[Fic] Amarantos

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[Fic] Amarantos

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Postby Glor » Fri Jun 05, 2015 12:10 pm

Hey Evageeks, I know I don't contriboot much and when I do its to complain about the Rebuilds, but I was hoping ya'll might be willing to help a brotha' out.

I've got this AU fic here, throwing Shinji and Asuka into the same setting at a young age, where they grow up together. Basically, nothing about their traumas has changed, but how does growing up in one another's company change them and the events in Eva?

It will be divied up into 4 "Acts". The first Act covers the two pilots from age 4-12 over the span of 7 chapters. Each chapter will be about 4-6k, not long, but focused enough to get a sense of the characters and their development as we move into the second Act, where the TV series kicks off.

The most challenging part thus far has been writing in the voice of a child and slowly phasing out of it as the children grow older. But what I really need is help tearing this thing apart, elaborating on what scenes and themes work, and chucking out what doesn't.

tl;dr: read this thing and be mean to me.

SPOILER: Show
Chapter One: Broken

The morning air was crisp in the pine laden valley of Hakone. The mists hung lower over the still bare skeleton of a city and the cries of the cranes reached far across the serene country-side, not yet disturbed by the blaring of construction. Gendo stood at the train station, holding Shinji's tiny hand in his. Fuyutsuki stood on the other side of the boy.

“Don't you think a father is what he needs right now?” The elder asked, expression bordering contempt.

“No,” Gendo said, staring off into the fog. “He'll be better off without me.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the unconvinced look Fuyutsuki made, but no further protest left his lips. Instead he said, “Just answer me one thing: why Germany?”

“He must be able to pilot if the need should arise.”

The man looked as though he had been stabbed, “Ikari...”

“The Second is no older,” Gendo said, gaze snapping to Kozo, “we'll gather all of the necessary data while everything is being prepared. Besides, I want him away from all of this.”

The man winced, his expression hardening. “It's just an all too convenient excuse, isn't it?”

Gendo cast his gaze down at Shinji, who was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. There was no room for weakness. No room for sympathy. Only one thing mattered anymore.

9 Months Ago

The dinner plate shattered and little Shinji screamed, “I hate you!”

Gendo's hand met the table as he stood, chair clattering to the floor, a threat on the tip of his tongue.

Shinji pointed a finger at him. “You killed her! You killed her!”

Gendo's hand lashed out, meeting the boy's cheek with a resounding slap! His blood went cold in an instant and try as he might in the years to come, he would never forget that face – that look of utter betrayal.

“I want my mommy!” Shinji shouted, angry tears spilling free before he ran to his room and slammed the door shut.

Gendo's shoulders slumped and for a while he just stared down the hall, listening to the rhythmic tick tick of the wall-mounted clock and the muffled chirping of the cicada bugs outside. The mid-summer heat pooled over him all at once and he looked out of the open patio doors with a frown. It was always mid-summer... and it always would be. For as long as they were allowed to endure – which did not seem to be very long at all.

His eyes fell to the white shards and desecrated remnants of food that laid scattered across the maroon rug under his feet. He bent his knees and started to collect the pieces bit by bit. The nerves in his fingers danced and flesh parted as sharp glass carved into his hand. Gendo cursed, dropping it and grasping his wrist as if that would do something to ease the searing burn. Red flowed from his fingers and palm, thick globules clinging to his knuckles before falling to soak into the carpet.

All at once the apartment seemed darker, heavier. It weighed down on him like a rolling tidal wave and all energy left him. Eventually, Gendo stood straight, still clutching onto his wounded appendage as he moved to the sink. Water splashed into the steel basin and mingled with drops of blood. At last steam began to rise and Gendo stuck his hand under the scalding water. His skin screamed and he grit his teeth as white-hot pain dove into the wound. He squeezed his wrist tighter while his blood continued to flow, but he kept it there under the hissing water until he couldn't feel it anymore.

He turned the faucet off, flexing his fingers. He found the medical kit in the storage closet off of the kitchen and wrapped it tight in gauze. As he went back to cleaning up the mess, carefully this time, he noticed the answering machine near the door winking a tiny red light.

Another call from the professor? That would be the most logical answer. The staff, the Committee – being Director of a global research group meant he had little time to himself, and it was beginning to wear on his nerves.

Deciding to ignore the waiting messages yet again out of spite, Gendo dumped that night's dinner into the garbage, folding the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows as he started washing the dishes. When he was certain there was not a speck of food left, he dried them to a reflective shine, sparing a moment to inspect them in the light before stowing them away. He checked his watch then: 12:01.

He had spent the entire day home, quietly sorting through the “office”. Discarding what was not needed, boxing other items and possessions. There were still shelves lined with books, from philosophical to scientific, to just plain fiction. The living room was modest, but well furnished – though at the moment felt bigger than a theater without an audience. In the other room, their bedroom, it was a maze of organized chaos. Everything was probably a bit dusty now. He'd been sleeping on the couch for a little while now.

Shinji had been a nuisance most of the day. He had been already a handful before... everything, even with the private tutor. Gendo had attempted to occupy his time with the television and his other playthings. But the boy had been a distraction all day, not to mention... uncooperative.

It hadn't even been a few months. He couldn't do this. He couldn't be a father – he had never believed it to begin with. It was at Yui's insistence that they'd had a child.

She had believed.

Gendo looked around the living room again to keep his thoughts from drifting, to keep his heart from stinging. But everything reminded him of her. The scent of her citrus body wash permeated every pillow – the heavy lavender aroma of her perfume that had soaked itself in the walls washed through his lungs.

A sparse few photos hung upon simple white plaster: their wedding day – and the night they had brought Shinji home. Upon the mantle piece over the fireplace sat her violin; red wood lighted with warm streaks of gold and cherry, sleek and polished. Though he noticed, with some annoyance, that one of the strings had broken.

It was so quiet.

Even the slow, oscillating pattern of the ceiling fan couldn't keep it at bay anymore, it just became more empty noise. It broke into the house, pouring over every inch and worming its way into his ears in a dull whine. His hands began to tremble and his heart beat faster and faster as his chest swelled – constricting his throat and making it difficult to breath.

Gendo clasped his hands over his ears, trying to make it stop clawing over his brain and gnawing a void in his stomach. He hunched over, eyes squeezed shut, while his body trembled and shook with soundless sobs.

The ringing silence persisted, but as with his quiet grief, eventually subsided. The world seemed to come back to sound and feeling, though his chest felt no less numb.

Gendo slid his hands down his face, a half-hearted attempt to clear his watery vision and streaked cheeks. He sniffed and folded his hands, blinking several times as his eyes drifted to the coffee table in front of him, sliding lethargically over the manilla folders spread across it. Then they snapped back, a name catching his eye.

Keel.

Gendo thought he could be strong enough.

He was weak. He'd failed as husband... and he was failing as a father. Shinji didn't deserve to be living around so much hate and death. But he had helped bring him into this hellish world and because of him, his mother had been taken away.

The accusation snapped a cord in his heart, twisting his veins with virulent malice and disgust all at once. What was he supposed to do – how was he supposed to raise this child alone? Just the idea terrified him, sinking its fangs into his ribcage and threatening to rip him apart.

That night, Gendo Ikari did not sleep.

Present Day

Soon, the narrow rail-car squealed into its berth, announcements droning over it. Gendo looked to his son. “Grab your things,” he said. Little Shinji did as he was told, struggling as he hefted the oversized duffel bag.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“You are going away for a while.”

Shinji flinched as if struck, eyes wide, “But – I don't wanna'!” he protested, searching for his father's eyes.

The train doors parted, revealing a man in a long-sleeved white button shirt and black khakis, hair shaved close to his head.

“Inside,” Gendo said in his quietly firm voice, a hand pushing against Shinji's back. His bag dropped out of his hands as they went to his eyes. “But why?” he whimpered, trying to wipe away gathering tears.

Gendo's heart twisted and a gnawing pit formed in his stomach, his hands trembling. He stuffed them in his pockets, eyes lingering on Shinji only a moment longer, one that stretched on forever – spanning nearly a hundred breaths. In that instance, he felt doubt. A torrent of emotion swept over him, though failed to move his impassive features.

That night he had struck his son howled over his raging typhoon of thoughts and it were as though he was standing in that house again, watching Shinji run from him as he screamed – I hate you!

Gendo shoulders started to sag, but he stiffened, hands clenching as he clung to resolution before hesitation was able to grip him again. “You mustn’t run away, Shinji,” he said and fished his old SDAT player from a pocket, taking a knee and putting it in little Shinji's hand. He stood straight, sliding his hands in his pockets again to keep them from shaking as he turned and began walking down the platform, Fuyutsuki at his side.

“Dad!” Shinji cried, but a hand on his shoulder from his waiting tutor kept him from giving chase, “don't leave me dad! Please, I'm sorry – I'm sorry!”

“Please don't leave! I'll be good, I promise!”

“Father!”

***

Neon
Genesis
Evangelion:
Act I: Elysium


***

Shinji held his knees close to his chest, staring down at his white shoes. The train ride had been really long and he had been asleep most of the plane trip – wherever it was he was going with his Teacher. It seemed like he was being taken to the other side of the world. His chest felt tight and he hated how much it hurt.

“We're here.”

Shinji looked up from his knees and the world outside was brighter, trees way taller than the ones at home making the sun wink as they passed by. He had to twist in his seat belt to look out of the window and briefly wished he was grown-up sized, but found his discomfort whisked away by the bright countryside. Beyond the driveway stretched fields of green, reaching up to a huge house – Shinji's brow furrowed in thought – three stories tall!

“Where are we?” he asked, face practically pressed to the glass.

“I'll tell you when you sit properly,” his teacher said. Shinji's shoulders sagged, but he did as he was told and the man nodded, “this is the Langley estate. The Doctor is very generously providing us with housing here.”

Shinji's face scrunched. “Why?”

“It is what your father wishes.” Teacher said and Shinji sunk in his seat a little, staring at the car door as weariness pulled at his body. He reached into the pockets of his shorts, one hand finding the music player father had given him...

The vehicle squealed to a stop.

“Come,” Teacher said. Shinji climbed out of the car, stumbling and scuffing his knee. Waiting for them was a very tall man with an ugly face. It was all square and more than a little wrinkly. There must have been something wrong with him, because he did not look like anyone else Shinji had ever seen. Teacher approached and bowed. The man did the same and then they shook hands, speaking... something. Those weren't words! It was just gibberish!

The man then motioned to Shinji, and Teacher nodded. With that, his face stretched as he smiled a little and faced him directly before bowing slightly. Shinji looked to Teacher, who motioned impatiently for him to do the same.

The man chuckled as he did, “It’s nice to meet you, Herr Shinji.”

Herr? Shinji wondered, straightening up a little. He looked from the man to Teacher curiously. But the two continued their conversation, forgetting about him entirely. The taller man made a few hand gestures, pointing somewhere beyond the big house.

“Come along, Shinji,” Teacher said, pulling the boy from his gazing. As they walked by, Shinji noticed the little girl in a yellow dress frowning at him from the open doorway. He stopped to stare at her – red hair and big blue eyes. The girl sniffed and ran out of sight.

Red. He thought, struck dumb on the spot. Red like fire. Shinji turned to Teacher, only to find he had been left behind. His short legs raced to catch up, “Who was that girl?”

“Never you mind.” He said, leading the way through a winding path with white archways wrapped with white flowered vines. The wide and tall house quickly disappeared behind the trees and bushes of purple and yellow, spilling strange stinging scents into his nose. He sniffed and itched it, which only seemed to make things worse.

There were many pathways and he was thankful that at least Teacher knew where he was going, at the same time, Shinji couldn't help but wonder what else lay down those paths. Smaller trees reached over the smelly bushes, cooling small lily-pad laden ponds with their shade. The world darkened and turned to shades of yellow and orange, painting the sky the same color as the sun disappeared.

The trees started to grow taller and the trunks became thicker – bigger than anything he'd ever seen. It was like they were walking into another world and Shinji glanced behind him, thankful that he could still see the red-brick castle on the hill. But even that became distant as they reached a very small house that looked like the ones where he lived.

Shinji frowned at the house, searching from side to side. The tallest spires of the castle poked over the tall trees, but he could not see much beyond the alien bushes and hulking trunks. Keys jangled and something clicked, Teacher calling him inside. Shinji hesitated at the threshold, staring down at that small line between stone and wood. He couldn't move his feet and his knees felt tight, as if someone had glued his shoes to the ground. His eyes traveling up again, he was met with darkness and the vague outline of his Teacher.

“Shinji,” Teacher said, making his shoulders rise. A light snapped on, casting his tall caretaker in shadow, but bathing all else in a glowing warmth.

“Why... can't I...” he started, but couldn't get the words past the choking lump in his throat.

“This is your home now.”

Shinji swallowed, but the lump didn't go away and he stepped inside. The house was open and the walls were very tall – or maybe the rooms were just too empty. His house had lots of stuff. His room had lots of stuff...

Teacher turned to the right, sliding open a door to what must have been his room, a musty smell creeping forth. He set down Shinji's olive green duffel bag and walked past him down the hall. “Go to bed now. Your studies will begin first thing in the morning.” Then he disappeared into the other end of the house. Shinji wandered into his room, grimacing at the lumpy looking futon. There was also a small black table in the left corner, an empty closet to his right.

Shinji turned back to the hallway and the closed door far beyond it. He reached for the panel, struggling as it got stuck along the floor. With a final push, he managed to slam it closed before falling on his rump. Something thumped along the carpet, the black SDAT player lying behind him. He twisted and picked the thing up, the wires curling in his fingers.

The plastic frame creaked as he squeezed it, his body suddenly warm – and he cast the thing across the room. He regretted it as soon as it happened, scrambling to snatch the player up as it clacked against the wall and bounced over the floor. He twisted it every which way to make sure it was not broken before pressing it to his chest.

Shinji's lips pulled down and his shoulders trembled, his chest heaving with gasping breaths as tears rolled down his cheeks.

***

A light taptaptap pulled Shinji from his dreams, casting him bleary-eyed into the world. He sat up on the floor, one hand rubbing his eyes while the other still clutched the SDAT player. The tapping came again and this time his door slid open to reveal Teacher, clad in a white buttoned long-sleeved shirt and black pants.

“Change your clothes and then we will begin your lessons.” he said, sliding the door shut.

Shinji blinked, searching for his duffel bag. Finding fresh new clothes, he changed and, not really knowing where to put the dirty ones, threw them to a corner of the room. When he left, Teacher was waiting kneeled at a low table piled with books. He motioned for Shinji to sit on the pillow across from him.

“Do you know where we are?” he asked.

Several answers came to mind, but Shinji just shook his head.

“It is a country called Germany. Since you will be living here for an extended period, you must learn the native language. Thus, in addition to your normal vocabulary and pronunciation lessons, you will start learning German as well,” Teacher explained, patting one of the books on the table.

“Why do I have to live here?”

“Because it has been deemed necessary. No more questions now.”

Shinji wanted to ask lots of questions, but Teacher waved them away as he was busied with math, science and geography. There were so many books – and they read through each of them! He even learned how to say 'good morning' in German. But his pronunciation, as his Teacher had said, required extensive work. He wasn't sure what that meant, but Teacher did not look very pleased with him when he said the weird words. It seemed to take forever to the sun to crawl up into his sky, so long he could have sworn another day passed by and his stomach grumbled loudly.

Teacher made soup that tasted like ash and syrup, at least, that’s what he imagined ash and syrup would taste like together. It did little for his stomach and afterwards he was given permission to play outside.

Shinji stepped out of the front door, where several gray stones sat among a small sea of white rocks. Beyond that there were a few large boulders and woodchip pathways that led into bunches of Sakura trees and other plants he recognized. Even further in there were other things: plants and bugs he'd never known existed and reaching above it all was the brick house that stood like a castle.

His right hand tightened around the SDAT and he marched forward, cautiously, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble. He ventured down one of the safer looking paths; at least, it was set wider apart than the others and lined with cobblestones.

The plants became stranger and stranger as he went – tall things with flat leaves, or stubbier ones with sharp stalks and pointy frills. The flowers were what took his breath away – so many and all of them every color he could possibly imagine. Some even looked like the water birds from home with the long legs that bent backwards. His nose began to itch with the plethora of new smells.

The earth started to slope down and the pathway became less defined, giving way to the reaching roots and yellow flowered weeds. Thin, spindly white trees stretched up higher than he could see into the canopies of the bigger trees. A sea of orange ferns grew around the base of the trunks. A wind darted through the garden, clacking branches together and making the woods creak.

The foliage rustled further down the path and Shinji froze – jumping out of his skin as a snake slithered onto the overgrown trail, it's body slick and black. The thing seemed not to notice him as he staggered back, glad it was heading in the opposite direction further into the valley.

The call of his name echoed over the garden and Shinji could not run fast enough back to the new house. He had not strayed far. Teacher was waiting for him at the door and ushered him in.

That night Shinji was in his room again, straining his ears for the chirping bugs. Other things and noises clicked softly beyond, a droning buzz rising over the otherworldly garden and into his room from what Teacher told him were frogs. They'd never been this noisy at home.

Home. He thought, wondering about his things and his bed and his toys. Didn't anyone want him? Why did mommy leave him? Why did father...?

Was he broken? Was there something wrong with him? A feeling like ice water spiraled down his back and he sat down, hugging his knees close. There must have been. No one would want a boy who was broken. That's why he'd been sent away to this... other place, far away. The thought made his lips quiver, a warm sting touching his cheeks.

He wished he knew how to fix himself.

The door behind him slowly slid open and Teacher was there, standing over him. “You mustn't cry, Shinji. You must be a good boy from now on.” he said.

Little Shinji nodded, trying to wipe away his tears.


***

Despite trying his hardest, Shinji had barely slept. Everything hurt and he was tired and his eyes burned and he hated this place. But Teacher didn't care. It was time for lessons.

