answer for all his contacts and hit send before pushing himself into the alleyway. "Thank you all for your kind wishes, I'm well on my way to recovery and will be back in business in three weeks. Sincerely, Shinji."

The young man's damaged stomach rumbled; it was quick to remind him he had not taken any sort of solid food throughout his entire latest stay in the ER, which was both discouraging and repulsive. He detested the gruel they forced down his throat or through the thrice-dammed tube during the first days, and hated that his own stomach acids created one hell of an ulcer against the healing walls of the damaged organ. Even with both Japan and Germany's latest advancements in technology, he had been forced to endure six conscious, and ten full days of nothing significant in his belly. "Yeah, I'll get on it as soon as I reach the kitchen," he told the recovering organ. "Hold it for another thirty minutes."

Having reached the house, Shinji did not bother to so much as knock before pushing himself up to slide his key through the laser. The door hissed open, hissed closed and he quietly made his way inside; the first thing that assaulted his senses was the smell of apples and papaya, along with some form of vegetable soup. "Huh?" he asked nobody in particular after reaching the kitchen. "I don't remember leaving the stove on… for ten freaking days." From the corner of his eye a glint of crimson moved along some loud, rock song his keen hearing detected next. "Hey!" He yelled as hard as he could this time, coughing twice for his trouble.

"Sheisse!" Asuka jumped in surprise and spun back to meet his stony gaze with shock evident in her blue eyes, clutching her chest in surprise. Well, she could still scream high enough to leave him partly deaf, it seemed. "W-What are you doing here?!" She demanded next, and upon realizing the absurdity of her own question, blinked and recomposed herself. "I-I mean! What the hell, Baka? Don't you know of the concept called knocking?!"

Shinji's head dropped to the side, not in the slightest impressed. "You do know this is my house, right? Why the hell would I knock…(cough)… to get inside my own home?"

"Well, you knew I was going to be here!" She shot back, taking a chance to move the long locks away from her eyes. "And what are you doing moving with those kind of injuries by yourself, huh? Are you stupid?! What part of 'no sudden movements' was too hard for your mushed brain to understand, huh, Baka?!"

A yawn threatened to escape his mouth, so Shinji relocated his gaze to the pristine condition of his living space and shrugged once again, arising more annoyance from the former Second Child. "Eh, it's not the first time I've been in a wheelchair on my own, nor the first time I've had some level of life-threatening injury, anyway." Before the redhead could articulate a response, he continued. "Is there food around, by any chance? I'm pretty hungry. I can cook if there's nothing ready yet."

Some form of queer relief came over the redhead's features, he noticed, yet just as the slow lowering of defense came, it disappeared and was replaced by the look he knew so very well. She was annoyed with him. Ah, refreshing, he pondered and squashed the urge to smile with brutal force. To know that some things never change.

Asuka crossed her arms, letting his hazed mind take in her current attire. She had a casual outfit on, with a long, overly large white shirt with the sleeves wrapped up to facilitate kitchen work, a pair of long, red shorts and white socks. "Of course there's food, you idiot. Your stomach was too banged up to process anything a few days ago, but I guess it can take this."

In a flash she had taken some orange liquid from the fridge and poured a generous glass, then returned to his side and offered with a carefree expression. Shinji's eyes narrowed, he frowned deep under the curtain of the overly grown brown locks, and forced the battered hand to cooperate. His fingers ever so lightly grazed against hers when he accepted the cold beverage. "It's an apple and papaya smoothie." The redhead's voice came from above him. "It's freshly made, too. It'll help you boost that immune system and patch up the wound in your stomach walls in no time."

Throw it, his mind roared in absolute rage. Throw it, throw it! Throw it in her face! Throw it at her skull and fracture it! Throw it at the wall! Take that glass and slam it against her face! "Hmm," he said instead, taking a sip. "It's good." Then, horrible insight arrived, forcing a cold smirk to appear. "This is the first time you've offered me anything. Ever."

