AN: This is a skit. Like Tonya Skit, just not fucking dark. It's something I thought needed to be added, so I added it. Yeah, just something for the pain. Skal.
"… but I didn't see the guy behind me, and he got me with…uhm… a good one there."
Even the pathetic stuttering of his younger years returned with a vengeance after the redhead's gaze became fixed on the mark branded above his hairline. He felt her nail scratch just above said scar, almost sending the young man's sensory system to overdrive; the way Asuka was so tentatively touching him told Shinji everything words did not. He could feel her trepidation just as well as the scorching body heat mingling with his own and making a blanket absolutely useless; she was touching him as though waiting to be rejected or scorned at while she tried her absolute hardest to do something which went against her nature.
She was being nice. To him of all people, and was expecting to be pushed away or hurt at any given moment. Asuka was taking a blind leap of faith and letting herself be gentle to a man who had been nothing of an ogre to her for the better part of two weeks. It angered him beyond words, to think anybody would ever hurt her, especially at such a special moment where she was lowering the nigh impregnable walls that kept her safe. The serrated knife twisted in his guts, this time burning with guilt. He had… been trying to hurt her, wishing to at least. Shit, he pondered, but before he could dwell on the thought, the inquisitive forefinger pressed on a discoloration near his cheek. She continued to be tender, in her own way, to the man who had tried to kill her and done so many other horrible things.
"And what about this one?"
The smile returned without consent despite the new blade sticking in his soul. They had been at it for what it felt like the better part of two hours. She would pick a mark decorating his scarred features and listen intently to the faltering story he managed to weave through. The details behind that particular slash were not so innocuous, nor something that could be explained with a few words. He felt the redhead's index press against the fading line with a bit more force than before, as though wishing to make sure the bone underneath had suffered no damage. The broken pieces inside his chest painfully rearranged in a vain attempt to return to an unbroken state; her gaze was so incredibly penetrating, so engrossed in his every word that it made reasoning difficult.
"Got into a… ah…" What… is… the matter with you, Ikari?! The way her leg was snaked around his and her head nestled on his chest did not help matters at all. She was so close, so very, very close to him, her breath was tickling him. They had never spoken a word while lying next to each other before, not a word, and suddenly he refused to fall asleep because letting go of that moment felt more terrifying than never doing drugs again. "Got into… uhh… (cough)… a bar fight, and… somebody hit me with brass knuckles…"
The pressing on the old wound turned just a tad forceful; he could feel Asuka prodding into the surface of his cheekbone. Her gaze, tired as it was, turned even more penetrating, which in turn forced the small tremors circling through his body away. "Why did they hit you with brass knuckles?" She questioned next, making the young man gulp. Something had drastically changed in the amiable environment of the room all of the sudden; the girl's animosity was almost palpable. "What happened?"
"I… well…" Shinji felt the former Second Child rearrange her body weight on the mattress so as to not kill her arm from blood loss and fix an ever-growing prying glare on a scar that was only perceptible to the touch in the dim light of the room. How could he explain that he had heard some random visitor of one of his favorite little lost canteens insult her, had kindly requested that he rethink his words, and that it had somehow escalated from there? "Somebody said something really… disrespectful…" Shinji's right hand unconsciously clenched against her shoulder, forcing an almost imperceptible yelp of surprise from her. "And so I… asked him to be... quiet and… and then…" he finger pressed even harder against the jagged line, almost poking him in a reprehensive manner. "And then he said something even more disrespectful… and a friend of his had those brass knuckles, so…"
"Do you remember who it was?" Shinji noticed the strain on her tone, the way she was blinking heavily and trying her hardest not to fall asleep, and felt somehow robbed of something he did not quite understand. Why did he suddenly did not want the night to end? The anger returned; he had been dreaming of a moment like this for so many years, even before getting to know the former Second Child, his soul had thirsted for the enticing taste of human contact. Yet another piece was pushed inside the mass of broken glass inside his chest; he did not wish for that feeling to be produced by any other person that was not her, he wanted only Asuka to arise such emotions in him, only her.