The minutes stretched by and the lessons seemed harder. When he started to throw a fit, Teacher whacked his knuckles with a ruler. Shinji felt the sting on his cheek too, from when...

He behaved himself the rest of the day and as the sun started to sink, was given an hour to himself before they resumed. He stood outside the small house again, the white rocks were warm on his bare feet. An endless forest was laid out before him, bustling with birds and bugs.

The snake from yesterday came to him. He'd never seen one before outside of picture books, all he knew was that he didn't like them. This one had not been a very big one – and didn't have the rattle or strange colors he'd read about. It was all shimmering black scales as dark as night.

SDAT secured once more in his pocket, Shinji ventured forth, trying to remember the trail he had taken last afternoon. The walk took longer than it had before, to the point he was sure he had lost himself in the garden as he wandered into the valley. The sounds of the birds faded to echoes here, the golden ferns soon appearing again. He froze, straining his ears. The quiet was what told him he was in the right place. The ghostly white trees were like sentinels in the grove, keep any other animals that might find shelter within their branches at bay.

He wanted to run, to just curl up and listen to his SDAT and dream the rest of the day away. But running would mean he would have to go back to that tiny house. Running would mean he would have to face Teacher and more lessons. Frowning, Shinji stepped into the valley, cautious – flinching at every sound that might've been the snake. The sounds became different, much of the chirping howls disappearing as the trees became sparse, giving way to clear sky and heavy smells that stuck in his lungs.

A whispering breeze chased the humid air from the valley, shaking life into the still ferns along the ground.

The black snake slithered free and Shinji's heart stuck in his throat, beating like a jackhammer. It continued on the same route it had last time and in his fear Shinji almost lost it. He gave chase, trying to be careful not to make much noise and scare it – could snakes even get scared? His frantic thoughts ceased as it came in sight again, a shadow moving between the shrubs and roots. As if sensing him it began to moved faster, winding in that unnatural way off the beaten paths of mulch and pebbles.

Shinji was starting to lose sight of it, but no matter how terrified he was he wasn't going to let that happen. He staggered as he crashed through a tall, scratchy bushel. It snagged his shirt and he went tumbling, elbows scuffing as they scraped across stone. He groaned, pushing his now aching body up, otherwise he'd lose the snake. He made it to his knees before frantically searching his surroundings – but it was gone.

A sharp anger coiled around his heart and he stood up, brushing himself off. He found more flowers that changed to shades of color he didn't even know existed. He noticed the red ones right away. They stood along a wide stone walkway, stacked in front of one another neat and ordered. The trees were absent, leaving the blue sky open and bare. Pointed trees guarded the edges of the strange clearing within the garden and further back he could see a small dome with pillars, the castle lording in the background.

He meandered along the path, leaning in to smell the strangely colored and bulbous flowers. Down this same passage were roses on high bushes perched atop this stalks. They made a series of rings around something beyond sprinkling water into a pond. Like a whisper, a sliver of color in the corner of his eye summoned his attention. He was looking at the roses like before, but there was one flower that wasn't quite right. It had a green stalk and violet hues as its long, pointed flowers reached up, struggling to grow within the gaps of the roses – which encased it in a cage of thorn-laced vines, allowing only the purple flowers to rise up into the clear air.

Lying next to the out of place flower was something brown, white fluff sticking out of its torn chest. It was so stained and dirtied, he might never have noticed it was there if he'd just passed right by. Shinji picked it up and realized it was a monkey, or at least it used to be, before getting dirty and ripped up.

He looked around, trying to find its owner. They must have been worried over it. Looking up towards the castle, he saw a shadow in one of the windows. It was hard to tell since he was so far away, but he could have sworn he saw a brief wisp of flame.

***

It still smelled funny in Germany, thick and pungent, every intake hitting his nostrils like a hurricane. Noises were still missing too, like the bugs chirping and tall birds calling. Even the fireflies mother used to take him to see at night had yet to appear.

Shinji sniffed, curling a little tighter in his small sanctuary. It was sunk in the ground a little, the squared out floor thick with soft grass. Most of the metal roof and walls had been worn away until sage and red splotches spattered what remained. The light from the sun still had difficulty reaching down through the thick branches high above. It was quieter here and farther from the castle with the girl and the screaming.

Teacher said he was not allowed to go to the big house. Probably because he was broken. That was why he was with Teacher in this garden with no one in it. He had been bad and now he was being punished.

Sometimes, though, he would find his way towards it, where the garden ended and wood and stone platforms began. Sometimes, when he was there just looking up at the massive building, he heard a girl's voice. Maybe the girl he'd seen before? Who else lived in the castle?

Face quirking, he fished out the SDAT and poked a bud in each ear.

Red hair.

No one had red hair – she must have been a forest spirit. Only spirits had colored hair. But why did she live in the house? And why did she wear a dress? Ghosts didn't wear dresses... at least not like that. Ghosts were ugly too... and she wasn't ugly at all.

It didn't really matter anyway. Why would anyone up there care what he was doing down here? Still, he wished there was at least someone else down here to play with. The only real playmate he had was the snake – and it was no playmate at all. More of an adversary than anything else. Maybe the reason no one came into the garden was because of the snake. Maybe they were afraid of it.

That must be it.

As another day passed, Shinji started watching the snake. During his hour of recess, he went into the valley with the ghost trees, waiting for the slithering thing to appear. At the same time everyday it would come chasing out of the sunset ferns and travel down the narrow dirt path – up and out of the valley. Shinji never chased it. Last time he followed it he'd gotten lost in those strange stone ruins by the castle. Yet it became more infuriating than anything to simply watch the snake. It was as though it were taunting him, smug in its assurance that he could neither catch it nor keep pace with it.

Shinji would show that stupid snake.

The next day, he was ready for the serpent when it wriggled free of the ferns, hiding behind one of the birch trees. Shinji pounced, fingers poised to snare the slithering creature. It moved like lightning, bolting beyond his falling trajectory before his hands even met the dirt. Even as it glided over the ground side to side, it didn't seemed perturbed by the incident in the slightest. Not even so much as an annoyed hiss. That just brought a snarl to Shinji's face.

The boy scrambled to his feet and ran after its black form. It only moved faster, darting between the plants in clever zig-zags. He chased it to no avail until his lungs stung from his heaving breaths and his sides ached and his legs screamed for rest. Foliage smacked his face, branches snagging his clothes.

Shinji's foot thwacked against something hard and he went tumbling to the ground onto his stomach. His left knee stung and his arms were dirtied. Shinji groaned, looking for the cause of his fall, before realizing the SDAT had skittered from his pocket.

It sat under the crux of a gnarled root, crumpled and oozing sap. He snatched it up quickly, lest the tree steal it from him. He searched the clearing for the snake – but it was gone, again. Shinji blinked, craning his neck as he looked about. He hadn't been to this part of the garden yet, thistles and thorn bushes enclosed it, wrapping around the other trees and plants – consuming them in their biting embrace. All except the tree in the middle of the clearing.

The thing could have been from an alien planet for all its strangeness, twisting up as though it were made of huge roots and vines wrapping around themselves, not a proper trunk at all. Its stubby branches reached out in jagged arcs, tiny leaves gathered around bunches of small green and purple balls. He blinked, grimacing as he tried to remember the things mother used to pick off the trees for him –

Apples!

These, however, looked nothing like apples. He wondered if he could eat them like he could the apples?

Shinji collapsed by the base of the tree, legs too weak to hold him up any longer. His lungs still starved for air and he obliged as best he could, wondering just how lost he was now. The snake had escaped him too. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't catch it. His hands slapped over his face as his expression twisted, sliding up into his hair and pulling. A frustrated growl clawed through his teeth before he let his hands fall into his lap.

“Du weinst viel.”

Shinji jumped so fast he was sure his heart had gone into his throat. He edged back, wide-eyed gaze fixed upon the yokai-girl standing at the other side of the tree, hands on her hips. Those blue eyes were staring at him and he felt himself shrink.

“W-what?” he stuttered.

The girl's brow scrunched and her lips pouted. When he just stared – wishing his legs weren't frozen – her cheeks reddened and for a moment Shinji thought she might burst.

“Cry – a lot,” she said, pointing at him.

Shinji wilted and was at the same time perplexed. He understood the words, but they didn't sound like they were supposed to. “No I don't,” he said, rubbing his fists over his eyes, just to be sure there weren't any tears. There were.

The girl didn't seem to understand what he said and it made his chest sting. He wished he could speak her weird words. Why didn't everyone say the same things? Maybe then she would want to play with him. Did she know he was broken?

The girl continued to stare at him intently, as if searching for something. Shinji fidgeted, now wishing she would go away. Instead, the girl stepped over the gnarled roots and shoved him. He fell to his back with a yelp, anger tightening his veins only to start shivering with cold as the girl stood over him, icy blue eyes glaring down at him.

“Wer bist du?!” she demanded. Shinji quirked his head and made a questioning sound, which only seemed to make her angrier. The girl leaned over to poke his chest – hard, “Nah-meh?” she asked. It took him a moment because she said it so funny, but then he realized –

“S-Shinji,” he squeaked.

She stood straight again, a finger touching her chin as she looked up, “Sh-in-ji,” she repeated, nodding as she tested the name. Then, without warning, she snatched up one of his arms. He yelped as she tugged him to his feet – she was really strong for a girl. He let himself be pulled along as she took him back into the garden.

The girl abruptly stopped and he almost crashed into her. Her eyes scanned him up and down, searching in a restless manner about his face. Then, still holding his arm, she jabbed a thumb at herself and declared, “Asuka!”

***

It had been six days since he'd seen her. At least he thought it had been six days. He honestly wasn't sure, and six days seemed like a long enough time. It made his stomach flutter and the sun seemed to stay out longer, just to taunt him. He had asked Teacher about the girl one more time just the other day and as retribution was made to endure lessons past his bedtime. Sometimes he wished he could squish Teacher with his fingers – it was stuffy and warm here and he didn't know anyone. Why had he been left here?

Because you're broken, dummy. He thought venomously. That's why Asuka doesn't want to play with you anymore. There really wasn't any other explanation. His head fell a little, but it was okay. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't run away. Where would he even run to? If his mother and father didn't want a broken boy, who in the world would?

The slap of a book drew his eyes up, finding Teacher's stern expression. He closed his eyes and released a sigh through his nose. “I suppose we will break for now then, since you are clearly preoccupied.”

“Sorry Teacher,” he said, looking down at the table.

Teacher only grunted, standing to make himself tea. He made tea a lot. Shinji wobbled to his feet, glancing to his room and then to the door. Even the heavy air and scorching sun seemed better than his empty room. He sighed and struggled for a moment to push the front door open, bringing a hand up to shield his eyes as he stepped out.

A rock cracked into his head.

“Ow!” he cried, a hand flying up to grab the wound as his left ear whined. His head swung side to side as he searched for the offender, water gathering in his eyes.

“Ich hab dich!” Asuka shouted, grinning.

Shinji almost forgot how much that had hurt. He rubbed the spot sullenly, inspecting his hand for blood. There was a little.

“Sei kein Baby!” Asuka snapped, stomping a foot. At his befuddled look, she squeezed her eyes shut before saying, “you're a boy – ja?”

Shinji thought about picking up a handful of rocks and throwing them at her. But... she was a girl. Boys weren't supposed to hurt girls.

“Du kriegst mich nicht!” she sang, turning on her heels to run into the garden.

He ran after her, struggling to keep pace as she ducked and weaved through the garden, disregarding the paths entirely. For a moment, panic bolted his heart to his chest as he lost sight of her. What if he got lost? He'd never make it back and Teacher would leave him too!

He burst through one of the bushes, tumbling into the clearing. He groaned as he stood up in a cloud of dust, finding Asuka standing in front of the ugly tree they had first met at. Brushing his shirt down he walked towards her, about to ask what she was doing when the girl dashed forward, doing her best to scramble up the tree trunk.

“Asuka!” he cried, a mixture of worry and excitement lacing his limbs as she wedged her hands into the knots to pull herself up. She was really close to the– the not-apples.

“What are those?” he asked.

Asuka sent him a scowl, eye lids fluttering as though she were trying to figure out what he had said. She reached for the next branch. “Olives dumko–” she missed her grab and slipped, hitting the ground with a loud thud and a puff of dust.

Shinji rushed forward only to stop halfway. She hadn't fallen too far, the branches were not very high – at least not like most of the other trees. What should he do? She rolled over with a pout that made him think of turning tail to find Teacher, but, if she was hurt...

“Stupid Shinji!” she yelled, rubbing her arm and seemingly on the brink of tears, “Du hättest mich auffangen sollen!”

He stiffened. “B-but I–”

She let loose a loud growl. “You're annoying,” she said with a frown, opening her hand to reveal a few of the green olives things in her palm, only a little squished. He eyed them suspiciously as the girl split one in half, digging a black pebble out and tossing it away before eating the mangled olive. It made his mouth water and he inched closer.

When she noticed, she closed her hand and turned to hide them. “Mine.”

Shinji grimaced, but by the look on her face, he would not be convincing the girl to share anytime soon. He looked up to the tree and then around to the nearby brush. Spotting exactly what he needed: he snatched a long stick up from the ground and ran back to the tree. Tongue pinched between his lips, he reached up on his tippy toes and swung the branch at the hanging olives. Three more times he repeated the process, jumping on the third strike – and the bundles fell free, landing on the roots nearby. The bottom ones were all dirty now, but the ones on the top seemed tasty enough. Asuka looked down at her handful of olives and then looked back at his arguably larger catch.

She scooted over to where he crouched, shooting him a threatening look when he opened his mouth. He picked one of the deep green balls, doing like Asuka had done and ripping out the hard black thing inside. Before he could put it in his mouth, Asuka gave him a serious look and leaned close while holding up one of her olives. “Es wird schlimm ersten Geschmack, nicht ausspucken,” she said.

He made a questioning grunt and Asuka poked her cheek, face pinching. “Taste bad – chew.”

It tasted bad? He could not imagine why she would be eating them if that was the case. Either way he was far too curious now to not eat one. So, he tossed the olive into his mouth and chomped.

His tongue shrank in on itself from the horrid and bitter taste of burnt sour milk. The throat-searing flavor was worse than dad's black coffee he'd sneaked a sip of once – he might as well have been eating a fistful of mowed grass! He wanted to spit it out, but a hand clamped over his mouth, planted there by Asuka.

“Chew,” she commanded.

Face puckering, tears starting to form at the edges of his eyes – and not because he was sad, for once. A full minute went by as he chewed and the stinging, biting taste started to fade. His mouth felt slick and the throat tingling bitterness wouldn't quite leave, yet the olive started to taste well... not so bitter. It nearly tasted sweet, like a hint of it as he swallowed, its tantalizing touch disappearing with the remnants of olive. Asuka removed her hand as he did so, his face smarting from the lingering aftertaste that hung about his mouth like an acrid cloud and clung to the inside of his cheeks. Almost like when his breath smelled really bad in the morning before he brushed.

Asuka smirked as he eyed another of the olives hesitantly, popping one nonchalantly in her mouth as if to show off. So they sat together and ate from the olive tree, fingers and shirts smeared and slick with their oils, mouths stained blue, until it was time for Shinji to return to his lessons.

The days proceeded more or less so.

Sometimes Asuka would come and find him, either waiting at the door to his house or throwing pebbles at his room window in the afternoon. Play usually consisted of king of the hill – and Asuka always won. Victorious, she would claim he should be better at wrestling because he was a boy. He could not disagree. Other times they would see who could climb the olive tree the fastest. She always won that too.

Eventually, Asuka stopped waiting and would invite herself into their house whenever she pleased, much to the ire of his Teacher. After a talk with her father – the man he'd met his first day – Asuka came in only when Shinji was allowed to play. Some days she was not there and others she was only outside for a few minutes. But as the months passed by, he became used to the exotically haired girl and her mysterious house and the big garden, at times forgetting about his father far away.

He never saw the black snake again either and wondered if he'd merely been imagining it the whole time.

***

The dirt was cool between his fingers, a soft golden yellow mingling with the stubborn chunks of brown earth that hid it. Skin stained up to his elbows, Shinji continued to dig, using his fingers to shovel the now loose dirt up in a mound that nearly reached up to his chest. It needed to be bigger.

He gathered yet another armful atop the mound, sand collecting around his filthy knees. The thorn bushes cracked around the other side of the olive tree and Shinji's body tensed, waiting for a flash of black scales by the roots. Instead Asuka stepped out from behind the trunk, wearing a dark blue dress with a big red bow around her stomach. He quirked his face at that, but didn't ask about it. Talking was too hard sometimes since they didn't speak the same.

When she saw him, she just stayed by the tree's big roots, making him feel very small with those staring eyes. He glanced down at himself – yellow shirt marred with grass stains and smudges of dirt, nails and fingers utterly caked with it. His gray shorts with the big pockets he liked fared no better.

“Why are you here?” she asked. At least, that's what he assumed she had asked while pronouncing the words in that weird drawn-out way. He shrugged and gestured with splayed hands to his crumbling dirt castle.

Asuka bit her lower lip as she stood straight with her arms tight to her sides. She looked to the trees and foliage around them, throwing her hands out and spinning. She set her bright blue eyes on him expectantly. He cast his gaze about, mouth making an O shape. His focus fell to his half-finished mountain, fingers sinking into the dirt. “I don't know.”

“What you mean?” she asked in muddled Japanese, making him bite back a snicker. Nostrils flaring, she squeezed her hands tight. “Bist du dumm?”

His mirth vanished. He hadn't learned what most of her words meant and she always talked slower when speaking his. But by her tone it probably wasn't something nice that she'd said.