It was a dry, stoic remark spoken in the flattest of tones, and judging by how the woman's body froze next to his; the offensive had been more than successful. I am throwing it in her face, don't worry, he mused as the sickening satisfaction of having imbalanced someone sprung in his chest. To his dismay, however, Asuka recovered much quicker than anticipated and did not respond with biting anger.

"Yeah," she agreed and nodded, turning her eyes away. "I guess it is. Well, better late than never, don't you think?"

Shinji's right eye twitched in annoyance. Fuck, he thought gravely. The woman who stood before him was not familiar at all. Who is this person in front of me? "I suppose so," huffing, Shinji emptied the glass in eight consecutive gulps and set it down on the table with a resounding clang. "Thank you, it tasted… healthy."

"That's just the appetizer," a small level of recognition climbed back to his mind when Asuka placed her hands on her hips. Ah, yes, now that I remember. "I have a strawberry salad waiting for you on the table, dipped with bits of unsalted almonds and cashews. Do you like kale lettuce?" Shinji shrugged in response. "Get ready to like it, then! Here," The redhead revealed the very ornamented, carefully lain plate at the spot he usually sat, where the stool had already been removed since he was forced into the useless wheelchair for another two days. "Dig in!"

Pick it up and step on it, his mind offered this time just as he finished pushing himself to the table. Asuka had tried to move in order to help him, he supposed, but Shinji had used his coldest 'Gendou' stare to freeze the young woman in place. Trash this ridiculous plate right now. Break it, break it with your fist! Smear your blood on her face, on her clothes, turn this fucking table over! Shinji's cold gaze wandered from the salad, to Asuka's neck and back. Strangle her!

Never.

Even while he was actively growling and glaring at the nice little salad as though it had just spat on his face, the man's left arm took a hold of the chopsticks. Stick those chopsticks in her eyes! Bite down on her neck! NOW! He took three demure bites, eyebrow raised at the interesting mixture of flavours; the lettuce had a pleasant crunch to it, along with a bitter aftertaste which was complemented by the sweet-sour flavor the strawberries provided. "I was unaware that you could cook," he mentioned instead between bites. "The salad's really good."

"Yeah, well, you're unaware of a bunch of stuff, Baka," Asuka continued to put this or that in whatever place she could find in a clear effort to not sit next to him at the table. "Especially stuff regarding me."

"That may be true," he responded just as the last piece of salad disappeared from the finely decorated plate. "But whose fault is that, again?"

For her part, Asuka had seen through Shinji's strategy from the first moment. She kept stealing glances at the mask he called a face and recorded every wrinkle of the brow, every frown and every sarcastic smile, storing it deep in her mind for later analysis. She was about to answer and give the idiot a piece of mind in the process, yet once again Shinji reacted first.

"Ah, forget it," The glass of cold water sitting next to the plate looked very appetizing all of the sudden; Shinji took three gulps and set it down. "Who gives a crap about what happened forever ago. Anyway, thanks for the food. How long are you staying, again?"

He addressed her with a disinterested tone at best, one which perfectly masked the latent anger in his voice. She wondered whether or not he would explode in uncontrollabe ire or continue to poke her from afar with his half-assed sarcasm. Oh, Baka. Even if you've been playing this game for the past few years, you're still a novice. "I don't know," she finally sat down across from him and propped her chin with her right hand, gaze fixed on his cold glare. "How long did it take you to cum when you were jerking off to my comatose body?"

Then, Shinji's eyes changed and the stone wall of cobalt was lifted.

I see you.

The way the man's hardened expression melted for a fraction of a second was enough for her keen eye to catch another glimpse of the boy she had known during the Angel War. First a flicker of shocked surprise, secondly muted outrage, and soon after a grimaced expression transparent in communicating endless guilt flashed through his face. It lasted too little, nevertheless, too little for Asuka's taste, for soon after that calm, cold rage clouded over his features and his eyes regained the stony appearance once only relateable with Ikari Gendou.