"Not really," he gulped as nervousness jumped into his fatigued psyche. Tired as she was, Asuka still exuded a dangerous aura while she lay next to him; something in the undetailed little story he had just revealed had upset her. "It's fine, they…" One of those men had had his face imbedded in the bar's counter, the dents of his teeth were still easy to spot on the wooden surface. It served as a good reminder of what should happen when some idiot said the wrong thing. "They had it coming…"
In a move that made him almost jump out if bed, Asuka's right hand left the skin of his face and trapped his left hand. Eyes wide; Shinji tried in vain to gaze into the redhead's cerulean orbs in demand of some form of explanation, and all which received him was the scrutinizing, shining glare of her blue eyes as they sparkled in the moonlight. Her thumb and forefinger pressed against the line between his knuckles. "And this one?" she almost demanded with a harsh whisper.
That was some poor bastard who thought it'd be fun to make you cry on national TV, the boy's mind answered; his arm tightened around her frame and brought her just a tad closer. The shadow recoiled in dread, with the little boy shaking in his chains while every other part of him demanded that he never, ever again let go of whatever feeling was coursing through him at the moment. Someone who should really learn to keep their mouth shut. "That… I…" despite the vicious, bloodthirsty side of him roaring in contentment at the sensation of her fingertips dancing around the disfigured surface of his knuckles, Shinji felt regret and embarrassment arise inside his chest. The tickle of her breaths was the most satisfying sensation the world had gifted him; her body warmth was scalding; the burning heat was overwhelming enough to have the former Third Child recalling those nights after Third Impact. How to confess to her that he had travelled all the way to Germany to enact some pathetic sense of justice on a m-
"Was this…(yawn)… Heidelberg…?"
Shinji's molars bit into the soft material of his cheeks in a vain attempt to hide his shock. Before he could answer, however, the ragged skin of his thumb came into contact with a slight, almost imperceptible incongruence around Asuka's lower lip. The reason behind his hand moving so erratically around her face had been a tremor; but never before in his life had Shinji been glad for one as much he was at the moment. He chose to ignore the shock of her knowing that name and associating it with the mark on his hand altogether. "Never mind that," he muttered with steel in his voice. His forefinger traced down the line under her lip. "What happened here?" He asked. Did this happen in Thailand? What happened in Thailand? How come after you came back, you were… different?! Due to the dim lighting in the room Shinji could not see the redhead blush, but he did catch the sudden rise in her body temperature. "Who did this?"
Their embrace was fierce despite them both being utterly depleted and fatigued, they were hugging just as tight as they had after Third Impact, with him being evidently unable to force the left side of his body to comply, yet still so close that Shinji could almost feel her heartbeat. People often misunderstood what it truly was to breathe in the scent of home through the nostrils; salt, sweat and the particular muskiness of a certain someone represented more comfort than any fine perfume of deodorant could ever hope to provide. A familiar scent was home, safety, and comfort. Hers was the only beside his mother's scent that truly represented anything even close to respite. At the moment, he was being lulled to sleep by the enticing smell of Asuka all around him, and by the scalding sensation of her hand leaving his knuckles only to slowly travel up to his chest and settle back around the collar of his shirt.
She had almost… held his hand, and in his shock and stupidity, Shinji had not capitalized on the opportunity and instead asked her a question. Great, awesome thinking, there, Third. What an idiot. What a complete idiot you are. The trepidation and regret dissipated once his thumb prodded the small line just under the right side of her lower lip. He had been waiting for well over two years to ask that simple question, and now he was actually touching that small scar… touching her face, almost cupping her cheek.
Asuka inhaled deeply and sighed, unconsciously sinking into the sensation of the young man's arm around her. Somehow, for once in so many years, there was no tear-jerking anxiety clawing at the remnants of her subconscious, alerting her of the endless pain and torture that awaited once she closed her eyes. She could feel the same form of trepidation she had displayed in the way the young man's fingers shook upon contact with the line under her lower lip. Asuka smiled; a sense of queer contentment overcame the blinding fear of having anyone touch her with such delicate ministrations; this was Shinji, after all, and for once, he was taking the initiative. He had reached out, the Baka had reached out and called on to her.
The way his gaze became overbearingly intense, just as intense as hers, made something in Asuka's soul move along and be mended. "I'll rip them apart." The words rang just as clear as they had that morning. Why was she not able to keep her eyes open?! Why were her senses failing? Why was she not able to just stay awake and enjoy every second of that moment? Why was she-
"Hey," Shinji's voice cut through the fading banter inside her head; his thumb pressed just a bit harder against the scar. "Who did this?"