“My dad said that I have to live here,” he answered, pushing a hand through the dirt and collapsing the upper half of it. The chunks spilled over into the trenches he'd dug, half covering the tiny roots that had been exposed in his excavations. Asuka didn't say anything and Shinji looked at the mess of his work. The idea he'd had when he started was shattered and he couldn't remember what it was even supposed to be. He could try rebuilding it by himself, but the more he stared at it, the more hopeless the task seemed.

Asuka's shoes scuffed across the ground as she fell to her knees on the other side of the dirt mound. Sitting up, she twisted her bow so that it was on her back instead. “Like this,” she said, bending and scooping some of the dirt out of the trenches. He watched as her hands padded the dirt ever higher, shifting and swiping at it to make a smooth surface.

He started grabbing handfuls of dirt too and they quietly worked on the mound, staining their clothes and smearing their arms and faces with streaks of black. They made it perfect, all four sides inclining to a sharp point like the pyramids he'd seen in his books.

Asuka brushed her hands off on the ends of her dress, rising to a crouch with her knees together, hands resting on them as she peered at their work. A cacophony of birds and bugs sounded their calls in the late afternoon. The sky was fading to a deep blue, streaks of white from planes spearing across it.

From that day on, one way or another, they would always find themselves in the secret spot by the olive tree, building their own worlds together.

***

Shinji shivered as another soft but pleasantly chilling wind swept through the trees and tickled his neck and arms. The sun was still bright and burning, yet the gardens welcome a low breeze. Shinji threw another rock, this time managing to skip it three times across the water, though it missed the stone statue by quite a bit. He pinched his tongue between his lips and prepared another rock.

There was shouting and the toss went wide – again. Shinji turned to the source, sighting the taller towers of the mansion over the cherry trees. Answered by silence as he searched, he started to slink towards the back patio. Hands beginning to sweat, he did his utmost to be as silent as specter. It had been made law his first day that he was not allowed to leave the garden – yes, Teacher had made that very clear. So if he stayed away from the mansion, there was no way he could get into trouble.

But Asuka had not been out in the gardens for several days now, maybe she would be just outside the mansion. He reached the edge of the treeline to see the house in full, just as a familiar redhead burst out of an open back door.

“I don't want another stupid doll!” she cried.

Someone unseen called after her, stopping Shinji from doing the same. She disappeared into the dizzying array of flowers and tall ferns. He knew that side of the garden – that was where the rose bushes were. Frowning, Shinji entered the comparatively sparse part of the terraced plants, adorned with marble pillars and stone statues. He walked carefully, keeping a sharp eye out for Asuka. He found her in a wide ring of sandstone bordered by deep crimson roses, at the center of which was a fountain with a square pool. She had her back to him, staring into the bubbling waters. He inched forward as if approaching a wild animal.

“A-Asuka?”

Her hair whipped as she spun to meet him. “What do you want?”

He flinched. “I, uh.. a-are you okay?” he asked in a small voice. Her expression fell and she showed him her back. His eyes met the stones at his feet. The thought of leaving twitched his hands, though he couldn't get his legs to move. He reached out to touch her shoulder. As if sensing his closeness, she tensed.

“No!” she screamed, turning and shoving him.

Shinji tripped, rosebush thorns ripping down his right arm as he fell. He hissed, struggling to sit up in the dirt. He grabbed his throbbing arm – deep red streaks snaking down to his elbow.

Asuka's eyes went wide.

“Go away!” she shouted, dashing beyond the borders of the garden and leaving Shinji, his blood seeping into the earth around a lone purple flower.

***

Du weinst veil: You cry alot. [Note: Du is an informal means of saying 'you'.]
Wer bist du? Who are you?
Ich hab dich! I got you!
Sei kein baby! Stop being a baby!
Du kriegst mich nicht! Can't catch me!
Du hättest mich auffangen sollen! You should have caught me!
Es wird schlimm ersten Geschmack, nicht ausspucken: It'll taste bad first, don't spit it out.
Bist du dumm? Are you stupid?


More or less a rough draft of the first chapter, which I can hopefully refine with some help from the forum. If not, I'll soldier on.
Last edited by Glor on Fri Aug 07, 2015 1:52 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Postby NemZ » Fri Jun 05, 2015 6:08 pm

Not bad! Has kind of a 'secret garden' sort of vibe, but from the other side of the wall.
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Postby Sailor Star Dust » Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:07 pm

So many talented folks have suckered me back into reading fanfic. :lol:

Can't wait to see where you take this--very cute and interesting so far! Feel bad for both the kids since we know the craziness they'll have to endure as teens--and they're enduring as little kids.
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Postby Gob Hobblin » Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:50 pm

I love it. Love it, love it, love it.

Watching the kids interact as just kids sit among my favorite things to read in Eva fanfics. No weight, nothing bearing down on them, just them being them.

You do the characterization well (there were a few points where I was wondering if a four year old would say what they say, but it can be waved off: all four year olds are different), and it's fun watching Asuka and Shinji deal with each other as they invade each other's world. I think there's a lot of potential.

Few things stylistically and thematically could use work: the primary being the placement of dialogue. If you have multiple lines of separate dialogue in the same paragraph, make sure that the speaker is consistent: having different speakers for different lines of dialogue in one paragraph confuses who the primary speaker is.

For stuff posted here, you might want to take time to put spaces between the paragraphs, as it'll make scanning and reading easier and give you a chance to do a final once over and catch last minute errors.

Lastly, I feel like this chapter could be three or four chapters easily while still remaining interesting and keeping the readers attention. You condense a lot into this chapter, which isn't bad (we don't need to see weeks and weeks of Shinji getting used to things or Asuka spying on him), but I feel like the wrong things are condensed: there's interesting story to tell here, and we're moving right by it to get to the meat in the stew (Asuka and Shinji together).

Torture your readers! Build up that meeting, leave us frothing at the mouth for it! I think you're capable of doing that.

Now that's not to say you should stop: continue with where you're going, and just keep writing the story. If it's something you consider good advice, go back and re-edit after you have the full story down. If not, ignore it and do what you'll do!

Either way, I'm going to keep an eye on this.
Though, Gob still might look good in a cocktail dress.
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Postby Glor » Fri Jun 05, 2015 9:29 pm

View Original PostNemZ wrote:Not bad! Has kind of a 'secret garden' sort of vibe, but from the other side of the wall.

Thanks mang, I hadn't even thought to make that connection. I first saw the movie when I was 13 I believe, wonderful film.

View Original PostSailor Star Dust wrote:So many talented folks have suckered me back into reading fanfic. :lol:
Can't wait to see where you take this--very cute and interesting so far! Feel bad for both the kids since we know the craziness they'll have to endure as teens--and they're enduring as little kids.

Thanks, glad you dig it. Even growing up together, I never imagined the two having any kind of normal friendship.

View Original PostGob Hobblin wrote:Dat critique and business.

Awesome, glad it was entertaining at the very least.

As far as the points that made you wonder "Yo, how old this kid be like?", which instances were those? Maybe I can mess around with them a bit and have them come off as a little more believable.

As for dialogue and layout, I feel much shame. I could have put effort into making it readable on the forum here, but... yeah... was just being lazy. Lesson learned.

Regarding length, I'm glad you pointed this out because something about the chapters I have has been driving me nuts and I think this may be it. At first I set myself parameters to work within in an attempt to practice crafting a more focused storyline, but it does feel like alot is missing because the narrative kind of rushes you along.

So I think I will be going back and doing some editing. Honestly, the other chapters will probably feel just as... rushed in progression. I'll probably post them anyway just to see what ya'll think of where it goes, but either longer chapters or more of them will do the trick.

Thanks!

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Postby Literary Eagle » Sat Jun 06, 2015 1:35 am

An interesting idea with a lot of potential! The sad parts and the cute parts are both written well, and they also sort of balance each other out so the story doesn't feel overly depressing or too sappy. Gob Hobblin already said what I was going to say concerning dialogue/paragraph placement, so the only other thing I have to add for now is that there were a few typos:

Its just an all too convenient excuse, isn't it? (Should be "It's")

over the otherwordly garden (I'm guessing this was supposed to be "otherworldly")

tossing it away before easting the mangled olive (Should be "eating")

Anyway, this is off to a decent start, and I'd like to see where you take it! ^_^
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Postby Glor » Tue Jun 09, 2015 12:10 pm

First, super late response @ Literary Eagle: Thank you for the feedback/corrections, much appreciated!

Been working on making revisions and further exploring the scenes present in the first chapter, but in the meantime I've got chapter 2 here.


SPOILER: Show
Chapter 2: The Letter

Six year old Shinji Ikari cried out as he fell hard onto his back, a pair of hands pinning his shoulders to the ground.

“I win!” Asuka shouted, grinning as she rolled off of him. Rising to sit, he sniffed, feeling something slide onto his upper lip. Touching a finger to his nose, he found blood and frowned as he wiped a sleeve across his face, not sure at what point in their wrestling that had happened.

When he stood up, Asuka had already made it to the olive tree, carving a line into the trunk with a sharp rock. There were a lot of other marks next to it, too many for him to count in fact – and he could count to 200. Over them was a big A. Across from it was a comparatively smaller S, which had exactly 7 marks under it, and Asuka had definitely made sure those few victories were not worth it. It was far easier to just lose – much fewer bruises that way.

Asuka glanced back at him and started climbing the olive tree while Shinji ran to catch up. The nooks and notches were worn and smooth with use and they ascended to the crux in the winding trunk.

It was hard for him to believe he had spent two years in Germany now, it didn't even feel that long sometimes. He was definitely a little taller than he remembered being, with a little less fat here and there. Then again he'd never had much to begin with, always being a bit of a lanky boy. But this year he was actually just a little taller than Asuka, much to her chagrin.

Speaking German never got easier, either. Every time he thought he had a good idea of how to say things, they learned something new that completely changed how he was supposed to say them. Asuka had been speaking more and more Japanese as he'd stayed on the Langley estate, which was nice. At least his words were easy, unlike hers, which made his throat hurt sometimes.

He looked at his right arm and the thin white lines that ran up from his wrist to his elbow. After being pushed into the rosebush, he had not seen her for a long time. He had wandered the gardens alone, excitement blossoming in him as a flare of red caught his eye, only to wilt in disappointment as he realized it was just a flower or some other plant. He would look up longingly at the house he was not allowed near, wondering if she had been sent to some far away place too. Eventually, he stopped wandering the garden and stayed around his small house, listening to his father's SDAT to pass the time by.

One day, he'd been sitting on the front porch, waiting for the time to ebb away when the garden had called to him. The sun had been burning the white rocks at his feet and made the tree leaves glow vibrantly. The cicadas screamed and sour-sweet smells from the flowers stung his nostrils. SDAT in hand, he started walking along a familiar path, painted with jagged patchworks of shade. For what seemed a while, he meandered through the garden until he came to the gray-green olive tree. He stood in the small clearing around it, sun beating against him and throwing waves of heat in the air, making him squint.

She had gotten a little taller since he'd last seen her, leaning against the trunk and looking at the ground. He pulled the buds from his ears, thinking it must have been some sort of trick of the heat as he blinked several times. When she realized he was there, surprise touched her expression, but was quickly swept away under a sullen mask. Shinji's shoulders rose and he considered running away, gripping his SDAT tight. Her blue eyes held him in place, until she turned to face him fully and marched forward. Fear lanced his heart as she closed the distance, his muscles screaming for him to move, but all he could do was stand there and shiver.

Then, she flicked him in the nose. “Tag – you're it!”

He jumped, stunned. The girl ran back to the tree, spinning around to face him again with a challenging smirk. His mouth fell open, then determination pinched his features and he charged forward.

All at once the days didn't seem so lonely anymore.

Now, the winds whispered through the trees, making it sound like the waves of the seashore. Asuka sat on the branch above him, feet bouncing against one another.

“I'm going to tell you a secret,” she said, not looking at him as she stared into the treetops. “A while ago, they picked me to be an elite pilot and it's really important. But if you tell anyone, I'll hurt you.”

The threat went unheard as Shinji's face quirked. “Pilot? Like for airplanes?”

“No, dummy!” she snapped, an open hand batting him on the head. “I can't tell you, it's secret.”

Shinji grabbed his head and sent her a crestfallen look. Her name rang out over the garden, a call from an unseen woman beyond the trees near the castle. Asuka's face twisted and she sat straight, lingering in place for a moment. She regarded him with a serious expression.

“Don't tell anybody,” she said, climbing down easily from the tree and only stumbling a little as she ran off towards the red brick house. Shinji watched her disappear with a sullen expression. He didn't see what the big deal was. It wasn't like he had anyone else to talk to.

What the heck was she a pilot for anyway? What else did people pilot but airplanes? Was she talking about spaceships? The more and more Shinji thought about it, the more it puzzled him and made his head ache.

He never really complained or put up a fight when Asuka acted so weird all the time. If he did, she might leave again. Even though it had been a year since they'd started playing again, every time she went home he feared she might never come back and anxiously awaited her visits day by day.

As the sun began to set, Shinji knew it was time to return home. He made his way back through the low and humid air, his feet rattling the rocks as he stepped up to the front porch. Closing the door after himself, he set his small shoes off to the side next to Teacher's. The man grimaced as he padded into the living room, but did not comment on his dirtied arms and grass stained clothes. So Shinji washed and bathed, settling into a white T and blue shorts. As he did, he saw the SDAT player sitting on the edge of the small table Teacher had gotten him, cords wrapped around its frame.

He picked it up, acid spilling into his veins and burning him from the inside. He tossed it carelessly to the other side of the room, resolving to sit and do homework for the night until bedtime. As equations spilled over the pages and blurred together, he kept glancing back at the SDAT where it lay by his closet.

After nearly half an hour of getting little to nothing done, Shinji stood, snatched up the music player and sat back down at his desk – nestling the buds into his ears.

***

The morning was crisp, as it always seemed to be in Germany. The stool he used to reach the kitchen counter allowed him to see out of the window and into his garden. The mists had dispersed by now and the waking birds sang their disjointed, but harmonious chorus.

“Your soup is boiling.” Teacher said.

Shinji looked to him, then to the pot and yelped – turning the heat off and fumbling to add the spring onions he had cut earlier. He slid the pot off the burner, mixing everything with a wooden spoon. Teacher twitched his nose at it and gave him a look that said, 'It will have to do.'

“Sorry.” Shinji said with a deep bow.

Teacher was mute and they prepared the morning meal at the table. Miso soup, steamed rice and an omelet cooked with onions and green peppers. Once everything had been laid out, he waited for Teacher to sit before doing so himself. He gave thanks, in Japanese and German, before grabbing the table's sake bottle to fill Teacher's cup. As he did, the man grabbed a white envelope from under the table and slid it across to him. It was blank save for a single red half-leaf in the upper left corner.

His face pinched and he looked up. “What is it?”

“The sake.”

“Wuh– ah!” Shinji lifted the sake bottle as the liquid spilled over the rim of the cup, almost knocking several dishes over trying to clean up his mess.

Teacher sighed, but waited for him to finish.

“A letter from your father,” he finally said, taking a moment to pinch rice from his bowl. “You may read it once we are done eating.”

The miso soup was the first thing to go, it was the easiest to down without appearing indecent, with the minor consequence of practically scalding his throat. The rice, however, was more of a challenge. Shinji managed to stuff his mouth full when he thought Teacher wasn't looking. His portion of the omelet was soon devoured as well, but he succeeded only in finishing before Teacher did, whom he still had to wait on to finish as etiquette dictated.

However, despite having never looked up at him once, Teacher nodded. Shinji practically snatched the letter from the table and then tore the envelope open:

Gehirn Operations Department,
Research and Analysis Center,
Tokyo-3

Director Ikari Gendo,
To Ikari Shinji,

You are hereby ordered to active duty for training for the period shown, which will be followed by deployment orders upon the completion of training unless sooner released or extended by proper authority.

Period: 6 years
Report To: Gehirn Offices, Lichtenberg
Reporting Date: RPT between 0730 & 0800 Hours. 30 August 2006
Attached To: Joint Research Unit, E Project, Section 3
Purpose: Third Child, Pilot

Shinji's brow scrunched, nerves tingling warmly at his neck and shoulders. He flipped the paper over, searching the back. But it was just this – artificially worded and with his father's name stamped on it. Not even an actual signature.

“Active duty? Training?” Shinji asked, the paper crunching in his hand, “what does this mean?”

His Teacher set down his soup bowl. “It means you have a great responsibility now.”

“To do... what?”

“What your father requires of you.”

Shinji frowned at that, looking back down at the paper. He remembered what Asuka had said, something about being a pilot. What was it his father wanted him to do?

“What's... brain?” he asked, pointing to the German word.

Teacher did not even look as he finished chewing a mouthful of omelet. “It is your father's work and it is for the benefit of all mankind.”

“My father's work...” Shinji repeated, holding the paper before him proper again. It isn't fair. He thought. His throat was tight, searing as if he were being choked. He pursed his lips, resisting the urge to rip the paper up into tiny pieces. It would not do to cry, either. Teacher disliked such useless displays of emotion.

Rocks clattered outside, followed by fading footfalls. Shinji looked up, a bit of light creeping in down the hall from the open front door.

***

“Time to go.” Teacher said, slipping his shoes on. Shinji did the same and followed him around to the front of the mansion, where a black car was waiting for them.

The country side melted away to sprawling suburbs and city-scape. The buildings were way taller here, glittering blue glass and gray concrete. There were dozens – hundreds of people and cars, Shinji could hardly take it all in. But they seemed to only be passing around the city and never reached some of the taller skyscrapers, much to his disappointment. The buildings became a little more sparse, until they came to an area with huge pipes that puffed black smoke and metal towers with wires and other strange things. The car ground to a halt in front of a small building flanked by a tall fence with sharp-looking spiral things at the top.

As they got out Shinji saw in small print: Gehirn, Lichtenberg.