Just as quickly Shinji groaned and turned his head to the ceiling whilst pretending to not be affected by the question at all. "Crap, I was one horny little leecher back then," he admitted. The movement of his entire left side was limited, so he extended his right hand towards the lightbulb instead. "Probably didn't even last thirty seconds." He clenched the hand into a fist. "Not that my poor performance discouraged you from speaking your mind back then, hmm?"

He was referring to the many days she had openly displayed and loudly admitted her overall disgust with his person, and the fact that she considered his action nothing short of rape. Back then, however, he had nodded furiously with tears cascading down his cheeks and begged for her forgiveness or in its defect, her attention. She had been unable to control her outbursts during those days, and he knew that fact, so Shinji was beginning to play dirty. "Well, it was a pretty shitty thing to do. A disgusting thing, truly."

"Yup," Shinji took another gulp of water. "I'm a disgusting, pathetic little excuse for space, aren't I? Or at least so you kept telling me. You never answered my question, you know, in your eternal pursuit of my past fuck-ups. How long do I have to put up with this?"

Running away, huh? Good call this time, Baka, The redhead realized with amusement. You've made a smart decision for the first time in your life. Aplaus, Aplaus, Herr Idiot. "Well, according to the order Misato gave me, about three months, give or take a few days."

"THREE…(cough)… MONTHS?!" The scream was muffled by the young man's injured state, but it still managed to make Asuka's eye twitch; he was even trying to rise from the chair. "(Cough, cough)… What the hell are you going on ab-!"

"STOP YELLING, YOU IDIOT!" She roared right into his face and enjoyed how the boy's jaw hinged closed with a resounding snap and his body returned to its seated position. "Listen to me, you daft jerk," she continued drily, staring straight at his shocked gaze and taking advantage of the momentary slip on Shinji's behalf. "You have severe trauma in your midsection, a gash on your leg that got to your bone, and a stab wound conveniently around your lung, so screaming's off the question for the next few days."

It was the first time Shinji had ever raised his voice to her, and of all things it was to protest against something he had been pleading to have for years; her company. The young man snarled, biting down the urge to bellow with all his strength and horribly aware of the pain on his back. "Why," he whispered instead, voice dripping with venom. "Why would I need a freaking baby sitter for three months, huh? The good-for-nothing doctor in the hospital explicitly told me three weeks. Why would I even put up with this?"

I don't think that's hate, but it is something really, really twisted, Asuka recognized the gleam of anger shine in Shinji's eyes. They looked frighteningly akin to hers. "It's not like you have a bunch of choices," she answered with the most emotionless tone she could muster. "It's either this, or jail time in a very uncomfortable prison cell. Your move, Baka."

"I'll take the prison," Shinji ground out with spite. "At least in a prison cell nobody's gonna stop from cu-"

"From cutting open your veins, or hanging yourself?" interrupted the girl with a raised eyebrow. "Why, Shinji, I wasn't aware that you were my mother."

The man's eyes narrowed to slits; she noticed just how tight his hold on the wheelchair turned, and how the white of his bruised knuckles became visible. He truly was infuriated beyond belief, and as helpless as a little toddler. "That is not funny." The low growl of his voice made the girl's chest shudder.

"No, Shinji," she stood back up, but not before flicking the young man in the forehead with barely any strength at all. "Suicide is never funny, so stop joking about it and mentioning it so casually. Otherwise I'll be tempted to tie you down to your bed every night, and believe me, I will." She had tied down men much bigger and stronger than her to their beds in the Psyche Ward down in the hospital where she'd done the practice; granted, the men were more often than not drugged with enough tranquilizers to slow down a Grizzly bear, but she was familiar with the process. "So what's it gonna be, Baka? Your door's right there."