The room was so dark that it made it impossible for her to gaze upon anything more than the fading shape of Shinji's chest as it rose and fell, with the ever-present hisses of discomfort and pain whenever the healing edges of the injuries stretched. Regardless of how uncomfortable it made him, Shinji seemed to only cradle her body closer as time went by. The sensation of being protected… being not alone was so powerful that Asuka was almost lulled to sleep by the irregular pattern of the former pilot's breathing. Right, I never… she pondered. Her knuckle slightly grazed against his chin whenever he breathed in… Gods… it was so comfortable. I never answered his question…
"I did it…" admitted the former Second Child. Her body unwound in its entirety; the overpowering sensation of being home and safe forced her to stretch out like a cat and subsequently wrap herself around him even tighter than before. He did not turn into a wooden board upon contact like she remembered, nor did he try to push her away like her research suggested he would do. Shinji only breathed deep alongside her, hissing for his trouble. There was no way in Hell that she'd reveal the specifics of that particular wound just yet; she was still unprepared and unwilling to discuss what had happened two years before, and more than a bit and embarrassed to admit her lip had taken the least amount of punishment that day. Her room had been trashed, furniture had been overturned, vases, electronic devices, glasses and plates had flown into the walls, the door of her closet had been kicked and punched until it gave under, her mirror and nightstand had been destroyed. The TV she used so rarely had been ripped off the wall and thrown through her bedroom window and in the end, with nothing more to derive her thirst for violence into, she had started hitting herself in the face until her father subdued her with a tranquilizer.
His fingers were still caressing the small line when sleep overtook her at last, she felt warm. Everything felt right. For a second, a single precious second before falling asleep and feeling Shinji's fingers trace down the line of her jaw with care, Asuka knew peace. "I did it…"
The young woman's breathing became deeper, and soon enough Shinji realized she had succumbed to exhaustion at last. The skin of his thumb felt searing as it rested just under her chin, a few inches away from the only imperfection marking the redhead's face. So very typical of life, to rob him of a perfect opportunity and a moment of redemption for all the horrible actions he had done, to the person he thought he had hurt the most. Providing comfort and support was a concept as alien to him as advanced medicine; he had no idea of how to proceed. Should he cup her cheek, caress her face like he was doing, or was he being a perverted leech taking advantage of a sleeping, helpless victim all over again? Should he move away now that she was asleep, for her own safety more than anything else? He would hurt her eventually, sooner rather than later, if the dreaded yellow police line was not drawn between them again.
We can never hurt Asuka. The little boy said; he picked the heaviest chain lying on the floor of his subconscious and hugged it close to his chest, the heavy iron became lighter for reasons neither the shadow nor the boy understood. Never. We will never hurt her again. Never again. We need to… we need to get away.
Shut up, he pushed a bloodied rag in the boy's mouth and punched him for good measure, choosing to wallow in self-pity, self-disgust and trepidation well into the following morning, at the least. I'll get away tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. At some point I guess… I think… I always fuck it up in the end, after all. Don't I?
No response came to agree with him as was custom. The eerie silence that followed, broken only by the sound of their breaths somehow synching together, made Shinji wonder where the voices had gone; it was probably around midnight or later, this was normally when the visions climbed into his mind and forced him awake. He'd run to the cabinet, swallow two or three pills with whatever strong alcohol he could find, pace around the empty bedroom, hit the walls, grab at his scalp and then begin to cook whatever was available until the pills started working. He'd gift the food to the security guards, leave it for the neighbors or take it to the gym for the crew. The voices never truly waned, not completely, not in the way they had succumbed that night.
What sort of drug is she giving me, to have this effect? Shinji wondered and held his left hand before him. Lifting the limb was painful; the movement tugged at two of his three deepest injuries and forced the healing edges to spread. His hand was not shaking, nor was it clenching and unclenching. The house was quiet; Asuka's slumbering form was all that his body and mind seemed to wish to concentrate on. His fingers were still.
"I'm glad to hear it." Asuka had said just a few hours before. "Truly glad to hear it." Somehow, those words meant the world to him, they eased the pain of his existence in a way that was not even describable in form. He felt… compelled to carry on, to fulfill his promise to her of trying to get clean and healthy, compelled to not surrender to the shadow and the ache, compelled to conquer just one single, unreachable goal he thought himself yet unable to master. Asuka had made him feel happy; the only logical course now was to try his best to return the favor, even if it meant endless, indescribable suffering before he was able to reach said goal. The road to recovery did not quite feel as ominously horrifying as before.