At the door, Teacher poked at a metal box with lots of buttons on it. After a moment, a loud buzz made Shinji jump and mechanized clanks sounded before the big door swung open. He shivered as they entered, a wash of cold air spiraling down his shoulders and making goosebumps spread up his legs. His shoes squeaked as they stepped further in and for a time it was the only noise. There was a long white hallway that led to a small window in the wall with two doors on either side of it.

Teacher handed someone on the other side of the window some papers and they talked quietly. Shinji looked around and found a lone painting mounted on the plain beige walls. It was a strange landscape with naked people – and looked nothing like his garden. One of the people did have red hair though.

A door creaked and Shinji turned to find a pale man with slicked back black hair and large glasses smiling at him. The man looked to Teacher and bowed before offering his hand, to which his instructor also bowed and grasped the man's hand in his. The white robed man turned his dark blue-green eyes on Shinji, leaning over slightly as he said, “Guten morgen, little Shinji.”

Shinji made a face. Even Asuka's dad called him Herr. Mister Shinji sounded way cooler than little Shinji. He was always little Shinji.

He reached over to grab his other arm, shrinking back a little. The man just smiled and his shoulders shook with a huff. “I am Doctor Adrian Lützow. Follow me, please.”

Lützow opened the door and led Shinji through a labyrinth of glass panes that reached up to the ceiling, their lower halves covered with shiny metal. He was too short to see over them, so he couldn't tell what was going on inside. After making a dizzying series of turns and traveling down very long halls, Lützow opened the door to one of the glass rooms, where a small table sat in the middle. Lützow sat at one side, adjusting his big white coat. Shinji hesitated as the man looked to him expectantly and he glanced up at Teacher, who nodded towards the table.

Shinji climbed onto the other chair opposite Lützow, sitting on his knees since the table and chairs were made for adults. In front of him were four big cubes and one small one, the Doctor had the same on his side.

“Do you like to play games, Shinji?”

He nodded.

“So do I. Would you like to play?”

Another nod.

“Okay, Shinji: I'm going to take my little cube and tap on these other cubes. When I'm done, I want you to take your cube there and copy me exactly. Can you do that? If you win our games today, I'll give you a special treat.” With that, Lützow took his tiny cube and made Shinji repeat the series of tapping. After a little bit it started to get really hard to remember which ones he had tapped and in which order, but Lützow didn't say he had lost – so he must have won when they finally stopped.

Lützow's pen scratched across his clipboard and the Doctor looked up at him again. “Very good, Shinji. There is one more thing before you go.” He bent down nearby and set a piece of paper on the table, as well as a small box of crayons every color of the rainbow. “I want you to draw yourself.”

Shinji's brow pinched and his lips pouted in thought as he stared down at the blank piece of paper. He glanced up at the glass walls, but they were too clear and he couldn't see himself very well. So he turned back and said, “I don't know what I look like.”

Lützow smiled. “Just draw what you think you would look like.”

Shinji frowned, but took one of the crayons and started to draw nonetheless. He started with the head, of course, marking his way down to the body and glancing at his clothes a couple of times to check what color they were.

So focused on his task, he almost didn't notice as Teacher asked, “Why the drawings?”

Shinji glanced up, but neither of them were particularly paying attention to him. Although Lützow glanced up from his clipboard and nodded to the paper, so Shinji went back to drawing, the Doctor's voice reigning over the room soon after.

“It is to give us a general idea of his current state of mind, based on how he perceives himself. It helps us learn how he thinks and gives us clues as to why. Now keep in mind I can't tell you much without proper clearance, you understand.”

Shinji's brow furrowed, thoroughly lost. He heard Teacher grunt. “Of course.”

"Good, just know it will allow us to predict irregularities and better refine the system to deal with them later on. As you can see, the small figure and lack of legs denotes instability and insecurity. Thus far he has arms, but the hands are hidden behind his back - difficulty with communication. Also note that the face is lacking in more distinct features with the exception of eyes - he has a very weak sense of identity."

Shinji phased out of the conversation after that. He didn't get it anyway and Teacher would only scold him if he asked questions. When he was done drawing, Lützow clipped the paper to his board and stood. “Okay, Herr Shinji, we're all done for the day. You did very well and I will see you again tomorrow.” He said and held out a lollypop. Shinji snatched it from his hand and tore open the wrapper, deciding that perhaps Doctor Lützow was not so bad afterall.

When they returned to the Langley estate later in the day it was straight back to lessons. The silver clock on the wall said it was six when Teacher dismissed him early. He wasn't sure why, but was not going to stick around to complain.

Outside, there were tinges of light left from the retreating afternoon, but it was dark enough for someone to trip over a rock if they weren't careful.

“Oww!” A girlish voice wailed.

Shinji searched the brush. It could only be – “Asuka?” He asked, poking his head around the other side of a tree, but finding no one around. As the bugs and critters continued to call in the twilight, he turned around and continued through the jungle bushes, passing by the stream towards the small little valley that hid the old shed. Every now and then a twig would break or leaves would crunch, though when he would turn no one would be there. One time he thought he saw a flash of red.

The stars were clear in the sky by the time he came to the rotted out husk. He sat in the grass, looking up with reverent awe. They were always so bright as they blanketed the sky with their light, especially out here where there were no city rays to hide them from his sight. According to Teacher, one day some of the stars would disappear because years and years away they had already died, it just took longer for their light to reach Earth. The idea made Shinji cold, like when the gray rains kept him inside. At the same time, it filled his heart with wonder that a star could still burn long after it was gone.

Then Shinji nearly jumped out of his skin as a voice said, “So what if they picked you too.” finding Asuka standing over the pit, he fell back against one of the rotting pieces of wood. She hopped down and kicked him in the leg. “That doesn't make you special!”

“W-what?” he stammered, scooting as far back into the crumbling wood as he could.

“Don't be dumb!” Asuka stood over him, hair lit up by the moon outlining her in white. She pressed a hand against his chest to pin him, the look in her eyes making his heart quiver. “I was picked first,” she said, pushing hard, “don't ever forget it!”

She turned and ran off into the night, releasing the stinging pressure on his lungs. He grabbed at the spot she had been pushing, legs curling up to his chest. Picked first? Shinji didn't even know what he was doing here. It was important to his father, so if he kept doing whatever it was Teacher and Lützow told him to do, after six years father would come for him.

Wouldn't he?

Shinji sighed, falling back on the grass and watching the twinkling world above through the rusted roof.

***

Dark clouds billowed over the gardens, making the leaves shiver as the winds danced through them. But Shinji knew it wouldn't rain today – normally it got stuffy and hot before that happened, making the plants shimmer with sparkling water, the greens and purples and reds glowing vibrantly in the next day's scorching heat.

The mulch was soggy as Shinji walked down a familiar path, a thick, raw pine smell wafting up into his nostrils. He had to go off the marked path for one that was discreet, but well trodden. There he found the huge olive tree that lorded over its small clearing, the grass and rocks worn at from years of play.

Looking up, the fat olive tree curled upwards with its strange trunk, splitting down the middle as the branches parted and blanketed the clearing with a pleasing umbrella of shade. The tiny dark green leaves glistened, as did the olives still remaining on their branches. They had ripened now, changing from a bright green to a purplish black.

He could actually climb the olive tree reasonably well now – though Asuka was still much better at it.

It always seemed so much harder by himself.

The thought made his face pinch, so he started to climb. As he reached the notch in the trunk where the branches split off, he realized all of the olives within reach had been picked off already. Tearing away one of the empty bundles of leaves, he resolved to climbing higher to attain his prize.

He must have nearly made it to the top, because the world looked far away when he glanced down. Fear pulled at his heart and he clung to the tree branches tighter. Asuka had fallen out of the tree a lot when they first started playing. But not anymore, she was like the monkeys he'd read about in his books – ascending easily and effortlessly. Swallowing, Shinji looked back up to the bundle of black olives, just a few more feet beyond his reach.

Cracking the branch free – it had the most on it – he started his descent. As he neared the bottom, he jumped off, nearly tumbling to the ground face first. It was then he noticed a sliver of red poking out from the other side of the tree.

Asuka was standing by the trunk, an air of indecision hovering about her in the way she hovered close to the tree with her hands up against it, watching him.

He held out the branch to her. Glancing from him to it, she snatched off a handful of olives and started fishing out the cores. So he sat down, picking out his own while still holding out the branch, which she would pick from every so often until the thing was nearly barren. When she eventually sat down amidst the roots, he assumed he must have been forgiven for whatever it was he'd done.

“I wonder if they picked other kids to pilot,” he said, daring a furtive glance to see if he'd provoked a reaction.

“Of course they did, dummy,” she almost sighed, pulling her eyes away from the castle and sparing him a somewhat annoyed glance.

“Then why aren't they here?”

“How should I know?”

He shrugged, sitting up and crossing his legs. “I wonder how many there are?”

She lazily threw one of the olive cores at him. “My papa says you're the Third.”

Purpose: Third Child, Pilot. The letter from his father had said. Wait, if he was the Third, why were there only two of them here?

“Does that mean you're the Second?” he asked – then paused, thinking better of it, “who's the First?”

Anger flashed through Asuka's eyes. “It doesn't matter. Just a stupid number,” she grumbled, jaw tight. The girl folded her knees up to her chest, hugging her arms around them as a hard look came over her expression. “I'm going to be the best.”

That took Shinji aback, silencing any other thoughts he might have wanted to voice. Yet the silence that consumed them was companionable and they sat in the quiet of the grove for a little while longer, sharing in the shade of the tree.

***

It wasn't long before the two resumed their regular routine, albeit with a bossier Asuka, who saw fit to order Shinji about for anything and everything. From making dirt castles properly and to exact specifications, or to climbing the olive tree for their bitter and oily treats.

All the while, Shinji's body ached. It was like an itch in the back of his brain, as though he'd have to dig into his own skull and scratch his brain to subdue it. He didn't sleep very well at night, faceless wraiths spilling ominous shadows over his dreams.

It was one of the few reasons he'd journeyed deep into the garden today, to places not even the groundskeepers traversed anymore.

The clouds drifted overhead completely free and without worry. Shinji wondered what it would be like to be one of those clouds. What it would be like to just sail in the sky forever with the birds to keep him company.

Shinji was sitting in the abandoned shed, watching them pass by while cooled under the patchwork shade of the trees. The light from the sun caused the menagerie of green leaves from the oaks and maples and birches to glow. The music from his SDAT danced in his ears, adding a serene quality to the forest around him. He liked it when he could pretend the world was always this beautiful, not soggy or lonely or sad. He always felt it reminded him of something too – or someone. He could never really be sure, since it came only as a half-remembered dream, indistinct and shapeless. It was more like a feeling than anything else.

“Whatcha' doing?” red hair cascaded over his sight, a pair of blue eyes demanding his attention. She was clothed in a light yellow dress instead of the stuffy maroon one she usually only wore 'cause her parents made her.

Shinji's face twisted and he pulled his earbuds out, pointing past her. “Clouds.”

Asuka rolled her eyes. “That's boring!” she whined, grabbing his right arm and yanking him up. Shinji did not resist. “Come on,” she said, marching him out of the valley and up towards the castle.

“Why?”

“I wanna' climb the olive tree.”

“Do it by yourself...” Shinji grumbled and received a stinging flick on the nose. “Ow!” he cried, falling on his rump and shooting her a sour look as he rubbed his red nose.

“What are you being so weird for?” she snapped, brow scrunched.

Shinji bit back the mean words on the tip of his tongue. He wasn't weird. He didn't dare voice the protest, she would only punch him or kick him and he was not getting beat up by a girl today. Instead, he crossed his legs, hands clasping his ankles as he rocked on his butt, vision fading into a green blur as he stared into the grass. “It's been a whole two years and... he still hasn't come for me. He said I'd only be gone for a while.”

Shinji knew very well what the letter had said. He'd wasted away hours in his room reading it over and over again until he felt sick. It said he was to be trained for six years, but father had said he wouldn't be gone that long – why couldn't he go back?

Asuka had asked him once why he had come here. He’d told her because his dad had sent him away. They didn't really talk much about it again, but she'd been a little nicer to him after that. At least, nice in the same sense that a lion only scratched your arm open instead of out right eating you. He wondered if all girls were like that?

Asuka shrugged. “Maybe he doesn't want you.”

He flinched, shooting her a glare. “That's not true!”

“Then why hasn't he come back for you yet?” she sneered, leaning forward.

Shinji looked away. “That's – that's because he... he just...” his hands folded tight and he just wanted to hit something. But she was right, wasn't she? If he'd learned anything about Asuka, it was how much smarter she was than him, so of course she would know about this stuff too.

Shinji's nose twitched and his mouth tugged down. He squeezed his eyes shut – maybe if he pretended hard enough, it would be a dream. Maybe his father really was coming back for him–

“What are you crying for?” Asuka practically snarled. Shinji opened his eyes to find his vision blurred, face streaked and wet. She was standing and glaring at him, fists clenched at her sides. Shinji looked down and sniffed, trying his best to wipe away the tears, but his chest just hurt so much...

“Stop it!” Asuka shouted, shoving him. “Crying is for babies!”

“I'm not a baby!” he wailed. The rosebush came to him again, the scarlet liquid that smelled like metal spilling over his arm and onto his clothes while she left him there.

“Yes you are,” she sighed, though there was still a bite in her voice. It made his shoulders sag and he waited for her to leave, staring at the weeds by his ankles without really seeing them – feeling like he was falling out of his own body.

“Why do you always listen to that?” Asuka asked, drawing his eyes up, but she wasn't looking at him, glued instead to his SDAT. She was sitting down too. He didn't remember when she had or how long they'd been sitting there. Some of the light in the sky had faded.

Shinji shrugged with a half-grimace, pressure burning against his lungs. He considered her expression for a moment, trying to figure out what she could be thinking. She wouldn't meet his eyes though.

“My dad gave it to me when he...” Shinji looked to the grass between his legs, a hand snapping some of the blades free. “When he sent me away...”

Asuka's lips pursed, otherwise her expression remained impassive. “Do you hate him?”

Shinji shrugged again and they were soon consumed by the drone of the cicada bugs, at which point he almost wanted her to leave. He didn't deserve her company anyway and he couldn't blame her if she left, maybe one day he'd learn how to be... normal. But... if she did decide to stay... he wouldn't hate her for it, even if she did say mean things.

Asuka stood up then. “Shinjiii!” she whined, grabbing his wrists, “come on, I wanna' climb the olive tree!” she pulled him to his feet, tugging him along insistently. He stumbled, one arm still held in her hand as they started racing through the brush.

Despite himself, for just a moment, a smile poked at his lips.


It could probably use something more towards the end, but I'm not entirely sure what yet.
Last edited by Glor on Wed Aug 19, 2015 3:47 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Postby NemZ » Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:03 pm

Shinji is lucky he doesn't understand how harshly he just got dissed by that doctor. Geez.

I am curious how well he did on that test thought. I've long had a suspicion that Shinji is intellectually not far from Asuka's level, but he comes across as much dumber because he doesn't have the drive to apply himself and intentionally plays down his talents to avoid attention.
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Postby Glor » Tue Jun 09, 2015 11:32 pm

Probably, the truth hurts man.

In my head I reasoned he was capable of matching the sequences expected of an 11 year old, because I agree that he isn't quite as simple as we're led to believe. Might be beneficial to have that mentioned while Teacher and Lutzow are talking, if nothing else than to exemplify how hard Shinji is on himself.

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Postby Literary Eagle » Wed Jun 10, 2015 12:37 am

That assessment of Shinji's drawing made me so sad. ;_;

Anyway, interesting developments in this chapter, and I loved the interactions between Shinji and Asuka!

Just a few typos:

After nearly half and hour of getting little to nothing done (Should be "half an hour")

Its been a whole two years (Should be "It's")

to drown out world with soft and sometimes thunderous music (I'm guessing that "out the world" was meant here)

Thanks for posting another chapter! I look forward to the next one! :thumbsup:
The Happy Red Planet (my Evangelion fan fic)

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Postby Iuvenal » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:31 am

This whole situation is adorable.

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Postby Asukaner117 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 9:56 am

Interesting concept! Just some suggestions for the german dialog

Du weinst viel.: You cry alot.
Wer bist du?: Who are you?
Ich hab dich!: I got you!
Sei kein Baby!: Stop being a baby!
Du kriegst mich nicht!: Can't catch me!
Du hättest mich auffangen sollen!: You should have caught me!
God's in his heaven all's right with the world

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Postby Glor » Wed Jun 24, 2015 11:38 am

@ Iuvenal: Glad you liked it! Kids are adorable when they only exist in fiction and don't live above your first floor apartment.

@ Asukaner117: Thanks for the suggestions! I've applied them above.
Rite of Reclamation - an Evangelion/Halo fusion, check it out, is pretty neat.

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Postby Iuvenal » Wed Jun 24, 2015 11:54 am

It's true. The children who live directly above my apartment have some bizarre fetish for playing DDR or something similar at all hours, substantially reducing their cuteness. Iuvenaliculus remains an adorable little stupor mundi, of course, so long as he naps at the proper times.

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Postby Glor » Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:47 am

Dat Chapter 3.

SPOILER: Show
Chapter 3: Strength

Shinji was a creature of habit, perhaps akin to the Mongoose – forging through the world by his lonesome, hunting and burrowing. He had his routine and he stuck by it when he could. Asuka, however, was like a wild and uncontrollable storm, thundering and raining where she pleased no matter how much it upset the balance of things. Despite that, there was still a pattern: a familiarity in the garden and the olive tree. Slowly new threads would be introduced to the pattern, but for the most part it remained the same.

Today was different. He was entirely beyond any form of routine he'd come to know and couldn't help but be reminded of those short months ago at Gehirn:

Shinji was being led through what he had come to name the Glass Labyrinth. He was a little taller now, but still not quite tall enough to see within those shimmering panes. The place was always humming with a chilling radiance, making him imagine how terrifying it would be to get lost. So long as he stayed with Teacher, though, he would be alright. That was what he told himself at least. Lützow, the master of this strange realm, was leading the way. It wasn't like usual, though. Shinji had a good idea of how long it took them to reach the vault the doctor normally tested him in and the way they took now was tantalizingly new, piquing his curiosity as Lützow guided him down paths he'd never imagined could exist. At last he opened the door to yet another glass vault, revealing a red mane he knew well, pinched back in its usual twin tails.

