Update time today, although I'm afraid that this is one of those scenes that will probably benefit from some reworking when I begin re-editing the chapters for their posting in FFN or wherever somewhere down the line. It feels as if it's a little all over the place, and not to the same standards as the rest of the scenes.
Do let me know what you think, dear reader. Any feedback is, as always, more than welcome.
Shinji Ikari’s second expedition through the decrepit hospital was far more cautious than the first. After all, and contrary to the many past declarations of his redheaded roommate, he was not an idiot and more than capable of learning from his mistakes: which meant that rather than carelessly open any doors he came across, the Third Child was very methodical and safe in his investigations. Rather than hurry along the myriad of straight paths, Shinji Ikari made sure to check each and every one of his corners. And, finally, the young man made a point out of not yelling for help on the very unlikely chance that someone would respond.
Last time had more than established how that was a terrible idea, and while he hadn’t seen any proof of the medieval nightmare being around, it more than paid to be careful.
‘Why do I keep being sent here?’ the Third Child wondered, brushing his fingers against one of the faded nameplates. ‘And why does this creepy place exist in Asuka’s mind? Did… something happen to her in a hospital?’
It was no secret to anyone with a modicum of perception that Asuka Langley-Sohryu wasn’t exactly fond of hospitals, after all. Every admission into the NERV medical wing had always been combined with a distinct increase in anxiousness, which generally made the redhead very cranky.
More than usual, anyway.
Shinji sighed and walked away from the decrepit door, continuing on his way and devoting a part of his mental prowess towards trying to figure out the mystery wrapped within an enigma that was his current situation. Needless to say, though, the young man’s efforts yielded fairly lacking results.
“I should probably ask that Asuka from before about this when I get out of here,” Shinji considered, doing his best to ignore how easily an ‘if’ could fit into that thought. “She seemed to know a lot about what’s going on in here.
“I guess that makes sense. I mean, who better than Asuka to tell me about what’s going on in the inside of Asuka’s mind, right?” the young man groaned, tiredly shaking his head. “Gods, this is confusing…”
It was then, however, that the Third Child noticed someone staring sharply at him, and when his eyes rose to find the source, Shinji spotted a little girl in a dark dress standing a dozen steps further down the hallway. Alone.
Once again, Kensuke’s damned ghost stories came to the forefront of his mind, which, coupled with his previous experience in the hospital, made it bad enough that Shinji would have certainly not taken his chances with the new arrival had it not been for the telltale red hair.
Shinji stared back at the little girl, amazed for a short moment at how finding different versions of his roommate wasn’t doing much to surprise him anymore. At his call, however, Asuka’s young face shifted from the ever-present annoyance the Third Child had come to associate with her and took on all the surprise that should have been his.
‘Is this the same Asuka I saw the last time?’ Shinji scrutinized the little girl, comparing her to the short glimpses he’d caught prior. ‘I thought she looked taller...’
But then the little Asuka turned on her heel and disappeared around a corner, cutting the young man’s comparisons short.
“H-Hey!” Shinji called out, moving to follow. “Asuka, wait up!”
However, this time around the Third Child made sure to keep a respectable distance away from his target, close enough that he would not lose her, but far enough that he would have time to react to whatever this realm decided to throw his way in a worst case scenario. A single instance of seeing his life flash before his eyes was quite enough for him, thank you very much.
Besides, while the last time it had been a rusty knight hot on his heels, there was no guarantee that things would be exactly the same as then. There could be a red EVA roaming around the hospital for all Shinji knew, and he had no intention to find out.
‘...Speaking of, was that thing a part of Asuka, too?’ the young man considered, recalling the other Asuka’s confusing explanation about Aspects and whatnot. ‘No, it couldn’t be. Asuka is angry a lot of the time, but it wasn’t just angry. It was… something else.’
Deciding to leave the theorizing for another time, Shinji tailed the little Asuka until she guided him to a corridor he recognised. A hallway that looked in distinctly better shape than the others he’d traversed, now that he noticed, and that had seen the Third Child go from one end to the other in record time not that long ago. Two times, and in opposite directions.
The feeling of déja vu became even stronger when Shinji saw the little Asuka enter the same door that had been entered the last time, too. A fact that, knowing what had happened then, made the Third Child brace himself for a chilling scream.
But one that never came, much to the young man’s surprise.