A smile was threatening to split her serious façade in two, though. Shinji was seething; the skin of his face was incensed, he looked just about ready to jump off the chair and bite down on her throat. For what felt like minutes the silence stretched, neither willing to budge even a millimeter; in truth, he had every reason to feel so outraged. She had invited herself into his house, monopolized said household in less than five days, and was now basically taking away his freedom. I'm sorry, Shinji, she buried the pang of regret deep down, to let it torment her in the night after she'd gone to bed. But this is for your own good.

SNAP THE BITCH'S NECK IN TWO! NOW! KILL! KILL! KILL AT ONCE! DISEMBOWEL THIS STUPID REDHEAD RIGHT NOW!

For his part, Shinji shook his head twice to clear it, breaking eye contact, and focused on trying to melt the floor of his dining room with the menacing scowl that had no effect whatsoever in Asuka's calm demeanor. He was more than half-tempted to leave and be imprisoned, even after he had saved the life of that little girl, if only to spite the woman who so very easily faced him. There were no drugs in jail, though, not without some form of grievous payment. Shinji closed his eyes, and tried to breathe deeply until the wound on his back flared.

"…Fine," he ground through gritted teeth. "Have it your way… You'll regret it soon enough." He let the ominous warning hang in the air, and wondered why, or how he had spent so much time in his own damn kitchen without getting himself a drink, a joint, or some pills. "You don't know what you're getting into, Second." He mulled over the next words carefully, sharpening his tongue the way he sharpened the knives. "I don't remember asking you, or anyone for that matter, for any help. I also don't see how with your advanced new magic juice I need to wait three months for these little scratches to close. Pff," he scoffed; God, he suddenly wanted a cold, nice Keller and four or five Valiums. "Some magic potion you brought back. What the hell happened to your hand?"

Asuka's eyes softened as they shifted towards the small wrapping on her forefinger. "I had a little accident with one of your knives, it's nothing." She dismissed the apparent slip on Shinji's behalf, a show of concern, with a motion of her hand and retrieved the small object from the counter. "Anyway," No better time than the current to drop the N2 Mine, Sohryu. "What's up with this?"

Shinji's eyes almost bulged out their sockets.

Held innocently between Asuka's fingers, wrapped in some sort of weird plastic rested… the first letter he had ever sent her. "What…" he began, too taken aback to let the anger dictate his behavior. "What are you doing with that?"

"Duh," this time it was her who shrugged with an air of indifference. "You sent it to me, Baka. I've always hated letters, you know? If you have something to say, I prefer it if you do it to my face. I don't believe in letters, so here," she took out the letter for the first time in seven years, and placed it ever so delicately on the table, praying to any and all Gods who listened for the idea not to backfire in some horrendous manner. "Read it to me. To my face, how it should be."

Fuck four Valiums, Shinji realized, frozen in place for reasons unknown. I'll need the whole damn bottle. His hand gingerly picked the small envelope, turning it between his fingers with the same dumbfounded expression he'd worn so many years ago. Rip it to pieces, his mind provided, and the man's fingers stilled. There were close to no wrinkles in the paper, the pathetically scribbled 'For Asuka' stared back at him with the same blue hue it had on the day he'd written it. Rip it, burn it right in her face and throw the ashes in her eyes. Ball this shit up and throw it to the trash where it belongs. Do it. Why was he opening it? And why was he being so careful?! Do it, rip it to shreds, Shinji. Tell her to go fuck herself and take these back to Germany, to the trash! Do it! Do it!

Never. That would hurt Asuka.

Unbeknown to him, the young man's face twitched as his expression turned from shock to rage, then to anger and finally settled on a bitter frown. Asuka noticed how his hands shook, as though he was trying to squash the harmless piece of paper under his palm and some invisible force held him back. "Go on," she encouraged, still on her feet. "Read it to me."