“Asuka?” he asked, moving to the open chair beside her. The girl greeted him with little more than a sniff and an upturned nose, making his posture slump a little as a cannon ball weighed in his gut. He'd seen this Asuka before and knew that this was not going to be a pleasant visit to Gehirn. Ignorant to his trepidation, Lützow gave them each a paper with a series of zigzagging lines, soon handing them each a pencil as well.

“Today, you are each going to solve several mazes. Backtracking is not allowed and if you run into a dead end, you will have to redo the maze. You have ten seconds to complete the first maze.”

Signaling the start with two taps of his pencil on his clipboard, they began. As the minutes ticked by and new sleeves of paper appeared in front of them, the mazes getting harder and harder as they went. With each new dizzying array of patterns Shinji's confidence dwindled as Asuka kept finishing first while he either finished second or had to start again because he ran into a dead end. All the while she just smiled and he wanted nothing more than to wipe that stupid grin off her face.

As Asuka completed the last one exactly on time, yet again, Shinji howled in frustration – throwing his pencil down and crossing his arms as he sank a little in his seat. Asuka just stuck out her tongue as she kicked her legs.

Lützow hummed as his white-blue eyes scanned over them, pencil tapping rapidly against his lips. He made several marks on his clipboard, washing the worry from his face as he fetched two more sleeves of paper. “Alright, I have one last game for you two – sit up now, Shinji. This one, however, will require you to work together to finish.”

Pushing himself back up, but refusing to sit straight despite the warning look Teacher gave him, Shinji waited for the next test he was sure to lose. Their mazes were taken away and new sheets were slid in front of them, except it was only half a sleeve, cutting the mazes in half vertically. Seeing the questions in their eyes, Lützow elaborated. “I have given you each one half of a larger maze. You each have a starting point on your piece of paper. To finish the maze, you will have to cross onto each other's paper. However –” he paused, gaze lingering on Asuka for a moment, “in order to win, both of you must finish within the ten second marker.”

Shinji and Asuka shared a glance, a flash of resentment flickering through her eyes. Shinji felt his face tighten and he sat a little straighter as they touched their papers together to make the mazes line up. It was huge and he gave up on trying to find a path to Asuka's side as it turned into a blur of lines. He hovered his pencil over the starting point nonetheless, poised to mark the quickest route.

“Begin.”

No sooner had Shinji's pencil started scrawling over the paper than Asuka's crossing arm knocked into his pencil, both snapping the led and causing her own pencil to lift, breaking the rules.

“No, stupid!”

“Miss Soryu,” Lützow said in a tone Shinji was all too familiar with. She made a face but didn't call him any names, settling for pinching his hand instead.

“Plan where you're going first,” she whispered.

Lützow began the test again and Shinji did what Asuka said, pausing as his eyes tracked the correct path. As he started his pencil's perilous journey, a low hiss next to him that might've been a curse sounded as Asuka ran into a dead end.

The third time they found the correct path, but bumped each other's arms as they crossed onto opposite sides. There just wasn't enough room on the maze!

Before the fourth try, Asuka gave him a look that promised retribution later if he failed and he returned as stern a look a six year old could hope to muster. When they started, he ticked off the seconds in his head and each of them careful to avoid one another's path – bending their hands at odd angles to get by.

Asuka smacked her pencil down on the table as she finished, just a second before Shinji did – and just two seconds before they would have lost.

From then on whenever they were both brought to Gehirn, Lützow would make them finish tests together, which Asuka still managed to turn into a competition, but he couldn't outright lose those challenges – so it became fun to try and beat her.

Today, as he was beginning to expect of the storm that was Asuka, he was yet again being swept off his feet to be carried somewhere new... and not entirely welcome. As now seven year old Shinji stood in the foyer of the Langley house, dressed in unfamiliar clothes as he prepared to leave for an unfamiliar place, his nerves danced like angry hornets in his stomach. The room itself was open and woodwork on the ceiling arched like the domes of a cathedral, the walls adorned with large paintings and the windows framed by vermillion drapes. The floor was smooth and shiny white marble, giving way to the two sets of narrow stairs along each side of the grand corridor, all polished bronze wood that gave the upper floor a warm glow under the early morning light.

It was not the first time he had been in the house: on extremely rare occasions past, he had actually been allowed into the household with Asuka and her mother would give them homemade sweets, which the girl begrudgingly accepted. Asuka usually took most of his too, but he did not mind so much, since she never managed to finish all of them and ended up giving him back what would have been his share anyway.

“Dummy! Your tie is loose!” Asuka scolded, pinching her fingers at his collar and yanking his tie, nearly choking him. Then she grabbed his jacket and jerked the loose ends together. Taking a step back to inspect a haggard Shinji as he combed a hand through his short hair, she nodded and grabbed her school bag from the very ornate mahogany chair nearby.

“Have a good day you two,” a voice called from the second floor. Shinji spun to glance Asuka's mother at the top of the steps, a white shawl thrown over her dark azure turtleneck shirt, hanging just a little below her equally dark pants. Her hazelnut hair was caught up in a loose bun and while her expression seemed kind, her eyes looked... distant.

Asuka didn't answer, grabbing his arm to tug him along while sending a baleful glare up the stairs. Shinji followed, exiting the grand white marble foyer and climbing into the black car with Asuka. He sat next to her, putting his navy blue bag on the floor alongside her red and black polka dot one. Her uniform was the same color as his, dark gray jacket with a white undershirt. Where he wore plaid shorts, she had a plaid skirt that went almost below her knees, black socks pulled up just under her knees.

He didn't know what it was, but somehow she seemed extra pretty. Maybe it was the new, long red ribbons holding her pigtails up. He wouldn't dare voice such a thing, regardless. She might think he was weird. No one wanted him anyway. It didn't feel good, but he was starting to get used to the idea.

As they left the Langley estate through a long black gate, Shinji sat straight in the leather seats, fidgeting and wringing his hands in his lap. When he noticed Asuka throwing annoyed glances at him, he stilled – at least for a few minutes. The trip out of the rolling countryside didn't take long, the sunny morning turning a little muggier as they reached the city. The constant heat and rains in Germany, caused by something Teacher called Second Impact, had become the norm on the Langley estate. To think that there had ever been anything like fall or winter was baffling and if not for the pictures he was shown – he would have thought Teacher was making it up.

It wasn't long before Shinji couldn't really remember what his old home had been like. Smells faded, places and faces became fuzzy in his mind. Teacher would, well, teach and the Soryu parents were faceless figures that resided in the grand castle of a house high on the hill – at least until recently.

Now he was embarking on a journey to the Evangelisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster, a renowned school in Berlin, or so Teacher said. It looked like the Langley house: all rustic red brick guarded by thin trees and caste iron statues stained green from enduring the tortures of the weather. The main building looked like a cathedral, its rooftops lined with spires decorated in swirling gilded patterns.

The car squealed to a halt by the open courtyard on the left of the cathedral and Shinji shambled out after Asuka. For a moment, they just stood there – taking it all in, or at least he was. Asuka had been attending regular school for a couple of years now, but he had never seen so many other kids in one place. He noticed none of them really looked like him. Teacher had told him to expect that.

The trees in the courtyard were skinny compared to the ones in his garden and all around him were old stone and brick buildings. The shining glass and rigid metals of the newer buildings were mixed in with them, making the place feel like an otherworldly and disjointed bridge in time.

“Hurry up, Shinji!”

He jumped at the call, finding Asuka already way across the courtyard. Running to catch up, he followed her up a small flight of steps and into a long building three stories high. The main hall was filled with a murmur of the foreign words and he only managed to catch a few. The past few years of learning suddenly abandoned him and he couldn't understand any of it. Just when he thought he could latch onto a conversation, a new one poured into his ears. Talking to one person was easy enough, but there had to be at least a hundred in this corridor alone.

Staggering as someone bumped into him, Shinji realized he'd lost Asuka.

“Watch where you're going, stupid!” A chubby boy snarled,stopping as he snared a good look at Shinji. He gulped, stuttering an apology – except in Japanese instead of German. What was the word again? He said it enough to Teacher that he should have known it! Why did he forget now? The other kid and his friends, who were staring at him in awe now, didn't seem to notice his feeble attempts at communication.

“He's got funny eyes,” someone said and all at once there was a ring of people and faces with wide eyes.

“Why is his nose shaped so goofy?”

“Is he from another planet?”

“What a freak!”

Shinji backed up, a pudgy hand pushing him and making the lockers rattle as his back smacked into them. He panicked and despite the pain pulsing through his shoulders, tried to push his way through the crowd – only to be shoved back against the lockers.

“Hey!” every head turned to look as the crowd parted, revealing a furious Asuka Langley Soryu. “Get away from him!”

The not-so-skinny boy offered a crooked grin as he took a few steps forward. “Why? What's a dumb girl like you gonna' do?”

He was answered with a foot to his crotch and squealed like a little pig as he collapsed to his knees, tears falling over his red face. Since he was already leaning forward, Asuka placed a foot on his head and pushed his cheek to the floor.

“If you ever talk to him again – I'll break your stupid face!”

***

Headmistress Bayern's eyebrow twitched, but her regal and commanding expression didn't falter in the slightest. Shinji looked to the floor again, unable to make himself small enough in the oversized chair across from her oak desk. Her dark grey eyes slid gradually to Asuka, who was slouched back in her seat, arms crossed as an annoyed frown pouted her lips. Bayern's nails clacked loudly upon the worn tabletop as she began drumming her fingers, making Shinji's nerves dance along the back of his neck.

At last, the noise was replaced by the ringing of a phone just inches away. She plucked it from the receiver and brought it to an ear, eyes not moving from them for a moment. “Headmistress Bayern speaking,” she said, pausing for the other end, her tone changing to something a little conversational. “Yes, mister Langley... well of course not, but it isn't her first incident here at this establishment and we do not tolerate this sort of behavior... I understand, but... as long as it does not continue to be an issue... very well, you've made your point, but I do have to keep up appearances you know... of course, good day.”

The phone was returned to its berth with a little more force than necessary, though Bayern appeared just as collected as she had before. “I'll leave you with a warning this time, young lady,” the woman said, briefly pinning Shinji with a piercing look, “but please keep your... friend out of trouble from now on.”

“I'm sorry,” he said.

The Headmistress only hummed, retrieving a pen and to start scrawling marks on papers he was too low to see. “You may go,” she said without looking up. They were ushered out of the door by another teacher and led back to class. Asuka was walking a few steps ahead of him and he used her heels to navigate while maintaining his downward gaze.

“What are you sorry for anyway?” she hissed.

He looked up to find her peevish eyes on him. “Huh?”

She slowed down a little to let him catch up to her, but only to punch him in the arm. “If someone's attacking you, you can't just sit there!”

“Sorry.”

“Ugh, just be quiet!” she growled, walking several paces ahead of him again. The teacher escorting them cast a scolding glare over his shoulder and they descended into quiet. As they passed what must have been a nurses office, Shinji spotted the gelatinous boy who'd bullied him sitting sullenly outside of it, several yellow bruises coloring his red face. When he looked up and caught sight of Asuka, the boy moved faster than Shinji would have thought possible for a person his size. His eyes bulged and he pressed himself back against the wall, hands grasping the chair desperately.

Asuka pinned him with scathing eyes and then stomped a foot towards him. The boy yelped and fell out of his chair, cowering against the nurse's door. All the while Asuka smirked as they continued on.

Shinji was not so sure he wanted to go to school anymore.

***

Just about every morning he and Asuka would get up early and attend the Gymnasium, and every day Shinji's heart ached for something he vaguely remembered as home.

Not only were the teachings at the Grauen Kloster at the forefront of his priorities, but lessons at the Langley estate continued, albeit with far less frequency. Since he now attended school regularly and had to go see Lützow every other day, time had to be set aside for homework and study. He rarely had an opportunity to play in the garden or gaze at the stars. Asuka he saw at school, but there was no play to be had there. She usually came by the garden to see him, inviting herself in as she had always done. Teacher no longer tried to fight it.

Shinji was amazed that Asuka always managed to finish her homework before he did. Some of the German still confused him, as he was a slow reader in the language. That, and the addition of Latin to the curriculum didn't help either. Spending time with the girl usually turned into her badgering him about paying attention in class. At least knowing German kind of helped him understand the root words from Latin better.

Day by day the gardens called to him, but seemed more like a passing dream. Teacher said he had big responsibilities now and that he had to live up to them for his father. He was some sort of pilot like Asuka now. He still didn't understand why she'd been mad about it, but the girl had never mentioned it again. Maybe one day, if he was good enough, his father would come to take him home. So he did the best he could at school and studied hard.

Music had immediately become one of his favorite studies at school, if nothing else than because there was practically no homework to be done – except for today. Seven year old Shinji lugged the big black case through the garden to his white and bamboo-tan house. As he staggered through the door, Teacher quirked an eyebrow and lowered the open book in his hand, though his expression remained ever stoic. Panting, Shinji set the case down before facing Teacher, pressing his arms to his sides and bowing. “Uh, Herr Hannover wants me to practice at home...”

He wasn't sure why, since students were rarely allowed to take instruments home and usually it was only the older kids. None of the teachers at school really took much of a liking to him, though they always doted on Asuka. Hannover had, at the very least, seemed pleased with his ability to play, but all that had done was make more work for him at home.

The man glanced at the cello case, then back to his charge before deciding on more tea and returning to his book. “So long as it does not interfere with your other studies.”

“Thank you,” Shinji said, standing straight and retreating to his room with the cello. Clicking the hard black case open, he checked the polished wood for blemishes and tested the strings for any signs of stress. The cello was not Shinji's first choice to play, but after experimenting in Hannover's class as he'd made all of them do, the man was a little more pleased with his handling of the cello as opposed to the others he'd tried and insisted he make it his own.

So Shinji did.

Setting the case down on the floor, he dragged a chair out from the corner and readied his cello. The laminated maple wood glowed under the fading light of afternoon creeping in through his window. Careful not to let it fall, he situated himself upright in the chair and adjusted the cello's endpin for his small stature. Reaching back down to the case he found the bow, made from something called brazilwood, horsehair pinched taut down its length. Shifting a few more times to get comfortable, he set his left fingers up on the neck – not looking forward to the red, numb indents he would have soon after.

He drew the bow across the stings, cringing at the stringent sounds that came forth. Huffing through his nose, he adjusted the pegs like Hannover had showed him. It took him a half-hour, but eventually he was able to start playing the right notes and it wasn't long before his arms tired and his shoulder blades ached.

Later, as he and Teacher gathered for dinner, Shinji was beginning the meal by pouring the sake when the man granted him prolonged eye contact and bowed his head slightly. “Your playing was acceptable, Shinji.”

He blinked, staring wide eyed at his Teacher. The man rarely praised him for anything, let alone for something that seemed so unimportant as music lessons.

Then Teacher sighed, “The sake, Shinji.”

He looked down and yelped as the liquid spilled over the edge of the cup and all over the table. Shinji stuttered an apology while cleaning up, but Teacher seemed far less perturbed as he did so. Maybe practicing with the cello wasn't such a bad thing afterall.

The weeks and months passed in a blur. School days were long and full of boring readings from text books about wars and people that wore funny helmets thousands of years ago. With all the homework the were given, he didn't have much time to study for the actual tests. On nights that he would have to study, Asuka would be finished days ahead of him and lean over his shoulder to badger him until he went to bed and Teacher shooed her out the door. Sometimes Asuka would complain that she was hungry and would do this day after day until finally demanding that he prepare her food. From then on, Shinji took the hint for what it was. She would wolf everything down while complaining about how weird the Japanese must be.

Teacher did not approve, but there was little he could do considering her father was already allowing them to stay on his estate, and she knew it too. Shinji hadn't realized until recently how important her father was, or rather, he understood lots of people knew him and he had a big house. That and the fact that Asuka had beaten up another boy and had gotten off with little more than a warning from the Headmistress. Shinji couldn't help but be jealous of Asuka. She lived in a huge garden with a dad and a mom that made her sweets and cakes. No one bullied her at school or gave her dirty looks and she had lots of friends. She could practically get away with murder if she wanted.

He could not get away with anything.

Shinji was arriving home in the afternoon as usual – but what was not usual was Asuka. As he passed down the brick path around her big house, he saw her standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to the front doors, staring at the stained glass and dark amber wood.

“Hey, Asuka.”

Her shoulders jumped and she turned, far-off expression falling away in favor of the more alive and agitated one he was accustomed to. “What?”

He peered past her, trying to figure out what she had found so interesting on the door, asking, “Are you going somewhere?” why else would she be waiting out front?

“Your house, idiot – why'd you get home so late?” she pushed him with one hand as she came to walk next to him, just because she could. He was ready for it and managed to only stumble a little.

“I always get here like this,” he said as they walked into the gardens. On just the walk to his small home they each started to sweat and Shinji sighed as the cool air from inside washed over him.

He and Asuka greeted Teacher, who offered little more than a tilt of his eyebrow as they passed. Closing his door, Shinji set his backpack down by his desk and started to make himself comfortable. When he sat down and Asuka didn't leave, a twinge of annoyance struck him. “I have lots of homework to do, y'know.”

“You always do,” she sighed, collapsing on his bed. “how's it take you so long to finish?”

His shoulders tensed. “It just... does.”

She only grunted, staring up at the ceiling. Pressure sat over his ribcage when she just stayed quiet and all at once he felt uncomfortable. All the same he was surprised she was even here. Not because her being in his room was weird – she came in whenever she wanted – but she'd been appearing less and less lately. She looked sullen at school, didn't talk to anyone beyond plastered smiles and expected pleasantries. He could tell they were fake too, never once daring to tell her so.