Even Mother was quiet, for once the ghost of his regrets and all the emotions he suppressed offered no words, no cryptic message or snide remark. Lilith had been looking at him with curiosity and faint interest; it felt like She wanted not an explanation for his sudden desire not to die and disappear, but merely desired to observe how far his rather newfound attachment to life brought him.
Shinji slept. He slept deeply, uncaring of the way the wounds complained, unbothered by how his body slumped, the resistance to abandoning the little moment slipped, and his lids closed. More than nine hours went by without him noticing, nine hours. Nine. He had not slept more than four hours at a time in about seven years.
Asuka, for her part, dozed off for about ten, having fallen asleep one hour before him. She was the first to rouse the following morning when Shinji readjusted himself, caught in a deep slumber, and pulled her closer as he lay his cheek on the crown if her head. At some point in the night she had stretched again, noticed the redhead while her eyes slowly opened, and now her right arm was draped across Shinji's chest, hand resting on his left shoulder. Her head was cradled on his chest, with her right leg having ensnared his own with a force she had never displayed in her sleep before; ever few minutes the young man would move, shift and rub his cheek against her hair. Did he like her hair? He had never truly told her so, and she had not ever asked. Did he like her hair long, or short? At some point some years ago she had changed said hairstyle, opting for a much shorter version, and had regretted it almost instantly; short hair did not sit well with her, for some reason.
She closed her eyes once more to savor the feeling of Shinji nudging her frame, surprised to feel no signs of stubble growing on his chin. The former Third Child shaved every day… every single day… even if he was dying, and it had been revealed to her in the hospital that once time he had basically demanded the facial hair to be removed in a daily basis, even if it meant someone touching him. Good, she reasoned; her arm relinquished its hold on Shinji's shoulder and grazed the left side of his face. There was a small mark there, under his jaw, a miniscule line sitting just under his jawbone, about two or three centimeters away from his chin. I didn't like that picture I saw of you with a beard, I can't say I cared for it one bit. She pulled his head closer. God, I've been hiding away from this for so long. What an idiot. And I call him one all the time. Pff, idiot. The real Baka here is me. You've been pushing people away for seven years, seven years of forcing yourself to be alone. Not even three weeks have passed and already I'm lying on your bed, and you're holding me.
A quiet sob escaped her throat. She was a bit thirsty, but not in the slightest hungry. Dinner had been incredible the night before, by far the most fun she'd had in years and the most delicious food she had been served ever since climbing on the VTOL and basically threatening the soldiers to carry her back to Germany. The sight of Shinji's blue shirt and the door to his room became blurry. It had taken all of a full week to start seeing the boy she remembered, and nothing short of two days to make the hope in her heart overwhelm any doubts which had manifested as she climbed on a carrier not unlike the one who had first taken out of the country. A few tears fell down her face and moistened the blue shirt under her cheek; it had been so… natural… to be near him. It felt right, felt like something had magically changed for the better in the chaotic storm that was her life and suddenly the gloom that followed her was halted by the scent of him, the cold, crushing loneliness which weighed down on her soul was lifted so… so effortlessly… by the way he had expressed interest in her day, or the way he had instantly noticed she had bought new pants.
Such a tiny thing to do; to simply ask someone about their day with the full intent of listening. It felt so tiny, so insubstantial, and so irrevocably human that Asuka questioned why the words felt so marvelous when spoken by him. People asked about her wellbeing all the time, the tabloids, the media, the journalist, her supposed fans, her stepmother, her father, Kensuke, her therapist. From those many, many times only Kensuke and the doctor's concern had felt genuine. And yet no matter how genuine it felt, it simply left her unsatisfied, unfulfilled, wanting. She wished for that concern, for that sincerity to come from him, had wished for it for more than seven years.
"Look at me!" Her fifteen-year-old self screamed; Asuka held from openly sobbing if only to allow Shinji to rest just a bit more. He was looking at her now, his eyes held emotions she was still unable to comprehend, she recognized anger, resentment, guilt and a desire so dark and intense it almost turned his eyes into pits of black ink. His eyes followed her everywhere, his attention was zeroed in exclusively on her whenever they spent time together as of late.