Before he fully realized what was happening the letter was held between both his hands, and his own words were glaring back. "Dear Asuka," he began. Fuck! Stop, stop god damn you, stop this reading this crap! Stop! "I… I'm sorry about what happened, and really hope you're okay and weren't hurt. I heard gunshots before I fell," The flashes of that day's event whipped through his head; the hospital lights, pain on his side and on his back, the fear of having nobody answer his questions, the solitude of his room, for days on end. "I'm in the hospital right now, and they won't tell me where you are, they think I'm angry with you or something. Can you believe that?" He paused, placed two fingers on his forehead and hissed low in his throat. "Shit…"

It was supposed to have been their first date; Asuka had agreed without thinking if only to be rid off Shinji's constant mumbling, realizing until the last moment she'd agreed to go outside and take a walk and eat some ice cream with him. Her mood and mental condition had been horrible back then; she only ever gravitated between endless, depressive grief and blinding anger. Asuka swallowed down a lump in her throat. "I… I'm listening," this time her voice came out as a mere whisper.

Burn this stupid shit right the fuck now and go get a drink, Ikari, his mind barked. What are you, twelve?! You don't have to obey her, you don't have to obey anyone! Fucking stop this nonsense already and spit in the bitch's face! "I'm…" the former pilot continued reading despite his best efforts to get up and leave. "I'm hurting all over right now, they told me you pushed me…" he glanced in the redhead's direction, disappointed to have her eyes obscured by long strands of auburn locks. "But I won't believe them. I was the one who touched you all of the sudden, and I don't blame you at all for anything, I just hope you're okay. It's… getting kind of lonely in this room." Just… rip it to shreds already, Shinji. Don't remember that.

But Asuka asked me to. She didn't demand it, she didn't yell; she asked me to read her my letter.

Fuck, grimacing, Shinji carried on. "I'm… scared. Sometimes it's hard to sleep, sometimes without you to call me an idiot… I feel like I'm still dreaming, like I'm still… in there." The image of his mother's corpse manifested so strongly that he almost lost the faint grip on the piece of paper. "I…" he swallowed heavily. "I think I saw my mother, Asuka, in my dreams… in a nightmare. I really miss you, please don't leave like that. Please tell me you're okay." The headache was next, slamming against this brain so hard that Shinji inhaled, coughed, and gripped the bridge of his nose.

"Do you… do you remember your mother, Asuka?" Not even bothering to look at the words anymore, Shinji hissed and forced his eyes closed. Why did it physically hurt to read his own damned words? Why did it feel like he was about to cry? "I don't remember much about mine, but I know… she wasn't a good person. Sometimes I see her, and she talks to me… and I get really scared. Are you okay?" The hand holding onto the letter fell on the table. "Love, Shinji."

He let go of the thin material as if burned by it, glaring down at his pants and furious with himself. Pathetic, fucking pathetic. Seven years, and you can't look her in the eye if you're not drunk or high on something. He watched out the corner of his eye how the young woman carefully retrieved both the letter and envelope, addressed his writing with what felt like fondness and folded the paper once she was done, placing it in the weird plastic bag. What are you gonna do next, huh? Jump when she says 'jump'?! Pathetic.

Then Asuka placed a delicate kiss on the letter, one which left him completely baffled. "Thank you, Shinji," the tone of her voice… he had to bite down on his own lip with fervor to keep the tears at bay. That tone of voice… he had only ever heard it in his dreams. "That was really thoughtful, and selfless of you."

Speak up, he roared from within. Speak up, damn you! Hurt her! Get her the fuck away from me! Come on! "There's nothing considerate, nor selfless about falling like a sack of potatoes onto a freaking table, Asuka."