Caution winning over curiosity, Shinji tiptoed forward until he arrived at the rough spot where he had once been forced to stop and then became still as a statue. He held his breath and counted to ten, half of him expecting the door that had just been used to explode outwards as it had done in the past but, once again, his assumptions were proven wrong.
Nevertheless, the young man didn’t decide to test his luck for quite a while longer. After all, it wasn’t like Asuka could go anywhere, and Shinji didn’t feel like proving that he could trip on the same stone twice.
Ultimately, though, Shinji slowly walked over to the closed door, the series of cautious actions and absent consequences repeating itself ad infinitum until the young man’s hand finally rested on top of the door’s handle. Getting himself ready for anything, the Third Child worked the handle...
...and the door refused to budge, much to his disappointment.
“Weird, why won’t the door open?” Shinji muttered to himself, recalling how no other door in the hospital had barred his way. “...Did she lock it?”
“Of course it won’t open,” an unexpected voice answered his rhetorical question from somewhere behind him. “What? Did you think that you could just waltz into anyone’s deepest secrets?”
“Well...” before he could turn around, Shinji felt fingers grab a hold of the neck of his shirt. “Turns out you can’t.”
And Shinji barely managed to catch a glimpse of red before being slammed against a wall, finding himself face to face with someone he didn’t need much time to identify:
“By the way, who the hell are you?”
Red hair and blue eyes… check.
Threatening growl… check.
Wanton violence… double check.
This was Asuka, all right. Maybe even his Asuka; Shinji’s aching neck and back certainly agreed with that last assessment.
“Ouch! Asuka, that hurts!”
But the plugsuit-clad redhead paid no attention to Shinji’s complaints, merely tightening her hold on the young man’s shirt.
“Stop bitching and start talking, before I make you-!”
A fearsome roar and the boom of something being torn to pieces swallowed the rest of Asuka’s threat and, as one, two heads turned to look down the hallway the noise was coming from, one far more terrified than the other.
“...Right, she’s still rampaging about. Tch, and we had made so much progress…” Asuka grumbled, before looking at Shinji out of the corner of her eye. “...Let’s take this somewhere else.”
And in a literal blink of Shinji’s eyes, the hospital corridor vanished and was replaced by surroundings that the Third Child had grown to become intimately familiar with. Surroundings that, for a change, had nothing to do with either fog or rain.
For Shinji Ikari was now standing within the EVA gantries. And much to his dismay, the idea of a red EVA appearing from out of nowhere suddenly became a lot more likely.
“...Okay, let’s continue: Who. Are. You?”
The fact that the collar of his shirt was still in the grip of said EVA’s designated Pilot didn’t do much to assuage his fears, either.
“I-I’m Shinji! Shinji Ikari!”
“I can see that, stupid, that’s not what I’m talking about: you sure look like one of the spineless idiots that used to wander around here a lot, but every single piece of information I have on you tells me you’re not. What’s more, everything points to how you shouldn’t be, period.” Shinji’s eyes widened as he saw Asuka pull her right fist back. “So you better start enlightening me before I decide to trust my data.”
And at the sight of the growling girl and the prepped fist, Shinji felt something well up within him. Something that he hadn’t felt in weeks, ever since before the advent of the Twelfth, starting as a pinprick in his chest and quickly swelling to reach every single pore in his body:
An irrepressible urge to butt heads with Asuka. An urge that Shinji wasn’t completely sure where it had come from.
“And what do you want me to say!? I don’t know what’s going on, either!” Shinji exploded, pushing against the railing behind him to get back on proper footing. “Ever since I ended up here I’ve only been lost, chased and... made fun of, and the only explanation for all of it I’ve heard sounds just… insane!”
Maybe it was something about the way in which she expressed herself, sounding so like the Asuka he knew, always a hair’s breadth away from biting his head off; or maybe it was his own mind’s way of throwing in the towel and asking for a recess but, in any case, Shinji’s outburst was certainly something that Asuka had not expected, at least if her shocked silence was anything to go by.
Not that the Third Child registered it, busy as he was in going through his personal meltdown process, other than to instinctively leverage on the weakened grip on his collar.
“I’ve had it with all of it! I’m sick of the fog, I’m sick of the hospitals, I’m sick of all the Asukas running around and not making any damn sense!” the Third Child shut his eyes tightly, showing his left cheek to his attacker. “Hell, you threatening to punch me like this is the closest I’ve gotten to something I know! So just- just do it! See what I care!”