Shinji turned back to begin his homework, taking out the SDAT that rarely left his person and poking the buds in his ears. He risked another glance at Asuka, who's back was now facing him.

It wasn't fair. How did she have time to just do nothing all day when he always had homework sheet after homework sheet to finish? What made her the “Pride and Joy of Germany” as the teachers would say. It started as a bit of a joke – look at little Asuka, such a good student, so wonderful of her to be so kind to that delinquent foreign boy. Then she began to blaze through the mock tests – scoring even higher on the actual papers, imbuing their praise with truth. “Look at little Asuka,” they would say, “she has such potential. She's sure to do great things one day!”

The hours melted away and Shinji had barely made a dent in studies. He wished Asuka was awake – and not acting stranger than usual, maybe then she would pester him with his homework and help him solve some of the problems. Well, she never really helped him so much as she forced him to redo the problems every time he got them wrong without telling him how to solve them. At the thought, he checked the clock sitting at his desk: a circular black frame with a mouse for the small hand and a cat for the big one.

“It's really dark,” he said, twisting to where she was lying on his bed, “won't your mom worry?”

The girl didn't even stir, her back rising and falling gently. She must have fallen asleep. Should he wake her? Maybe not, she had been particularly moody today and the day before. He stood up, edging up to his bed where he could see her face a little, free of all the usual expressions she made.

After a few quiet moments, he brushed his teeth and flossed, still finding Asuka fast asleep when he returned. Hesitation plucking at him for another drawn out second, he fished out an extra pillow and blanket from his closet before turning off his light and resigning himself to sleeping on the floor.

***

The winds were calm and cool, whisking away the sting of the sun from his skin. Someone spoke to him, but he was too busy trying to catch the glow bug. He was so close, it was sitting on a leaf, completely unaware of his presence. His hands reached out, ready to entrap it –

Something soft yet deliberate pushed into his cheek. The shadowed world of his dreams started to fade away and he felt himself roll over. The thing poked him in the back and he swept at it with a grumble, rolling up in the sheets and against the wall.

Then there was a jab of pain in his left eye and he howled, sight bursting open to a blurred world as his head snapped back – cracking into the wall.

“OW!” Shinji scrambled up, struggling as he tore himself from the tangle of sheets and bracing himself in the corner. His vision was spinning and the back of his head, which he grabbed in his hands to make the throbbing stop, stung like it'd been hit with a boulder. At the other end of his bed closest to the door, Asuka was rolling with laughter.

“It's not funny!” he shouted. This didn't discourage Asuka's mirth in the slightest and Shinji ended up just sulking in the corner, rubbing the remnants of sleep – and maybe a few gathering tears – from his eyes as her laughter died down to gasps for air and brief giggles.

“Why'd you wake me up, anyway?” he asked. For that matter, when had he gotten into bed? Last thing he remembered was falling asleep on the floor.

She sat up, crossing her legs. “You sleep too long and it's not rainy out today,” she said. Ah, that explained it. If it was sunny out, that meant play in the gardens. Now that he thought of it, today was Sunday – which meant no school. Asuka pushed off his bed, still dressed in her school uniform, though the jacket had been discarded and the shirt untucked from her skirt.

Shinji yawned, glancing down at his white T-shirt and blue shorts. He should bathe – Teacher said lapses in hygiene were unacceptable. But Asuka was already on her way out of his room and he didn't want to be left behind. He scrambled out of bed, almost forgetting to close his door.

Teacher was at his post in the living room by the table. He seemed to disapprove, but didn't say a word as Shinji followed Asuka out of the door.

It was sweltering the moment they stepped outside, a blast of scorching heat rolling over him as though he were standing in a furnace, making his skin started sweat almost immediately. Heedless, Asuka led the way into the gardens to the shade of the trees and spiraling plants. Meanwhile, he strategized how he would go about avoiding any wrestling matches with Asuka for the day. Yet, even under the tall branches the humidity was staggering, making every breath feel like a labor.

They wound their way to the higher part of the garden where the rose bushes were, stone pathways and marble pillars breaking between them. Under the glare of the sun the white roses looked like glowing white orbs that were blinding to look at, while the reds were a blazing crimson, the ambers and pinks merely giving off a soft radiance.

The single Amaranth, as Shinji had come to know it, with its vibrant purple spires stood proud amidst its crucible of thorns. In the middle of the rose garden was the fountain he'd found her at once: an open square pool where the water splashed down from huge bowls held high on the wings of robed angels. Asuka sat down on the edge to dip her legs in.

Practically falling down onto his stomach, Shinji dunked his arms into the water, letting his fingers revel in the cool sensation before splashing some over his head and neck. He watched Asuka's legs make circular patterns in the water, his thoughts slipping into the bubbling of the fountain and the humming wails of the cicada bugs. He saw her face out of the corner of his eye, expression dull as she stared up at her house beyond the trees.

He wondered, certainly not for the first time, how this place had become his home. In the past few years, the garden had grown more familiar to him than his homeland of Japan. Even still, it felt like he didn't belong somehow, almost like the dreams he had: floating in a vast and endless dark ocean. Whenever Asuka was around though, that ocean didn't seem nearly so big. Even when kids gave him nasty looks at school or when Teacher was disappointed with his tests, or when she tried to beat him at Lützow's games. It didn't matter so long as she stayed.

“So, we're secret pilots, right?” Shinji asked.

“Uh-huh.”

He half-grimaced. “Have they told you what we have to pilot?”

“No,” she said with a shrug, “my papa says they're still building it.”

Shinji made a thoughtful noise, easing onto his back and folding his hands behind his head. The sky was blazing and bright, the piercing yet distant cry of a hawk reaching them. Asuka wiggled her toes.

“Shinji?”

“Hm?” he grunted, the tone of her voice snagging his attention. He saw her head dipped to one side while she examined her feet like they were the most new and interesting things in the world.

“I don't really want to go home today.”

His face quirked. “Why?”

She didn't answer, jerking her head to move hair from her face and sliding some of it behind an ear.

“Asuka?” a woman entered the rose garden from another path, yellow and white sundress swaying around her like flowing mists, both a floppy wide-rimmed summer hat and sun glasses shielding her from the bright morning rays. Shinji had met her a few times before and she'd been nothing but kind to him, if not a little dismissive, but all adults were like that.

“There you are,” she sighed, “your father has been worried about you.” phone in one hand, she started tapping her fingers on the screen.

“I don't care,” Asuka said.

The woman didn't respond, either not hearing the girl or not listening. After making a few final taps, she held out her free hand and turned half way. “Come now, say goodbye to Shinji.”

“Why should I?” Asuka sneered, making Shinji want to shrink and disappear. He wanted to tell her this seemed like a bad idea, but his friend sounded on the border of a temper tantrum. He definitely didn't want to be around for that.

Her mom touched the top of her sun glasses, lowering them down her nose to reveal a pair of orange-brown eyes that made him feel smaller than an ant. “Because I said so, young lady. Your father will be very upset if I have to tell him you gave me trouble. Is that what you want?”

Asuka's expression hardened, defeat and resentment flickering through her eyes all at once. The girl turned to pull him into a one-sided hug at an awkward angle from behind, releasing him just as abruptly before running up to her mom. She started to walk past the woman to the castle, ignoring the hand she offered.

“Bye, Asuka!” he called, trying to smile when she sent him a fleeting glance back.

***

“This is unacceptable,” Teacher said, setting down the paper with his ordered collection of poor grades on it.

Shinji winced, his head dipping further. “I'm sorry.”

Teacher's stern expression seemed pronounced somehow, touched with disappointment and he held him under cold eyes for a long minute. They sat opposite one another at the living room table, Shinji's hands balled into fists in his lap.

“I had hoped spending more time with the Soryu girl might teach you some discipline towards your studies...but it seems I was mistaken,” Teacher went on and Shinji resisted the urge to say 'I'm sorry' again.

“Your afternoon hour of recess will be suspended until your scores improve.”

Shinji's head shot up, mouth opening halfway as a protest almost left his lips, only to close in the same moment. He looked to the floor again. “Yes, Teacher.”

“You may study until bed time,” Teacher said, dismissing him.

Shinji stomped into his room, fuming. Asuka was lounging on his bed reading some book – Selected Poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Probably something from one of her advanced classes. She was always studying stuff he didn't understand. As he sat down by his low table, she closed it and sat up – expression seeming to brighten. He'd only gotten home from school half an hour ago and since she was dressed in a simple T and shorts, she'd probably been home a little longer than he had. The perks of being really smart and acing all of your tests. She was better at wrestling and she always scored the highest on tests, making all the adults smile and praise her at school. She had even started out-pacing him in their musical studies, turning it into some competition like she always did. The only thing he had left was cooking and no one praised him for that.

Asuka sat down at the table with him, using an elbow to prop her cheek up on a fist. “Wanna' play cards or something?”

For a moment, Shinji considered it. The game they played, Schnapsen, was one of the few things he could really beat her at. Usually, if he was on a winning streak, they wouldn't stop playing until Asuka managed to beat him. Remembering how long those games tended to last, he took in the stacks of books laid out before him and frowned. “Teacher said I can't play until I get better grades. I've been trying really hard, though...”

She shrugged. “Maybe you're not studying enough.”

“But I am!” he wailed, crossing his arms on the table and resting his head atop them. “I can't be as smart as you. It's not fair.”

Seven year old Asuka was unimpressed. “Whining about it won't do anything.”

Shinji just sighed. She would say something like that. He was frustrated and tired and he hated all of this stupid work, so of course all she did was belittle him for it. Sometimes he didn't even know why he wanted to be around her when she could be so mean. She'd been nothing but mean the whole week, what was wrong with her anyway?

He turned his head away. “I'm so sick of this... I wanna' go home...”

“Quit being such a baby,” she sneered, flicking his arm.

His brow scrunched. She knew how much it bothered him being called that. “Of course you can say that!” he snapped, “you still have a mom and dad!”

Asuka was on her feet in an instant, fists tight at her sides. “She's not my mom – she's my step-mom, idiot!” she shouted, seeming to wither in the same moment as her gaze shifted to the gardens beyond his window. “My real mom...” fury gripped her features just as quickly as it had left, anger from those blue eyes stinging his chest. “If you wanna' go home so bad, then go!” she cried, running from his room, the rocks outside clattering from her haste to reach the house on the hill.

He leaned back against his desk, trying to figure out what had just happened. Step-mom? Where was her real mom? For a second he saw something on Asuka's face he never wanted to see again. Had he just made her cry? No, that was impossible. Asuka never cried.

But he'd done it again, hadn't he? He'd said something stupid and mean and – Shinji let out a growl that turned into a whimper, throwing himself to the floor. When it started to hurt his eyes staring at the light bulb on the ceiling, his view sidled to his bed, finding the book Asuka had been reading. Grimacing, he crawled over and picked it up, pulling the bookmark tassel to slide it open. Prometheus? He wondered, looking to where the girl had stormed out.

Maybe he could fix this. It would be a good excuse to find her and apologize. How did he always end up doing this? He really was just an idiot. If he kept this up, Asuka would leave him behind like his father had. The thought of it made his chest swell like a balloon ready to burst. In the meantime, he waited and tried to do something with the pile of books at his desk.

Later that night, when he was sure Teacher would be asleep, Shinji crept out of his room. He was as quiet as a ghost, sliding the front door open and closed without a sound. It wasn't the first time he'd ever snuck out at night, although on both occasions prior it had been in Asuka's company.

The cicadas chirped while dozens of frogs croaked shrilly, the moonlight guiding him through the dark forest. He reached the back porch of the big mansion and suddenly felt very stupid, since he hadn't actually planned what to do beyond this point. How was he supposed to sneak inside and give Asuka her book? It was way past even Teacher's bed time and everyone else was likely asleep too. He could not imagine sneaking in to wake her up would be well received by anyone, least of all Asuka. He peered up at the house, remembering which room was hers by the top left window.

Maybe if he could hit it with a pebble or two, she'd wake up, come down and he could give her the book while apologizing at the same time, and then everything would be alright. It was the perfect plan. He crouched, searching the ground for a suitable rock. It had to be a small one, or else he might break the window and then he would really be in trouble.

His fingers roughed up against a pebble and as his fingers seized it, his brow furrowed. What was he doing here? This wasn't going to work. There would be severe consequences if Teacher ever found out he had snuck out, besides... it wasn't like Asuka would want to forgive him anyway.

Sighing as he tossed the pebble back to the ground, he froze when he noticed a girl sitting on the steps to the back door, red hair glowing softly under the ethereal light of the moon. She had her legs drawn up to her chest, chin resting on her knees.

Shinji opened his mouth, but the words caught in his throat, so for a while he just stood there, trying to think of what he could say. When Asuka didn't yell at him or give him a dirty look, he decided it was safe to walk over and sit down on the steps too. She didn't react and Shinji desperately tried to think of how to fix things now that he was here, gazing up at the night sky streaked with wispy clouds. The book! That's right...

“You, uh, left this,” he said, holding it out to her. Asuka took the book lethargically, not even giving it so much as a glance.

“I really miss her,” she said, her whisper of a voice tugging at Shinji's heart. He stared at the ground, listening to the cicadas chirp.

“What about your dad?” he asked, waiting for her to shout at him, but Asuka only folded tighter. He remembered being like that. How could it be the same though? With Asuka he never knew what anything meant. She never really talked about that stuff with him. Always asking questions and demanding answers, yet keeping to herself. Even so, Shinji wasn't nearly as dumb as most of the kids at school thought, maybe not as smart as Asuka, but not dumb: he had seen the man around the house. It must have been her dad, but maybe he was like Shinji's dad...

“I... I don't... uh, my mom is... she's...” he stopped, a lump like burning coal rising in his throat. His shoulders sagged and he wanted nothing more than to dash back home and curl up under the sheets with his SDAT. A cool breeze swept through the trees, kissing his warm cheeks and reminding him of the dream with the woman in shadow.

“A-asuka?”

The girl didn't say anything, the seconds stretching out into minutes.

He licked his lips and continued. “My... the, the letter my dad sent... I have to, stay for another five years or, or something so...”

“Shut up,” she snapped, standing and stunning him with the scathing look that passed through her eyes. As he opened his mouth, she seemed to decide something, kicking him hard in the side. Shinji yelped and grabbed at his stomach as he collapsed on the stairs, eyes bristling as he watched her storm into the house.

She didn't look back.


Not overly happy with it, but pleased enough to share. I wasn't sure if Asuka's melancholic attitude was appropriate for her character at the end there. But I figured that because she's still a kid and struggling with the fact that she's very lonely (yet still doesn't want to rely on anyone) that she's still in the process of fully developing her barriers.

Might end up revising the scene with the Headmistress and possibly the scene with them by the fountain. But for now, this will do.
Last edited by Glor on Fri Aug 07, 2015 2:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Rite of Reclamation - an Evangelion/Halo fusion, check it out, is pretty neat.

NemZ
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Postby NemZ » Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:32 am

This chapter drags a bit, probably because it seems to be the same issues over and over in different ways but with nothing much changing in each iteration.
Rest In Peace ~ 1978 - 2017
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Glor
Ramiel
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Postby Glor » Fri Jul 10, 2015 3:52 am

^I was afraid of as much. Chapter 4 has us at a more stable point, but I hadn't intended to just regurgitate their issues for two chapters straight. Ah, well, I know one scene here I can cut out and I think I'll end up making revisions to Chapter 2 to make this one feel less rinse and repeat.
Rite of Reclamation - an Evangelion/Halo fusion, check it out, is pretty neat.

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Postby Glor » Fri Aug 07, 2015 2:20 pm

Just made revision edits to Chapters 1, 2 and 3. Nothing crazy. Despite Gobs helpful advice, I just couldn't quite bring myself to make Chapter 1 much longer that it already was. Chapter 2 I switched a few scenes around and Chapter 3 I deleted several scenes and merged some others.

Will post Chapter 4 on the 'morrow.
Rite of Reclamation - an Evangelion/Halo fusion, check it out, is pretty neat.

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Postby Glor » Sat Aug 08, 2015 2:54 am

SPOILER: Show
Chapter 4: Guardian

Heat beating through his veins, Shinji's heart did its best to break through his sternum as the white and black spotted football bounced towards him. Looking back up, he registered at least three boys from the other team thundering towards him. Beyond them, a blonde girl ran further up the goal line and cast him over-the-shoulder glances. Turning his heel out he kicked the ball, just hard enough for it to make a small arc over the grass and roll to the feet of the girl. She juggled it expertly, rolling and bouncing it between the defenders, dashing in and out of their sloppy kicks at her feet.

Right leg arcing back, she sent the ball punching into the back of the net. The whistle screamed and the referee called an end to the game. Shinji's chest heaved as he sighed, his head throbbing from the baking rays of the sun. Cheers echoed from the sidelines of the field, the rest of his yellow-clad teammates jogging to share in the blonde girl's victory with praise and smiles.

Along with the opposing team, he jogged over to his things on the side of the field, knees and thighs aching. Shinji couldn't say he hated football, but he wasn't very adept at it, much to the annoyance of his teammates. Even so, some extra-curricular sport was required for his schooling and this seemed like the easiest. All he had to do was run around and kick a ball.

To his left a woman combed a hand through her chestnut hair, holding out a bottle of water for her son, who gulped half of it down before gasping for air. His father took a knee so they were eye level, a big hand on his shoulder while he talked animatedly. Then he stood, ruffling the boy's hair before the trio made to leave.

Everywhere Shinji looked he saw much the same for every child.

Gathering up his duffel bag, he quit the field and found the black Lexus that was always waiting to take him back to the Langley estate.