"You saved my life," Shinji breathed in sharply, hand clutching into a fist so tight he almost felt his nails digging into the skin. No, no, no, no, don't, don't day it. Don't say that, not now, not after so long, not when it means fucking nothing-

"Thank you, Shinji." A blade far more serrated, and far sharper than the one used to slice open his back pierced effortlessly through his chest and twisted in his dead heart. "Maybe I did everything to make you think I didn't appreciate, but I do. That's why I'm thanking you." He recoiled from her as though she'd just hurled a construction hammer into his gut. Stop this shit! Stop this charade! Stop! Can't you see it fucking hurts?! His eyes were closed, clouded by unshed tears, and still the man's body jumped on contact when Asuka's hand rested on his shoulder. "I'm very sorry for pushing you so hard, I swear it wasn't my intention to hurt you like that. I swear."

And he believed her, he believed her every word completely and upon hearing it just once. The rancid pang of his self-hatred flared, biting down on his sorrow without reprieve. "Why did you leave?" He grated, not willing to open his eyes. God, he was relieving the fucking day again, watching as Asuka stood there in the street, petrified and the car rushed in to squash her. "Why did you leave like that?" Why did you leave me?! The boy in the school uniform cried out from his prison, where he was kept chained. Why did you abandon me?! What did I do wrong?!

He felt motion on his side, felt how the hand left his shoulder and Asuka once again took a seat opposite to him. "I was… scared," replied the redhead quietly. What was it with her and that relaxed, collected tone of voice all of the sudden?! Why was she so calm!? "I was scared of what I had just done, scared that… that I was enjoying myself, enjoying… your company… that day. Enjoying... being alive. I was scared that I wanted to die, and that… you wouldn't let me. So I ran, and I escaped."

She was enjoying the company of the good-for-nothing, perverted wimp who left her to die a horrible death and used her as a comfort toy before that, Running a calloused, scarred hand through his face and wiping away any evidence of tears from his eyes, Shinji exhaled, and coughed thrice. I can't, the realization hit him like a brick. I can't be mean to her. Why? Why can't I? I can be mean to everyone! Do I need a fix, is that it, do I need to get high to tell this… to tell her what I really feel?! Her resolve will break in ten minutes flat the moment I get a good buzz going...

It occured to him that it was the longest he had spent without thinking about getting high for over two years. The need to push Asuka away became almost blinding, and a nasty comment about her mother and her began to form in his brain. The train of thought was abruptly stopped in its tracks, nonetheless, when the young woman next spoke.

"Three months is roughly what it'll take to get you clean, I hope," And once again, for what felt like the fifth or sixth time in that evening alone, Shinji's sharp tongue was silenced upon hearing a response to his initial question. "That's why I'm staying… I'm staying as long as it takes, and no," she clarified, producing some small box from the upper right corner of his pantry. "I don't expect you to lay off everything you've been taking in the last few years from one day to the next. But you can't drink right now, and your little pill collection will burn a hole in your stomach before you even get a decent buzz going. So, here,"

A small gummy bear was thrown in his direction, followed by another, and another. The first one caught him right in the face, the second one he caught and the third bounced off his closed fist and fell on his pants. "What the hell?" Lifting the harmless looking, brightly colored gummy bear which was a bit larger than his thumb, Shinji raised a curious eyebrow. "What are these supposed to be?"

"Edibles, Baka," Asuka clarified, tossing a silver bag with clear intentions of hitting his nose for a second time. The reflexes came into play, however, and he caught it in mid air. "That little bear is… 200 milligrams of delicious, processed, legal THC. I asked the clerk how much I should take, and he said 'just the leg'."

"Just the leg?" came the honest and flabbergasted response from the renowned opiate dependant. "Why are they selling whole bears?!"

"Hah! I know, right?" The redhead laughed, actually laughed at something he said. The sound alone woke a primal need in the young man who called himself a walking corpse, and for the first time in seven years, he was aware of his own heartbeat. He needed to squash these feelings at once, before they even began to grow; there was no salvation for Ikari Shinji. "Ha ha, it's like they're trying to prove something!"

And still, he chuckled, and for a few seconds forgot that he was about to crush Asuka's hopes into dust.