But the blow Shinji had been expecting didn’t come right away, a frown growing on Asuka’s face, instead.
“What the...? Y-You’re just a Shinji, you’re not supposed to-” the redhead then shook her head and tensed back up, the moment of confusion gone. “Actually, screw that! If you want a fist to the face so much, then I’ll be happy to oblige!”
“WAIT!” a third voice suddenly came from the right, stopping Asuka mid-strike. “Y-You are getting conflicting readings because he isn’t any kind of Aspect!”
And, in unison, Shinji and the plugsuited redhead turned to meet the new arrival: an Asuka that, by all accounts, seemed to be the self-proclaimed important Asuka Shinji had met last time. She had foregone her previous clothing for a familiar yellow sundress, though.
“Oh, the brat finally showed up,” Pilot Asuka groaned, narrowing her eyes at the third comer. “Did you get bored of playing with your toys already?”
A comment that made Asuka recoil back as if struck, before she began to stomp her foot on the floor.
“I-I’m not a brat!”
“Right. Tell me that again when the first thing you do after losing your admin rights isn’t to build yourself a multi-coloured storybook farm. Seriously, how childish can you get?” Pilot Asuka’s voice then turned mocking. “Did it at least make you feel better? Make the booboos go away?”
“Grr…!” Asuka redoubled her stomping, hard enough that it made the platform tremble a little bit. “Why do you always have to be so mean?!”
“Because someone has to. Not all of us can afford to be as naïve as you, you know? As if that was something brats would understand.”
It appeared for a moment that Asuka would counter with a rebuttal of her own, but she decided to remain silent at the last second. A sight that only made her counterpart scoff in disdain.
“U-Umm…” Shinji eventually broke the silence, tapping the hand of the Asuka that was still holding onto his collar. “...C-Can you let me go now?”
“And where did all your guts go?” said redhead then turned towards him, somehow looking even more angry than she had been until now. “Pff. Boring.”
And with a pull and a shove, Pilot Asuka separated Shinji from the railing he’d been pressed against and violently pushed him towards her double, the Third Child barely managing to maintain his balance.
“A-Are you all right, Shinji?!” Asuka quickly caught the unbalanced young man, before sending a hot glare in her counterpart’s direction. “You didn’t need to do that!”
“Give me a break, it’s not like he’s going to shatter into tiny little pieces,” Pilot Asuka then motioned with her head towards the Third Child, who had just quickly jumped away from his helper’s embrace. “Now, you were saying something about this Shinji not being like the others...?”
“Y-Yeah! But tell me where he was first!”
“Sure,” the Pilot shrugged with a roll of her eyes. “He was at the hospital.”
“A-At the hospital?!” Asuka exclaimed, mouth wide. But her surprise quickly morphed into anger. “You- You nincompoop! Why did you bring him there?!”
“Bring him? I didn’t bring him. Unlike some, I don’t make a habit out of wasting my administrative efforts on superfluous bullcrap,” the Pilot countered, making Asuka flinch. “And before you ask, no, chances are our dearest third wheel had nothing to do with it, either.”
“What? And you expect me to believe that he just appeared there following a grand-scale REM transformation?” Asuka rallied, pointing an accusing finger at her other. “I don’t think so! You had something to do with it!”
“And why would I do that?”
The finger fell, and with it whatever energy Asuka had managed to muster behind her counter.
“You heard me,” the Pilot repeated, fixing Asuka with a hard stare. “I didn’t even know what the anomaly was until I checked it. Why would I toy with a REM transformation and bring an unknown into the one place we have all agreed not to mess with?”
“B-Because…” Asuka tried her best to come up with a comeback to her double’s admittedly sensible argument. “B-Because you’re a meanie…?”
But, disappointingly, her best effort proved only good enough to earn her a light smack on the top of her head.
“Try again, brat. Besides, we’ve been too busy running damage control until now to even think of handling our other duties.” Pilot Asuka then motioned towards Shinji. “Now, about this guy...?”
Shinji and Asuka shared a brief look and, at her nod, they spent the next few minutes trying to explain the situation to the best of their abilities. From the Angel attack, to their meeting, and to Shinji’s sudden disappearance. At the end of their tale, Pilot Asuka’s expression had turned a nice shade of sceptic.