Five years. It had only been three since his father had given him his orders from Gehirn. He still didn't really understand what it was he was supposed to be doing, holding on to the reassurance that someday he would know. His Teacher had told him it was for the sake of mankind, but all he and Asuka had done was visit Lützow for cognitive puzzles. He didn't see how that was supposed to help him pilot... whatever he was piloting. Besides, if what they were doing was so important, why did it have to be a secret? If everyone knew what a big job he had to do, they might treat him nicer.

Arriving at the estate, the walk through the garden to his small house was longer than usual, the white-hot sun stinging at him through the trees. Once inside, he greeted Teacher and went to his room, where he found Asuka sitting on his bed in her school uniform. Her tongue was pinched between her lips as she smashed the buttons of the controller, leaning with the twists and turns of the game.

It wasn't his PlayStation of course. Asuka had brought it over after she'd gotten it for Christmas last year. As Summer breaks had gone by his redheaded companion had turned his room into a sort of home away from home. During those months he had to share his bed more often than not. When he didn't feel like being kicked in his sleep, he set up a sleeping bag for himself on the floor. It was comfortable and sometimes they would stay up late playing video games. During Summer vacation, Asuka didn't have to worry about her step-mom coming to fetch her in place of her dad for school or anything. The adults just didn't seem to care one way or another so long as they weren't bothering them or causing trouble. So it had sort of become normal.

Shinji set his duffel bag down in the corner next to his closet, sliding the door open to fish out clothes that weren't all sweaty. Disappearing into his bathroom briefly to change, he emerged clad in baggy green plaid pajama pants and a gray shirt.

“What's this?” he asked.

“Ace Combat Zero,” she said, jerking back and leaning to the right as her fighter jet made a hard turn on the screen. “Last level.”

The screen was alight with green indicators that flared red when missiles streaked by. Her own targeter struggled as she tried to gain locks on the enemy fighters, who seemed to be able to break the path of her tracking missiles all too easily.

“Hey... do you know what they're going to have us do tomorrow?”

“No, Lützow didn't say what the new training would be.”

In big red letters the words Missile Lock flashed over the video game HUD.

“Do you think we'll actually start learning to pilot now?”

“I don't know– NO!” her fighter exploded and she threw down the controller, fingers combing through her hair. “You ruined my concentration!”

His shoulders tensed. “Sorry.”

She growled and fell back on the mattress. “No you're not,” she sighed, tugging at the red ribbons holding up her hair. Shinji sat down on the edge of his bed, not even flinching when she whacked his thigh back-handed. It was sloppy and devoid of malice, the beatings themselves acted more like a means of communication. He still didn't understand the language.

“Did you win your game today?” she asked.

“Yeah – made me a sweeper like always. The midfielders didn't let the other team have the ball much, though.”

She sat up, feet searching for her shoes on the floor. “Why don't you have the coach put you on offense?”

He shrugged. “I don't really wanna' be.”

Asuka rolled her eyes. This language he knew – typical Shinji, was the translation. Although he had a feeling even if he asked, the coach would just say no since he'd done nothing to prove he could be more useful in offense than the kids he already had. So there was no point, better to just stick with what he had.

Wiggling her shoes on, Asuka bounced off his bed and made for the door. “See ya'.”

“Night 'Suka,” he said mid-yawn, earning himself a glare before she disappeared.

The TV gave off a high-pitched whine and the PlayStation hummed. Standing, he shut them down, flicked off his light and rolled onto his bed – realizing Asuka had left behind some of her things as he came face to face with his nightstand.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he sensed she hadn't really forgiven him for what he'd said two years ago. She'd kept coming to find him after that, but they didn't play out in the garden anymore – he couldn't even remember the last time he'd been to the olive tree. As things were now, they just pretended the incident of that night on her back porch had never happened and life went on as usual.

Things were peaceful again.

She slept in his room, played games on his bed, rode to and from school with him. Despite how close she always was, a lot of the time it felt like she resided in the mansion's upper floor, peering at him from the window while he remained in the garden.

***

English was the worst. Not that German had been any less difficult, but he could at least speak it fluently now. He'd been forced to get better at it since Asuka refused to speak a lick of Japanese when they were at school. English was another story entirely. Everyone else in his class caught on to it so much quicker than he could and his pronunciation was still what Asuka had helpfully described as “goofy”. What did he have to learn it for anyway? It wasn't like he lived in America.

After enduring language lessons for the better part of the morning, Shinji waited at the northwest entrance to the school. He and Asuka usually shared lunch around this time, he just had to wait for her to get out of her advanced class on the other side of the campus.

So he people-watched, trying not to seem conspicuous, and spotted a familiar face through the hustle and bustle. Scharnhorst, as Shinji had come to know him, had managed to retain his rotund figure. The boy's eyes found his, giving him pause as he searched for the red haired devil. If the Japanese boy was about, that meant Asuka couldn't be far either. His gaze settled on Shinji again, body fidgeting with palpable nervousness. Seizing his resolve in a tightened pair of fists, he fast-walked down the hall, scurrying down the stairs as he passed Shinji.

Scharnhorst had been his first bully but not his last. After the boy had been thoroughly humiliated by Asuka, Shinji had received the collective ire of nearly the entire school as rumors flitted about, catching as easily as wild fire. He was the strange foreign kid, afterall. Much easier to dislike than Asuka.

Once, a group of them had attempted to gang up on him. Well, they had ganged up on him. He'd come home sporting a yellow and purple bruise under his right eye that perfectly framed the contour of the socket, while black and red splotches of busted blood vessels had colored his stomach. His rib-cage had ached for weeks. If not for Asuka arriving to pelt them with stones from the garden plots along the outside walls, it probably would've been a lot worse.

Leaning against the open door, movement drew his eyes up to a girl just a little shorter than he, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She went rigid as their eyes met and Shinji looked around, wondering if she was waiting for someone else, no one here ever got this close to him on purpose.

“Um, hi, Shinji,” she said, pulling his attention back. No detached or polite 'good afternoon'. She stood with her feet close, hand gripping her school bag tight and worry sitting on her brow. Something nagged at the back of his mind – something about the way she looked.

“Hi,” he said, relatively sure he was dreaming as it clicked: this was one of the girls from his football team. A thick tension sat over his chest as the silence between them dragged on. All the while his reeling brain scrambled – darn it, what was her name again?

“Er– Erika, right?” he blurted.

“Yeah!” she said, beaming. He smiled politely and was about to claw for more conversation when an arm quite suddenly hooked through his and he was being turned around by an alarmingly cheery Asuka.

“There you are! Come on!” she said, pulling him along.

“Oh, okay, uh – sorry, bye!” he called, waving and completely missing Erika's crestfallen look.

***

That afternoon, Shinji and Asuka followed Teacher into the Gehirn building, and instead of the Glass Labyrinth, they were led through a long corridor of concrete that dipped into a series of ramps. A chilled air shivered through the halls, stemming from a wide corridor lined with huge metal doors. Teacher stopped at one of them, tapping buttons at a terminal nestled into the wall next to it.

The doors hissed open, allowing them passage into a massive warehouse. Bright florescent lights lined the ceiling high above, steel scaffolding and gangways darting inbetween. On the ground in the middle of everything was an oval ring, like the one at the Kloster for track. On the walls to his right were rock-climbing segments and railings with hanging straps and harnesses. Beneath them were slated metal doors that Shinji could only imagine the contents of. Along the left side were long tables and what looked like computers, bulbous pod-like things taking up most of the space.

So utterly enamored, Shinji nearly bumped into Asuka, jumping as he realized there were other people about. In front of them was Lützow, looking out of place with his wiry physique and white lab coat. Next to him was a woman in a tan uniform with orange shoulder pauldrons and a red beret, which sat atop long and silken dark purple hair, so subtle in shade it almost looked black. Her brown eyes regarded him kindly and he gasped – she was Japanese, like him! Next to Weissenburg she looked no older than some of the 13th graders he saw at the Kloster. The man's light gray uniform was impeccable, his red beret sporting a blue shield with a golden eagle streaking downward. On his chest were dozens of colored ribbons, leaving Shinji to wonder just how many battles the man had fought.

Lützow smiled. “Shinji, Asuka, this is Second Lieutenant Misato Katsuragi and Petty Officer Third Class Todd Weissenburg. As of today, they will be your instructors in physical fitness, first aid, basic survival techniques, operation of weapons and maintenance of weapons.”

Weissenburg only grunted, steely eyes unwavering. Miss Katsuragi, however, bent forward as she leaned her hands on her knees. “Hello~!”

Shinji faltered in place for a moment, belatedly deciding to greet them both in German before bowing. “It's nice to meet you, Mister Weissenburg, Miss Katsuragi.”

The German officer did little but nod, while the woman flashed a grin and winked, “Call me Misato, 'kay handsome?”

Shinji's face got really hot.

A touch on his shoulder reminded him Teacher was still there. “Behave yourself. I will see you in two hours.” with that, the man departed – as did Lützow.

No sooner had they left than Katsuragi handed them each a bundle of clothes, instructing them to use the locker rooms across the way to change into blue shorts and a sleeveless white shirt. When they came out, their new instructors had changed as well – each of them sporting camo pants, while Katsuragi had her long-sleeved shirt tied around her waist.

“We'll just go over the easy stuff for now,” she said as they closed the distance.

Weissenburg seemed to be doing his best to ignore her and sat down with his legs crossed, motioning for them to do the same. “Before we teach you anything, you have to know how to keep your body in shape. So we will stretch first.”

He and Asuka shared a glance.

Weissenburg led them through at least an hour of calisthenics, explaining why each particular bend was important and what muscle it stretched. Shinji already knew a little from his football coach, but this was completely different. It made Shinji's whole body scream with fire, tingling with an unreachable itch in his skin, his neck crawling restlessly as if there were spiders on his spine. It was the worst hour of torture of his entire life. Most of their stretching they accomplished on the floor, the other half by standing. Shinji knew Weissenburg must have done that on purpose just to make it hurt more.

It also didn't help that he couldn't stop looking at Miss Misato. Every time she would catch him staring she would smile and his heart would beat faster.

At last, the torture ended and they were given water. Weissenburg led them to the tables on the left side of the gym, where they were given crackers to eat while the soldier unfolded several large sheets of paper with mind-boggling arrays of lines. Arranged in seemingly random fashion were numbers and letters that Shinji guessed were supposed to be apart of some kind of map. They were shown how to read it all and how to use it for land navigation with the aid of a compass.

Mercifully, the dizzying lesson ended when Weissenburg stowed everything away. “That's all for now. You'll be reporting back here everyday at 1800 hours. You're free to leave.”

Shinji turned to the door leading into the warehouse, Teacher looking comically out of place as he waited for them by the threshold.

“We'll see you tomorrow,” Miss Misato said, hands on her hips as she watched them go. He knew she watched them out because he kept glancing at her over his shoulder, never quite satisfied with the brief look he managed to get each time.

As they got home, Asuka sighed loudly and threw herself onto his bed. Shinji set his backpack down by his table and began fishing out all of the books and papers he would need for homework. His back and thighs protested as he sat and he tried to massage the agitated muscles, though moving his arms just made his shoulders roll in their joints and sting from the exertion.

“I don't like her,” Asuka said, flipping onto her back and folding her hands behind her head.

Shinji twisted around. “Who?”

Her eyes flashed. “Katsuragi! Who else, stupid?”

Shinji felt himself stiffen, not entirely sure why that made his heart gallop so suddenly, his arms rigid like cello strings. “Why?” he asked, swallowing past a led bolt in his throat, “she seemed nice.”

“It's just a trick,” Asuka said, eyes boring into the ceiling.

The silence that followed was barbed, the frogs outside beginning their chorus of warbling chirps. Shinji went back to his work, confident that Asuka would let the matter be and either play video games or go home. Maybe he could get at least one geometry problem done before he became too distracted with whatever she decided to play.

“Do you think she's pretty?” Asuka asked.

When he looked at her, she was resolutely staring at the ceiling. “What?”

Asuka's nose twitched. “Do you think she's pretty?” she asked with more force, sitting up.

The air was taut now, like a chord ready to snap if it was tweaked the wrong way. He started to panic, annoyed all the same that she was even asking such a thing. Why did she care, anyway? “Uh, well, ye– no, I mean, um–”

She turned her head with a, “Humph!” and pointed her nose in the air, arms folding over her chest.

Shinji blinked. “What are you doing?”

She turned her head again. “I don't want to look at your face right now,” she said in a regal tone.

Another blink, his expression bordering bemused. He picked up his ruler and went back to work, something about her tone irking him. He glanced at his ruler and then back to her, unwavering in her dedication to ignoring him. But if she really wanted to ignore him she would have left already. He smiled a little.

Reaching over, he swiped the ruler at her hair, throwing a lock over her shoulder – turning and hiding the stick. Her head whipped around just as he looked to his book, leaving no evidence that he had in fact just tossed up her hair. Eying him up and down, she reluctantly turned her back.

Suppressing a smirk by biting his tongue, he eased the ruler out and swiped her hair again. He was reading his book when she snapped around, an unspoken threat in her eyes. He pretended not to notice and with all his will managed to look bored. He let the time breath a little, a good thing too since she kept shooting him sharp glances. Minutes passed until finally she let her guard down enough and he eased the ruler free of its hiding place.

As he inched it closer a third time, her shoulders rose – and she pounced, tackling him and causing them both to tumble across the floor as they started to wrestle.

***

“Today, we're going to learn about hand-to-hand combat,” Misato said. They were standing in the center of the large track-ring of the warehouse, its gold and black patterns soft and spongy under Shinji's feet, yet firm enough not to give much under his weight.

After two weeks of learning to use a grid map and coming to understand the differences in elevation marks, larger and smaller scales, as well as how to measure distances, this sounded like a welcome change to the tedium of those lessons. The only part that concerned him was combat.

“Me an' Shinji wrestle a lot,” Asuka said with a certain air of superiority. As if she were in on some secret about fighting that the two adults were not.

“Oh, really?” Misato asked, sporting a smug look, “what about how to hit properly, then?”

She answered by punching him in the shoulder.

Weissenburg chuckled. “In some ways, yes. But in your hand, there are lots of tiny bones that can break if you hit them too hard.”

Shinji's head tilted to one side. “How else do you hit someone?”

“Punching is fine,” Misato said, “but you only want to hit 'soft points' with your fist. As an immediate fall back, palm strikes can work well to disorient or stall the enemy – especially if you're hitting them in the face,” she motioned in the air around Weissenburg's nose and jaw, demonstrating the moves as she spoke, “if you're hitting someone in the head, you want to try and use what we call 'hard points', so places like your elbows or your knees. A soft point is somewhere like the stomach or the neck. Ideal places for a closed-fist strike.”

Reaching down into a duffel bag on the floor, Weissenburg strapped a pair of big pads to his hands. Misato hunched her back a little as she raised her fists. Bringing her right arm up and back, her body jolted forward as she stepped into the blow, snapping her elbow down onto the right-hand pad.

She stood back and motioned them over. “I want you to hit the pad like I did with my elbow. You first Asuka.”

Weissenburg kneeled and held up the pads. Asuka tucked her chin like Misato had showed them, raising her elbow and thwacking it against the outstretched pad.

“Not bad!” Misato cheered, nodding him over next.

Shinji did the same, tucking his chin, elbow up – and then he missed. He heard Asuka snigger. There was warmth and weight behind him as Misato crouched down, her long hair tickling the back of his neck. “Here,” she said, gentle hands touching his arms, “you have to hold yourself like this. Now try.”

Shinji still fumbled, but at least his elbow managed to touch Weissenburg's pad. Misato chuckled, yet there was endearment in her smile. “We'll work on it.”

Now that he had been thoroughly embarrassed, the rest of the lesson went much the same.

Everyday they returned, stretched and endured yet more lessons on land navigation before practicing hand-to-hand. Misato and Weissenburg would demonstrate where to make strikes to disorient or hit pressure points, or where to hold their arms to defend against incoming blows.

One day Weissenburg had motioned for them to come close as he drew a black combat knife from the sheath at his belt, letting their fingers test its razor sharp edge so they understood just how easily it could part flesh. He showed them how to hold the knife back-handed and attack with it, having them practice with their own pair of rubber knives.

“This is a weapon for thrusts and jabs, not for slashing,” he said when Asuka attempted to experiment. They learned where to stab and slice when appropriate, though Misato said resorting to jabs was always preferable. In combat, reactions needed to be quick and deadly. They were shown where to strike someone to inflict the most damage – or what their two instructors called “killing blows”.

“You like to slash? Use this,” Weissenburg said, introducing them to a weird-shaped weapon called a bolo. It curved forward and had a fatter blade towards the tip. It was hard to mistake the hint of pride in his expression as Asuka took a liking to it.

As the days went by, they also used the Filipino fighting stick, while afternoons were spent with wire-mesh masks and Kendo sticks. Both of which left him with a myriad of yellow bruises each day. Every Sunday, Weissenburg would have them dress up in thick black padded vests, gauntlets and helmets with clear visors. He would give Asuka and Shinji each a black knife with flat edges that, with the press of a button, could deliver a small jolt of electricity on contact. Then he would have them fight.

Asuka was a different person in these competitions – vicious and ruthless. Their very first fight he'd been tackled before she stabbed him in the chest – twice. He knew then that this wouldn't be like their old wrestling matches by the olive tree. Shinji couldn't pretend to put up a struggle and lose just to get it over with. Besides, Misato was watching and he hated getting beat in front of her while Asuka got all the attention. Usually, Weissenburg wouldn't let them leave until he won at least three matches consecutively. Some days their sessions dragged out until the sun sank below the horizon and their fights looked more a drunken dance. That was when Shinji discovered he could tire Asuka out. Her attacks were always brutal and all-out – so all he had to do was stall a lot and maybe suffer a few losses. Then, when she was good and exhausted, he could trip her or push her and win with a decisive jab.