"Yeah, like 'come on down, we can actually kill you with weed, now'! Jeez, two hundred? That'll be a nice trip." He felt somewhat relieved; edible marihuana striked more heavily than some pills at times, with the side effects that it many a time drove him to places in his mind where he'd rather never go again. "Wait, so… are you my caretaker, or my enabler? Are you giving me drugs right now, Frau Doctor?"

"I'm being realistic," she shrugged while inspecting one of the silver bags she had thrown to his face. "I know for a fact you need something in your system in the next hour if I want those stitches to remain closed. I also know…" The redhead paused, whether from dramatic effect or indecision Shinji was uncertain, and licked her lower lip. "I also know you have bad dreams… really bad nightmares… and this might help you sleep better."

"Hmm," The only positive element he was finding about his current situation was the fact that Asuka would see him really, really high and that alone normally scared even Misato out of his apartment. "And what are these?" The former male pilot opened the bag and retrieved a small, black, five pointed sweet that stuck to his fingertips.

"Those," Asuka smirked, opening her own bag with a –pop-. "Those are from my friend Joey. Ninja Stars of Death." She raised her hand, fingers apart. "Five hundred milligrams. I'd recommend just about a corner of it."

Nodding absently while he inspected the treat in the light, he smiled. "A corner, you say," You'll be back in your huge compound in less than twenty-four hours, Frau Doctor. I'm really sorry about this. He flicked the black sweet into his mouth whole, chewed it a few times and swallowed. "Let the fun time begin, then." But this is for your own good, and for your own safety, Asuka. It was still nice to see you, though. A true breath of fresh air. He decided to burn the image of the healthy twenty-two year old redhead into his corroded, half-rotten soul.

The former Third Child pushed himself off the table, staring at the familiar ceiling for a few seconds before deciding to go out to the balcony. Perhaps that night he'd finally get to see some damn stars. "Oh, Baka," the sound of light chuckling addressed the cold fury that were his eyes back to her, only to watch Asuka devour one of those alleged 'Death Stars' as well. "You're nuts, you know."

"Nah," Shinji answered. It pissed him off that Asuka walked faster than he could roll himself in the limited space, and had already opened the door when he reached the balcony. He offered the most twisted smile he could muster in return. "I'm insane."

The real fun was about to begin.

TBC…


Inspirational Music: Still Counting, The Devil's Bleeding Crown – Volbeat; Inside Yourself, Let it Out, Someday – Godsmack, The Baying of the Hounds, Beneath the Mire, Harvest – Opeth, Sons of Plunder, Immortalized, Down with the Sickness, The Night – Disturbed, Harvester of Sorrow, The Day that Never Comes – Metallica, Same Song and Dance, These Drugs, Role Model – Eminem.

AN: Yup, pretty dark. I know, I know, I'm sorry. Nah, not really, though I can't promise a happy ending for this one, to be honest. I just had to lighten up the mood at the end though, because…uhm… because of reasons. We'll see how it goes. Anyway, if this chappy was heavy, imagine the next! Next in Em's album is… Insane! In every literal form, hah! The song is twisted, really twisted, so expect some heavy stuff next chappy. When? No clue! I'm working right now, but I don't know, this stuff's just pouring out, so who knows? When I once more have a two day window in my schedule to roughen up 15k words or something.

I think the length of the chappies will pretty much stay around 16k to maximum 20k each. I'm not trying to write another Scar Tissue, ya know? I'm even trying to make the narrative a bit different, less... heavy, so to speak. Also, this story will not take place in the hospital lol. It'll have a quicker pace, as isto appreciate in this chappy. At some point in next chapter i'll dig deepe into some of the subjects that our dear little pair mentioned in their reunion! And trust me, this chappy is just the Overture to this reunion. I hope it works. But yeah, next chappy... damn, son. Insane!

Thoughts? Ideas? Criticism? Everything is welcome. Again, this is a developing project. Anyway, thanks for reading!

PEACE.