“So you’re telling me that he’s the real deal? The Shinji Ikari that Asuka interacts with every day?”
The plugsuited redhead moved closer to the Third Child, giving him an appraising look over that made Shinji’s feeling of dejá vu return with a vengeance.
“...You really don’t look like much, even in person,” the Pilot sentenced, causing Shinji’s head to hang a little bit. “I honestly wouldn’t buy into you being the great EVA Pilot that you are if I hadn’t seen it myself.”
“Whatever,” she scoffed, stabbing a finger at Shinji’s chest. “And while this talk is nice and all, why don’t you hurry up and get out? You’re giving us a whole lot of trouble in here.”
“I would if I could!” the young man countered, gesturing with his arms at the area around him. “But how am I going to do that?”
“True. I guess we don’t have a door around that could easily get you to where you belong,” the Pilot sighed, scratching the back of her head. “Maybe that wouldn’t even be enough, considering how you were looking the last time.”
“You know what happened to me?!”
“...And you don’t?” the redhead blinked, slightly taken aback by how quickly the Third Child had shifted gears. “From what we know, it had something to do with-”
But the Pilot suddenly cut herself short much to Shinji’s frustration, eyes moving skyward for a second before she raised a finger.
“Hm? Hold on a minute.” Asuka then turned around, producing a cellphone from out of thin air and bringing it to her ear. “Yeah, I’m here. What is it?”
And just as quickly, the Pilot pulled the phone away from her head with a cringe. Whoever was on the other end of the line was loud, loud enough that Shinji could easily identify them as female.
Not that the Third Child would have needed a clue to make that assumption, at this point.
“Wait, slow down,” Asuka demanded of her caller. “What do you mean that a minor Aspect has just entered HQ?”
Less frantically than before, the voice began to retell her report to an increasingly confused Pilot, but the confusion of the plugsuited redhead wasn’t what grabbed Shinji’s attention the most: that honour went to how the Third Child noticed the Asuka beside him suddenly go stiff as a board.
“She’s challenging the ‘Dragon King’ and his two lieutenants...? Wrecking and looting all the hardware she finds along the way and calling it ‘Hero Tax’? The hell are you talking about?” Asuka echoed, her voice sounding more and more suspicious by the second. “Look, I’m busy. If this is a joke-”
At least until she turned to face them once again and her eyes fell on her twin. After all, Asuka had taken to doing a very obvious attempt at concealment. With whistling and everything.
Which, needless to say, had the opposite effect on the one she’d been trying to fool. With a furious roar, the phone she’d been holding flew out the side of the platform and vanished into the depths below, before the enraged Pilot charged straight for her double with fist held high...
“The hell did you do, you stupid brat?!”
...and struck Shinji Ikari square in the face. A young man who, upon being unwillingly propelled by the Mk.1 Sohryu Fist Engine, relished in the joy of flight for the briefest of instants before falling down to the floor, groaning in pain.
“Oh crap, why did he-?” the Pilot’s eyes widened, looking back and forth from the spot where the Third Child had landed and the place where he had jumped in front of her strike. “I… I-I didn’t mean to-”
“What is wrong with you?!” her double demanded, and the plugsuit-clad Asuka blinked herself back into a semblance of awareness. Quickly, she noticed her other helping Shinji back to a sitting position, as the young man massaged the left side of his face. He was in quite obvious pain, but it didn’t look like anything important had been broken, thankfully.
Her twin, on the other hand, looked angry like she had honestly never seen her. Which only served to rekindle the flames of her own indignation.
“W-What is wrong with me?! I should be asking what is wrong with you!” the Pilot countered, every bit as furious. “Weren’t you satisfied with forcing your stupid plans forward?! Now you have to throw a tantrum and wreck HQ because the rest of us don’t want to put up with your shit?! You only have yourself to blame for what happened to that moron!”
“What?! I wasn’t the one who punched him!”
“As if that mattered! Would we have been in this situation in the first place if you weren’t such a goddamn child?! If you didn’t think that pulling a prank now of all times was such a great idea?!” The Pilot turned around with a huff and pulled out another device. She began to brush her fingers over its screen, her expression darkening as lines upon lines of text scrolled past the glass. “Scheiße, the damage will probably take forever to fix! Gott, that’s why you should never be left in charge of anything, brat! You always mess everything up!” The redhead then faced the pair once more and angrily pointed a finger at the sitting Third Child. “Now pick up that idiot and get the hell out of here before I force you out!”