It was at the end of one of these sessions that they were taken to another room adjacent to the warehouse. It was small and looked a bit like a hospital. Big circular panels were attached to the ceiling, bathing the area around the tables with luminous white light. Along the walls were dozens of TV screens, some of them active, others black. Drawers and containers and tools with hoses attached to valve laden instruments lined the space along the walls. In the middle of the room were long beds, dozens of blinking and beeping panels situated behind them. Wires and other contraptions hung from the ceiling and flowed out from the back of the machines like giant snakes. Several doctors and nurses moved back and forth between these, barely sparing them a glance as they were taken to the tables. Lützow was amongst them and offered him a brief smile that was probably meant to be reassuring, but had quite the opposite effect.

“What's this?” Shinji asked, climbing up as Misato patted the bed.

“It's so we can read and record your neural activity,” she answered, commandeering a nearby chair on rollers and sitting on it the wrong way – arms folded over the back-rest. The big lights got brighter as he took all of it in, the rest of the room darkening with shadow. Or maybe it was his eyes tricking him. One of the nurses fit a white thing with lots of wires over his head, fastening a strap under his chin. Then, with almost not warning, they slid a needle into the crease of his arm. To his right, they were doing much the same to Asuka.

“Is this another test?” he asked, ripples of anxiety trembling his chest.

“Sort of,” she said with a half-shrug, “all you have to do is fall asleep. I'll be right here when you wake up, okay?”

He laid back, not taking his eyes from Misato for a moment. Something cold began to spill into his veins, like his whole body was icing over from the inside. Everything started to become blurry and a heavy blanket of fatigue encouraged him to sleep, tugging at his eyelids. Shinji couldn't explain why, but it felt good going to sleep knowing she would be sitting right there the whole time, watching over him. He wanted nothing more than for her to still be there when he woke up.

***

As he walked through the halls of the Grauen Kloster, flooded with other kids getting out of class with the end of the school day, Shinji thought about the girl Erika. She was pretty, he decided, feeling foolish in the same moment. What could she have wanted to talk to him for? She hadn't tried to talk to him ever since then, not even at football practice. She went out of her way not to make eye contact with him at practices or games. He told himself it didn't really bother him, that he shouldn't have been getting his hopes up. He'd never really fit in at the Kloster anyway, so it didn't matter.

However, a familiar blonde ponytail down the hall brought everything to a screaming halt, including him. The girl was leaning against the frame of the large double doors leading out into the main courtyard. Swallowing, he pretended not to notice her as he walked by.

“Hey, Shinji,” her voice stopped him at the threshold and he turned, bracing himself.

“Uh, hey Erika,” he said, trying to be polite. She smiled a little and he returned the expression hesitantly, heart pounding like a drum.

“Can I... ask you something?”

“Uh, sure.” he tugged at his uniform collar, which was suddenly too tight.

“Is Asuka... uh, is she your...?” Erika trailed off, eyes expectant while a shade of red crept over her cheeks. It took a moment that felt like a full hour of dead silence for his brain to start working.

“Oh...” he said, gulping past the lump in his throat, hands shooting up in a frantic warding gesture, hoping his face was not as red as it felt. “No, no! That'd be really weird. We're just friends since I, uh... live next to her house.”

Erika blinked. “Oh.”

Then she giggled, a hand rising to cover her mouth. It was the most lovely sound he'd ever heard. His shoulders relaxed and he grinned, unable to help the chuckle that came forth. They were allowed to stay like that for a few moments, before his name echoed up the steps.

“Shinji,” a peeved Asuka barked as she marched to the doorway, “what the heck? Let's go home already!”

She almost stopped halfway as she spotted Erika, recognition flitting through her features before her eyes pinched. “You can go away now,” she said, a hand clasping one of his arms.

He tugged against her as she started to move. “It's okay Asuka, she's from my football team.”

“So what?” she looked at him like he was stupid before regarding Erika with those dismissive eyes again. “Shinji doesn't want to talk to you anymore.”

The girl flinched. “But, uh–”

Erika jumped as Asuka stepped forward and slammed a fist on the aluminum lockers. When all she did after that was look stunned, she was given an encouraging shove. The redhead had enough of a reputation at school that the threat of getting mauled for setting off her temper was a very real concern.

“Asuka!” Shinji yelled, reaching out to stop her. It was already too late. Erika spun on a heel and ran out of sight down the hall. He rounded on her. “Why'd you do that?”

“She was being annoying. Now come on.” she grabbed his arm again and he yanked it free. Asuka kept marching ahead as though nothing had happened.

“She didn't do anything...” he sighed, trying and failing to hide the anger in his voice. Asuka was quiet as they walked, keeping several steps ahead of him so that all he saw was the back of her head and the sway of her hair. The walk across the courtyard and into the waiting Lexus was a blur, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. He didn't even want to sit in the same car with her and imagined himself turning down the street and walking home. That'd show her. It would land him in a world of trouble with Teacher, though. Before he knew it he was in the car anyway and they began the winding journey through Berlin.

Asuka took to looking out the window, silence reigning over the car and giving him ample time to stew. It startled him when her voice crept between them. “Why did you want to talk to her anyway?” she asked, apparently talking to the window since she couldn't be bothered to face him. The car jostled and Shinji stared down at his hands in his lap, fingers intertwining.

“She seemed nice and I... I don't have any friends here, so...”

“You're stupid,” she snapped, shifting.

Eyes narrowing, his body sagged and he set his gaze on the car door. “And you're just a bully,” he mumbled, low enough so she wouldn't hear.

The fifteen minute drive to the Langley estate was the longest in his life. When they finally pulled up, neither of them spared the other a glance as they took separate paths home. Erika never approached him again and they went right back to being strangers on the football field. He avoided waiting around the halls anymore, staying as far away from the other students as possible.

***

Training at Gehirn became a bit of a formality. He and Asuka still rode there and back together, but there was no conversation or mildly accusatory teasing to be had. It was now a sort of compulsory activity that had to be endured before they could continue their normal routines without one another. Shinji refused to feel any guilt over what he'd said. Asuka was wrong and she had to know it. She was too smart not to realize how mean she'd been. It didn't really matter what he did though, she didn't care. If they weren't going to be friends anymore, it was probably for the best. There were rules to their friendship that he always seemed to break, entirely because only Asuka was privy to the rules. Of course, it was perfectly fine for her to bend or twist those whenever it was convenient. Despite that, he always looked forward to seeing Misato and her smiles. It made the oppressive, tense air between him and Asuka easier to forget about.

Over the course of the next two weeks Weissenburg taught them about Standard Operating Procedures in the military, radio etiquette, what words to use and in what order to say them to relay a certain message. Other days they learned how to dress wounds, anything from dehydration to a severed limb.

On a particularly dry and humid day in Germany, Teacher yet again led them somewhere new: an open grass field with a wall of dirt at the far end. Waiting for them was Weissenburg, who had abandoned his long-sleeved uniform shirt in favor of a sleeveless black undershirt. Next to him, Misato wore a green camo tank top and tan short shorts, hair tied back and big reflective sunglasses hiding her eyes.

He hadn't really noticed it before since Misato usually wore her military uniform, but in the tank top, her chest seemed... bigger. Maybe it was simply because he could see more of it, either way... he liked it. That was when he noticed those sunglasses were turned towards him, and though he couldn't see her eyes, a smirk that claimed to know his inner thoughts poked at her pink lips.

“Alright you two,” she said cheerily, a hand rising to adjust her red beret, “you're going to learn how to shoot today.”

“We'll start with this sidearm,” Weissenburg said, a hand drawing the gun from its holster at his right hip. He knelt in front of them and turned the gun from side to side. It was all black with smooth slats and a sharp, squared design. “This is the Heckler & Koch P8, semi-automatic. The clip holds fifteen 9mm bullets.” clicking something on the side of the gun, Weissenburg slipped the clip from the handle, tugging one of the coppery bronze bullets out to show them. They were half the size of Shinji's index finger and rounded at the tip, though he had always imagined them being pointy. The officer made a show of snapping the clip back in place.

“Before we start, you have to understand that this is not a toy. It is a tool for killing and should always be treated with the utmost respect.”

They both nodded and that seemed to satisfy him. Asuka was taken to one of the marked spots at the firing range with Weissenburg, while he and Misato took up a position adjacent. She pulled her own HK free, sliding rogue slivers of hair away from her face as she took a knee. “You hold it like this,” she said, taking the gun in her right hand, index finger stretched out past the trigger guard, “you never want to put your finger over the trigger unless you're going to shoot. The safety's on, but you can never be too careful.” with that she held it out to him and he hesitantly closed his hand around the ridged grip.

“Woah,” Misato gently pushed his arms away to face down range, “don't, uh, point that at people, okay?”

“Sorry,” he said. The gun was heavier than he expected and all of the wars and the battles they'd learned about in history class swam in his mind. Was this what it really felt like to hold a gun? Being so young and so new to the consequences of the thing in his hand, he couldn't help but wonder what it felt like to shoot someone with it. Just the thought of it made his throat sting as if it were packed with thorns.

Misato took it back for a moment, thumb flicking something while her other hand pulled back the top half of it. Apparently satisfied, she ticked another mechanism and offered it back to him before turning him to face the range. Up against the big dirt hill were white people-shaped posters, a red circle in the middle of their chests and a much smaller black dot in the center.

That was when he felt Misato's touch against his back while she lifted his arms. “Here, you want this hand to sit over the other for support – let your grip thumb sit over your support thumb too.” she adjusted him like one might a doll, placing all his fingers in the right spot and bending his left arm while his right was straight and locked in place. “Squeeze the trigger, don't pull.”

“Yes, ma'am,” he said, trying not to think about how very close Misato was. She settled a pair of big, padded headphones over his ears, which made them ring with white noise.

She briefly pulled one headphone to the side. “Be ready for the recoil, okay?”

He nodded meekly.

“Don't worry, I'll be right here. You'll be okay – promise,” Misato said, giving him one of those winks and readjusting his headset. Her hand slid over his, clicking off the safety.

Shinji closed his left eye, his chest shivering as his heart thumped faster and faster. Time stretched, impossibly slow and silent over the next few seconds as he squeezed the trigger.

Even with the headphones on, the crack was deafening. The gun jarred his arms so hard he thought they might break, Misato's hands the only thing keeping it from smacking him in the face. He staggered, shaking and wanting nothing more than to drop the thing. Her grip stopped that from happening and she kept his arms held out as he pressed his back into her.

Her tongue clicked in annoyance as she tugged his headphones off. “Hey, hey– look, it's okay – look.”

Calming, he peered down the range, seeing that he'd hit the red mark on the target.

“See? You're okay.”

Shinji practically jumped out his skin as another bang from Asuka's gun sounded. He saw her tongue stick out of the side of her mouth and she lined up another shot. He squinted to spot her target, flinching once again as her second shot punched through the white silhouette, just outside the perimeter of the red circle.

An insistent nudge at his elbow drew him back. “Come on,” Misato said with an impish smile, “let's see if you can get all fifteen on the mark.”

As Shinji started getting used to the kick from the gun, Misato was able to let him fire without holding his arms. It made it harder to aim that way, but it was a rare few that missed the red mark.

“No fair! how do you make it hit every time?!” Asuka cried, having impatiently fired as many bullets as she could – as fast as she could, missing most of her marks.

The sun soon began to set. Shinji's hands and arms buzzed with numbness, the lingering sensation of the gun firing coursing through his limbs. He and Misato sat on a bench off to the side of the range. Asuka had refused to be finished with the day's training until she had mastered the use of the sidearm. Weissenburg apparently had no qualms with that.

Misato was sitting next to him with her legs crossed, one knee bouncing. An elbow was propped atop one leg, arm holding up her chin as she leaned forward, looking bored.

“Misato... why do we have to learn this stuff?”

“Whaddya' mean, kiddo?” she asked, staring out over the gun range. A crack from Asuka's gun echoed.

“I mean, don't only soldiers learn how to fire guns?”

The woman looked as though he had just electrocuted her. The bouncing of her leg stopped and her posture straightened as she slid the reflective glasses to the top of her head. “Well, uh...”

“Is there going to be a war?” he asked.

Melancholy came like a shadow over her face as she turned her attention back to the gun range, a much older, unfamiliar Misato revealing herself. Nervousness wrapped around his stomach like barbed wire and he looked to his shoes. It scared him, more than he even wanted to think about. He knew they were supposed to be fighting something, that's why they were being taught how to use guns and knives, but who and why? What could they be fighting that would make someone who always smiled look the way she did?

Are we going to kill people? He wanted to ask.

“Hey,” she said, voice quieter but summoning his eyes up nonetheless. “Soldiers fight to protect people, right?”

“Yeah...”

She bit her lower lip. “One day... you're going to do something very important to protect mankind, so you need to be strong like a soldier is for when that time comes. Can you... do that – for me, Shinji?”

She didn't even have to ask. He would do anything she wanted if it meant she wouldn't look so sad anymore. “I'll try...” he said, nodding.

She smiled, the other Misato returning as she took her beret and sat it atop Shinji's head. “My brave little soldier, hm?”

For once, he didn't mind being little Shinji.

***

Swathes of coral red and pink clouds dragged across the sky like paint, orange light from above casting a warm glow over the garden. He sat on one of the many boulders encircling a large pond beyond the back porch and bed of white rocks. He and Asuka had often spent their afternoons tossing pebbles into it, scaring the koi fish that drifted gracefully between the reeds and lily pads. Their scales shimmered with yellow, orange, black and white. Most of them were easily the size of his forearm, mouths gasping at the surface of the water every now and then as they circled expectantly for food.

Protecting mankind. That had to be as huge as the entire world. How was he supposed to protect something that big? It didn't make any sense. What could he be piloting that could do that? Shinji had spent the better part of the evening trying to think of ways he could protect a planet. He liked to think he'd come up with a lot of fantastic ideas for a nine year old. It was just getting adults to think they were good ideas too that was the trouble. Adults always thought they were so smart.

There was the muffled crunch of rocks behind him, drawing his head around to Asuka as she vaulted up onto the boulder. She settled herself close to him, their hips touching as she dipped her feet into the water with his. The sky had been dyed shades of violet and pink like the Amaranth flower in the rose garden, flecks of dying sunlight barely visible beyond an encroaching wave of ocean blue.

When she settled her arms back and found the koi fish far more worthy of her acknowledgment, Shinji mulled over getting up and leaving. The thought scurried from his mind the same moment it arrived. Anger warmed him, upset more with himself for not being able to hate Asuka like he wanted. He bounced his feet in the pond, surprisingly not scaring any of the koi fish away. If anything they were excited at the prospect of food, only to be disappointed when it turned out to be feet. A few gave his toes a spiteful nibble before dashing away.

“What were you talking with her about today?” Asuka asked, tone only mildly accusing.

He considered not answering, just to spite her, but ended up shrugging. “About the stuff we're doing. She said that we're going to protect people by learning to fight.”

A scoff. “Of course we are.”

“But why?”

“What are you, stupid?” she asked, the venom from her bite absent. Her eyes followed the fish drifting idly by their feet. “We have to.”

We. He thought. The buzzing, gnawing feeling of doubt that had been filling his thoughts the past month vanished, dissipating like rain water with the return of the sun. The idea of it still scared him, to the point where some days he imagined what would happen if he just ran away. Looking at Asuka, he could tell she might've been scared too.

She muttered something and Shinji's head quirked. “What?” he asked and Asuka's face smarted.

“I'm not a bully, I just...” she went quiet and guilt tugged at his heart like meat hooks as he realized she'd heard him in the car afterall. Her stern expression made her seem years older as she stared into the water, shoulders hunched and eyes hard. He wasn't really sure if he could forgive her for how she'd treated Erika, but...

Shinji shrugged. “You're... Asuka.” he said, not knowing how else to put it. When he thought about it, there was rarely a time they were apart. Even at school, when she talked with her friends from her advanced classes, it was as though she were putting on a show, acting as if she cared for their company. Those interactions were sparse and one way or another, he and Asuka ended up together. Ever since he'd come to the garden, she'd been a constant presence in his life, and while he knew what made her sad and he definitely knew what made her angry – she was still this mysterious force that he could never predict. But she was Asuka and she was familiar. That was enough. The idea of her helping him protect the world didn't make it seem quite so daunting. He turned his head and found her staring at him, expression utterly unreadable.

“Asuka?” he asked. She leaned closer to him, so close he could smell the strawberry shampoo she used in her hair. He blinked, leaning back. “Asuka, what?”

She smiled and said, “You're such a dork,” before giving him a push that sent him flailing off the boulder.

“Ow– hey!” he shouted, scrambling to his feet. Asuka only laughed, leaping off the rock and running towards the garden. A smile on his face, Shinji gave chase.

The lightning bugs were out that night, neon green and yellow streaks zipping through the pines and ferns while others lit up the branches above like an alien starry sky. They raced and tagged with the children, who pushed and wrestled in the soft grass as their laughter filled the lonely forest.

Though neither of them knew it yet – it was the last night they would ever spend out in the garden together.


Well, I don't think I've succeeded in my attempt to make this less 'rinse and repeat' as I said before. Like, I know where this 7 chapter long segment of the story will inevitably end up, getting there and keeping it interesting has been a... challenge. If nothing else, just posting the story here has made me very aware of my weaknesses as a writer.

There are some parts I'm proud of and some parts I'm not so proud of. Will eventually write more.
Last edited by Glor on Wed Aug 19, 2015 4:00 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Rite of Reclamation - an Evangelion/Halo fusion, check it out, is pretty neat.

Iuvenal
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Postby Iuvenal » Tue Aug 11, 2015 10:27 pm

I keep meaning to write up some in-depth feedback on chapter 4, but the short version is that I liked the chapter, thought it felt less samey than ch3 did rather than more (though I haven't read the revised versions of earlier chapters yet) and generally enjoyed the prose. I had some minor technical quibbles that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story.
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Who did 9/11? The FAR. - Reichu


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