"You won't do anything, you won't even hold me!" And yet he was doing precisely that, had done so after trying to strangle her on that beach and she had collapsed beside him a few days afterwards, all those years ago. He was holding her, embracing every horrid, rotten part of her wholeheartedly and not bothering to think how she could, and would irredeemably hurt him as she had done for seven years. Shinji was terrified of hurting people, terrified, which only worked to worsen his mental state; he used violence to punish himself, in the end. That morning, that day however, he had chosen to take a small step forward. He had touched her arm and quite effortlessly drawn her to him. He had been unafraid and determined, just like he had been the entire day before whilst refusing to give into the addiction and swallow the pills that kept the visions away, just like the day he had jumped into boiling magma to save her from certain death.
He was doing it for her, and… she liked to believe… that he was also doing it for himself. Shinji was keeping his word.
The small sniffles intermingled with the young man's deep breathing as the minutes ticked by that particular morning. Her muscles were unstiffened, she was relaxed, absolutely and completely relaxed in a way that had only been available to her by the tranquilizer her father had used. A glance at the clock on Shinji's nightstand announced that she had, indeed, slept well over ten hours straight without a single wince, a vision, or a painful flashback to ignite a scream of undisclosed agony from her chest. This was the first morning in years that she woke up feeling so incredibly rejuvenated, and she was crying. Crying. Asuka huffed and once more tried in vain to halt the thrice-damned emotions at bay.
Regret far deeper than she could hope to comprehend, guilt and bitterness were all dancing in her heart and stepping on it without reprieve. The pain felt dulled, nonetheless, much less pungent than ever before. "She's not as good as you, though." Shinji had complimented her without even meaning to, had asked her, so very gently, so very truthfully, if she wished to retail the details of the painful day to him, merely days after stating how he wanted no part of her, he had cooked for her even when it meant he was required to ask for assistance in order to get the task done. "Tell me where they are. I'll rip them apart."
And now he was protecting her as well, from anything or anyone that wished to hurt her, even herself. Asuka cried quietly, diligently minding not to stir the resting form of Ikari Shinji. She had hidden away from this unfathomable cure for her pain for so many years. Hope was terrifying after all, and Shinji represented precisely that; hope for a better life, one that was not so painfully solitary.
"Baka…" she murmured in a deep whisper, unaware that she had also been calling his pet name in her sleep. "Baka… Shinji…"
AN: As stated above, this is just as skit. As such, it can be read independently from the story, can be taken in as cannon or not (in the story's context), but ultimately, I hope it was worth the read. I really wanted to expand in that particular last scene just a bit more, and since the chapter was already fucking massive as custom, I chose to do this little skit.
Writing that last chappie was incredibly emotional for me, in ways that I did not expect. One scene jumps into my mind the most, one that I consider to be quintessential in the coming chapters. Asuka asks Shinji about his day, and is sincerely… sincerely glad that he enjoyed himself, simply glad. Words fail me as I attempt to describe what this means to me, how indescribably massive it feels to me, so I'll just remit to someone far more educated and versed in the subject than I. Sorry if it's long, I really want to put this small message out there. It's a quote from an interview with Dr. Peterson. Here it is:
"I was thinking the other day. Some journalist asked me why the audience, why people are responding so positively to what I'm saying, the young men for example, and I thought… why, that's a good question. I said 'well, I'm actually on their side'. I'm really happy that… I'm really happy that they're not wasting their lives, I'm really sad to see that people are disenchanted and nihilistic and depressed and anxious and aimless and… and perverse and vengeful, and all of those things. It's terrible. And then, to see people... question whether that's necessary and then to start to rise out of it, it's like… it's so fun, like last night… I was at, after my talk… it's overwhelming. I don't usually think about these things, but… I was, after my talk last night. And so, all these people line up, you know, and they have their fifteen seconds with me, and they're kind of tentative. They're excited and they're tentative when they come up to talk to me, and then they have, you know, fifteen seconds of time to tell me something. I'm really listening to them… and… they are hesitant about whether or not to share the good news about their life, you know, and I think it's often because… when people share good news about their life, people don't necessarily respond positively. You know? They don't get encouragement… and people need so little encouragement, it's just unbelievable! And so they tell me something good and I'm like… God, that's so good. You know, somebody says 'I'm getting along way better with my father, I haven't seen him for ten years and now we get along'. It's like… God! Great! And then the… the power of that, you can't overstate the power of that. For individuals to get their… life together, the individual is an unbelievably powerful force, and every single person who gets their act together a little bit has the capacity to spread that around them. It's… it's a chain reaction, and so… it's a lovely thing to see."
Be kind to each other. Much love.