“You don’t need to tell me twice, you big bully! I hope that she finds you and gives you a big whack over the head!” Asuka shot back, grabbing a proper hold of the young man and furiously raising her own fist. “And don’t you even think of coming near Shinji again, or I will be the one to knock your lights out!”
And without offering the time for a witty comeback, Asuka closed her eyes before the two disappeared without a trace. To where, the remaining redhead didn’t need more than a single chance to correctly guess, not that she was planning on following.
She had far more pressing and difficult matters to attend to for the immediate future.
“...Tch. What a stupid brat,” the Pilot grumbled, taking a second to gauge where her attention would be needed the most. “I sure hope she’ll at least try harder than the last time.”
Her ill-humoured words fading into the distance, the plugsuit-clad redhead disappeared into thin air like her twin had mere moments before, hoping that this so-called ‘heroine’ wouldn’t prove as dim-witted as some other people she could mention.
“Are you all right, Shinji?”
Shinji suddenly found himself resting on something soft and comfortable, probably a bed, if he had to guess. More than likely, he quickly figured, he had been caught in yet another one of those weird shifts like the one the Pilot Asuka had pulled off earlier, which probably meant that he was safely back at the farm again. And with no nausea to speak of, to boot.
It would have been funny to think about how used he was getting to such sudden transitions if it didn’t hurt to do so, really.
“My head hurts…”
The Third Child stated the obvious, continuing to rub the left side of his head. His skull hurt something fierce, not quite as badly as it had during the fight with the Third Angel, but quite a bit worse than when Toji had punched him, or anytime Asuka had felt a more direct conveying of her displeasure over something or another was in order.
...Shinji had quite an extensive knowledge of head injuries, now that he thought about it. Although that probably wasn’t a good thing, especially since thinking still hurt.
“No wonder it does. She didn’t hold anything back.” Asuka muttered bitterly, before she sighed and sat down in a chair at his bedside. The redhead then leant forward to check him for injuries. “...You didn’t have to do that, you know? It’s not like she can permanently hurt me or anything. She’s always like that.”
Still, and while getting in the middle of the incoming attack hadn’t probably been his finest idea, the Third Child surprised himself by realising that he would do so again, if presented with the same choice. After all, Shinji didn’t really understand what the conflict between the two Asukas had been about, but he wasn’t about to sit still and let the one person who had helped him in this place so far get a punch to the face.
“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Asuka chided him softly, smiling as she took a better look at his eye. “I appreciate what you did, silly.”
And as the healthy teenage boy that he was, Shinji noticed the change in the girl before him. Because while the Third Child had always been aware of how pretty Asuka was, he had never thought that she could look… radiant. It was mind blowing what a difference a genuine smile could do on someone like her, really, and the young man’s brain and hormones were more than happy to have him commit the image to memory.
After all, the archives of his mind weren’t entirely sure about whether such an earth-shattering event would happen twice in their lifetime, considering that this first taste had required a literal dive into Asuka’s psyche and a healthy punch from a might-be fragment of her personality. Replicating a situation on the same level of ridiculous could be a hard thing to do.
...And perhaps it would be for the best that it was so.
“She…” Shinji began, coughing into his hand to break away from the strange train of thought. “She knew something.”
“And we’ll find out what it is, don’t worry,” Asuka reassured him, deeming her checkup complete and standing up from her chair. “But for now, you should get some sleep, Shinji. You’re looking terrible, and not just because of the eye. I might use the time to lie down a little bit, myself, but I’ll still wake you up if something important happens, all right?”
For a second, Shinji considered asking Asuka what the point of sleeping was for her if, by her own admission, she couldn’t actually get tired, but the Third Child’s brain not-so-kindly reminded him with a quick stab of discomfort that he was too exhausted to argue. Still, and while he failed miserably at stifling a yawn, Shinji did find the time for one final (and somewhat worrying) question that tied into the sleeping arrangements.
“Okay, but where are you going to sleep? Wasn’t there only a single room…?” The young man asked, recalling the layout of the farmhouse. He then groaned tiredly when he remembered yet another important detail about the person beside him. “Don’t tell me: I’m going to find a second room the very moment I wake up, right?”
And at that, Asuka merely laughed and ruffled his hair.